Throughout the English lockdown, online poetry community Try to Praise the Mutilated World delivers a free prompt here every day. Access to our Facebook workshopping group costs £10, and lasts for the duration of the lockdown. The group is a place for mutual feedback, and is private so that your work in progress is unpublished. We have guest readers via Facebook Live on a Sunday – the next one is Forward Prize-winning Malika Booker. Join us at any time through November. See the PayPal button at the bottom of this post.
In 1790, a young French nobleman called Xavier de Maistre was put under house arrest for fighting a duel. Confined for six weeks in a single room, he went a little stir crazy; and I think we can all sympathise. To pass the time, de Maistre wrote a funny little travelogue in the style of a Grand Tour, describing a Journey Round My Room.
His journey had certain advantages, wrote de Maistre. It had cost him nothing, and it would be a good way for the sick or the lazy to enjoy travel. He was not troubled by bad weather. He would, admittedly, have been happy to give a much shorter account of his room – “but still, alas, I was not my own master in the matter of leaving it.”
“MY room is situated in latitude 48° east, according to the measurement of Father Beccaria. It lies east and west, and, if you keep very close to the wall, forms a parallelogram of thirty-six steps round…. when I travel in my room, I seldom keep to a straight line. From my table I go towards a picture which is placed in a corner; thence I set out in an oblique direction for the door; and then, although on starting I had intended to return to my table, yet, if I chance to fall in with my arm-chair on the way, I at once, and most unceremoniously, take up my quarters therein…. I go on from discovery to discovery.“Xavier de Maistre, Journey Round My Room (1794)
You get the gist. Today’s mission is to write about your room; the one room you have spent most time in during this lockdown. You might become a tour guide like de Maistre, identifying points of interest and landmarks, or give a partial description. You could describe a strange incident that happened in the night, or how a particular chair gave you a nightmare. Riff on something in the room that has done good service; the kettle, valiantly making more cups of tea than ever; the boiler, which despite huffing and puffing, has kept you all warm as the days get blustery; the window, which shows you a square of sky even when you feel most confined. Alternatively, have a good old rant within your four walls – curse the bookshelf which offers no useful wisdom, or the clock which insists on counting the slow passage of time. Tell the geraniums that you hate their calm composure in a time of plague. Tell the noisy neighbours to stop having sex. Talk to the spiders. By this stage, you may be talking to the spiders anyway.
Consider forms that might suit the subject. If the room feels repetitious or boxy, use a refrain or a boxy shape. If it feels as if the walls are coming in, make each line shorter than its predecessor. If it makes you calm or anxious, play around with sound or speech patterns to convey that feeling.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” said the French philosopher Pascal. He was wrong; but we certainly understand the scale of the challenge. If you want to look at someone else’s room, here are a few – but you will never know more about your own. Take your lead from de Maistre: “No obstacle shall hinder our way; and giving ourselves up gaily to Imagination, we will follow her whithersoever it may be her good pleasure to lead us.”
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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 (use the link 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.