Poetry with Penelope

Opposite Belfast City Hall sits the city’s oldest library and it was here, squirreled away in a book-lined room amid beautifully ornate surroundings, that Penelope Shuttle was to be found a few days ago.

Linen Hall Library is resplendent in original features, with polished wooden bannisters, a bubbling café area and of course, a fair few books. It’s a little gem embedded in the heart of Belfast and one which I intend to visit more often, but my recent visit was all about the poetry – in this case, a workshop led by Penelope.

Our theme was ‘streets’ and we began by reading the poem Heckmondwyke by Catherine Smith – a poem which illustrated perfectly how a street can inspire so much more than you might at first think! That’s the beauty of poetry of course – it can take you somewhere completely different from where you intended to go…budapest-253850_1280

Before we knuckled down to the writing, we each brainstormed some street-related words for use, if we liked, in our own poems. It turned out though, that Penelope’s prompts of strange street names (my own choice was Beak Street), along with random words to work into the text, were sufficient for most of us!

This is what I like about workshops – I’ve never written about a street before, or indeed used it as my starting point for a poem, but this exercise has inspired me to do so again. The poem might be about the street, the people in it, on it or near it; it may be about the idea of the street; it’s essence/history/future – or it might led you off on a tangent to somewhere deliciously different. But why not start with a street?

The two poems we each created stemmed from two exercises:

1) Either writing about the dark side of a street (using a name chosen from those Penelope provided), or writing about five things a street can do.

2) Choosing a question Penelope gave us about streets and writing an answer to that in our poem (I, along with a few others, chose to write about The Perfect Street).

photo 2We also read through a few other street poems, including Rue di Puits-qui-Parle by Pascale Petit, Niece by George Oppen, and Retreat by Gerry Cambridge (my particular favourite!).

I left the workshop suitably inspired to work on my poems, or to write fresh street-related poems using my own internal prompts. It’s always great to get out and learn from other writers – to consider other perspectives to your writing and to return home with new ideas and a little more spark than before…



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