Signpost Sixteen, ‘What Lies Within’, Claire Dyer

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Oh, I have such a treat for you! This stunning poem is from Claire Dyer’s deliciously multidimensional collection, Interference Effects, published by Two Rivers Press in 2016 and available from this link: http://tworiverspress.com/wp/interference-effects/ (as well as all the usual places that don’t need to be mentioned here).

You can learn more about Claire and her writing (novels as well as poetry) from her website: http://www.clairedyer.com/

A bit of insider info. for you, too: Claire Dyer’s the sort of person who shares her chips with you, makes sure you have a seat in a crowded room and introduces you to everybody. She also has wonderful hair with happy curls. Call me a weirdo, but I think generosity of nature and sparkle of smile beneath happy hair are the sort of things that leak into a person’s writing. Do buy the collection!

I had the pleasure of meeting Claire at the South Downs Poetry Festival, where she facilitated a workshop on first and last lines. I’ve just dug out my notes from her workshop and I’ve written:

“First – shocked    lulled    find something of yourself

Last – surprise, but also make you want to read it again”

Let’s have a look at the poem and see if Claire’s followed her own advice (!). Here it is, reproduced with her kind permission:

 

What Lies Within

Like when you’re outside and the lights are on
inside churches and whatever faith there is
is fidgeting under the transept window
and you’re back with Nan, slipping fifty pence
into the collection box, fanning
the gilt-edged pages of your hymn book;

or when café chairs are stacked
and striped by sunlight behind the railings
of Pizza Express before it opens
and moorhens are splitting the blue water
of a river nearby and a waiter lights up
his first cigarette of the day;

or when there’s a row of shaving mirrors
at the barber’s, each tilted to an angle
a few degrees different from its neighbour
so there’s always another view of the sky,
another view of a woman smiling at something
the someone she’s walking with said;

or when, stepping from a taxi, you see
the fizz-torn dazzle of a streetlamp
in the buttery yellow of a pavement after rain
and girls’ heels chatter as umbrellas
are folded away and a maraschino cherry
gets dropped into a cocktail glass;

or when you dip your hand into a pond
at Kew and the koi flick and
tremble and whittle your fingers
with their cheese-grater teeth and you stare
and stare into the back of their eyes
looking for what lies within.

 

(See? I said it was a treat, didn’t I?)

 

The first line is clever, starting with “Like when” as if you’re in the middle of a conversation with the poet – it draws you in.  The last line is stunning, suggesting the dimension of the soul and – yes – it makes you want to go back and read the poem again. When you do, you see the soul is in the city, as well as in the carp, and how cool is that?

I’m not about to go through the entire poem, picking out all the words and ideas that make you go all tingly, because you’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself and it would be annoying, but I can’t help myself point out the brilliant idea of faith “fidgeting”, which leads me to also point out that this poem has lots of movement, which adds to the excitement you feel reading it – as well as “fidgeting”, there’s “slipping”, “fanning”, “splitting”, etc.

The sounds are wonderful, too. I can hear the plop of the maraschino cherry being “dropped into a cocktail glass”. And notice the satisfying rhythm of this poem and how it’s laid out with attention paid to the subject of each line, with the pleasing repetition of “or” at the beginning of each stanza.

On a personal level, the joy of this poem is that it reminds me of when I was recovering from depression and I’d realised how difficult it is, when you’re depressed, to acknowledge good things. I was outside Waterstone’s in Deansgate, Manchester, with a friend and I winced at a parent shrieking at its child. My wise friend said, ‘Yes, but look across the road – there’s a mother smiling at, and cuddling her baby!’ The point I’m making is that, if you want to, you can find beauty all around you. This poem finds it in the glow inside a church, the gilt edges of a hymn book, the sunlight through railings on the chairs stacked outside Pizza Express, the shaving mirrors at the barber’s.

In a way, it feels a bit of a cop out choosing this poem. There are many more “difficult” poems in the collection. I nearly plumped for the poem, ‘The Weight of Two Eggs’, which is surreal and beautiful and poignant all at once, and takes some thinking about, which then leads to that gratifying penny-drop moment. But in the end, I had to choose this one, because it fills me with such joy and I wanted you to experience it, too.

