Thursday, March 16, 2017

Putting Pen to Paper with Claire Askew

I was promised “the time, space and support to tap into the writer" in me. I joined a dozen others for a relaxed and informal writing session expecting “some top tips and simple techniques" to get me writing.  I armed myself with a couple of note books, a dozen scraps of paper with half written poems on them, a selection of pens and a determination to leave the biscuits alone.

It was not quite what I expected. I thought I could drop in, focus on the half written poems without the housework lurking in the background, and drop out when I had had enough. I hadn’t planned for a full on creative writing class complete with exercises to do - not that I didn’t totally enjoy it.

Task 1 - We began with a list poem. I have never written one of those before. Claire had written a poem “Catalogue of my grandmother’s sayings”. It was precisely that – a list, alphabetic in nature, of things her grandmother said. The idea that any collection of lines of text can be a poem – I don’t know about that. There are times when I yearn for something more structured – but I’m not the boss of these things.

One of the lines, “Twined as a bag of weasels” was an interesting one. I think that could have been said about me earlier this afternoon – I was very wound up about stuff that had happened during the day.

We worked in small groups to come up with our own list of sayings. Our list was not that inspiring apart from a Gaelic insult that sounded good. I added a couple of my mum’s favourites – “When it’s gone it’s gone” and the whole line of names “Carla, Linda, Sharon, Mel” she addressed me with. Another group came up with “hard as a whore’s heart” which I found appealing but will never use.

Task 2 – the challenge was to pick a saying and use it as a prompt for writing something. I don’t often perform well in these kinds of things. I need an hour or two to simmer the ideas.

“Fly with the crows; get shot with the crows”

She doesn’t approve of my friends. She lives in a world where people wear smart stuff.  She thinks because we wear baggy black jeans, T-shirts with swear words smeared across them and tattoos marching up our necks that we are trouble.

The police cars with their strident sirens are out to hunt down the real criminals. The man at the end of the road, him with the posh car - I know for a fact that he bashes his wife about.  He doesn’t wear baggy trousers or offensive T-shirts.  If he had a tattoo it should be in brand form across his forehead – “wife beater”.

She sees crows where I see eagles. She knows nothing about my friends and doesn’t ask. Take Mickey, for instance. She doesn’t know about his music. Not the boom-boom base stuff I listen to.  He plays proper music on a violin. He can read music. He knows composers and he plays in an orchestra – baggy jeans and everything. She listens to the stuff he plays and she thinks he’s a crow and he’s going to get shot one day.

I blame Clive for all of this.  You’ve probably never met Clive. He goes to some public school and plays cricket. She thinks the sun shines out of his arse but I could tell her a few things about Clive. But I don’t, see. I’m not a crow. I’m an eagle and eagles are noble birds. What good would it do her or me? She wouldn’t listen anyway. She thinks I’m a crow, right?

I fly with eagles – not crows. Eagles don’t get shot.  They soar way above it all. That’s me and my friends soaring way above it all.

The exhibitionist in me couldn’t help but volunteer to read it out. It went down well. It was a complete story they agreed and they liked the juxta-positioning of crows and eagles.

Task 3 – yes, she managed to squeeze in another exercise. The rain was drumming on the roof and I was clock watching. I had long intended to be on my way, collecting the car from the car park before my allotted two hours was up.

The American Sentence is another familiar form of poetry that I have never tried. It is basically a haiku without the line breaks. Instead of a 5, 7, 5 syllable structure it is one sentence of 17 syllables and must tell a story.

Here’s why I was as twined as a bag of weasels.

He exits the room, slamming the door, leaving behind a stunned silence.

It was something I said earlier that day, something I shouldn’t have said, unkind even. I wish at times I hadn’t been taught how to talk. I abuse the privilege far too often. I am supposed to be building people up, not taking a hammer to what looks solid but is often fragile.

She munches on another biscuit choosing to ignore Monday’s scales.

So much for the determination to leave the biscuits alone.

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