Prose

Is a Poem Ever Finished?

Is a poem ever finished blog

I was having a clear up of the poetry den this week when I came across an old journal of my poetry. This was a collection of poems I had written between 1987 and 1989.

At the time I was working as a police officer in London and part of a unit dealing with major crime and disorder. The work was, at times, dangerous and handling high levels of stress and pressure was commonplace.

Writing these poems was a release valve, a time out to relax and get some thoughts and emotions down on paper. In 1989 I felt these poems were worthy of Shakespearian adoration. For whatever reason they never got any further than the bottom drawer.

Over twenty-five years later it was strange experience reading them again.
The Shakespearian delusions were shattered but, on reflection, I realised I had a number of useful drafts that could be moulded into pieces of poetry.

This made me think, is a poem ever finished?

Writing a poem is a snapshot in time. A photo of our thoughts, feelings and emotions in that moment.

We draft, re-draft, ponder, spend days mulling over changing a full stop into a comma.

The poem goes away and when we reacquaint ourselves with it, something has changed. Our lives are different; we are no longer the same people in that same moment.

If Sir John Betjeman was alive today would he change the words and tone of his poem Slough?

Would Wordsworth wake up in a sweat and re-write Daffodils?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Maniacal MasterChef

chef-1318790-639x711I love cooking.

Following a recipe and producing something resembling food helps my creative side. I get great ideas for characters and plots whilst cooking. I think it is something to do with sharp knives.

A recent exercise on the Creative Writing course asked to write notes whilst preparing a meal or baking. The aim was to produce a character and prose to include the five senses and emotions evoked during the process.

This is the most recent draft of the piece.

Cooking created a quandary for Dave. He enjoyed the process of collecting ingredients and following a recipe but the bouts of disorganisation and collective clutter, as the recipe came together, disturbed him.

Selecting a recipe raised Dave’s mood and he felt a tingle of excitement as he went through the cupboards getting together the ingredients. Butter, flour, cinnamon and honey looked ordered in their factory packaging sat next to the bananas, sultanas and eggs. The smell of sultanas provided particular appeal.

The start of the recipe involved mashing bananas. Dave wanted to get his hands into the bananas, in the mixing bowl, but his aversion to mess prevented this and he opted for a fork.

The Happy Monday’s, Hallelujah, played on the radio and soon he was mashing in time to the music.

Mixing the butter and sugar provided a short physical workout. He whisked the mixture until it became a soft cream and his hand ached. The white flour sifting through his hands and fingers, into the mix, provided some pleasure as nothing stuck to him. He battled to keep the egg shell out of bowl as he cracked the eggs, and after more whisking something resembling wet concrete sat in the bottom of the bowl.

The bananas were added and, after a final whisk, the mix was poured into the baking tin. The smell of the bananas, sultanas and honey made Dave’s mouth water.

A blast of heat hit his face as he opened the oven door and placed the cake tin on the shelf. He felt satisfied as the oven light illuminated the efforts of the last half hour.

Satisfaction was quickly replaced by mild terror.

Here Comes The Mirror Man

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How many times a day do you look in the mirror?

If you’re like me, it must go into double figures.

It’s the first thing I do in the morning, checking for vital signs to make sure I have made it through the night. Then regular looks throughout the day for shaving, tooth brushing and ensuring that things haven’t moved or dropped off.

All this practice came in useful recently for one of the Creative Writing exercises which asked to sit with a notebook in front of a mirror and write a personal description. The following was the carnage that ensued.

“My hairline races to see how quickly it can reach the back of my head. A few flushes of brown break through the vastness of grey with the odd stray hair, evidence of a time when it actually lived there. Although the hair, now trying to manifest itself through my nostrils and ears, suggests that it is just on the move.

Central Park and The Power of Now

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Taking a walk in New York’s Central Park was on my bucket list. Having never visited New York I’m not sure where the urge came from. Maybe it was a childhood spent watching Kojak and Cagney and Lacey, or the magical scenes of the park portrayed in Elf and Home Alone 2. Whatever the reason, a recent trip to New York provided me with the ideal opportunity.

My first visit to Central Park came on a hot summer’s morning. The walk from the hotel, on Upper East Side, caused the humid air to stick to my face. Skyscrapers shadowed traffic jams. Yellow New York taxis fought against a wall of sirens and car horns. Carbon Monoxide hung in my nostrils.

Walking through the entrance, the first view of the park is understated. Iron railings stand in front of small bushes and trees where street artists ply their trade. I could have been in any park in London. As you walk along there is a point when something mystical happens, a point where you are transported into another world.

Waiting For A Train: Part 2

waiting-for-the-train-1504430-639x852The second habit of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to start with the end in mind.

There is much debate with writers around how effective this process can be. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King details how he starts a book with only the first line in mind. He creates the first draft with the ending developing as he works through it. Agatha Christie didn’t know the ending of some of her books until she had reached the last chapter. Alternatively, there are numerous writers who plan and progress their work with military precision, with the end always in mind.

Whether you are a planner, or a go with the flow writer, the shared commonality is that every piece of work has an ending. The question posed is could your writing be different if you started at the end?

There are numerous writing resources providing writing prompts to assist writers. What if you used that prompt as the beginning of a piece of work and then rewrote the piece with the prompt as an ending. In effect writing it backwards.

When I worked as a police officer a similar technique was used to retrieve information

The Man in Costa

cup-of-coffee-1328582-639x852Over the past month I have been immersing myself in the OCA Creative Writing course and working on a number of exercises designed to improve the skill of writing as seeing.

The process takes the student from observation and freewriting notes of what is seen, to carrying out a series of drafts to produce a poem.

An opportunity to try this presented itself one day whilst I was having a cup of tea in Costa.

In amongst the usual mid-morning commotion my attention was drawn to a man, sat opposite, reading a hard back book. The book appeared to have turned him to stone and provided a complete contrast to the chaos going on around him. I decided to
watch him for a while and discreetly take notes.

The observation provided four A5 pages of freewriting, and a series of drafts and re-drafts produced the following passage of prose.

 

It was his stillness that first attracted me, allied to the fact that he was reading a hard back book, not a laptop, or Ipad or Iphone.  A statue, immersed in the aromas of pastry and coffee and the sounds of clanking china and conversational din.

On the next table a young man shouts into his mobile, another man in a suit types frantically. Their table strewn with files and pieces of loose paper.

Boxing Clever

boxes-1172056-1280x960It is strange how we can get stuck in our ways of thinking. Our brain is a great labeller. It likes order and putting things into boxes.

Recall a moment when you met someone for the first time. What were you thinking?

I bet it would involve attaching some sort of label to them. “They seem nice,” “you’re a bit noisy, “I might struggle to get on with you.” It’s the brain trying to fit your experience into a box.

This is where I currently find myself with my writing. When I complete a piece of work, through one of the course exercises, I immediately place a label on it.