A little note about the featured picture, which is of a Morpho butterfly. There’s an explanation of the collection’s title at the beginning of the book, which reads:

“The wings of the Morpho butterfly reflect incident light in successive layers, leading to interference effects that produce colours which vary with the viewing angle.”

And, finally, for your own poems: pay attention to your first and last lines, consider sound and movement, and remember to take your notebook with you everywhere to note down the beauty you see, as you look at the world with poet’s eyes.

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Signpost Fifteen, ‘Joshua’, Rebecca Bird

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This gorgeous poem by Rebecca Bird is sure to inspire you to write a poem. I’ve chosen it partly because it’s fabulous, and partly because of the subjects: staying up all night, friendship, night-time in the city. All of these are evocative and work perfectly as poem prompts.

The title is clever in its simplicity. It’s simply a name, but immediately makes you want to know why Joshua has inspired a poem ­– what is it about him?

Here’s the poem, by kind permission of the author. It comes from her first collection, Shrinking Ultraviolet, published this year by Eyewear publishing. You can buy it from the link at the bottom of this post.

 

JOSHUA

I keep thinking we’re back in the city, racing drunk
through dawn, night finally clicking off the boil

and you, steps ahead, shining halogen light under your chin
as if the sweet burnt lamps knew you like butter.

This is where I return to you – yes these streets,
where a milk float yawns past, the puddles in neon

as we start to make sense; the closing dark
is where you belong – the large laughs

still glinting from our teeth –
champagne blushing cheeks.

The sun will arch an eyebrow your way:
this day doesn’t begin without your say-so.

 

This poem is so evocative that every stanza is a poem prompt or two in itself. I love the beginning, “I keep thinking we’re back in the city”, because things that I “keep thinking” almost always end up in a poem, and also because it must be something important, or nagging at the poet, so we want to know what it is. “Racing drunk” is a great description, which gives the image energy, then “night finally clicking off the boil” is one of those inspired ideas which you wish you’d thought of yourself and reminds me to keep my notebook handy at all times and notice things around me which may be worthy of a poem. I mean, how many times have I seen/heard a kettle click off the boil and not realised how useful the image is? Der…

The second stanza is delicious. The poet has placed the word “sweet” there, then cleverly used the idea of the buttercup under the chin. A daft thing we used to do as children. So “sweet” + childhood daftness = lovely feeling of childhood freedom and exuberance in the reader. Rebecca Bird really knows what she’s doing!

The third stanza has a lovely, “yes” in italics, as if the certainty of the fact is important and “these streets” places you right there in the poem, with the yawning milk float (wonderful image) and the “puddles in neon”. And who doesn’t love puddles in neon?

The fourth stanza takes the poem to another level – a philosophical level, where “we start to make sense”. Joshua belongs in the “closing dark”, a bittersweet image, paired with “large laughs”. I’ve never heard the word “large” put with “laughs” before. This – again – shows the poet’s skill in bringing the reader something fresh with every line and reminds me to never lazily stick a word along with another one, just because that’s what I’m used to. That would be dull, yet is incredibly easy to do.

The penultimate stanza has “glinting” and “blushing” along with “champagne”, so we have a fizziness that makes us smile. There’s also a faint hint of weddings there, which is intriguing.

I adore the image of the sun raising an eyebrow (once again, the poet has used a fresh word, i.e.“arch”, not raise, as I just automatically did) and the final line is fascinating and leaves us with so much to think about: Why does Joshua have this much power? Power over what or whom? What happens next? What happened before? I don’t know about you, but I really fancy a night out with Joshua!

 

***

 

Once again, please let me know in the comments if this blog has inspired you to write a poem. Personally I’m going to think of times I’ve stayed up all night and think back through friends I have and maybe some I haven’t seen for years. Do I associate particular places or events with that person and – if so – why? And I’m going to walk round with my eyes open today and try and notice some more clever images or sounds to go in my writer’s notebook, like that kettle clicking off.

