And, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me share another poetic experiment with you. This was a poem I wrote as an answer to the question I posed in the previous post: Who lingers when all done is said? Version 1 is my first attempt: wordier, spelling out meaning. Version 2 is trying to take all of the superfluous padding out. Is there enough left there to convey the meaning? I’m not sure. Probably a mix of the two will be my final version.
This past weekend I had the rare pleasure and luxury of thinking of nothing else but words, writing and poetry. I attended a poetry workshop organised by the indefatigable Geneva Writers’ Group and our guest instructor was the vibrant, beautiful poet Aracelis Girmay. She invited us to play and experiment, to explore bewilderment and mysteries, to climb down the ladder of writing head-first.
It was the first full-length poetry workshop that I ever attended and, boy, did I need it! Poetry is an old love that I have only recently come back to, after many years of neglect. I am still struggling to shed the adolescent overcoat that lies over it (yes, it is that long ago since I wrote poetry). I have been writing a lot of it this year, but is it all therapeutical outpourings of infuriating sentimentality? I needed to push myself. I needed to learn to play, watch words appear and disappear. So here is an interesting experiment we conducted. Based on Bhanu Kapil‘s thought-provoking questions from her book ‘The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers’, we were asked to create our own questions about a subject that preoccupied us. I picked ‘Identity and Belonging’, and here are my questions (it’s not really a poem, more like a prompt to spark thinking):
Where do you come from?
Who helped make you what you are?
If not here, where?
How will you know when you get there?
What are you trying to prove?
When will you know and tell?
If not now, when?
What else are you?
What has not been mentioned before?
Why do you need to make the fragments whole?
Who lingers when all is said and done?
But then – and this is where it gets interesting – we had to reshape our questions, leave gaps and rearrange syntax. We were Isis finding all of the fragments of Osiris and trying to put them back together. And I was startled to find a much more powerful way of thinking hiding under my initial, conventional questions. Here is the outcome:
Where do you come from? Who helped make you?
What? You are? What else you are?
When you get there, will you know?
Will you know what you are trying?
When will you know and prove?
If not here, where from? If not now, how will you know?
Who lingers when all is said and done,
Who lingers when all done is said?
What do you think? Which version do you prefer? Is this an experiment that might be useful to your own writing? Can we change our way of thinking by changing the structure of our sentences? What does the lack of information, that frightening gap, tell us about ourselves?
On Poetry (beautifulrailwaybridgeofthesilverytay.wordpress.com)
No, don’t worry, I am not going to go all day-job on you and subject you to one of my training courses. But, while I was doing a lot of training and no writing last week, one thing struck me quite forcibly.
How many times I explained an exercise or a concept with what seemed to me limpid clarity… only to have the participants ask questions which made it equally clear that my message had been misunderstood. At least in a training room, you usually get immediate feedback and can rephrase, reformulate, explain. Even mime your message, if all else fails.
What can you do in writing, however? It got me thinking about all the times I had written a story or a poem, and it became obvious from people’s reactions to it that I had not managed to convey what was in my head and heart. Luckily, when you post a poem online, you get a few valuable comments from readers, which show you what has been understood, how things are perceived, what bits are most impactful. The Like button is sweet stroking for the ego, but not quite as helpful in this regard (and yes, I admit, I use it myself when I am pressed for time, but want to show that I have read the poem or story).
Perhaps that doesn’t matter in a poem, which is the original onion amongst the writing genres anyway.
Most of the time, however, in traditional publishing, you do not get an immediate reaction. You hear from an agent or an editor or a critic – from the professionals, very seldom from the readers who are neither friends nor family. Does this have an impact on your writing? Should it have an impact? Should you test out your ‘new material’ in a writing group, for instance? Or should you just ignore what people say and go ahead and write regardless?
I am not quite sure I have cracked the answer to this one for myself. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. What I do know is that famous George Bernard Shaw quote: ‘The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’
And, in case you are wondering what my message is in all of this, it’s that I love, love, love your comments and that I welcome your criticism, because it helps me to improve my writing.
It’s been a slow month in reading terms for me (we won’t even discuss how slow it has been in writing terms…). And a few of the books have been rather a let-down. So here is my meagre collection of books (there are links to ones I have reviewed on the Crime Fiction Lover website):
2) Amélie Nothomb: Ni d’Eve, ni d’Adam – the Japanese setting intrigued me, but I found the book self-indulgent and the love story a little trite
3) S.J. Watson: Before I Go to Sleep – I had such high expectations of this one (there had been such a buzz around it and even the shop assistant wrapping it up for me said she had found it creepy and exciting). So, perhaps it was inevitable that I should be disappointed. The memory-loss premise is an interesting one, but I guessed the set-up quite early on, which rather spoilt the rest of the story for me.
4) Amanda Egan: Diary of a Mummy Misfit – bubbly fun – handbags at dawn at the schoolgates! But also a spot-on critique of the snobbery and competitiveness of private schools.
6) Alan Bennett:The Uncommon Reader– a delightful romp about the Queen descending into a mad passion for reading (actually, it does have the occasional ring of truth to it!). My favourite quote from that is when the Queen buttonholes the French president to ask him about Jean Genet:
‘Homosexual and jailbird, was he nevertheless as bad as he was painted? Or, more to the point, […] was he as good?’
Unbriefed on the subject of the glabrous playwright and novelist, the president looked wildly about for his minister of culture. But she was being addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
[…] The president put down his spoon. It was going to be a long evening.
7) Véronique Olmi: Un si bel avenir – not at all on a par with the riveting (if emotionally scarring) ‘Bord de mer’. This story of an ageing actress and anxious wife and mother, or even of female friendship, has been done so much better elsewhere.
8) Agence Hardy Bandes dessinées – I love the fact that there are so many graphic novels for grown-ups in France. This series is crime fiction, about a private detective agency set up by a glamorous widow, Edith Hardy, in Paris in the 1950s. Beautiful recreation of very precise locations and period detail – a joy to read!
And my Top Pick of the month? Death on the Pont Noir – I adore the setting in a village in the Picardie region of France in the 1960s and am a little in love with Inspector Lucas Rocco.
Where has all my text gone to? I posted this yesterday with a little blurb about how I cannot resist a good bookshelf, wherever it might be in the house. And how my husband keeps sighing and pointing out the progress of technology in the form of e-readers. But this morning the text disappeared! Ah well, what use are words when the images speak for themselves?
In the in-between spaces:
But where do we get most of the reading done? In the bedroom!