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What’s wrong with this picture?

August 31st, 2012

alison1By far the hardest part of producing a Guest Blog is to find an appropriate photo to accompany it. OK, there’s the formal portrait; but finding something a bit different is not easy, especially if you have the sort of face that needs arranging for the camera, and the sort of stomach you want to hide behind someone else. I decided to pick an informal picture that shows me working really hard on my poetry. You may think there’s something wrong with that statement; but the photo shows ten indicators of the poet at work, gathering ideas and developing poems-in-progress.

1. It helps to have a poetry bolt-hole, a place where you can forget the everyday issues and place yourself in an environment conducive to writing. This is my favourite getaway venue, Fuerteventura, where my elder daughter lives. Equally, a library, coffee shop or garden shed would provide a new location. You just have to avoid the regular desk or easy chair.

2. Every new experience is grist to the mill for a poet. It adds a whole new aspect to relaxed dining when you’re sifting sand with your bare toes at a restaurant table on the beach.

3. New experiences are valuable per se, but they also prompt reminders of associated occasions from your own memories. A direct memory of childhood picnics includes sandwiches with real sand. Recollecting the film image of Shirley Valentine drinking wine at the water’s edge reminds me of watching the film on TV with the family, and also of the character’s situation. All these thoughts are squirrelled away to become prompts for new writing.

4. The background presence of the sea has an insistent, regular rhythm, prompting ideas for poems driven by metrical patterns.

5. Occupied tables further inland are filled with other diners. Inventing characters and lives for them, and eavesdropping shamelessly on their conversations, fills the notebook with ideas for poems – and sparks conversation through dinner.

6. The writer’s treasured phrase, ‘What if …?’ prompts plenty of ideas. What if the yellow beach umbrellas were washed out to sea? What if there was a thunderstorm? What if you ate the meal then found you’d lost your purse and credit cards? I’ve made a note to remind myself how each idea could be treated seriously or humorously.

7. The shiny surface of the wine cooler creates reflections, but they’re distorted by its shape. What nightmares of imbalance result? I haven’t written a monster/zombie/crazed creature poem. Yet.

8. A cool glass of wine helps you to relax while you’re writing. Just as long as you restrict yourself to a single glass, or the deathless verse could degenerate into deadly gibberish. (The second glass on the table is NOT my reserve supply.)

9. Waiting at the table for the food to arrive gives an opportunity to practise intense observation. Writers observe all the details, the minutiae of life. These often trigger the best poems, as a bigger message can be implied through reference to focussed, specific detail. I focus on the colours in sand.

10. The away-from-home situation gives a good opportunity to learn about the dynamics and culture of your new surroundings, its mythology and rituals, and I’m steadily filling a notebook with this sort of information to fuel future poems. You don’t have to be far away. If you opted for the garden shed venue, it could be the mythology of woodlice, or the ritual of digging and raking, that you need to prompt a new poem.

Phew. So much for a relaxed, informal photo. I think I need a holiday.

Alison tutors on the poetry course, and leads workshops around the country for the Relax and Write series of Malaga Workshops weekends. Her latest collection, ‘Iced’, is a celebration of a recent big birthday, and this year has also seen the publication of ‘The Poet’s Workbook’ – a step-by-step guide to producing ten poems, with accompanying notes to help you write another twenty.

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