#21: Courage, mon brave

We are 3/4 of the way through lockdown #2 in England, and weathering it in online poetry community, Try to Praise the Mutilated World. 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 The group is a place for mutual feedback, and is private so that your work in progress is unpublished.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 Caroline Bird. Join us at any time through November. See the PayPal button at the bottom of this post.

We have one week of the current lockdown to go. It ain’t funny any more and to be honest, it wasn’t very funny to start with. In 2020 we have learned that just functioning can be a small act of courage. So today, our theme is courage.

Sometimes, the way into an idea is to explore its opposite. In this case, courage carries its opposite within itself. It isn’t the absence of fear: it is ‘the ability to do something that frightens one.’ Fear is the dark heartwood that gives courage shape. And once the courageous act is begun, what does that feel like? Is it giddy, hilarious, does it turn you on or make you sick? When accomplished, do you feel a little taller, stronger of limb?

If the courageous act you’re writing about had a physical element like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, so much the better (also, well done you). If it was psychological, find the physical in it – flushing with adrenalin, clenching your fists. You may be a teenager stubbornly walking down the street hand in hand with your lover, or engaging in the small domestic braveries numbered here. On a different scale, how did the first Vikings who navigated to North America find their courage to do so? How did Mandela cope with decades in jail? There is bravery even in fanaticism: the bomber, the terrorist, the freedom fighter. If yours is a grand or long-spanning action, you might reduce it to its smallest component – like a Jewish travelling preacher letting go of the door handle. Think too about en-couragement. Thank someone who has given you courage by example, or explore the backstory that pushed your emigrant grandparents out of Pakistan.

If this poem turns out to be about you, beware: that tricky old Self can get right into the machinery of a poem and make it clunky. Modesty makes you underplay your own courage when you left the abuser/ walked into that Oxford college/ walked out of that Oxford college/ walked over a high bridge/ dived in to save the dog. You can get stuck in the brain, rather than showing useful gestures and movements. So – consider stepping into the third person. Tell it like a spectator. If it doesn’t work, you can always step back into your own shoes.

If you’ve fallen off the poetry wagon this month, it doesn’t matter. No-one is looking: get back on. If you’ve been sitting quietly in our Facebook group watching great work roll in, and wondering when you’ll be able to do the same – the answer is, not until you start doing it. Climb on board, there are hundreds of people there waiting to help you. We learn by going where we have to go.

Courage, mon brave. Onward.

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 (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.


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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