England; small enough to know, large enough to love.
Continue reading ‘Journeys’
Tags: alton barnes, barge inn, bristol channel, hilda sheehan, honeystreet, isadora vibes, james aldridge, kennet and avon canal, martin malone, moonraker boats, ravilious, swindon festival of literature
England; small enough to know, large enough to love.
Tags: NaPoWriMo, NaPoWriMo 13
Throughout National Poetry Writing Month (an American idea which has self-seeded over here) I’ve been posting prompts on Facebook and Twitter, where I’m @Jo_Bell. I’ve been amazed and delighted by the variety and quality of work that’s come in – and in a tough month for me, it’s been a really wonderful reminder that poetry offers a community and a conversation as well as a private pursuit.
I’ll post some of the best ones here in a while, when I have gathered them and asked for the writers’ permission – but for now I just offer the last prompt of the month.
April 30th – Write about love. Write it true and deep and plain, and as you are feeling it now – whether fresh, or weathered, or lost, or unspeakably painful. Speak it. Write the best poem you ever wrote.
And by the by – just for the next few days, you can download all of the prompts including links to the other poems, right here as one handy document - A month of poetry prompts - for your delectation.
Tags: Blackout poetry, Bodkin, British Museum, Daffodils, First Sex, Galway Kinnell, Housman, Janes Laughlin, Jeffrey Greene, Jo Bell, NaPoWriMo, NaPoWriMo 13, poetry video, poetry writing prompts, robert Sullivan, Saint Francis and the Sow, Sharon Olds, Tall Nettles, Vona Groarke, Wordsworth, writing prompts
The quantity may have dropped off, but the quality of poems being written in response to my prompts on Facebook and Twitter remains humbling. I love developing new ones that can be concisely expressed. Here are the latest ones -
16th April – write about work. It can be yours, someone else’, the job you hated most or what ‘work’ means. Look at Alan Dugan’s Monologue of a Commercial Fisherman: Cornelius Eady’s The Cab Driver Who Ripped Me Off, and Gavin Ewart’s Office Friendships.
17th April – Blessings. Here’s one by me (blushes) and one by Galway Kinnell, the justifiably famous Saint Francis and the Sow. Now – write a blessing…. but hang on, that’s too easy and trite. I want you (on this day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral) to write a blessing for someone you dislike. Make it sincere, not snide or sarcastic. Dig deep and find the best of yourself.
19th April – Read Bodkin by Vona Groarke, which is clearly about a favourite word. Think of a favourite word of your own – either you like its meaning, or simply its sound – and write about it. See where it takes you.
20th April - A springy prompt, with video accompaniments. Watch this best ever poetry video and observe that the poem is not just about daffodils. Watch this and observe that the Edward Thomas poem is not just about Tall Nettles. Watch this and remember that Housman’s poem is not just about cherry trees. Now get outside and walk, or sit, for half an hour. Write about something green, something growing. Your poem may (indeed should) turn out to be about something else.
21st April – got your Sunday paper? Well then, you can do one of these. Your blackout poem may not be a work of genius but it might spark off a train of thought that leads to another poem.
22nd April – To Do Lists. Make a list of the life ambitions you haven’t yet achieved – climb Everest, learn to make the perfect omelette – and write about one of them. Inhabit it as fully as possible. What would it smell, sound like? How would it feel to actually achieve it?
23rd April - Read Sharon Olds’ First Sex. Now write about the first time you did something – anything!
24th April - A Museum Visit. Read these three poems – Waka 99 (a waka is a war canoe), In the Museum at Teheran and Beginnings. Now visit a museum. Haven’t got time? Then look at the British Museum, The Wellcome Collection or an oddity like Leila’s Hair Museum. Pick an object and write about it. Try, as ever, to make it about something more than the obvious subject.
25th April – An argument poem. Get mad at someone. Hit the ground running. Open with a strong statement and let rip!
