#10: Chin up

As lockdown in England continues, so does our poetry community, Try to Praise the Mutilated World. The prompts are here every day, and free. Access to our Facebook workshopping group costs £10, and lasts for the duration of this 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 The group is a place for mutual feedback, and is private so that your work in progress is unpublished.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.

The present circumstances can take away your working life, your social life, the places where you used to conduct both – but they can’t take away the sky. That’s your subject today.

Yesterday we confined ourselves to the four walls of a familiar room. Today, we get outside – literally. Don’t imagine the sky or even look at it through the window – go and spend some time with it. The difference between any thing imagined, and the same thing examined in real time, is usually clear in a poem. The reader knows if you’re faking it.

The sky is endlessly available, constantly changeable and always free to look at. It presents a constantly changing newsroll of weather, birds, planes – and at night, stars and satellites. Sometimes the fast downward arc of a shooting star; sometimes the slow-flashing lights of an ascending plane. It’s a large and airy theme, so look for ways to make it specific. Think of its resident birds, and those humans who just visit; paragliders on Mam Tor, children tugging the sky down towards them on a kite string, Amelia Earhart falling from it 1937, the poor Nairobi stowaway who dropped from it into a Clapham garden last year. Think of those who have made the sky their life’s work – astronomers and meteorologists, comet-namers and cloud-watchers and hurricane-chasers, early balloonists who had no idea what to expect when they first lifted into the skies. The resulting piece may be expansive (surely this poem is one page too long?) or may contain multitudes in three words.

The sky stands for all things uncontainable, and our current straitened circumstances make some feel hungry for it. When did you last stay up till the sky began to lighten? When did you last sleep underneath it? How did it look yesterday, as the sunset turned the council flats pink behind your street? What would you call the constellations if you were in charge of naming them? Given its intangible nature, you will have to work a little to make your sky real for a reader. You could address it directly, or compare it to the sky above your loved ones in Canada or Ghana. You could personify it as innocent, malicious, absent-minded; ask it what it thinks of us.

If you are furloughed, you may be counting clouds no bigger than a man’s hand instead of doing the accounts, or envying seagulls their journeys while your own are postponed; waiting, as we all are, for a change in the weather. This present tragedy will eventually/ turn into myth and when it does, perhaps everything under the sky will be changed.

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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