parting shots

11 June, 2010

I had my final supervision yesterday: scary, but it went well. I took along four drafts where I’d consciously tried to ‘turn up the emotional volume’, and one bonus one that I’d written very quickly that morning (which is super-fast for me). It felt quite exposing taking in such early drafts; I felt hesitant about even calling them poems, really, but it turned out to be a very helpful exercise. Throughout the course we’ve taken pieces to the workshop knowing that we’ll spend time editing and revising them afterwards, but hoping that they do already work on some level, whereas the pieces I took to my supervision I’d allowed myself to write very freely and unselfconsciously. That in itself was a very useful thing to do – and it made me realise that I really do overcomplicate writing a lot of the time. Obviously it takes effort, but it shouldn’t be agonising. At least, not always.

So it was good to discuss what I’d written with my supervisor, and sift through the drafts in search of the poem at the heart of each. I was surprised by how positive a lot of her comments were, and also how close to being complete she judged a couple of them to be. And I was reminded, again, that really no one’s interested in the ‘occasion’ that has sparked a poem; what the reader is interested in is the deeper, or more universal, truth that you’re expressing through that particular experience. I think I’m very slowly inching towards really getting this, beginning to notice when I’ve slipped back towards memory rather than moving forwards to the nub of the poem. And of course of the five pieces I took, it was the one most closely connected with a specific experience that we decided was the weakest and perhaps worth binning rather than persevering with.

The experiment of trying to shout a bit louder in my writing was an interesting one; I actually ended up picking four emotions I feel most strongly (two negative, two positive) and tried to write through them, allowing images to arise rather than anchoring them necessarily to specific situations or experiences. I’m not sure how loud I really got, though. And I found it interesting that the only way I could write an excited poem was to write it in the voice of a dog…

I also took in the R. S. Thomas poem that was puzzling me last week, along with my version of it that put each thought on its own line, and we talked about lineation and what exactly he’s doing with it. Of course there are no rules as such but it was a helpful discussion. I’d already seen for myself how the enjambement and caesurae create the poem’s rhythm and movement, but my tutor scanned it with me and drew my attention to the pattern of the stresses, showing how it creates the poem’s tension and charge. Basically, enjambement does two things: create a sense of propulsion and forward movement; and/or push things up against each other in a surprising way.

So. That’s it. Teaching is officially over, and from now I’m on my own, just working towards that final deadline in September. I’ve got a couple of small informal workshops that I’ll be carrying on with, but in terms of the course itself, this is where it ends. I almost don’t know what to say about it; it does feel like I’ve come to the end of something, but in another way it’s only just  beginning…

Finally, Simon Armitage gave a reading on Wednesday, from his latest book Seeing Stars. I liked what he said about needing to constantly ambush yourself as a writer, so you’re not always doing the same things (though of course you’re always really saying the same things through those different things). And best of all was his distinction between prose and poetry: prose is info, poetry is innuendo. I like that.

This post brought to you by bacon and eggs, visiting Americans and brand-new babies.

One Response to “parting shots”

  1. Peter Lynn said

    I think we both know you meant “Parthian shots”.

    I like the bit about writing in a dog’s voice to express excitement, though I worry you’re going to suddenly start writing more poems about catching frisbees at the park and sniffing people’s behinds. (Did I mention we just got a dog?)

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