This was an evening of celebration, exploration and recognition. Each person brought along two or three favourite poems to read to the group. This included work by John Donne, Wilfrid Owen, Louis MacNeice, Donald Justice, Sylvia Plath and U A Fanthorpe. There were extracts from Penelope Shuttle's Missing You and work by Kenneth Steven, Carol Ann Duffy and John McCullough. There were poems written by the people present and there was a haiku by Diana Webb:
Marilyn led a discussion on competition planning which raised many interesting issues.
Myra Schneider was unfortunately unwell and unable to attend and so this event was replaced by a reading from her collection "Multiplying the Moon". These poems are full of striking imagery and might start with something very concrete and immediate and then move into an opening out of a theme so much bigger and all with grace. There was time between poems to discuss what had been of impact and import and so develop our journey in poetry.
In the poem "Choosing yellow" images of buttercup and dandelion give way to "that colour / on my kitchen cupboards which like the past / are always clicking open". Then we see a lemon whose "zest / stings my nicked finger, / resurrects the curtains / with uneven hems / I made years ago". And then on to "that unyielding oilskin with a hood" which marked her out on the school bus. Yellow sings and is any place "where hope survives".
Marilyn led the discussion on writing practice. Everyone was encouraged to contribute thoughts on how to engage in the writing process.
One idea was to set aside a fixed time each day for writing. Some people needed a quiet solitary space within an ordinary day while others needed the space and time available when on holiday in order to write. Some were able to write in cafés and on trains - carrying a notebook at all times and jotting down ideas as they arise - while others needed a computer to work on. Some needed the pressure of having a deadline to spur them on and would write many more hours in a day under these circumstances than they would normally do.
Having set aside the time, there were several ideas on how to actually "put pen to paper". One was to write a journal or else a stream of consciousness flow just in order to place words onto the page and then work from these. Another was to work from the notes already gathered in notebooks. Some liked the challenge of writing for a competition with specific requirements e.g. for a sonnet or a pastiche or on a particular theme. Others liked to attend writing courses and respond to set "homework" - such courses can also be found online. Some write with a workshop in mind.
Reading other people's poetry is an important impetus towards writing as is the meditative awareness of the every day - noticing the colour of a leaf, the quality of a look, the worlds within.
This was a relaxed and enjoyable event with readers from Mole Valley Poets and also from guests. The audience was attentive and appreciative. Each reader read two or three of their own poems before a break for refreshments and several also read after the interval. The poems were on a variety of themes and touched on sadness as well as humour, on everyday observations as well as unusual events.
Chinese and Japanese Landscape art presents space in such a way that we are drawn in and become part of the scene. Paintings, with only a few brush strokes, show us mountains in a vast open sky. Tanka, within a few lines, give us worlds of meaning:
The wind blows hard among the pines
Towards the beginning
Of an endless past.
Listen : you've heard everything.
For Auden poetry survives "in the valley of its saying" - in an inner landscape. Ted Hughes, in "The Horses", gives an opening into a world both familiar and strangely other. We become aware of a fuller and deeper landscape than we are normally able to see in Wordsworth's "Daffodils".
Tony M told us of a view towards mountains he had seen in Japan which had reminded him of the painting "The Plains of Heaven" by John Martin which is in the Tate Britain.
Turner is a visual poet of landscape. Hockney points out that in Western art, landscape is depicted from a particular viewpoint whereas Chinese painting "takes you for a walk".
In the painting "Pine Forest" by Hasegawa Tohaku nearly eighty-five percent of the painting surface is left blank and yet this is suffused with a sense of the mists and quietness of an autumn dawn.
The word "Yugen" in Japanese means an austere, mysterious unknowable beauty such as is found in Zen landscape gardens in the still open spaces of rocks and sand.
Sado Island is the isle of exiles and there is a vastness of landscape in this haiku by Basho translated by Yuzuru Miura:
And worlds open up in this haiku by Diana Webb
behind the beach hut
my everlasting world
Wordsworth, in "Upon Westminster Bridge", shows us the majesty of the city of London in the silent beauty of the morning.
