The Poetics of Things workshop with Robert Vas Dias

A solo parent Monday to Friday, this all-day, Saturday workshop, part of the 2012 Swindon Festival of Poetry, fitted in with my plans perfectly. As with other workshops I’ve been to recently, The Poetics of Things was organised by the wonderful, Swindon-based poet, Hilda Sheehan, who does so much to bring poetry to Swindon and the surrounding areas in South West England.

Robert Vas Dias introduced the day by quoting American poets William Carlos Williams “no ideas, but in things” and George Oppen “There are things/we live among and to see them/is to know ourselves” and the Frank O’Hara poem Today


Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they’ve always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning.  They’re strong as rocks.

Robert presented “things” as a way in to writing poetry, saying “Things can represent what we believe in, our values and tastes, or they hold treasured associations.” He made reference to the Imagist movement of the early 20th century ( a movement featured in the free, online course “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry”, or “ModPo” as it’s called, which I’ve written about in previous posts and which will remain online for all to access for one year) in which poets aligned themselves with Cubist painters of the same period and experimented with the dynamics of the image. Robert quoted the poet Wallace Stevens, saying that “the poetry of things has distinct analogies with still life: both focus on objects, though not exactly as they are.”
From this starting point then, we went on to read and discuss a selection of poems about things, including poems by Robert himself, as well as work by William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, George Oppen, Marianne Moore, Pablo Neruda and Sylvia Plath.
No surprise that the prompts for our own writing in the workshop were objects; those in front of us (several poems about a brown teapot emerged from the session!)  or those imagined or remembered. The challenge was to write a poem that amounted to more than a detailed description of an inanimate object. The most interesting poems produced from the day included intense descriptive detail but also alluded to the emotions, memories and associations connected to the items under scrutiny. I was pleased with the first drafts of two poems I wrote in the workshops.
My thanks to Robert Vas Dias and Hilda Sheehan for another enjoyable, productive and stimulating poetry day in Swindon. Here is the poem I liked the most from the day,  Mirror  by Sylvia Plath, dated 23 October 1961.

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

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