JHISS Poetry Workshop with Eoghan Walls

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Having missed posting last week and, given the wealth of infomation I have to convey from the JHISS, today brings the second blog of the week and I have decided to summarise my creative writing workshop experience at the Summer School!eoghanphoto-300x224

As a bursary holder at the JHISS, I had the option of attending one of a variety of classes and was pleased to be allocated a poetry workshop with former Derry man Eoghan Walls. As well as writing great poetry, Eoghan also teaches at the Open University and of course, participates in readings and literary festivals. (One of his OU students very handily posted this interview with the man himself.)

After the introductions were over on day one of our workshop experience, Eoghan dispensed some advice on the art of poetry writing:

“It must be the language of the body,” he said. “You  must grab them (readers) by the senses and punch them in the soul… The only way to reach abstracts is through the visceral.”JHISS week 009JHISS week 011

With that said, we were given 10 minutes to wander around Armagh Market Place on a lovely sunny day and simply look. When we returned we subsequently wrote what we had witnessed and then swapped our writing with each other, picking a couple of stand-out lines from our partner’s work to read to the group afterwards. My walk took me up out of the sticky heat of the Market Place to the cathedral overlooking the city and the shady gardens around it – a welcome respite from the strong sun and suitable inspiration for my poem-in-progress (which I’m now tweaking).JHISS week 015

The lines from my writing which were picked out included, ‘a corridor of flowers heralds the way…’ and ‘little boxed off quarters of calm’, which were then incorporated into our very own group poem, ‘The Marketplace’, which saw each person read the two lines chosen from their writing to create one full poem. I have to say – it read well! I’ve included some pictures here of my walk through the cathedral gardens… the poem may follow at a later stage!

Throughout the workshops, we had the opportunity to bring in our own poems and ‘workshop’ them together, that is, give constructive feedback to each other and my offering was one previously published on this blog as part of National Poetry Writing Month – formerly entitled ‘Toast’, now re-titled as ‘Variations of Brown’ (a work in progress!) I will again, post the revised poem at a later date (otherwise this blog post will be huge!) It was this poem I was asked to read, along with others from the workshop, on the final day of the Summer School, but unfortunately I had to forgo this in favour of a family wedding, which was not to be missed!

On the subject of critiquing, Eoghan advised:

– Use positive statements first (definitely helps!), picking out any particular elements you liked

– Give three areas where you think improvements could be made

– Omit the personal – keep it on the poetry!

“In poetry, everything makes a statement,” he said. (e.g. punctuation) “Inconsistency with punctuation is risky!”

As for what poetry actually is…

“A poem is something where the sentence ends before it normally should. It has a different form of punctuation.

Our next task was to consider the poem ‘Terezin‘ by Michael Longley –

‘No room has ever been as silent as the room

‘where hundreds of violins are hung in unison.’

I will leave this open for those who know/don’t know the poem to consider. I didn’t immediately know what it referred to, but still took from it the sense of loss. The point being here also, that the title of a poem can be very powerful and should be chosen with as much care as the actual words within it. A title can carry weight and levitas and tell a lot about your poem without requiring the poet to include lengthy explanations in the piece itself.

We also looked at the poems ‘Seeing Fresh’ and ‘The Day Lady Died’ as examples of how to structure poetry and of course – LINE ENDINGS! For example, ‘glistening torsos sandwiches’ doesn’t look as if it should go together but in the first poem it does – it makes sense within the writing and how the lines are structured subsequently packs an extra punch to the reader. Again, the titles convey additional meaning without having to refer to specifics.

Poetry is ‘language punching you in the soul’ and requires, said Eoghan, the same components as a painting: a foreground, background and between the two – a surprise.

This is again, just a glimpse into my personal workshop experience at the JHISS and I came away from it with increased confidence in my poetry writing, more knowledge on form and content and with some useful advice on titling work and line endings! Indeed, another poem we studied was ’13 Ways of Looking at Line Endings’ (original title insert ‘a blackbird’, by Wallace Stevens!) We were tasked with deciding where the poet had inserted the original line endings, which was a good way to focus in on this aspect of poetry writing.JHISS week 024

Amongst those at the workshop, I made some good friends – including Sinead Coll (pictured above beside Ben Simmons and Annie, from another workshop). I should also note here that, given that I had blogged before I went to the JHISS about the poet James Simmons and looking up his work, I didn’t twig until I came home that I’d been sitting beside his son for most of the week…


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