Archives for posts with tag: creative process

Habits are habits

In a friendly coincidence,
we pretended not to understand
the fumes of heavy traffic.
We chose to take a ride
entirely on a road to nowhere.
Nothing happened.
We paid for petrol, an absurd sum,
a kind of ransom.


On my calendar, I scheduled in POST for today, meaning come Wednesday I would need to produce a poem for the blog. Last night, I was mulling over possible topics. This morning, after my regular walk in the wood (during which I got pretty soaked) and first set of warm-up pages, I prepped the 11am rocket-fuel coffee, switched on Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ and started scribbling in the pink Poundland notebook. This is one of two Pavlovian routines I use when preparing posts.

Anyone who has tried to implement a habit will second that a trigger, be it music, a particular time or a certain place, can be extremely helpful in prompting a reliable, default performance of predictable outcomes. It is for this reason that I have my writing habits, and this morning there I was with Miles Davies and coffee, so I that I could trigger the course to poetry. Yet four pages in, poetry still wasn’t coursing.

I have mentioned in recent posts that I have been working on a long-form project. At the moment I am typing it up, and in doing so, I am concentrating on ‘finishing energy’. The notion is that once a project is started, one aims to complete it, even if it is not up to the imagined standard one had set for it. In tying up the project, one experiences finishing energy or, in less metaphysical terms, one experiences what it is to complete an endeavour. Similarly, this morning I was determined to access finishing energy for today’s post poem.

All too often I turn to books for solutions (another instance of habit). In this morning’s situation, I pulled out a book on writing poetry from the bookshelf next to my desk. I opened on ‘Cultivate an Anti-writing Ritual’, a chapter based on the following diagnosis: when the routine becomes rut, that’s a problem. Under such circumstances, “you may find your poems continue and end in similar places, creating a kind of cookie-cutter effect.”*

I confess that many of my verses have a particular shape and rhythm. Today’s poem shares some of the familiar traits: eight lines, a journey in the outer world echoed by experiences in the inner, a scene in the narrative past, an encapsulating final line. But please believe me, I tried.

I changed the music to a radio station (and not my usual BBC Radio 3). I wrote out a page of sentences, some inspired by random lyrics. I cut up the sentences; turned the words upside down; laid them out on a page. The result was nonsensical, although I did try to re-shape it. I then moved to seeking out disconnected words, sentences and moments from a book of short stories I had in the bookshelf. I tried multiple stanzas of varying lengths, then three stanzas of three lines. Yet after all that and the revisions, the poem about habits surfaced in a markedly familiar format.

Routine so easily becomes the rhythms of our mornings, middays and nights. It is not by chance that even writing habits echo sitting in traffic, possibly on a road to nowhere where nothing happens.

* Cohen, Sage, “Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read & Write Poetry,” Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio: 2009, p. 119.

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Osterstrauss 08

Goldi64 at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By ribbons from branches

Where are we today,
you and I? Each,
together? Further, closer,
the same as yesterday?
Suspended from our meeting-
point of a hundred points,
each weighing down the end of a branch.

The celebration season done
we will be rustled back
into the box where our
meeting-points of a thousand tones
will once again lie side-by-side
in the dark, at distance
unmoved until we once again rotate from
the branches in the glow of celebration.

The celebration season done
where are we today?
Rustled back, you and I. Each
into the box where
together, further, closer
our meeting-points of a thousand resonances
the same as yesterday
will once again lie side-by-side,
suspended from our contentment
in the dark, at distance,
point of a hundred points
unmoved until once again the hanging ornaments rotate;
each weighing down the branches
in the glow of celebration.


In the wake of my previous post I promised a friend a happy poem. It helps that this last week I had the pleasure of house-sitting a home that qualifies as a sanctuary.

There’s a gleaming, bright-toned piano in the music room and a wary, self-possessed cat. There are books on art and works of European literature in translation on shelves and dressers, and on the walls hang original landscapes and life-drawings. The furniture and soft furnishings nod to the influence of French Provençale style, as do touches such as the blue-and-white ceramic jugs atop a wardrobe, raw-cut soap in the bathroom, lavender standing tall in a tarnished coffee pot. It is absolutely my kind of home.

