Thursday 27 May 2010

Seeing Things from a New Perspective

I have been struggling with my writing practice over the last couple of weeks. It is partly due to the fact that I am busy but is mostly due to a complete lack of inspiration.  I was beginning to get panicky as I have a dissertation tutorial on Tuesday and I basically haven't done any writing or editing since my last one. I have been trying too: I reinstated morning pages, I have been trying to read more and more diversely but nothing. Finally I decided that some drastic action was needed and today I decided to give myself the day off and to take myself on an outing. What Julia Cameron would term as both an artists date and filling my creative well. I decided to go on a river trip. i had been on one a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it and I have also been really attracted to rivers recently and have found myself wanting to read about them and write about them. I have recently read Alice Oswald's fabulous book "Dart" and I am currently (no pun intended) reading "The Water Table" by Philip Gross and have found both books mesmerizing.  

City boats in Norwich runs a daily river trip throughout the summer, the trip lasts three and three quarter hours and goes along the river Wensum and then the river Yare and eventually into one of the broads, where it turns round and heads back.  It is a great trip the boat driver gives a bit of commentary on the outward trip - mostly pointing out wildlife, landmarks and a bit of river history which I didn't mind at all. On the way back he is mostly quiet. I thoroughly enjoyed myself - I had a glass of wine and later a cup of tea and I scribbled furiously in my notebook for at least half the time. Sometimes you just need to get out of your comfort zone to give your imagination a kick start, too see things from a different or unusual perspective. Of course I have no idea if I have written anything remotely coherent or useful but just the fact of filling those pages feels like I've made a step in the right direction!

(This post was written was written after two large glasses of wine so sorry for any incoherence)

Friday 21 May 2010

The Dance, The Intellect and The Dream

This week I went to a master class with the Australian poet Les Murray. The class itself wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped but he is a lovely man as well as being an amazing writer and he did give us a few wise nuggets about the process of writing poetry.  One interesting thing that he said was that there are three parts to a poem – the dance, the intellect and the dream and the mystery is how much of each of these that you put in.  This rings really true for me and I know that some of my poems that don’t quite work have too much of one of these – normally intellect. It also reminded me of something our tutor said at the beginning of last term, which was that a good poem can be reduced to the steps of a dance. This is  an interesting idea – but I would say that it is not just any old dance – for instance you wouldn’t’ liken it to the skinhead moonstomp where you would just wade right in and trample all over your subject matter. But there is also a case for not being too delicate with your subject matter, pussyfooting around it and never quite getting to the point. I suppose if I had to liken it to a particular dance it would possibly be the tango...

Sunday 16 May 2010

A Poem is a Commotion

On Wednesday night the American poet Peter Gizzi gave a reading at UEA. I had not heard of him before I got the email inviting us to the reading but promptly looked him up on the inter-web and read a couple of poems that were really good. He was really inspiring and afterwards talked a little about writing - one of the things that he said was that "a poem is a commotion" which was really similar to something our tutor said last term - she said  that "a poem is a disturbance". When she first said it I was quite resistant to the idea but over the recent weeks I have endeavoured to observe where it is that my poems actually come from, where they begin.  In doing this I have begun to realise that she is right, often there is a physical disturbance or agitation that comes before a poem. The disturbance will come and then there will be an urgent need to write - like a mini birth I guess. Sometimes it can feel a bit like the feeling that you get when you are about to be sick (but without the actual nausea). Or it can feel like when you are building up to a big cough or a sneeze.  It is a very odd sensation and it often arises after I have read something inspiring or if I have been to a reading. But at other times it comes if I am on a journey (walk, train, car etc.) or in a new place. Sometimes it happens when I am simply walking along the street and over the years I have learnt to stop, get out my notebook and pen and write it down - because otherwise the idea is usually gone by the time I reach my destination. It's like when an idea comes just as you are dropping off to sleep - you might think that you will remember it in the morning but usually you don't. Sleep somehow seems to flush those ideas out however great and fully formed they seem at the time.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Evolution, Research and the Creative Process

David Hockney on the Southbank Show tonight said that most of his work is research and he articulated exactly what I feel about my own work. Maybe it comes from being a perpetual student and my thirst for learning or maybe it is just the natural evolutionary process of creation but I always feel that whatever I am doing is just a small step along the path to something else, perhaps something bigger and better, perhaps just something different. It is certainly true that my work has evolved over the past few years and I am often pleased and surprised by the new turns it takes.

I also think that as time has gone on I have wanted to do more research around my subjects matters - so that as well as writing from direct experience of the countryside I find that I am now wanting to read books about how the landscape has been shaped. The only trouble is that there is not enough time to read about all the things that I am interested in!

Saturday 1 May 2010

Big Journey, Small Journey

I am wondering if it is enough to write a collection of poems that are about journeys or does there have to be more to it, some deeper meaning behind it? Should the poems be making some kind of bigger point -should the collection be some kind of metaphorical or spiritual journey, or perhaps echo the journey through life?

One of our poetry tutors told us that a poem should not be a story or an atmosphere - so the question I need to ask myself is are my journey poems merely an atmosphere? They are certainly trying to capture both the atmosphere and essence of a particular place. I suppose, though, that for a poem to be purely an atmosphere it would have to be nothing more than a physical description of a place. On first reading my poems are just that, but I am also trying to convey something more, to give the reader something beyond place that they can relate to (so that you could read them without ever having been to the places within them and still get something from them). This is where the ideas of how man affects the environment and the idea of a life journey (life/death) come in. Through physical description the poems convey a sense of how man changes the landscape - using ideas such as: fields, crops, litter, signs, etc. The use of devices such as the crosses on trees waiting to be felled also indicates this physical changing of the landscape but also alludes to the idea of life and death.