Poems (work in progress)

This page is a small collection of my drafts – I can’t put a great deal of finished work on my blog, because it needs to be fresh and unread for any potential publishers. A writing blog without any writing is rather dull though, so this is your chance to get a glimpse of my work in progress. I redraft many times, and often leave a fair gap between my first writings and feeling that it might (might being the operative word) be finished.

Knife Angel poetry workshop March 2020

Images from British Ironwork Centre

I finally plucked up the courage to go to a real life poetry workshop, and you can read more about my experience on my blog, but I thought I’d put my drafts here. 

Responding to the knife angel is complex. It’s an imposing, impressive sculpture, with an element of beauty, that sits in conflict with the reality that it represents. For me two things kept coming back – the fact that many of these knives had been part of someone’s home, and the responses people had to the work as they were looking at it. All ages stopped, looked and thought as they walked through Southwater. It’s not an easy piece of art, but it’s starting an incredibly important conversation, and a quick glance at the visitors book in Southwater library shows its impact and relevance. 

The first task we were set was to write a list poem, a poem with a set word or phrase repeated throughout. It’s a nice place to start – having the phrase already gets rid of that awful blank page feeling, and the repetition gives a rhythm and structure to the work. 

Here’s my draft

The knife angel sees the handles you chose

the knife angel sees your hi-vis

the knife angel sees you spy its armoured gold thumb

the knife angel sees purples and sea greens and whites

the knife angel hears you say that it’s cool

the knife angel hears that it’s beautiful

the knife angel hears

imagine if those were your knives

This is by no means complete – but I’ve captured what struck me as I was looking at the Knife Angel. I was immediately drawn to the expression, and the hands ( as many are I suspect) and the sense of pleading and acceptance. Hearing the responses of others was a great resource, and I’d have liked to have spent longer gathering these.

For our second poem, we took a line that leapt out from our list poem as being significant. My list poem hasn’t got any particularly beautiful imagery, but my focus keep going back to the overheard phrase “imagine if those were your knives”. Here’s my draft.

The national monument against violence and aggression

Imagine if those were your knives

being photographed by the old man in a blue puffa jacket,

inscribed with the words of the loves of the dead.

Imagine if those were your knives,

held by their handles, slicing through

bread. Sandwiches for when you could work.

Imagine if those were your knives,

tearing through days long after you’d gone

curved to sharp shell of beauty with dragonfly spine,

rusting to colours that aren’t in the rainbow,

carving thoughts that need to be said.

Imagine if those were your knives.

Images from British Ironwork Centre

Poetry School 2018

I’m doing two short courses with The Poetry School. These courses are done as a “studio” which means I work as part a group, under the guidance of a tutor. I have a portfolio of poems as inspiration, and weekly assignments.

Poetry School Studio The Decisive Moment

These poetry studios are a fantastic resource for me. The work is done online, so it’s easy to dip in and out of. We receive a portfolio at the start of the course, which includes relevant poems and a bit more detail about how the course will work. After that it’s a case of getting stuck in. Each week sees a new assignment, which we submit for feedback form our peers and our tutor. It’s an exciting process, I love to see how  people have interpreted my work, and to see what they’ve enjoyed. I even love seeing what hasn’t worked. As a process, it helps me to trust my inner voice and know that if I don’t think something is quite right, it probably isn’t.  I thought it would be useful to record my work here, so you can see the original, and then the changes I make following feedback. It’d be great to get your comments too. There are three assignments in all, which I’ll post as I complete.

The theme for this studio is “The Decisive Moment”, which is as rich a resource as you might imagine.

The Decisive Moment Assignment One.

Our task for this assignment was to focus on a specific moment of revelation or change. Quite a big subject. We were tasked to create an atmosphere of revelation, and be faithful to the original moment. Our pre-work helped me to focus and pinpoint the moment I wanted to tackle.

This is my first (ish) draft.

Mist

Mist clings but does not soak

Breathe. I feel it spread 

I cannot grasp. I float.

Needle whispering whips of grass

snake round scuffed shoes, grey socks.

Mist clings but does not soak.

Turn and face the ghosts of fields

pick out my shadow path.

I cannot grasp. I float.

I draw up to my full three foot ten

Suspended

Mist clings but does not soak.

Imagine that I am not seen

stare down his bloodshot glare

I cannot grasp. I float.

Mist is another word for home

the edge, ahead, behind.

Mist clings but does not soak

I cannot grasp. I float.

I chose this form simply because I’m trying to train myself in more structured poetry. I tend to use free verse as a default, but I think I need to improve my knowledge and use of structure. I like the repetition of this form, plus it used to be used for pastoral scenes, so it seemed a reasonable (if slightly loose) fit. It’s not a true Villanelle ( only a half rather than a full rhyme) but it gave me a good framework.

Here are the some of drafts that led up to this stage.

IMG_20181001_104636356_HDR-COLLAGE

Typing up is the stage when I feel I’ve got to the point of what I want to say. I’ll tweak and change on screen until the sounds work as I want them to. I’m expecting to make a fair few changes to this. My usual strategy is to leave a piece of work, then come back to it. This one will be a bit different, because it’s going straight out into the world before it’s finished. I’ll post updates as I get feed back.

Feedback on my first draft is coming in. General thoughts are that the misty feeling is good, and the repetition works (lots of people mention “childlike” which is exactly what I was aiming for). Folk are getting lost in the last part of the poem, wondering why I’m “drawing up”, and generally finding it all a bit woolly. Work needs to happen. Foreshadowing has been mentioned and that can definitely happen. My feeling is that I need something more definite than the “bloodshot glare” (which is edging towards melodrama). I might lose the ghost-like fields too. They make me wince a little.

 Assignment One Second draft

This is version two. I’ve cut away a lot of the fluff, and the cliched images. I feel a bit awkward about version one now, but it’s good to see the process. Getting feedback from a wide group ( there’s 18 in this one) means I gain a solid impression of what works and what is confusing or distracting, as well as what is just plain wrong. It’s not always easy, and I’m starting to wish I’d never written this particular piece. It may yet be abandoned, but I shall see how I feel in a few days.

Your comments and feedback are very welcome.

Maiden Castle (v2)

Mist clings but does not soak

Breathe in and feel it spread .

You cannot grasp. You float.

Turn to face ghost-like fields

spy the other path.

Mist clings but does not soak.

Needle whispers still come through and

snake around your  scuffed up shoes.

You cannot grasp.  You float.

Draw up to all your three foot ten, feel

sparks run through your legs

Mist clings but does not soak.

Imagine that you are not seen

stare through the whisperers’ glare.

You cannot grasp. You float.

Mist is another word for home

yours is the edge, ahead, behind.

Mist clings but does not soak

You cannot grasp. You float.

I feel happier with this one. The winsome Fiver-like “I’m in a mist”  (one for Watership Down fans there) feel has gone, and I feel like there is a bit less of teenage gothic drama wafting around. Feedback is good, the musicality is still there, and people still like the imagery. I’m still unsure whether to continue working on this piece, but I’m not abandoning it entirely.