Together with trusty porridge oats for breakfast I have been left rations of wholesome home-made soup, pasta sauce, battered-peppered fish fillets and a wonderful lentil-artichoke salad. I sneak a chocolate digestive after lunch and discover that the coffee supply is utterly decaffeinated. In under a week, I notice that my jumping mind and heart-rate are stilled.

In this quietude, I finish the last 5,000 words of my 22,000-word draft, start Günter Grass’s “The Tin Drum” and try to convince the cat that I could be a friend. From 10pm, I fall into a routine where I switch on the tv (a novelty) and scare myself witless on late-night American crime dramas, like CSI and Law and Order, and an old series about Jack the Ripper starring Michael Cain and Jane Seymour. When my eyes are sore and I am so wrought up into a flap, I run around the house, switch on as many lights as possible and hop about next to the bed trying to recall all the happiest things I can before falling asleep under a heavy, comforting duvet, covered by a white coverlet with a migration of red triangles that keep terrifying dreams at bay.

In the sanctuary house, enveloped by order and quietude, I turn to contemplation and fall into personal, domestic contentment.

At the kitchen table, I settle to write in my smaller, pink, Poundland notebook, the notebook currently reserved for work on poems. This is in an attempt to develop the happy poem. There’s a window box on my near horizon and on the table, in an enamel jug painted in folk-art flowers, springs an Easter tree. From a dozen branches with small green leaves and shoots hang tiny, wooden eggs painted in pinks, yellows, blues and the palest lilac. They all are all suspended from fine, yellow ribbons. I make notes about the tree, about other objects on the table and notice, for the first time, a spider’s web hammocking from the bottom of the window-pane to the corner of the blue window-box.

Amidst these vestiges of spring and Easter recently past, I wonder to myself, if not a poem about happiness, then perhaps a poem about contentment? I start with a first draft and fiddle a bit with two further variations. Later, I work up another version on my laptop. While the Easter tree inspired it, the resulting poem is pleasingly ambiguous. It could refer to any celebration where ornaments are suspended from branches. The poem could, for example, reference Christmas and its associations with togetherness and contentment (and the holiday’s opposites of abandonment and family friction). I look into some other tree decorating practices, many of which centre around winter, spring or New Year festivals.

The eggs remind me of little heads, and the point from which they hang on the ribbons looks like the crown of a skull. In concepts around traditional Chinese meridians, the meridian meeting-point at the top of the skull is known as “the meeting-point of a hundred points”. Where is the location of a meeting-point for expression? At which a good forte wallops from Tchaikovsky’s 5th (Symphony) on the radio. It reminds me, of course communication is in the source of tone, sound, resonance, impact, touch. For a person, perhaps this meeting-point is the mouth, the vocal chords or the hands.

I am intrigued by these ideas as applied to the hanging eggs or any festive ornaments, as well as a moment of contentment. When the ornaments are laid down, the meeting-point may be turned upside down; when the moment of contentment passes the locus fragments, the people and time scatter. How might baubles, or people, packed away after celebration continue to find within themselves and others an alignment conducive to contentment? Or must they wait for the next glow of celebration? I think the poem is also wondering along these lines.

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BBC Radio 3 is my station of choice. I listen to hours and hours of their programming, both on the clock radio that rests on my bedside chest-of-drawers and on iplayer on my laptop. Sometimes I schedule upcoming programmes or concerts into my diary, or mark catch-ups on my to do list.

During these many hours of ‘classical music’ content it came to my attention that composers across the ages have not been afraid of reworking their own material or borrowing material from others. Now alerted to the regularity of creative recycling, I started looking for it in other forms such as art, dance, theatre and literature.

Re-using material seems more acceptable in music than in the realm of writing. Able writers are assessed on their ability to be continually re-inventive. Originality makes for a proficient writer. This is a demanding attitude. I have since warmed to the approach of the related performing and creative arts. Variation on previous output is a legitimate avenue of creative exploration. In many instances I am intrigued by a product where the artist who created the first version reworks the material in its subsequent expression. These examples have given me courage to consciously mine my own writing for material when I am stuck.