26th April – Write about your parents in a rough sonnet. Six lines on your mum, six on your dad and two on yourself to conclude. If you want to make it a Shakespearean sonnet, it should rhyme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
27th April – Read (and more importantly, listen to) Michael Donaghy’s A Repertoire. Now make time to listen to your favourite piece of music, or to one with strong associations. Remember where you first heard it, what it means to you, who you were with when you heard it at a concert etc. Write about that – don’t worry if the poem takes you a long way from the music.
29th April – Proverbs. Read this by Eliza Griswold, and this by Geoff Page, and my own duet with Max Wallis based on an Arabic proverb, here. Now – make a list of sayings or proverbs (or cheat by looking here). Write a poem starting from one of these.
According to Larkin, of course, what will survive of us is love. At Wiltshire Museum, where I ran a workshop yesterday, the artefacts seemed to suggest something different; what will survive of us are our pots and pans, our buttons, the objects which may or may not have meaning in our daily lives. But as we talked, we reminded ourselves that the instincts which survive are indeed the same. To gather around a hearth and talk; to share beauty and craftsmanship; to show off our wealth; and yes, to love.
What will survive of us, in fact, is this:
a bird-bone pipe stem dropped like fag ends in a gutter,
rusted hobnails clumping into reddened truffles,
sherds of cookware like a broken Easter egg,
a soil-wet tile with footprints from a Roman dog.
Time, the old erratic editor, removes all abstracts
but excises verbs as well; occasionally leaves a name
but mostly just the ands and thes, so what remains
is coded mud. The rule for codebreakers is patience;
record what you can see, and not what you expect.
The digging woman scrapes, deciphers, cleans;
pulls back a flat blade over charcoal and says home;
chips at a frozen flow of slag, pronounces work;
planes off dark silt and says disease, desertion;
meets tile-sparked soot and says fire, panic, rape.
Easy to return the verb, complete the phrase
and so curate a gallery of empty frames.
Only absent are the subjects who you want to speak to:
not expecting that they’d tell you great historic truths
but just because you want to hear their voices.
Tags: anne bradstreet, laudation, litany, NaPoWriMo, NaPoWriMo 13, poetry writing prompts, tomaz salamun, valediction, writing prompts
Ahoy folks. There has, inevitably, been a huge falling off in the number of people writing a poem a day for National Poetry Writing Month – but my cockles are warmed tremendously by the poems that are still rolling in, in response to my daily prompts on Facebook and Twitter.
For those of you foolish enough to revisit them, here are all the latest prompts. Remember that many of these links allow you to hear, as well as to read, a poem. The poet’s own voice can make the poem a very different experience.
Day 10 – A litany is a poem or prayer in which a single word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of each line. Here’s a classic example, the Litany of Loretto – and three modern examples from Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg and Richard Siken. If stuck, use one of these as your repeated word: Unless, Or, Whatever, If, Finally.
Day 11 – List twenty intensely physical experiences you have had. Write about one of them. It doesn’t have to be a good one!
Day 12 – Read this poem by Anne Bradstreet. Now read these poems about Anne Bradstreet by Eavan Boland and John Berryman. Now write a poem addressed to a favourite (or unfavourite) poet of yours. Think of where, how and in what style s/he wrote. Talk to them. Tell them things.
Day 14 - A laudation is a poem of self-praise. Read this one from Tomaz Salamun and write your own. British persons in particular will complain that this is too hard. It’s meant to be hard, you slackers. Pull all the stops out, show your wit and celebrate yourself unapologetically!
Day 15 – read this poem from Liz Lochhead, A Favourite Place. Think of a favourite place of your own and make notes on it. Write a poem about it. Include one personal name, and one piece of reported speech (something someone said, quoted directly). Focus on one event or occasion. If it takes you somewhere else, like Liz’s poem – so much the better.
Several of you have written in response to my NaPoWriMo prompts and shared the results on blogs or Facebook posts. I am chuffed to bits. As I hoped, they have gone off in different directions and taken on their own identity, rather than slavishly following the example of any poems I have posted. I’ll post a few links here to some of them in a day or two. But for the moment, particular thanks to Peter Richards, Robbie Burton, Sally Evans and David Seddon for road-testing my prompts so vigorously.
