#4: Full Stop

This is Day 4 of lockdown in England, and of our poetry writing project, Try to Praise the Mutilated World. The prompts are here on my blog every day, and free. Access to our Facebook workshopping group costs £10 and lasts for the duration of this particular lockdown. Join at any time through November. See the PayPal button at the bottom of this post.

On 11th August 1999, for reasons I won’t go into here, I was being chased across a heather moor in North Yorkshire by 20,000 newly released bees and a farmer on a quad bike. Fortunately for me, this was the very date and time of a significant solar eclipse. The sun dimmed, and the bees simply stopped. The birdsong, the sheep bleating; every natural noise stopped. The eclipse began. The farmer went home. It was all very odd.

Your prompt today is stop. What comes to my mind is that peculiar experience of eclips, but what associations does it have for you? Think about what might stop, and how. A clock; a heart; gunfire; ceasefire; the factory siren; pub culture; the shouting of a schizophrenic neighbour or the barking of his dog. A political prisoner or anorexic teen stops eating. The talking stops, and you understand that the first kiss is about to happen; or a black citizen under arrest says ‘Stop, I can’t breathe’. Your choice might be an imperative stop: stop chewing your nails, stop looking at my breasts, stop spreading the virus, Stop Sniffling, stop right there!

Stopping is not necessarily the same as ending. Stopping implies that something was actively in motion, and is now still or silent. Did it stop immediately, or in small increments so that you didn’t notice at first? Perhaps your car crawled to a stop, abandoning you in rural Wisconsin. Perhaps you stopped believing in God at one specific moment.

A poem doesn’t have to tell the whole story, and is usually more interesting if it doesn’t. Concentrate on the momentary pause – not the urgent rescuscitation, the mended car, the reappearance of the sun. Most of these are implicit anyway. Edward Thomas famously described a perfectly ordinary moment of stoppage, and made it immortal. What happened during your stop? What did you hear, feel, smell?

Punctuation and line breaks are useful tools here. Feel free to disrupt or break up. See what happens if you start with fast, short vowel sounds – click, pernickety, snap – and start to stretch them into long sounds like brake, thrown, acre. You needn’t include the word STOP, just bring in the idea. If this prompt doesn’t trigger an immediate action, just sit with it for a few hours and just turn it over in your head to see what comes. Sometimes an idea is cooking in your subconscious, and doesn’t want to present itself until it’s ready. Then write the poem; and…… stop.

Join our Facebook workshopping group

Join our closed Facebook group at any time in November, for feedback from other poets and access to weekly readings. Pay £10 by PayPal below, then find Try to Praise the Mutilated World on Facebook and ask to join (I can’t link to it here, but the link to the group is in the first paragraph above). We are already 300 strong and there’s a lively, friendly community helping each other to write their way through the lockdown.

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Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

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