***

 

Here’s the link to use for buying Shrinking Ultraviolet. It’s a cracking collection of poems:

https://store.eyewearpublishing.com/collections/eyewear-20-20-aviator-pamphlet-series/products/shrinking-ultraviolet

You can read about the author on her website, www.rebeccabird.co.uk.

Signpost Fourteen, ‘Peanut butter moon’, Kate Garrett

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How does she do it? Kate Garrett has just produced yet another beautifully-written collection. This poem is from ‘You’ve Never Seen a Doomsday Like It’, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing (link to buy it below).

I’ve chosen this poem as a signpost (see the ‘About’ section for an explanation) because it is so evocative. In fact, it leaves you reeling. It’s also the first prose poem I’ve featured. I think Kate Garrett is a master of prose poetry. She manages to be uplifting and spooky at the same time, so it’s not surprising she manages to write poetry which is prose which is poetry, etc. There are endless resources and arguments available to read on the subject of what is and isn’t a prose poem and that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog. However, you will certainly pick up some tips from this poem.

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Look at the first line: “When I was ten I was a ghost”. Immediately, we want to know more; how can this be? Then a white-painted face looms in our mind’s eye, with “deep, black-ringed eyes”. Is that makeup? Stage make-up for Halloween? Or a pale child with shadows around her eyes from not sleeping? She’s apple-bobbing. What are the apples? Are they real apples? Or is she trying to grab at something? Why is it a “drowning pool?” Why is she alone? We know there’s something wrong. The sweetness of candy corn goes in a sentence with graveyard dares – sweetness, fear and fun, all together.

There’s a coming-of-age feel to the description of the change in beautifully-described clothing. We have ‘glittering hippie-witch’ along with ‘treasured pirate stripes and gold’. In this poem, danger is always mingled with beauty. I love that the poet is ‘floating’, like a ghost. We wonder whether she is unseen, or who is not seeing her.

The maple smoke gets in your senses, along with the caramel apple and the chocolate bar. Again, we have sweetness and fear blended as the poet is ‘Skipping down the spook trail’.

At the end, does the poet want to come back from the dead? We suspect not, as the chocolate bar is a ‘consolation prize’.

This has to be my favourite Halloween poem. You can smell it, see it, feel it and experience the knife edge between fear and joy. Obviously, it’s talking about childhood, starting, “When I was ten”. However, I think it also expresses other situations where, for example, sweet mingles with sour, or love mingles with hate.

A word about the language here. We have taste and smell as well as other senses. Some of the senses are mixed up, as in the taste of “graveyard dares”. We also have ‘real’ objects to set the poem in a place (“tents and RVs”). We have movement – bobbing, skipping, drowning and pushing. And the title! Ingenious to have a ‘peanut butter moon’ – curious, interesting, evoking childhood and halloween, sweet and spooky. This poem is full of life!

Probably worth buying for the cover alone, it’s from ‘You’ve never seen a doomsday like it’, published by Indigo Dreams. You can buy it from: http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/kate-garrett-doomsday/4593922000

doomsday

 

So for writing our own poems? Not usually one for prompts, in this case I think automatic writing beginning, “When I was ten…” may bear fruit. Or choose a different age and see what slides out of your subconscious.

Another idea to take from this poem is the contrasting feelings. Think of a situation where you felt happy, yet sad, or exhilarated, yet afraid.

Once again, if this blog has prompted you to write a poem, please say so in the comments!

 

Signpost Thirteen, ‘From the Book of Crow Etiquette’, Roy Marshall.

 

 

Crow

The purpose of this blog is to inspire you to write poetry. This ‘signpost’ is a corker.

 

I’m going to write that Ted Hughes quote here again:

“…imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.”

