freedom part one

2 March, 2010

Lots seems to have happened in the two weeks since I last posted (not including yesterday) – bad girl. The day after I wrote about finding a voice, feeling tentatively optimistic about things becoming a bit easier, I had 1: some potentially paradigm-shifting news and 2: an incredibly helpful workshop, which has been trickling its way through my mind and out through my fingers ever since.  It appears that a few of us having been finding it hard to write this term, and our tutor spent a good chunk of time talking with us about what to do when that happens.

The first piece of advice she gave us was not to force it. One of the differences between poetry and prose (and I would agree with this) is that prose has its own momentum once it’s started: to a large degree you can just sit down at your desk and shove at it, no matter how uninspired you’re feeling. The same isn’t quite true of poetry. In fact it’s not true at all. I’ve written before about how it can often feel like pulling teeth (and this isn’t a question of the absence of some vaguely inspired feeling). But from November until a couple of weeks ago I was very good about not breaking the chain, trying to just crank it out, no matter what. I was in the middle of this just having fallen to pieces when our tutor pointed out to us that it really doesn’t work like that; she actively discouraged us from sitting down and trying to write every single day. Instead, tend to it. I like the difference.

So what does that mean? It means that on days when you’re stuck, the freeing advice is: put it down and do something else. The something else can be lots of things that are satellites to writing poetry while not actually being the writing itself. Like: learning the mechanics (I would recommend John Lennard’s excellent The Poetry Handbook). Like: reading really good poetry. Like: reading poets/academics on poetry (my old tutor Tom Paulin’s The Secret Life of  Poems came up, and I’d throw in Terry Eagleton’s How to Read a Poem, which I’ve mentioned briefly before). Like: the wretched but necessary task of editing drafts.

What our tutor suggested we should be doing every day is writing in a notebook. Anything. Even just one word. And push at it just a little bit further than you think you have to. The key is to always write whenever anything comes to you that has that particular quality – write it down straight away. A good half of it won’t go anywhere but you have to be attentive to it.

Another fantastic little gem was the encouragement to make a practice whenever you’re doing something meditative (like walking or running or doing the washing up or whatever) of pulling out a problematic image and playing with it.

So, freedom. The freedom not to write…

More to follow; too much for one post. But the next bit’s even better…

2 Responses to “freedom part one”

  1. KB said

    Don’t make us wait too long! Building up the tension 😉

  2. […] course the best way to write a good poem, as our tutor reminded us a few weeks ago, is to read good poems, so once I decided that this particular piece suggested […]

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