Edwin Morgan, in "Stanzas of the Jeopardy", moves from the hubbub of city life to a moment of trumpet sound "when space is rolled away / And time is torn from its rings, and the door of life / Flies open on unimaginable things".
Maitreyabandhu's "Umbrian Summer" holds images of beech leaves on the surface of a swimming pool "chrome yellow / on a zone of blue", the shining of the sun seeming to be "through lemonade" and the drift of the full moon "high above a ridge".
Frances Horowitz, in "Bird", leads us "into the still shadow of waiting trees" where "light falls from leaf to leaf" and the shadow of the bird vanishes "invisible / as echoing song ahead".
And so, as Arthur Waley describes in "Zen Buddhism and Its Relation to Art" we see how "The song of birds, the noise of waterfalls, the rolling of thunder, the whispering of wind in the pine trees - all these are utterances of the Absolute."
This supportive and creative held space provided a touchstone from which ideas could begin to grow together with the opportunity to put words down on the page.
Inscape has to do with the individual essence and uniqueness of every physical thing and is communicated from an object by its instress.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889) felt that everything in the universe was characterized by what he called inscape, the distinctive design that constitutes individual identity. This identity is not static but dynamic. Each being in the universe 'selves,' that is, enacts its identity. And the human being, the most highly selved, the most individually distinctive being in the universe, recognizes the inscape of other beings in an act that Hopkins calls instress, the apprehension of an object in an intense thrust of energy toward it that enables one to realize specific distinctiveness.
Hopkin's poems try to present inscape so that a poem like The Windhover aims to depict not the bird in general but instead one instance and its relation to the breeze. This is just one interpretation of Hopkin's most famous poem, one which he felt was his best, written on 30th May 1877 but not published until 1918.
The concept of inscape was derived, in part, from the medieval theologian Duns Scotus (1265 - 1308). Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968), the Trappist monk and author, who admired both Scotus and Hopkins, strongly embraced the idea of inscape. In his book New Seeds of Contemplation Merton equates the unique "thingness" of a thing, its inscape, to sanctity.
Hopkins began to work out his idea of inscape in note-books and journals:
|July 11th 1866||oak trees - the star knot is the chief thing|
|July 19th 1866||the law of the oak leaves - platter-shaped stars|
|May 14th 1870||chestnuts - motion multiplies inscape only when inscape is discovered, otherwise it disfigures|
|May 18th 1870||bluebell - strength and grace|
|Aug 25th 1870||skeleton inscape of a spray-end of ash|
|Feb 24th 1873||snow - All the world is full of inscape and chance left free to act falls into an order as well as purpose|
|Apr 8th 1873||ashtree felled - a great pang for the inscapes of the world|
Then during the years 1876 to 1889 he continued to work on this idea in his poems. In the Penguin Edition, these poems are numbered up to no. 52 and unfinished poems and fragments continue the numbering to no. 65. The following poems were read and discussed:
|no. 13||The Windhover|
|no. 32||Spring and Fall|
|no. 34||As kingfisher's catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,|
The idea of inscape is also represented in:
Look Again by Mary Oliver from her collection Why I wake early
The Rain Stick by Seamus Heaney from his collection The Spirit Level
That sky - washed apricot
deepening to tangerine,
sgraffito branches -
black as depths of nothing -
reaching above us, each twig
template for a tributary.
Seeped light warms
the path of flinted chalk,
the scattered stones. Edges
blur to curved coverings.
We stand in the still of dusk,
tucked in the rind of the world.
5th December 2009
published in Acumen January 2011
The session concluded with a sense of renewed writing vigour amongst all present.
As part of National Poetry Day, Mole Valley Poets were invited to visit Wallace Fields Infants School in Epsom. Sylvia and Helen read poetry and discussed writing with classes of children from each year group, starting at the top of the school with the 6-7 year olds and finishing with the nursery class. The children asked lots of questions and were full of ideas about words and rhymes and this was an entertaining and enjoyable morning. Our Sofa Poet, Kenneth Steven, subsequently presented the school with one of his books of poems for children "Imagining Things".
Kenneth Steven was brought up in Highland Perthshire and now lives there again after some time away in Norway. He is a poet and also writes novels and short stories. He translates from both Norwegian and Sami. His children's stories are translated into many languages. He does work for BBC Radio 3 & 4 and runs workshops in schools as well as for adults for whom he also gives writing retreats.