Here are all the prompts from NaPoWriMo so far – plus a sneak preview of Day Nine…
1 Write to yourself as a sixteen year old. What warnings, what advice would you give? If you have time – write back.
2 ‘January freesia, hot coffee’. Read Elaine Feinstein’s Getting Older. What small, physical things delight you? Write about them. Stick to the physical. See where it goes.
4 Trains, Planes and Automobiles. Write a poem that takes place entirely inside one of these – or a boat, of course!
5 Read Alden Nowlan’s poem Great Things Have Happened. Write about a great historic moment and how it affected – or didn’t affect – your life. Diana’s death in Paris – 9/11 – the assassination of a political leader. Resist the urge for great philosophical pronouncements. Just tell it like it was.
6 Write about a friend, or friends. It needn’t be cute or even kind – see this disturbing poem as an example – but on the other hand, it could be a wonderful celebration. Keep it focused on events you have shared.
7 Mechanical disaster. That time your car/ washing machine/ plumbing broke down. What happened? Who fixed it? Was it all bad?
8 Read Roddy Lumsden, The Young. Now think of a group of people you want to address – the old? Hippies? (It will help if you don’t like them). Write a poem addressing them, as Lumsden does.
9 Read Mervyn Morris, A Chant Against Death. Write a chant against something dark – death, grief, loneliness – by summoning up the things that defeat it best. It doesn’t have to take this form, but make it strong and affirmative.
If any of these appeal to you, get writing. Yes, NaPoWriMo is an arbitrary idea but if it helps you to get some new poems, who cares? And if you have fallen off the waggon for a few days, likewise – get back on. No-one is counting and if you find this kind of routine helpful, dip into it whenever you can. Good luck.
Tags: Jo Bell, NaPoWriMo, Poem in Your Pocket, poetry
Those bally American chaps have some good poetry initiatives. One is Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 18th. I’ve set up a Facebook page to encourage people in the UK to carry a favourite poem and share it on the day.
The better-known initiative, however, is National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo - now an international event, spawning a huge April blossoming of poetry. Some of it is drivel of course – a great deal of poetry written anywhere is drivel – and some is simply work in progress: but NaPoWriMo gives us the very contemporary pleasure of sharing our work immediately. We are part of an ongoing experiment, a community.
It also gives us a contemporary challenge. Posting work on your blog means that it has been published, and published globally. It will be ineligible for publication in journals (copyright/ exclusivity issues) or for entry into competitions (it can’t be judged anonymously if the judge might have seen it online). Yet, you have a marvellous new poem on your hands and you want to share it with the NaPoWriMo community. What to do?
Here’s my response. I wrote a poem which I want to share as evidence that I am keeping the NaPoWriMo faith, but I also want to submit it to UK journals. So…. I ran it through the N+7 machine. N+7 is an Oulipo technique that replaces any noun in a poem with the noun 7 entries below it in a dictionary. Sometimes it throws up wonderful improvements to your work – sometimes hysterical tangents. This is an N+11 version of my shiny new poem ‘Whales’. The original is, I like to think, a rather moving love poem. The new version is…. here. I particularly like ‘I towel my harmonica’.
At the battle dormitory, we bunker into each other slowly
and take retail. It’s two o’clock. The slash leaves us dim.
Your great freckle driveways to minion. A noose of plodder.
Naked, out of bee and both surprised to find ourselves
starter anywhere, we lecher together. These are waterwheels
clearer than the deaf-mute can offer us. I towel my harmonica, nag,
against the only shawl that helps. Your faculty, slide-gerund
takes its eccentricity in breathing; retails on my warm half-brother.
Each bollard wants the other’s folly and fortune, the shin,
anything. You take my handkerchief and toddle us to bee.
You spiritual once on your backbencher; heavy, looking for the deficiencies.
My gracile bollard slits along beside, to rub
at that great database slag of trowels. Wherever we go
we flotation untrammelled and extravagantly slow.
In the nimbus, we wallet up singing.
[I'm posting a NaPoWriMo writing prompt every day, using some of my most fruitful workshop exercises. Follow me @Jo_Bell or on Facebook to get them. The results can only be better than this.]