Everybody should have a space where they can be as creative as they wish, or messy, or crafty, or simply relaxed. Here are some ‘atelier’ spaces for many different types of creatives, proving that they don’t always have to be messy…
What a delight it was to be back in Geneva this past weekend and plunge into the refreshing, healing power of poetry!
I attended a poetry workshop and masterclass organised by the Geneva Writers’ Group, with guest instructor Laura Kasischke. I’d read and admired Laura’s poetry and novels and was very keen to hear her in person. The workshop was everything I had hoped for and more and you can see some of my initial impressions of it on the GWG blog.
Prose can not quite do it justice, so instead I will attempt a confetti of poetic impressions, like petals gathered from the quotations, ideas and timed writing exercises we listened to over the course of these two days.
You can’t create compassion with compassion, or emotion with emotion
where is the body, where are your senses?
I have no way to express this in words
so I just sit down with a pen and try to find the words
it’s the very essence of being
but it has to use the language of shared experience
The recipe for writing a poem?
Nothing to do with subject matter.
It comes from somewhere else, as if your mind
and pen is seized by someone
the poem was coming to him
although he had yet to hear the words
he knew it was already written
poetic and creative insights come not haphazardly
but only in those areas in which we are intensively
on which we concentrate our waking, conscious experience
Nothing was in the mind that was not first in the senses.
When our mind is actively thinking about one thing,
we can be writing about something far more interesting
I throw a lot of stuff away
better start from scratch then spend too many years
on a mediocre poem
The time-maker, the eye-maker, the voice-maker, the maker
of stars, of space, of comic surprises
over the future
I’d rather be a restaurant that is not to everyone’s liking
than the lowest common denominator
A dodgy or non-existent internet connection, a lot of admin problems and numerous children’s events coming up… so not the most conducive time for subtle analysis of books I’ve recently read. Or even not so subtle. Instead, here is a quick workshop exercise we did recently with the lovely Isabel Huggan: retelling the story of Humpty Dumpty from a different perspective.
No time to enjoy one’s oats around here. The siren shrieks again. And again my rider rushes into the stall without so much as a ‘by your leave’ or ‘pardon’. Bridle twitching, he advances cautiously: he knows nothing puts me in a bad mood as much as an unfinished lunch. But I am a well-brought up thoroughbred. He fills me in on the details as he tightens the girth of the saddle around my tummy, still half-empty.
‘It’s that fool Humpty again. He’s been climbing in places where he’s got no business going. With the usual disastrous consequences.’
I neigh sympathetically as we get ready to gallop to the site of the shameful event, but I feel weak with hunger. There’s no one else to send, though, not since they cut right down on the King’s human and equine resources department. Will that egg never learn?
This was a fun exercise at Isabel Huggan’s writing workshop (or playtime, as she called it) last Saturday. What would the perfect work of literature (which you aspire to write) look like? We had a wonderful variety of answers in the room (some referring to poetry, others to memoir, others to short stories, still others to novels): a flower to be appreciated with all your senses; a cryptic crossword puzzle to tease, intrigue and engage the reader; climbing a pole; inviting a guest for tea in your house, they can only know what you choose to show them, they cannot rifle through your drawers…
Here is my answer – which probably explains why I write crime fiction.
My Ideal Novel
It’s an exhilarating run down the perfect piste. When you forget about rules, about bending your knees and the aches in your joints, you just become rhythm and flow, natural as breathing. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s cloudy, snow may obscure your view… But you are free, you stay away from the crowds and there is no fear in being alone.
The thrill of no limits waxes you, the comfort of the familiar swooshing sound weans you, high speed and sense of danger pumps up your adrenaline, yet you always feel just within your control.
All you know is you want to reach the bottom in one piece, but you’re happy to let twists, turns, bumps and snow conditions surprise you. No matter how dark or despairing you feel to start out with, some inner joy grabs you as you hurtle and gather speed, until you cannot deny the gravitational pull anymore.
It’s amazing how difficult it is to stay away from clichés when writing poetry… or anything, really! As part of last week’s fabulous poetry workshop with the performance poetry guru that is Anthony Anaxagorou, we had to work on random concrete nouns and associate them with interesting adjectives. Harder than it sounds to produce a coherent poem out of it. Here is my pitiful result, which I am linking to dVerse Poets Pub and their Open Link Night. Join us there for very diverse explorations of poetry!
Indifferent sunshine taps on the bleary-eyed windows
a cat burglar in white
but fails to wake her.
She grips the eiderdown, she swallows the grumpy phlegm
lodged in her system.
And ten versatile coffees later
she waltzes with the wandering pencil
on the frisky paper.
From the pregnant bag of ideas
she selects yet another, caresses it with bloated thumb,
while a reborn supper
announces itself shyly on the dancing table.
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?