Monday, March 09, 2015

Garden Poetry

It had been a year since I had been up at the writing centre at Moniack Mhor.  That time, I had printed off a map from the AA Route Planner.  There was a left and a right and another left and I ended up on a farm track leading into a ploughed field.  Do they actually send someone to locate these places or is it all done by satellites?  If so the day they did the map to Moniack Mhor must have been a cloudy day!  After an hour of single track roads with passing places, and the frequent passing of buildings I had seen before, I admitted the AA Route Planner was useless.  I phoned for someone to come and rescue me.

So, this time, before I was due to attend a poetry workshop, I did some reconnaissance.  I timed myself, made sure I had enough petrol in the car for mistakes and headed off into the back roads around Kiltarlity.  There was the one encounter with a tractor.  He must have recognised me as not local and pulled his tractor and trailer into a passing place designed for a mini!

Last year I had been on the right road at one point but after driving a while had come to the conclusion I was on the wrong road.  A few more twists and over a few more hills I would have reached the destination.  I remembered the turning back too early and was resolved to keep driving. 

There it was nestled at the bottom of a track on the right hand side.  Tomorrow would be a piece of cake.

Tea, coffee and ginger cake greeted us as we arrived.  The sun might have been shining but it wasn’t warm.  There was a stiff breeze.  We introduced ourselves.  A good number were retired teachers.  Many had never attempted to write poetry before but were ready to give it a go.  There was a good balance of ages and gender.  The youngest poet was a pupil from one of the secondary schools in the region.

Garden poetry?  The BIG project last year had been planting a garden.  Money was available to produce an anthology of poems and prose with a garden theme. 

“Go outside…walk around the garden…and let a plant speak to you!”

John Glenday had read a couple of poems that were about plants, but not really about plants at all.  The deeper stuff that poets are supposed to be able to capture in their poems – that stuff that really eludes me – was the aim of the exercise. The daisy in the poem is a metaphor for unrequited love or a deep resentment of a mother or father. Yes, that kind of deeper stuff.

Plants don’t speak to me.  There is a plant-wide resentment that has its starting point with the neglect my garden.  Obviously the Moniack Mhor plants have heard the tales.  It’s either that or the fact that it was not quite spring and there were no thriving plants.  There was a stack of plant books inside as backup.  Quite a few people not only knew plants but something of the stories associated with them.  Did that give them the edge on plant-abusers like me?  Perhaps not.  I had a feeling that they had come already armed with a flower in mind and were not relying on a plant speaking to them at all.  It could be construed as cheating!

I chose to write about a thistle.  I have plenty of experience with thistles. There were phrases in my head about thistles being the uninvited guests to a party.  I went with the idea and wrote a twelve lined poem.  I liked it.  I liked some of the lines very much and tortured myself over some of the others.  It wasn’t deep.  It had a metaphor or two but it wasn’t deep.  It was well received when I read it out.  The competitive spirit in me just has to note that at the end of the workshop someone told me they liked my poem best!

The second step of the workshop was to cut our poems down by about a quarter or more.  We were required to identify lines that we could afford to lose, a word here or there, a phrase that wasn’t paying its way. Some poems really benefitted from the cuts.  They were neater and tighter and powerful where before they had rambled on.   Some…I’m not sure but I liked them before the cuts. And, yes, they were deep.  Some were just four lines long and deep.

Our time was up, John told us to take the poems home and have another look at them.  Revision! Revision! Revision!  A poem, it seems, is never quite the finished article but always a work in progress.  There comes a time when you have to choose to stop revising and accept the blemishes.

Hugely satisfied with a productive morning I wound my way down the hill and back into the real world.



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