(Ted Hughes, in Poetry in the Making: A Handbook for Writing and Teaching, 2008, Faber & Faber)

 

Now look at this gorgeous, clever poem:

 

From the Book of Crow Etiquette

To avoid association with a crow’s death
feign a limp or otherwise disguise your gait
when passing a crow funeral. In order to escape
a scolding, don’t contest a crow’s right
to your roof or disrupt its visceral business
among fledglings and eggs. Crows have memories
like wet tar, can recognize the white-stitched ribbon
of a fruitful carrion road, the location of a yard
from which a stone was thrown. Tame crows
give pet names to their keepers; make of this
what you will. Crows that are damaged or ill
are often assisted by others, or else
done in. Decades may pass before a widowed crow
casts the cross of her shadow
on a long abandoned farmyard. A murder might mob
the one-time owner of a slingshot, now
a grandfather in the park. Crows bring gifts
to those who feed them, to children with no prejudice
or fear of crows. You might not need
a stash of broken necklaces, Airfix kit
of sparrow bones, lens cap rinsed in a birdbath,
nor a half heart locket inscribed with ‘Best’.
You may not wish for ‘friends’ to priest a garden fence
or wall, who call before your alarm sounds
and pick at your open dream.

 

From ‘The Great Animator’ Shoestring Press, March 2017 (link below for purchasing)

 

The poet has gone beyond describing crows and built up a whole crow world. In this poem, crows have funerals, rights “to your roof”, “visceral business”, memories, “give pet names to their keepers”, etc. Readers tumble into a world they never knew existed before reading the poem, and yet it seems strangely appropriate, believable.

There is a lot of black in this poem, without the colour ever being stated. Crows, funerals, tar, widows and priest, all make me think of a crow-like black. They are all serious, heavy images and yet there’s great humour in this poem, starting with the idea that you should, “feign a limp … when passing a crow funeral”.

The funeral, the limping, having to “escape a scolding”, the mobbing of the grandfather – there’s a lot of action in this poem, making it wonderfully interesting and active, while the images of the “wet tar”, the “white-stitched ribbon … road”, the “Airfix kit of sparrow bones” make me want to jump up and down, shouting, “Yes! Yes, it’s just like that!”

I love the unusual use of the word “priest” as verb. I love that the poet somehow moves at the ending from the idea that crows wake you up on the morning to the delicious words, “call before your alarm sounds and pick at your open dream.”

A word about the first and last lines. A first line of a poem needs to attract the reader’s attention and make you want to read the rest of the poem, and this one certainly does. A last line needs to leave something to linger in your mind just as the “open dreams” do.

So, for writing our own poetry, once again I’d suggest bearing in mind the Ted Hughes quote at the beginning of this post, but interpreting it in the way Roy Marshall has, with a whole world devoted to what you’re trying to convey. Avoid stating the obvious. For example, if your mind comes up with the word “black”, try and think what objects and/or ideas convey black to you and then let your mind run riot until it strikes upon something interesting.

Once you’ve let this poem sink in, I hope you find – as I do – that you feel you could now write a poem about pretty much anything, from a string of sausages to a cardboard box.

***

Thanks to Roy Marshall for allowing me to reproduce his poem here. It’s from his colleection, The Great Animator and details of how to buy it are on the poet’s own blog: https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/the-great-animator/. I’d buy it if I were you, because all the poems in it are as good as this one. It’s one of my favourite collections.

Roy

***

Once again, if anyone is inspired to write a poem as a result of reading this blog, please say so in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signpost Twelve, ‘Wordslast’, by Stephen Daniels

door

 

Reproduced here by kind permission of the poet, is the extraordinary poem, ‘Wordslast’. Have a good look at it and don’t worry if you don’t immediately ‘get’ it. The joy of this poem is that it creeps up on you, opening doors in your mind until it becomes part of your own experience:

 

photo wors

 

This poem plays with words, using wonderfully thrifty language (not a hint of a hint of pretentiousness or verbosity).

The title is clever and suggests a technique for coming up with your own poems. Notice when you hear or use a phrase to describe a situation and think about the relationship between the situation and the phrase, then try playing around with the words. I’ve listed some examples below. Here we have ‘wordslast’, which brings to mind the saying, “famous last words” , which implies impending doom. It also brings to mind the idea of a person’s last words; more impending doom. We are further unsettled because the words are the wrong way around (should be “last words”) and they’re stuck together, with no space between the words, which is even more unsettling.

