poetry

31 Days Guest Post by Fiona Melrose: Poetry performed Alchemy on My Prose

One of the wonderful things about my 31 days of blogging on mental and creative resilience is how I have made the acquaintance of new and interesting people who are finding ways to enhance their own creativity and are trying new things. One of these people is Fiona Melrose. She told me how attending a poetry course had revolutionised how she approached writing longer pieces. I immediately wanted to hear more since poetry and rhythm are important aspects of my own prose. In this guest post Fiona explains to us how her poetry course taught her to write from ‘inside the word’ then move out to the sentence. Here is her most interesting post.

As an elective of my MA I signed up for the 6 week poetry Module with poet Liane Strauss.  I had, like many writers, dabbled with poetry but never with any serious intention.  By the end of the six week course,  my poetry was much improved but as a prose writer everything had changed, and all for the better.

I came to the poetry course at a time when I was struggling with my writing on a fundamental level.  I had over fifty thousand neurotic, empty words sitting in a drawer and none of them, I felt, had anything to do with who I am or what I hoped to achieve as a writer.

The course changed the way I write from the inside out not only in terms of technique but in terms of subject matter.  Both the art and the craft of writing were turned on their heads.  I have thought about this at some length trying to understand how so fundamental a shift could have occurred.

The most important archeology took place around the sentence.  Given that, in my abandoned novel, the larger sweeps of plot and form were failing me, the return to not only the sentence but the weight and play of individual words in them, was the perfect place to start to rebuild my writing.  Writing poetry demands a forensic attention.  Not only to the moment you are trying to capture or express but on a technical level too.  Each point of punctuation can fundamentally alter the heft and meaning of your entire poem. This taught me to write from inside the word and then out to the sentence, then the paragraph and so on.  This is not to say I always achieve this but at least I now know what I am aiming for.

Clarity and economy are synonymous with good poetry and if ever I learned to cut and edit sentences it was here.   Instead, rhythm and texture are all a by product of the sentence and the number of breaths it takes to express its meaning.  The oral nature of poetry made me so much more aware of how my sentences sound and how my breath travels through them.  This has also translated into how I can inhabit a character’s voice.  I have never really understood what it means when we speak about “voice” in fiction and the importance of finding it in oneself.  The poetry course taught me that it is a person’s own natural poetry.  How their age, culture, physicality, their most secret thoughts, all come together in the sound they make when they speak, be it direct speech (dialogue) or narration.

Poetry is rich is symbolism and metaphor, everything matters.  There is no colour, animal , sound, allusion that isn’t there for a reason.  Everything is working on at least two levels, possibly more.  This has made me much more aware of what might previously have been dismissed as “incidentals” in my fiction.  If I write about a tree is is a tree but it is also about a family tree about rootedness in the tribe and about belonging.  If a dog dies it is also about the death of a loyal bond and the dog in the Fool card in the tarot deck which represents the original self, the unencumbered soul.  Foxes feature heavily in my novel and much thought has gone into that choice.   For me, these choices put the poetry into the prose.

The course had its difficulties for me too.  The very personal often confessional nature of poetry demanded that I be more visceral about what I was prepared to put on the page.  I have an analytical, academic training and in retrospect my “first” book had a distance too it.  I found writing poetry in the first person very challenging.  Sharing it made me feel vulnerable and I felt it too confessional, even vulgar or indiscrete.  I am still no fan of this type of writing, but, I know that it has taught me to much braver on the page, seeking out the tooth and claw in a sentence and in a character as opposed avoiding it.

I wrote a short story just after the poetry class and for the first time the voice of the character came to me as naturally as if it where my own.  For the first time in fiction writing, I felt less as if I was trying to make something up than I was trying to get something down.  It was less about manufacturing a plot or character and felt more as if I were simply transcribing the images and scenes unfolding a few inches above my head and the words I was hearing in the character’s voice.  This story just came out in one exhalation and sounded nothing like me or anything I had written before.  It has become the basis for my new novel.

I believe that writing poetry allowed me to continue to write and explore my creative process but forced the expression through non-habitual routes and in so doing produced a more exciting, non-habitual response. I cannot recommend this enough.

