Monday, March 14, 2016

Poetry Writing at Moniack Mhor

It had been a while since I last drove out to the writing centre at Moniack Mhor.  The last time, it had been a cold day.  Ice on a single track road, with twists and turns, and always the possibility of something coming in the opposite direction had not put me in the right frame of mind for writing anything – a will perhaps to cover the worst scenario on the way back.  Yesterday was a warm day, no ice and I was earlier than I needed to be.

The fourteen who signed up plus the tutor introduced themselves.  I am always suspicious then someone says they have never written poems before.  They always go on to write something well-crafted and inspiring.

Task 1 - to put pen to paper, to just make a mark, our first task involved choosing two words – an animal/insect and a favourite word and creating a three line poem using them both.  Something bad had to happen.

caterpillar munches leaves on a shuggley branch
blackbird eats caterpillar
life and death, two seconds apart

Not a great start to the day, but no one expected Shakespeare.  We talked about haikus - 5 syllable, 7 syllable – 5 syllable offerings of something a Buddhist would be proud to live by.  Our offerings if they hit the criteria were christened “bastard haikus”. 

Task 2 – the inspiration for this one was a Norman MacCaig poem “Notations of Ten Summer MInuites”.  We had more than ten minutes to come up with our own observations of the scenery inside or out.  I wrote notes, bent the rules, veered off topic somewhat and wrote something that contrasted the peace of Moniack with my normal classroom environment.  Some strong images were applauded. My opening and closing stanza were dismissed as having too much tell and not enough show.

Task 3 – I came into my own on this one.  A list poem is all about lists.  I do lists – the to-do kind which doesn’t always get done. “Questions I wanted to ask you in the swimming pool” by Emily Berry was the prompt.  She is a modern poet who has chosen not to post this poem anywhere on the internet – so no link. Her poem features a list of questions. This is where prose and poetry seem to nudge each other.  It looks like prose, reads like prose but it’s a poem.  Maybe it is the poet that decides it’s a poem and not the reader. We didn’t really sort that one out.


why must you place yourself in my line of vision, warm soft
brown with an illicit smear of icing? Why must your smell be
intoxicating, making me giddy with your spices? Why must you
corner me, call me, coax me into consummation as you stir my taste buds?
why must you hoard together a thousand calories or more and laugh at
my bathrooms scales? Why must you exploit my weakness? Why
must you be someone else’s forgotten slice- not mine? Don’t you know
I would never discard you?

Task 4 was optional, another list poem prompted by “Props” by Emily Berry.  The story is told through a list of props someone might compile as if they were planning a play.  In the case of “Props” it is a jaunt through the Bible story and God’s plan of salvation. 

Lunch was announced and I admit to abandoning my work easily to head to the kitchen.  Chicken soup was on offer and stuff to make sandwiches. Gluten free options were also covered. 

I didn’t need an hour.  It’s not as if I could pop into town and do some shopping. A turn about the various buildings didn’t take that long. I took a few photos with my phone but they weren’t up to much.  It was cold and breezy outside.  I coveted their clothes line and thought about washing that was stagnating in the machine at home.

Task 5 began with a look at the language we use.  Specialised vocabulary can be great for poets – apparently.  We were called to come up with a list of words - 3 scientific/medical words, 3 religious words, 3 words from the world of finance, 3 slang or street words, and 3 words from any other interest.

He shifts his atoms to meditate beneath a tree
And sows the seeds of his inner debt recovery
“Dude” he thinks, “Let’s baptise the bank balance
And resurrect the lymphatic system

Mitosis demands he doesn’t dis the baseline
Of his economic slump
Everything is level at deuce
It turns out he’s not the EMO he thought he was

Task 6 – yes, she was throwing everything at us in the hope that something would stick. The poem “The Race” by Sharon Olds was interesting in that the way the lines were structured with unnatural line breaks created speed.  It fitted the story of rushing to catch a plane.  Joe tells a story that because I was too busy nosing around the duty free store we almost missed a flight from Dublin.  I don’t remember it that way at all.

This was one poem too far. We were supposed to compose a journey poem, the journey being for an urgent purpose.  I took a slow walk to the toilet and a slow walk back – timewasting. I wrote and abandoned one thing to begin and abandon another.  I was poetried out.

We shared the different poems we had written and, I was right, these people who claimed not to have written poems before – I declared them to have stretched the truth a little.

We talked about free poems and structure.  There don’t appear to be any rules about line endings.  There is a song, or music, that is heard when a poem is read – a poet knows whether the music is good or not.  Someone suggested that as long as you could justify your line breaks they should stand – if you couldn’t then you must rethink.

We discussed the use of capital letters at the start of lines. The letter is perhaps too big and commands too much attention compared to the message of the poem.

We talked about reading and experiencing life and making that the basis of our intuition that something works or not.  You write what you write from what you read and experience.

The final piece of advice was to keep a messy notebook!

She issued two homework tasks without any obligation to do them and post the results on to her.  The second task which appeals was based on “My Mother’s Lips” by C K Williams.  He makes use of extremely long lines with multiple clauses – for what reason I have no idea.  It is the kind of poem I would never read to the end.  I might have a go at the homework though – my own ten lines of poetry made up of one sentence only.  Lots of clauses and commas are permitted. 
I left for home, the twisting single track downwards, armed with new ideas to try. The world, it seemed was watching either a rugby game on one channel or a football match on the other.  I was abandoning my usual rhyming couplets to write lists in my head instead.

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