Just one word and we are already worried! How’s that for economy? Pretty cool, huh? Onward…

So, start following through the poem and its story. In the first stanza a woman is shouting to shut the window and the narrator is compliant. The second stanza, we have more orders, but this time ‘screamed’ and with a door. In the third stanza, it’s a gate. The window/door/gate are shut/opened/locked to and fro’ as the word order moves to and fro’. Clever, innit?

Bear with me here because at this point I realised I had ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd playing in my head. In the Pink Floyd song, you are bombarded with a continuous rhythm of opening and shutting tills, suggesting that the influence of money is never ending. In this poem, it’s doors/windows/gates that feel never ending, and the sense that there is something still continuing – even today – in the poets’ mind.

By the fourth stanza, you are beginning to want to put your hands in front of your eyes. The word “incorrectly” sticks out of the rhythm and blasts like a car horn. It’s not going to end well. The fifth stanza is so painful, with  “wideeyes/Eyeswide” and “struggled”.

The final stanza breaks your heart. At first, I thought it was about holding someone’s hand as s/he/they said their last words, but it doesn’t have to be that – as the reader, it can be about whatever you want it to be!

This poem seems to be about a particular event, which carries a heavy weight of shame on the poet’s shoulders. It also seems to be about a continuous practise of people, maybe children, being shouted at and screamed at. There is a plaintive desperation in the repetition, “I said…I said”, “she pleaded… she pleaded”. The poet’s shame shudders in your mind.

You can ponder over this as much or as little as you wish, of course, but I take three things from it:

  1. I really must always explain things to people/children, rather than shouting at them.
  2.  I really must recommend Stephen Daniels’ pamphlet to everyone I meet, and
  3. I really must listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ again.

Here’s a list of examples of throwaway phrases/words that might trigger a poem in you and which you might be able to use with the words mixed up:

Chip off the old block

Clean slate

Insult to injury

Loose canon

Afraid of his own shadow

Against all odds

Fun and games

All in a day’s work

All’s well that ends well

Axe to grind

As the crow flies

At my wits’ end

Better safe than sorry

Bark worse than bite

Bewteen a rock and a hard place

Bites the dust

Bite the hand that feeds

Blessing in disguise

Blow your own trumpet

Busy as a bee

By hook or by crook

Cross that bridge when you come to it

Bright as a button

Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched

Down and out

Down in the dumps

Down to earth

Easy as pie

Fan the flames

Free as a bird

*

 

Stephen Daniels edits Amaryllis and Strange Poetry, both online poetry magazines featuring poetry that has something to say. Stephen is one of the fastest editors to respond to submissions – sometimes responding within 24 hours – so is a great choice if you happen to be impatient. I am very impatient. Stephen will always hold a special place in my poetry heart, as he was the first editor to publish one of my poems. Not only did he publish it, but he suggested I send another of my submissions to Three Drops From a Cauldron (https://threedropspoetry.co.uk/), demonstrating his generosity towards new poets, towards other magazines and towards the world of poetry generally. I mean, what a total dude!

If you’re not already aware of them, do have a look:

http://www.amaryllispoetry.co.uk/

https://strange-poetry.com/strange-poet-people/

I knew I was going to enjoy Stephen’s own poetry and pre-ordered his pamphlet ‘Tell Mistakes I Love Them’ from V. Press. You can buy it from the link below:

http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/p/bookshop.html

 

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Door picture from the free website, Pixabay

Signpost Eleven, ‘Froghopper’ by Jane Burn

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“…imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.”

(Ted Hughes, in Poetry in the Making: A Handbook for Writing and Teaching, 2008, Faber & Faber)

I love this quote from Ted Hughes because it makes poetry-writing seem the easiest thing in the world. There are so many Ted Hughes poems I could put on my blog, but I think everything that needs to be said about Ted Hughes and his poetry has probably already been said. I think it’s much better to introduce you to this gorgeous, vibrant poem from Jane Burn, which does just what Ted Hughes recommends. It is reproduced here by Jane’s kind permission and was first published in the literary magazine, Butcher’s Dog (http://www.butchersdogmagazine.com/)

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(Just a quick note here to say if you need an explanation of cuckoo spit, you can click https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=490 )

Now to the poem!

