Bringing it all together: the genesis of a poem

I want to share details of how I wrote a poem recently, bringing several aspects of my writing life together. The idea for the poem started with a workshop I was doing for the WEA in Weston Super Mare. I began by visiting a website called 10 Things You didn’t Know about Weston Super Mare and one of them said:

  • Diana Dors had her first success as a beauty queen in Weston-super-Mare aged just 14 in the Miss Modern Venus competition in the open air pool, in 1945 – although she only managed to come third.

It turned out not to be 100% accurate but it gave me the germ of an idea.  So working straight into my notebook alongside the WEA students, I came up with a first draft: I knew practically nothing about Diana Dors and not much about 1940s beauty contests but I decided to use the voice of the young woman who won first place. At that point I had neither time nor access to the internet to do any background research so it had to be fiction.: I realised that the winner would never have heard of Diana Dors so early on so I could make the young Diana Dors say something challenging to end the poem.  

When I got home I looked up the life of Diana Dors and found that her name originally was Diana Fluck but once she had gone to drama school and begun to get stage parts, she was advised to change her name. I also found out a bit more about the young woman, Beryl Smith, who won the competition, and to my amazement found a photo of the three women who won first, second and third prize.

Then doing a bit more research on Diana Dors’ life, I discovered that bikinis had only just appeared in 1947 and that she and the second prize winner had been quite daring in wearing a two-part swimsuit. At that point I decided to put aside any further research for facts and trust my intuition and the nature of fiction to perhaps be nearer an inner truth than sticking to apparent facts.  In any case, my poem was fiction, not history or biography. It was the geographer, David Harvey, who applauded Raymond Williams for coining the phrase “militant particularism” for his representation of the Welsh mining valleys in his novels, suggesting that those fictions got nearer the truth than any sociological survey could.  In Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (Wiley 1996:28) Harvey wrote: “the novel is not subject to closure in the same way that more analytic forms of thinking are. There are always choices and possibilities, perpetually unresolved differences, subtle shifts in structure or feeling all of which stand to alter the terms of the debate and political action, even under the most difficult and dire of conditions.”

Similarly, the Israeli novelist, Amos Oz,  said that novelists are by their nature witnesses for both the prosecution and for the defence, and poets, he added, have to be members of the jury too. (In The Artist and Integrity in The Agony and the Ego, ed. Clare Boylan 1993:232)

Here is the website where you can see the photo of the three prize-winners and a brief biography of Beryl Smith and Diana Dors. https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/6135827485

I used the photo and the information to move from draft 1 to draft 2 of my poem. I then took draft 2 to a poetry group in Bristol where suggestions were made of how I might change the title and tighten some of the detail, making the language work harder. And so I came up with draft no.3 which for the moment is the final version.

Draft 1 in notebook:

 

Draft 2 with suggestions from Poetry Group

 

Winning  Move date up into title with Weston Super Mare                                                              

 

1947 they brought the beauty contest back.

I was down on the beach with our Peter

and this lady says: “I’ll look after him,

you go in for it.”  So I said,”All right.”

 

I won first prize. Me, Beryl Smith from Bristol.

Well I was a good looker, still had my figure then. Omit good

Don’t remember who came second, but third

was a young woman with a big bust. More detail in this line.

 

I think her name was Diana Fluck, what a curse.

She was wearing a two-piece costume, Refer to bikini          

latest French fashion only came out last year..

Being a married woman, I’d a full costume.

 

Well, the young woman didn’t model herself

on Marilyn for nothing now, did she?

Though she was still a schoolgirl then

till she went into films, got to Hollywood.

 

Never envied her.  I’ve had a good life

business woman, nice house.  Even won

a  Beauty Contest when I was older, Give her age

and Diana Dors never did that.  Make her address DD directly so that DD’s name comes at end of line.

 

 

Final Version

Miss Weston Super Mare 1947

 

They brought the beauty contest back that year.

I was down on the beach with our Peter

and this lady says: “I’ll look after him,

you go in for it.”  So I said,”All right.”

 

I won first prize. Me, Beryl Smith from Bristol.

Well I was a looker, still had my figure then.

Don’t remember who came second, but third

was this youngster, big-bust, come-hither smile.

 

Said her name was Diana Fluck, what a curse.

She was wearing a bikini, first one I’d seen,

latest French fashion only came out last year..

Being a married woman, I’d a full costume.

 

Well, the young woman didn’t model herself

on Marilyn for nothing now, did she?

Though she was still a schoolgirl then

till she went into films, got to Hollywood.

 

Never envied her.  I’ve had a good life

business woman, nice house.  Even won

a Grannies’ Beauty Contest in my sixties.

which you never have, Diana Dors!

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3 Comments

  1. barbarahenderson 11 December 2018 at 10:34 am

    Fascinating! And I love the poem. Though the link to the image doesn’t work!

    Reply
  2. Lynn Derriman 11 December 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Wonderful to have an insight into the entire evolution of this piece from its conception and the thoughts behind the choices.

    Reply
  3. Jane Edmonds 24 December 2018 at 12:26 pm

    Very interesting to see the process. The winner in your poem probably speaks for most of us at that time – depressingly! I can remember DD being rather scandalous, which the media loved so its interesting to know her beginning. I think she was probably very brave to live life so fully.

    Reply

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