A few poetry notes

Last week I  mentioned that the Poetry Society had a callout for poems that take note, in some way, of 99 of the mostly commonly used words used in 40 years of the National Poetry Competition.  I wasn’t going to write anything for this because I thought it was too much of a distraction from my aim to write poems that might fit into the theme of my next book.  That is to say, I’ve set myself a loose target/goal/aspiration to write poems that sit well together, with the hope that I produce a cohesive, fluent and not too disparate book.  It’s fine to hope, right?

But then I found that I’d worked hard on a few poems during January, persevered, stuck with them even when the going was tough, and by the very end of January I seemed to have made headway – and then the snow came, so I allowed myself a diversion.  A few days later, I had a poem of sorts – but was it enough?  Although I seemed to have responded to the writing prompt, I wondered if that was all I’d done, and when I read the poem, it seemed rather flat – in fact, rather dead!

This got me thinking about the value of writing prompts and themes.  I know that some writers love them and write well from them but I wonder if I should focus instead on poems that have started from scratch, from my own notebooks.  Then again, I have sometimes started a poem from a prompt, in a workshop for example, then put the draft aside for months or even years, come back to it and written a decent poem.  Maybe it’s time that’s needed then, regardless of how the work first started.  I doubt that my poem is any good at all but I’ve sent it off.  I’ve let go of it.  Maybe my next poem will be better. Hope, again.

Something else I did this week was to listen to Alice Oswald talking about her book Falling Awake and answering questions from the audience at BBC R4’s Book Club programme which you can hear on iPlayer (or Sounds as it is now called). So good to have a poet featured in this programme – it would be wonderful if there are more in the future.

I have sent away for Falling Awake.  I was glad to hear Oswald read her poem ‘Swan’ again.  When I heard it on the radio, I remembered that I’d heard the poem in Bristol nearly four years ago at New Lyrical Ballads, an event at which 23 poets wrote poems in the spirit of Romanticism, in response to a poem by Coleridge or Wordsworth.  I wrote about the event  here  and had this to say at the time:

Poets wrote about ‘ordinary’ experiences and lives; how we interact with each other, how we live and love with our children, partners, parents.  Several poets wrote about nature by exploring environmental concerns.  Alice Oswald, one of those whose starting point was the Ancient Mariner, wrote a startling poem about her experience of witnessing the decay of a dead swan on a series of daily walks.  I’m probably misquoting horribly but there was a stunning image of the swan’s eye being like “a black, cold church” and the neck of the swan being “the bride walking to it.”  Of all the poems, I want to read this one again the most.

So, it’s taken me all this time to come round to the poem again, and to buy the book which was published in 2016.  Time again, being slow, not being in a rush, allowing time and poetry to sit together.  Talking of which, I need to spend time with a batch of new poems bubbling up in my notebooks.


6 thoughts on “A few poetry notes”

  1. Hi Josephine, I find writing to a theme works – last year while we were holidaying at Bridlington, I noticed how many lines featured in my photo’s Lines in the block paving on the Prom, lines made by the waves in the sand, a flight of stairs – that went nowhere. The Land Train had colourful lines, tram lines, music lines, lines on a page and so it went on. From those photo’s and some taken since I have a collection of 26 photos and 26 accompanying poems, all I have to do now, is get them into book form….. I think I have done the easy bit!
    My project for 2019 is to write the stories of my teenage years in the 1950’s.
    Keep on writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Janet, These are notebooks I’ve been using over the past two years which contain lines/ideas/beginnings of poems, as well as poems I’ve been able to finish. At some point, when I feel the time is right, I sit down with these notebooks and read through them, drawing off what seems to be working and collecting that in an another notebook (all by hand at this point). Once I have the basic shape of a poem, I might type it up on my laptop and then work from a typed draft. It isn’t really a system (and not one I’d recommend to anyone else!) but it’s a messy method that seems to work for me. I start many different poems at the same time. Some I’m able to complete, some I can’t take any further so leave incomplete inside the notebooks and return to them if there is something there that I think I want to extricate. Thanks for asking!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel that I need prompts sometimes as a way to jog my own writing loose from its usual preoccupations. It doesn’t always lead to a workable poem. But it can be a fun diversion or exercise depending on how lightly I take it. But sometimes, I feel like it’s a form of procrastination, because I don’t want to face the poem I need to write.

    I’m enjoying your blog, especially your post on becoming a student again, since that’s where I am right now. I signed up for an online course, because I was inspired too! So thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for you kind comments, Chris. There are definitely procrastination issues in many writers’ creative processes. Weirdly, though, procrastination does sometimes allow time for a poem to cook before it’s ready to serve. The other thing that sometimes happens in a workshop is a poem suddenly appears almost fully formed. It might be that the poem has been lying dormant for years until one trigger (prompt) releases it. Best wishes with all your writing and studying!


  3. I tend to write my poems based on either what is going on, in the world, at home or what I see. I write about anything really. I word may just pop into my head or I may say something that will then prompt me to write. I don’t think I have a particular style, other than most of my poems tend to rhyme. I tend to say it as it is, rather than be metaphoric too, which appeals to some but not others. I just like the writing process of getting the thoughts down on to a page. Some are very close to my heart and most have people I know in mind. I like the fact that you can convey procrastination as a good thing. I think you are right. Something that you see, do, attend one day may only plant the seed, time will allow it to grow to something much more. Happy writing,

    Liked by 1 person

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