Jane doesn’t so much describe the froghoppers, as become them, complete with their own voice; “Mummy born us”, they squeak, or maybe chirrup, “…we be bred in the purple, like majesties.”

Then look at the dense language and description. Jane Burn puts on such a satisfying show! Every one of the senses is stimulated in this gorgeous cabaret of words.

Another thing to take from Jane Burn’s poetry is the concept of the line: every line in this poem contains something captivating. Look how words are used to make this poem exciting. For example, “lick the stink” rather than, “we eat lavendar sap”; “lettuce-frail” rather than just “small”; “eyes, peepy-black”, rather than “small black”.

In fact, I’ve pretty much decided Jane Burn is a poetic reincarnation of Ted Hughes. (You read it first here!)

Jane has this way of filling her poems with image after sound after feeling until you are reeling. I would highly recommend her most recent collection, ‘Nothing more to it than bubbles’, published by Indigo Dreams. The details are on this link, which will also give you more information about Jane:

http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/jane-burn/4593090960

nothing

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 So, for writing your own poems? Notice when you are struck by an interesting creature, object, concept and follow Ted Hughes’ advice. Collect your thoughts and ideas as they occur to you over a period of time, then start to form them in to a poem. Try and follow Jane Burns’ example and put on a cabaret!

Please do add a comment if this signpost has pointed you to a poem.

Signpost Ten, ‘Extremophile’ by Sheenagh Pugh

bacteria

This stunning poem will give you strength.

It was only a matter of time before I fell in love with one of Sheenagh Pugh’s poems. To quote from the back of Sheenagh’s recent collection, ‘Short Days, Long Shadows’ (Seren Books, 2014 – see details below):

“Sheenagh Pugh is a poet, novelist, translator, critic, reviewer and considerable online presence through her popular blog. She has won many prizes including the Forward Prize for best single poem, the Bridport Prize, the PHRAS prize, the Cardiff International Poetry Prize (twice) and the British Comparative Literature Association’s Translations Prize.”

She is also a very helpful person and thoroughly good egg,  willing to help people like you and me learn more about poetry. She has agreed to let me reproduce ‘Extremophile’ for you here:

 

ext

 

 

An extremophile is ‘a micro-organism that is capable of living in hostile conditions or an extreme environment’ (Chambers Dictionary, 13th edition). What I love about this word is that it is new to me and, before I looked it up and found out that it was a ‘real’ word, I thought it was a made-up, poet’s word, based on the idea of someone who likes extreme activities, like ‘extreme sports’ and this set me thinking about having a lust for life – cue Iggy Pop. Yes, to me this poem is rock and roll!

How exciting, how interesting, how inspiring that life can “live without sun, thrive on sulphur”! How life-affirming is it that “There is nowhere life cannot take hold… flourishing on bare stone”?  And don’t you just love “some chancer”? It makes you smile. It made me think of an art student who put a price tag of £2000.00 beneath one of his paintings at the end of term show and someone bought it! Reading this poem makes you think, “Yes, I will have ago! Yes it is worth a try!”

Look at the settings for the images of the poem: radioactive rock, the ocean floor, hydrothermal vents, Antarctic valleys. All these places are other-worldly, exotic, alien to us and yet real; another clue about life and its endless possibilities.

The end of the poem is breathtaking. The idea that the world itself is “the impetus never to leave it” is so profound and uplifting.

This poem is the first in Sheenagh Pugh’s most recent collection, ‘Short Days, Long Shadows’, published by Seren Books. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website with details of the wonderful book:

https://www.serenbooks.com/productdisplay/short-days-long-shadows

 

 

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Click on this link for Sheenagh’s blog, on which she features some of her poems. Enjoy!

http://sheenagh.wixsite.com/sheenaghpugh

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So for writing our own poems?

You could start by hunting out interesting landscapes, unusual places, strange habitats and see where that leads you. There are several outcrops of rocks around my town. They’ve already given me inspiration for one poem, but I think I’ll look closer and see what else springs to mind. I’ve just remembered there’s a yew tree in the park, which you can smuggle yourself inside and that’s definitely worth a closer look.

