Friday 16 November 2018

Running with it - back to writing (again)

After a few weeks of barely writing (post hand in slump!) I have been on a writing binge. Partly fuelled by the workshops and readings I went to at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and partly fuelled by a shift in my poetry thinking - something too hard to quantify exactly, but nevertheless I know it has happened. It's true I have been reading a lot and that definitely helps, and not just poetry books, but books concerned with writing - I found Mark Doty's "The Art of Description" particularly inspiring and really readable. Through looking closely at some well known (and not so well known) poems Doty focusses in on the essence of what makes good poems good.

Which brings me to this week when I was lucky enough to attend not one but two really inspiring poetry events. the first was Jacob Polley performing his show "Lamanby" at the National Centre for Writing in Norwich. "Lamanby" is a show featuring poems from Polley's award winning collection Jackself with video, sounds and music and atmospheric lighting, the Medieval Dragon Hall was the perfect setting for it. Polley is a superb performer and I am still thinking about the show almost a week later and have started re-reading the book - which, has, in turn, fed into my writing. The second inspiring performance I attended this week was Jill Abram's Stablemates in London featuring Mark Doty, Andrew McMillan and Fiona Benson. I don't very often book up for events in London as it is such a pain to get there, but Mark Doty rarely comes to Britain so it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I was certainly not disappointed - what an evening. Benson read from her forthcoming collection - the poems were mostly concerned with rape - to be honest I found them quite harrowing and was glad that she went first, though I think the book will be really good. Andrew McMillan is always a joy to hear read and did not disappoint. He read from "Playtime". Mark Doty was amazing - he read a bunch of new poems of his laptop. He was erudite and engaging and I went home with my poetry well brimming over and very pleased I had gone.

I started my latest writing binge in Aldeburgh. I began writing almost the minute I got there - it was like I had been given permission to put on my writing head - and I haven't really stopped since. I have begun several things that might become sequences of sorts. One thing came out of an exercise that I set my Friday class. We had been talking about sequences and what kinds  of topics might be good to write sequences about. We had brainstormed a list and I suggested writing about the thing on your list that you were least attracted to writing about. My subject was writing. I never usually write poems about writing - it's just not my thing - so that was the topic I felt I had to choose. I had bought in some books of sequences - one of which was "Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil" by C.D. Wright. The book is an exploration of writing, part essay, part poetry, part memoir. I picked it up and started flicking through it for inspiration and some phrases in pages I had previously bookmarked leaped out at me. This is how my sequence started - it is part comment on writing process, part fictional narrative and is interspersed with quotes by C.D. Wright. I am interested in juxtaposing the different elements against each other - I am not sure if it works but I found it exciting to write and edit. here is a short extract:

"The bishop had stopped paying attention and was dipping his biscuit into his lukewarm tea.

The poems were roaring along the road outside the overlarge window, they had the shapes of busses and lorries, cars even – but I wasn’t fooled.

‘Some of us do not read or write particularly for pleasure or instruction, but to be changed, healed, changed.’ (C.D. Wright)

When I returned from the bathroom the bishop was scrutinizing my notebook.

Your trouble, he said, is the undercurrents, everything beneath your surface is oily dark."