While writing up this last Monday’s post, I was reminded that “Making soup again” was not the first poem I had revised. (Nor was it the first time I had revisited themes or motifs, but such general recurrences are considered more acceptable in written creativity.)

Here are five reworked poems from my portfolio:

1) Two versions of ‘Tumbling After‘, a scene based on the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill rolling down a hill.
I wrote a longer version and then reworked a shorter version.

2) A card from the postman inspired two poems. Each approached the delivery of pre-Christmas mail from a different point of view.
One imagines the poet-recipient; the other gives voice to the postman.

3) In response to a mislaid poem, I wrote “Is it worth it?
I later found the scrap of paper with the original poem.

4) My poem from 2011 “Jacob’s Dream for crinolined girls” is in many respects the poem that started my recent poetry writing spurt. It was inspired by Dorothea Tanning’s painting Eine Kleine Nachmusik (1943).
In 2014, three years after writing “Jacob’s Dream,” I revisited it in “Exalted thus, we left.”

5) “Making soup again” is a reworking of “In this place I eat butternut soup.”
Food preparation is a recurring motif in my poetry and food features as a metaphor for states of self, relating to others and enacting class or social position.

Visual artists frequently obsess over the same visual motifs and these become their trademarks. Composers are known for a particular sound, even if their music includes phases that are less quintessential. Dancers, singers or actors receive renown for their interpretation of a particular role. I’m intrigued by the creative recycling that might characterize a writer’s broader oeuvre of creative production.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Kirchner 1913 Street, Berlin.jpg
Kirchner 1913 Street, Berlin“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

John Keats wrote his famous ode ‘To Autumn‘ on the 19th of September 1819. This partially inspired my poem posted this time last year. (This year, we are enjoying a generous bolt of extended warmth. The colder snap is still to come.)

Autumn’s ripened harvest store” offers up the autumn harvest of a modern Northern metropolis. The season is one of sneezes, the onset of black coats and umbrellas, nights that close in earlier and the rise of comfort eating as the cold sets in.

When I first started posting on this blog, I wrote about the autumn memories from my undergraduate days. Soon afterwards I posted an early (lovely) poem which was also born during autumn. Those “brown beacons” on a stark tree struck me as I trudged the streets of a Polish town (where I worked in my twenties). Those beacons have remained with me ever since.

It is the city in autumn, without the associated glow of golden leaves or scattering seedpods, that today’s archive poem captures. Much of my current writing draws on my experience of London – its suburbs and centre.  In looking for an illustration, I hoped to find a scene of men on grey pavements, in black coats, holding up black umbrellas against dreary drizzle. Kirchner’s street scene is in parts too vibrant to fulfill these requirements. However, the people (like others in his city depictions) capture the strident anonymity of urban existence. I decided against cropping the image because the composition is so striking – and who knows, perhaps the woman in purple is the observing poet.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Blood letting.jpg
Blood letting“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

From a Stone” engages with the frustrations of bringing forth a poem when it feels like drawing blood from an inanimate source. Like “Glomurelonephritis” this is one of the rare instances where my personal health experiences feature in a poem. For 31 years I have lived with a chronic renal (kidney) condition. The blood drawing analogy in “From a Stone” touches on my real experiences of ‘having bloods done’ (as they say in some hospital lingo). Putting my arm out to have blood siphoned from a vein still feels easier than many pursuits: writing poetry, doing press-ups or following my dreams.

bq2_2_reasonably_small.gifIn a couple of future posts, I shall be sharing some longer pieces of writing that have been gathering dust. Fear not, the poems will continue to be around. Dear readers, I hope that you’ll enjoy all the words on offer.
Yours, BQ


T: @BeadedQuill
F: BeadedQuill
Books by BeadedQuill

Scale (PSF)
The beam of a true poem balances
when each pan hovers
with just right the weight.
A real poem contains rhyme;
Each line leads us to a prediction.


When I was at junior school, it was the end-of-term duty of the girls in the highest class, Standard 5, to gather news from each year. These reports were compiled in rhyming couplet form:

As we close the door to Sub A,
it’s to the next classroom we stray.
So now enter the class of the Sub B’s,
where this term they’ve been busy as bees.

