For Holocaust Memorial Day

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Ash Flower  (after Anselm Keifer)

The dead, who are thinner than gas,
might fit comfortably in their millions
in a simple cardboard box.

So why this desolate hangar?
Ankle-deep in guano and plaster-dust,
quiet as a sick forest –

(was Buchenwald once really a forest?)
Trees, acid-stripped and skeletal,
grow down out of a broken pane of sky.

Why has he painted such a mighty space?
Must we fit in there with them?
The millions whose last words

were a scrabbled cunieform on the inside
of the heavy chamber doors,
thickest where the handle should have been?

 

Books, books, books

A small hello from me, with a collage of my current and recent reading material…oops, missed out Bunny by Selima Hill, which I’m re-reading for the poetry book club I go to. Ah well, you’ll just have to imagine a cover for that one.

Workshops – during and after

Hello! This is for anyone who would like to know what kind of stuff happened in my recent creative writing workshops for The Forge in Stanley. It’s also a bit about how poems might develop after such a workshop. If that’s not for you, then no worries, see you later xx

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I recently ran two versions of the same workshop, one as an open public 3-hour workshop for Northern Writes Festival, and a shorter 2-hour version this morning for the Just For Women group. The basic structure was the same, but with 3 writing exercises in the longer version, 2 in the shorter session. In both, we start by drawing a map of somewhere we knew well as children. Over 30-45 minutes, we add on layers of details – street names and nicknames; people, animals, significant trees; places where stories happened to us and to others; urban legends; colours, sounds, textures and smells. It’s incredible how much detail you can recall using the technique of mapping.

Then we read a couple of example poems. I think of this bit as a choice between ‘landscape’ and ‘portrait’. The poems I’ve been using have been The Bight by Elizabeth Bishop, and Jean by my friend Jane Burn. We talk for a while about images, how to make them vivid, how to make verbs work hard for you. (Jean’s hair doesn’t curl, it ‘fizzes’, for example). Then we free write a landscape or portrait of our own, using the maps and their memories as our inspiration.

In the longer workshop I also ask people to try a short prose-poem or piece of flash fiction telling a real or imagined anecdote, and hand people some examples of ludicrous but real headlines to get them going. (One person in Stanley used this one – Ghost Hunters Stumble On Graveyard Porn Shoot). At some point we have tea. At the end we give our pieces a bit of spit-and-polish, talk about what editing we might do at home, share the bits we like so far. And then…

Well this is what happened to mine – huge frustration, followed by a couple of edits that got me quite close to a finished poem. It may not be brilliant, but it’s more interesting than versions 1 or 2. In my opinion.

Blackbirds

Sleek among the rotten

leaves are blackbirds

dandily stabbing

swallowing small things

whole; should a brother

wear a white patch

volleying pecks at him

(naturally to death)

other as he is to the Race

and Nation of Blackbird,

that reaches in the dark

to the outermost edges

of the next bird’s song.