Poets and painters

‘The English sonnet has the simplest and most flexible pattern of all sonnets…’

So began the third and final week of my peace poetry workshop in Derry, which saw us take on the sonnet and free verse to inspire our submissions for the project. As it turns out, most of the poems I write are in these two forms, and it was nice to look at some professional examples, including Shakespeare and Christina Rossetti.

An interesting way in which we have begun a few sessions, is doing 10 minutes of free writing before we start – i.e. this week, we wrote about a favourite place before using the writing to inspire a subsequent sonnet. It’s a good way of getting ideas onto the page before you begin, and is different to my usual method of writing on the hoof – refining and reshaping as I go.

In terms of the free verse, there was a bit if a debate over what constitutes poetry, when we were presented with Charles Bukowski’s ‘gamblers all’ piece. Most of us loved it, but there was a little contention as to whether it should be called poetry or prose – what made it poetic? True, if you put it into the style of a story, it reads more prose-like than some poems, but, my theory was just that – it is laid out poetically, and it evokes a wealth of imagery which prose would perhaps take longer to do. My favourite explanation of what poetry is, however, came from Catherine, our facilitator (and, I summarise):

‘Poetry makes you consider something you see on a daily basis (or are so used to, you don’t give it a second glance) in a more meaningful way – it makes you see it afresh, through new eyes – as if you’ve never seen it before. That’s why poetry often appears difficult or abstract.’Ewagorals

I love this description – and it’s worth being reminded of. Poetry refines our senses – it can take a simple moment or a seemingly unimportant object and elevate them to something beautiful and wonderful and fresh and new. Seamus Heaney of course, is one such example of a poet who captured ordinary moments perfectly in his writing by doing just this.

Poetry makes us think of things in a different way – presenting the world to us more creatively and more potent with energy.

I liked ‘gamblers all’, as it provides a perfect snapshot into the mundane drudgery of a 9-5 lifestyle – where we are all sucked into the inevitable rat race whether we like it or not, and have no choice but to ‘enter the arena once more’. This line in particular, is perfect poetry – it says so much in just five words about the state of so many people’s working lives…

I similarly loved the next poem we studied – Advice to a Discarded Lover by Fleur Adcock, which was deemed a little harsh by some, but was, I thought, a wonderful description of how someone felt about – well, a discarded lover. Comparing them to a dead bird – ‘eaten up by self-pity/crawling with unlovable pathos’? The imagery is just brilliant!

I won’t include any of my own offerings this week, as they are being refined ahead of being sent into the project co-ordinator, Leon Litvak, but suffice it to say – I gained a lot from the workshops and have plenty of inspiration for writing my own peace poetry…

Staying on the subject of poetry, I was delighted to discover this week that a poem I submitted to the Community Arts Partnership in Northern Ireland on the theme of ‘still’, is to be included in an upcoming anthology. The book launch is on March 23 in Belfast, so I am looking forward to that! I only hope my peace poem is as successful…

Cherry Smyth

Cherry Smyth

Meanwhile, at the end of a rather busy week, yesterday, I enjoyed a book reading by the lovely Cherry Smyth at Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart. A talented poet, her debut novel, Hold Still, is my current reading material, and it was particularly interesting to learn more about the painters she refers to in the novel, in between the extracts she read. Well worth checking out…

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