Kenneth described how his ideas often arise late at night and he then scribbles these down in a note book ready to work on when he has undisturbed space. He writes in longhand and the first writing of a piece is an outpouring onto the page as quickly as possible. Later, this is shaped and polished.
He has a cabin with no computer or phone to distract him. The time in the cabin is often used for the practice of writing in which the here and now of his immediate surroundings is put into words. This focus and concentration then allows the imagination to start to work.
When he was at school, an English teacher introduced him to the work of Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. This was a revelation and writing about his own experience suddenly became possible.
Kenneth began with his poem "A basket of water" which was inspired by a sermon he had heard. In this, the good things put deep in the heart bleed away but the light is left.
The poem "The wind and the moon" arose from a school visit on a wild and windy day.
Recent, strong experiences need to wait awhile before they can be distilled into words. A childhood experience led to the short story "Conquering".
The Isle of Iona is at the heart of the criss-cross of sea roads travelled by the Celts to and from the West of Scotland and Ireland. The hermits who went to wild places in search of the Divine were known as the papar. In Columba's day, in the sixth century, Iona was a busy hub of religious teaching and thinking. In the seventh century the papar would have journeyed further afield to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland and beyond.
Kenneth read from his sequence "A Song among the Stones" which re-creates the papar journey from the West coast of Scotland to Iceland.
The discussion that followed was full of encouragement. The journey of a poem begins with an outpouring and then, by means of reading aloud and listening with the inner ear and combing the words, this becomes an etching as the final draft is reached. It is important to keep all the drafts and to refer back to avoid overworking the poem. The first draft will contain the essence of the work.
The route to being published is to send out poems and, if they come back, to send them out again somewhere else. Perseverance is important. If the work is good enough then it will break through.
This was a most enjoyable evening full of enthusiasm and inspiration.
This session gave everyone a chance to present a poem for constructive feedback. With an attendance of seven including a visitor there were seven poems in different voices. It was good to see new work as well as revised work - first drafts as well as more polished pieces. The usual guidelines for giving feedback were followed and the slightly longer time allocated to each poem allowed for a more relaxed discussion. This was a valuable exercise and an inspiration for further writing.
This reading, which was hosted by Bookham Library, was well supported by seven readers. Each person brought work in their own distinctive voice and so the programme was varied and touched on the theme in many different ways. The poems ranged from childhood memories of the moon landing to an appreciation of meteor showers, from acknowledgement of safe delivery of a grandchild to consideration of the cosmos, from displays of fireworks to the future of our sun as a red giant. Other themes such as changes of the season were also touched on. Our audience was most appreciative and enjoyed the morning.
Sharon began with a mention of Carol Ann Duffy who, in 2009, became the first woman Poet Laureate and then followed with a brief outline of the history of the Poets Laureate.
John Dryden, appointed in 1668, was the first official Poet Laureate. The position was granted for life. However, before this, there were poets who were members of the royal household and expected to compose poems for state occasions. The first of these was Edmund Spenser from 1591 until his death in 1599. There were three further appointments, including that of Ben Jonson, before the official title was given to John Dryden.
Subsequent Poets Laureate included William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Masefield and Sir John Betjeman. Ted Hughes was appointed in 1984 and held the position until he died in 1998. When Andrew Motion was nominated in 1999, he accepted on condition that the post was for a fixed term of ten years. Carol Ann Duffy has also accepted a ten year tenure.
We then read an extract from Edmund Spenser's 'The Fairie Queene' and listened to recordings of Betjeman's 'A Shropshire Lad' and 'The Liqorice Fields at Pontefract' and Ted Hughes 'Thrushes'. This was followed by a reading of Carol Ann Duffy's 'White Cliffs' which was written after being appointed as Poet Laureate.
There was some lively discussion on the merits and difficulties of being a Poet Laureate and on whether this enhanced or was detrimental to the work of the poet. Being in a public position is not always conducive to writing and some have found problems with writer's block. There was much discussion also on favourite poems written by past and present laureates and on the changes in writing style from one to another. This was an inspirational evening.