It was often as stilted as that; after all the authors were twelve-year-olds, most of whom had had little exposure to rhyming odes themselves. These reports together with the school song, national anthem and hymns we were obliged to sing in assembly were among the early influences of rhyming English in my life. Before I went to school there was rhyme at home. This was fun and storytelling rhyme that shaped Rupert-the-Bear adventures, Ahlberg’s classic “Each, Peach, Pear, Plum” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. By the time I heard these and other rhyming songs and stories related to my younger sister, I was already reading long-form prose. Her educational video sang on a loop, “Five little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away…” and. I was reading ‘grown-up’ books. Rhyme was little kids’ stuff.

Consequently, rhyme struck me as something twee and childish. It was used to round off pairs of ideas – whether ideology or fun nonsense – so that they would stick in your mind. When I discovered that poetry could exist legitimately without rhyme, I was hooked, though initially, more to reading this sort of poetry than writing it. I loved non-rhyming poetry so much that I thought, I must be a child of modernism’s sentiment. Rhyme seemed to constrict words’ directions, and a sad fate simply because words found themselves slotted into the line of a poem.

Playing with rhythm and meter, musicality and lilt, alliteration and soundscapes enticed my ear and imagination. Yet it is still those predictable lines ribboned together by rhyme that tumble from my memory all these years later: “Success is cheering words of praise, in cheering other people’s ways; in doing just the best you can in every task and every plan”.

More recently I’ve reconciled with rhyme and now deliberately expose myself to old hymns (with wondrous words like ‘eyelids’ and ‘slander’). But I’m still not convinced that Proper Poetry has to rhyme in words. There are surely other tools that craft an idea worth remembering.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Poems about spiders

Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons, contributor: Siebrand. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

Click on the image above to read these two poems from the archive.

“Mollusca: Octopus, squid, nautilus, and cuttlefish” from The Animal Kingdom, Baron Cuvier, 1834. Image courtesy of Biomedical Ephemera.

From one side of the pool
to the other,
pacific waves cursive;
held by rocks hard-backed in blue.
A visiting squid squirts ink 
fresh and black.
A pseudomorph arrows from the nib.

26/06/2014


For Christmas ‘Secret Santa’ gave me a dinky, frosted pink fountain pen. It’s small; probably about 8cm in length. Its micro-cartridges only last about a dozen A4 pages, which spans two to three days of writing in my world. The half-a-dozen cartridges that came with the pen were used up long ago. I have been without ink for nearly six months, so today I decided to re-stock.

For £1,99 I bought a bag of 50 cartridges from Ryman’s on the Strand. This is the first poem from that bag of ink-filled plastic bullets now sitting on my desk.

Here’s a link about the ink-squirting of cephalopods. I’ll leave you to peer into the metaphorical rock pool and make sense of the squid and its pseudomorph.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Image

Image from the February 1912 issue of Pictorial Review, courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury.

Preheat a deep pan of golden leaf.
In a large bowl split bitter chicory.
Lift out the notes that made sense
at the time. Turn up the heat.

When sulks and stews have almost evaporated,
You will have a sweet smelling slush.
Whizz to a powder, this interesting theme.
Return to the pan if you wish.

I was delighted to discover I am not the only creative to have derived inspiration from recipes. Yesterday, I was introduced to Leonard Bernstein’s “La Bonne Cuisine” (1947) on BBC Radio Three. Bernstein translated recipes from La Bonne Cuisine Française (by Emile Dutoit) and then scored them for voice and piano. The four pieces are Plum Pudding, Queues de Boeuf (Ox Tails), Tavouk Guenksis
and Civet à Toute Vitesse (Rabbit at Top Speed). They are most entertaining and worth a listen.

Here’s a clip of “La Bonne Cuisine – Four Recipes for Voice and Piano” being performed.

I tweet as @BeadedQuill about all manner of things that capture my imagination. BeadedQuill is also on Facebook.

Please also have a look at my latest book, In the Ocean: a year of poetry.