You could start with a science book. Find something notable or interesting and ponder on it for parallels in life. Think about it as you fall asleep and you may wake up with a poem idea!

Please note in the comments if this has inspired you to write a poem. No need to post your poem (unless you wish to).

***

A big thank you to Sheenagh Pugh for allowing me to reproduce her poem here.

The featured image is a free download from http://www.pixabay.com

 

 

Signpost Nine, ‘Shore Leave’, by Kate Garrett

ship

The sky is grey this morning. The air seems to lie heavy on my chest. I am in pain. I have Lupus, an autoimmune disease, so the pain’s nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Neither is it easy to be cheerful, as I drive my daughter to school through rush-hour traffic, trying not to care whose turn it should be to let people out and that I can’t stop for children trying to cross the road because the arsehole in the black BMW behind is far too close up my backside. Well, my car’s backside.

So here I am, in my dingy living room, with a cup of tea, a blank Word document and Kate Garrett’s pamphlet, ‘Deadly Delicate’. Does the pamphlet help?

Yes it absoflippinlutely does!
Pirates! Misunderstood, doing the best they can, swashing their buckles  (or buckling their swashes, even), hiding their hair, drawing blood – theirs or others’ – but only because they have to. And it’s not cartoon silliness, it’s real. These are poems that could easily have been told by the historical characters who speak to you from the pages of this powerpack pamphlet.

My favourite poem is ‘Shore Leave’. I have Kate’s permission to reproduce it for you here (I think it’s rather appropriate that it’s come out a little bit swimmy):

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The beautiful rhythm and imagery of the first line put you on the quayside, looking down at the ocean. You almost have vertigo, looking in to the water, which is moving, “drunken[ly]” with the “tide spit[ting] foam at your feet”. Then you feel the shore shift as you stand still. Anyone who’s stood on a beach knows this feeling of not knowing whether it’s you, the shore or the sea that is moving. You are dizzy and dropping and swirling and shifting and I make no skull and crossbones about saying isn’t life like that? Especially as you “look to the ground, the horizon.” But it’s ok; “Keep moving”, we’re told, for “better pleasures lie ahead”. There are taverns! Rum, fun, rest from the sea’s constant tides and the harsh life aboard ship. Once your “crooked sails” are “straightened” you can “climb back on board under the stars; look up” and then “slow the movement of the earth to a slumber.” I’ll say that again, slowly; “slow the movement of the earth to a slumber.” There, that’s better.

This looks like such a simple little poem, but it is skilfully crafted: full of movement and – if we want to see it – a way of coping with life and its relentless tides.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Kate read her poems and it’s just as true listening to them as reading them: there is no pretension; no “look at me” – not even any “poor me”, simply a truthful, matter of fact way of looking at the world, which is somehow filled with magic.

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You have a choice of where to buy Kate’s pamphlet. For details, you need only click on this link:

http://www.kategarrettwrites.co.uk/praise-for-the-density-of-salt–deadly-delicate.html

A final note on writing your own poems. How about looking at historical characters who interest or intrigue you? Pirates, witches, Roman centurions, Christians thrown to the lions, lions having Christians thrown to them…. Think about what their lives may have been like. If you don’t find inspiration there, then that’s another hat I’m going to have to eat.

Signpost Eight: ‘Summer with Monika’, Roger McGough

“Write a sequence?” Suggested my wonderful poetry mentor. I’m thinking of writing a Coronation Street-style sequence based on my street. Meanwhile, though, here’s a sequence and a half, the adorable and famous ‘Summer with Monika’, by the equally adorable and famous Roger McGough.

Of course, lots has already been said about Roger McGough and his poetry and that is all beyond the scope of this blog. ‘My Signpost Poems’ exists to help you find inspiration to write your own poems. ‘Summer with Monika’ is teeming with ideas!

My copy of ‘Summer with Monika’ was published by Penguin Books in 1990

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Here it is, being read by the man himself on Youtube. It’s over 8 minutes long, but so very worth listening to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G3tpJbgzoE

To start, ‘Summer with Monika’ was a fairly racy (for the time) Swedish film from 1953, directed by Ingmar Bergman. The film was based on a novel of the same title from 1951. The book inspired the film and the film – possibly – inspired the poem. It hadn’t occurred to me before to look for poem inspiration from book and/or film titles, but I will now.