Course: The 6-week poetry elective with poet Liane Strauss was part of the MA Creative Writing at Birckbeck, University of London.  As students we produced a short collection of poems and a critical essay on an aspect of the craft.

Fiona Melrose was born in Johannesburg where she studied and taught politics.  She is a writer, reviewer and blogger.  Her short fiction has been published and she is completing her first novel.  Fiona lives in Suffolk with two charming dogs who approve of her habit of writing stories in her head on long muddy walks.

You can follow Fiona on twitter at @papercutprint and visit her site at site www.papercutpublishing.tumblr.com

Sincere thanks to Fiona on this fascinating post. Please post a comment if you have experienced a course or activity that has changed how you write.

31 Days: Finding Wordfire

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

A busy day today so I have just time for a flying post. I saw a link this morning  to English actor Benedict Cumberbatch reading John Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

The luxuriance of Ode to a Nightingale reminded me of the experience of studying poetry in school, of being immersed in a poem, of committing sections of it to memory, of speaking the words and feeling the rhythm of them, becoming familiar with them. Listening to the reading of Ode to a Nightingale and the nonsense poem Jabberwocky I realised that in my quest to be a writer in the middle of a prosaic family life, I read and enjoy the language of books – for example Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane and Eowyn Ivny’s The Snow Child have been recent favourites – but I haven’t taken the time to dive right into the feeling of language, to enjoy it’s musicality, rhythm and sound spoken out loud, to experience it with many senses.

Here is the link to the poetry reading http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8NJneIVXJA&feature=youtu.be It has certainly inspired me and reminded me what I love about language and why I want to be a writer. You’re inspiration might be something different but whether it’s a book, a poetry reading recorded or live, or finding the work of an author such as Penny Goring who does things with language that you didn’t know it could do (see her book THE ZOOM ZOOM) it’s great to find something that puts the fire back into your wordspinning.

Have you found something that has made you excited about writing again? Let us know in the comments.

Don’t forget this weeks Photo Writing Prompt Comp, post entries until Sunday night!

If we thought that love was gone

by Alison Wells (1991)

i

If we thought that love was gone

that out of sweetness none remained

why should we catch the balmy air

its warm and laden music strained

upon a wise and falling light

the evening coming home to rest

the wide relentless sky still bright

like a heart stretched taut with care

then shall we find brim-comfort there

that what is now, not past is best

the full and glowing day now done.

ii

Why should we catch the balmy air

with glee and toss it through our hair

shout and stomp and shout again

that all we want to be is here?

And yet we grip rich beauty tight

must keep this fleeting joy so rare

within our touch, our taste, our sight

but scent and sound they drag us back

to scenes of sweet and haunting pain

and put us face to face with fear

that what is gone will ever lack

iii

Shout and stomp and shout again

that what despairs cannot be heard

Feel the sun – a love’s embrace

the breeze becomes a tender word

that soothes the soul, the heart and mind

and summer’s wealth of promise stored

makes the falling evening kind

and musings touched with warmth erase

the tracks where restless hopes keep pace

Then loss and aching quiet ignored

both strength and beauty now remain.

This poem appears in the Poetry Against Cancer book. Poetry Against Cancer is a collection of poetry from writers around the world; all the money raised from the book goes to St John’s Ward at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, the Haemotology and Oncology ward.

You can BUY IT HERE.

Poetry – Summer

Restless blood thumping
Sin spinning in the thick river
Hot flesh
Neck dips slip
sacred hollows
Smooth slices
honeyed shoulders
Teeth and lips sinking
plum juice
The dark interior
Pulse points, black veins
Liquid gold pouring
On the shallow surface

Skin buzzing with molecular nectar
Crackle
Winter embers from ash
flare, flash
Incinerated self-slivers sail into the wide sky
The soul’s discarded dust, now seed of snow

New Poem – Year of the Dog

Year of the Dog

Will you make a place for me

at the end of your bed?

I will lie

Against the shape

of long toes

in the crook of your limbs

waiting

guarding the morning against the night

holding your dreams in my mouth

spilled against the counterpane

but you are warm

and your breath dips and lifts

since the beginning

I have always been there

sentry of your longing

You wake, snuffling into life

You put your hand on my head

I lie under it.