Sunday, 17 December 2017
Arvon and a tentative return to form
It has been a busy couple of months since I last blogged. In November I went on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank. The course was called The Difficult Second Album and was aimed specifically at poets writing a second collection. I had been looking longingly at it in the brochure on and off all year, knowing that there was no way that I could afford it. However in September I decided that I would ask them for a grant - assuming they would say no - they said yes, and then I got my Arts Council grant and that paid for the other bit and the train tickets.
On arrival I was initially disappointed to find that Helen Mort was too sick to come and that Bill (Herbert) would instead be running the course with Tara Bergin who had originally been the planned mid week reader. Tara stepped in as tutor and Kim Moore took her place as midweek reader.
On the first evening we were asked a series of questions about our own writing practice (things we were happy or unhappy with, things we might want to change) and about the collection we are working on, these were questions to take away and think about during the week. This was extremely useful. I found that during the course of the week some things had begun to shift in the way I was viewing my collection and how the poems were working together as a whole.
In the morning workshops the tutors gave us lots of exercises that were designed to take us out of our comfort zones and our usual go-to ways of writing. All the exercises were fun but some were quite challenging. I found that even if I didn’t produce anything immediately usable I was almost always left with the beginnings of something to work on later. These exercises gave me some new approaches to my subject matter that I will definitely take forward and use in my collection. I produced several poems during the week that once edited might well go in the collection too.
The tutorials that I had with Tara and Bill were immensely helpful. Bill provided interesting ideas on ordering of lines and stanzas within individual poems. We also had a really interesting discussion on how the poems (and the voices of the poems) were fitting/working together in the collection as a whole – ordering the collection is something that I have been struggling with so this was really helpful. I have come away with new ideas on how to approach this – for example I am now planning to break up a sequence of poems that had previously been clumped together and use parts of it between the other poems in the book to tie them together thematically. Tara gave me some really useful ways of thinking about and owning difficult subject matter and on how to tap the power of particular poems. She also gave me a very helpful suggestion about retitling a poem to make it more alarming and powerful.
The group was lovely and right from the beginning it felt like a very supportive and creative atmosphere to be in. I came away from the week invigorated and inspired - and sad to leave the hills and my new poetry family behind.
Of course once back in everyday life it is hard to keep up the momentum. I have managed little bits of writing though, and this week I found myself writing a specular. The specular is not a form I had been particularly drawn to before, although I had written one - or rather made one (from bits of John Berryman's letters to his mother) during my week at Lumb Bank. I have been using a lot of repetition of words, phrases and lines in my recent poems - although not using strict forms. I have been using some rhyme as well, which is something I am not usually a fan of. It is interesting to me that I am being drawn to rhyme and repetition. I have often felt a real resistance to writing in form in the past. I like the way a specular can change the meaning of what has previously been said and bring new insights into the subject of the poem. I am now beginning to wonder if I will end up having anything like a sestina or villanelle in the collection - some of the repetitive poems almost feel like they could be in one of these forms - however where the subject matter is very chaotic it felt more natural that they were almost in form but not quite, so that the poem becomes as dysfunctional as its subject matter.