The language in this poem is beautifully simple and clear. In the first section, he shows how the lovers’ home becomes a whole world, as they are too involved with love-making to go out:

“otherdays we went for long walks
around the table
and picknicked on the banks
of the settee”

The delightful images of the “shilling set[ting] on the horizon” and the milk bottles as carol singers are probably a little dated now, but what I love about this imagery is that McGough takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Have a look about you now and see if there are any objects you could make extraordinary. I’m in bed. My bed could be a magic carpet, the chest of drawers could be Pandora’s box, the fireplace could be a portal to a different universe…

Section 5:  “when the moon is waiting / for the first bus home / and birds assemble / for morning prayers”. Section 8: such love / as makes unhappiness / appear to have mislaid our address” . There is so much magic in this poem!

The poem begins to change in tone, as the relationship described changes; Section 14; “..our littletown / waiting for the sun /screaming with dull pain / to rise like a spark / from a crematorium chimney”. The poem takes us through the boredom, paranoia and jealousy of the relationship: Section 21, “our love is like a kitten in a well / the death of something young and softlywarm”;  Section 23, “when you wear your marriage face / boredom lounges round the place”; Section 40, “…there’s a strange man under the table / wearing only a shirt.”

A poem must have movement. It must have a crescendo. This would be dull and inconsequential if it simply rambled on about how much the characters were in love with each other. The movement through the different phases of the relationship make it a real page-turner and the ending is exciting in its mundanity: “our love has become as comfortable as the jeans you loung about in …. As nice as a cup of tea in bed”. Phew; I’m so glad they didn’t split up!

To conclude, the inspiration we can draw from ‘Summer with Monika’ is of finding ideas in book and film titles, looking at ordinary things and making them extraordinary and ensuring our poems have movement in their tone and/or story and/or ideas.

P.S. This is signpost Eight. Eight! If somone doesn’t comment that they have been inspired to write a poem as a result of reading my blog soon, I’m going to have to eat my hat, or whatever it was I said I’d do…

Signpost Seven, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot: Create your own Prufrock!

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This is likely to be my shortest blog post ever because pretty much everything that could be written about this wonderful poem has already been written.

There’s a wide choice of websites to read it on. I read it in the book I have as the “featured image”, which is published by Faber & Faber, London 1972.

You can read it on:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/44212

I like hearing it read by the man himself on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAO3QTU4PzY

You can also google notes on, explanations of, discussions about this poem. It’s worth reading this information, if you’re in the mood. This one’s easy to read if you can put up with the adverts:

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section1.rhtml

The point of this blog is to share poems that have inspired me to write my own poems and the gorgeous things I find inspiring about this poem are:

  • Memorable rhymes. Rhyme can be frumpy and old-fashioned. These rhymes add to the dreary, resigned feel of the poem:

“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo”

and

“Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;”

  • Imagery, for example that yellow fog
  • Gritty realism: “arms downed with light brown hair”, “do I dare to eat a peach?”
  • Repetition: “That is not what I meant at all”

So now to the point ; by which I mean the poetry-writing point . Develop as much self-awareness as you can over the following months (an incredibly useful exercise in itself), then create the poem for your own caricature; your own J.Alfred Prufrock.

The self-awareness bit will almost definitely involve asking people what they think of you, how they see you. A kind way to do this is to ask people what careers they think might suit you. You could look at photographs of yourself. Listen to a recording of your voice. Look up your name on a category list (mine is apparently very middle class). Try meditation and notice what thoughts consume your awareness (you may think your thoughts are about work, whereas they’re actually overshadowed by your passions for cheese sandwiches and Ms X in the accounts department). What have you always wanted to do and why have you never done it? What will you be like when you are old(er)?

Then write your very own J.Alfred Prufrock. It should be interesting.

P.S. I am now beginning the habit of asking someone to please add a comment when one of my blog posts has actually inspired them to write something, so, yes; that. No need to actually post your poem.