I am one of those people who often lead poetry writing workshops and who, in a sense, define what’s possible for budding and more experienced poets. A wide variety of people attend my workshops so I must be doing something right as a jobbing writer/tutor.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a workshop not as leader but as someone who could take part and enjoy what was on offer. The workshop took place on the Llangollen Canal in north Shropshire, between Lyneal Wharf and Ellesmere and was thoroughly enjoyable although we did have some rain showers to contend with.
Jeff Phelps, the excellent and genial poet and novelist from Bridgnorth, took the lead and gave us some stimulus material and before long we were studying nature and local history like never before and making notes on what was there through the windows of ‘The Lad’. We were trying to capture the images and, hopefully, metaphors of this watery landscape.
When you’re asked to look at things and note down particulars it can feel like one’s being asked for details at the scene of a crime: What was the name of that tree? What colour exactly was that flower, pink or puce? Why are we floating past what appears to be a lake?
But that concentration of purpose and observation is something we rarely do on a day to day basis and what is so highly prized by poets and artists and other ‘observers’. It is the detail in ‘great’ poems and works of art that compels us to a greater understanding of life and other people. And that can be no mean thing.
There’s no doubt that it’s good for one’s health and well-being, for example, as it takes us outside ourselves for a few moments and we become part of something else, something bigger than ourselves and our day to day worries.
Try it for yourself sometime. Get a notebook or a laptop if you prefer and go and find a quiet place. It could be your garden, a corner of the local park, a woodland or common. Sit yourself comfortably, comfort is important, and start noting down what’s in front of you. What can you see, what can you hear, smell, feel? Beware of tasting any berries or mushrooms, for example, as they may be poisonous!
Once you’ve taken notes and used your full imaginative powers to capture what’s around you (yes, that September leaf is a deep crimson) you can begin to interpret it, just as I did. It sometimes happens during the note-taking, sometimes a few days later. The words begin to organise themselves into a simple poem. I offer a few lines, since it’s not finished yet (I am very slow at composition), describing the other writers:
They process shapes and colours, light
and try to find the perfect words
but know they have to go quite soon
back to the senseless, finite world.
And return to the ‘senseless’ or, perhaps, ‘less-sensitive’ world we must since there are jobs to do and friends to see.
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