It’s easy to look at a painting, for example, Van Gogh’s yellow bed and chair,, and respond with words. You might write a short story or a narrative poem about someone, possibly Van Gogh himself, who lived here. You might write a poem reproducing what you see in the painting, or something slightly more philosophical about bedrooms and their owners. But what do you write when the painting you are looking at is abstract?
Since March is Women’s History Month it seems like a good time to celebrate the work of women writers from an earlier age. Fortuitously, as joint editor of NAWE’s Higher Education Journal, Writing in Practice No 5, I read an article by Sally O’Reilly analysing her approach to writing a historical novel, Dark Aemelia, (Myriad Editions, 2015) about Shakespeare and his relationship with Aemilia Lanyer, a contemporary poet, and a possible identity for the Dark Lady of his sonnets.
What does a poem stand for? What is a poem? What is a poem for? What should a poem be? What should it feel like? What should a poem do? How should it do that? How does a poem relate to the world? Why do you want to write it? What is writing like? Is poetry political? Is all poetry political? How can poetry change the world? How will your poetry change poetry?
f a character stays too close to someone you know, you’re always thinking, so-and-so wouldn’t do/say/ think that. The character must always serve the story, rather than the other way round.
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 never fail to be amazed at how much a single poem can sometimes contain. It might contain ideas, images, ambiguities and multiple interpretations. It can be full of sound and music, and give the reader a powerful narrative. There is so much a poem can do.
Remembrance Sunday falls this year on Armistice Day itself. This year also marks 100 years since the end of the First World War which saw an estimated 10 million people lose their lives. The conflict spawned many artistic outputs as people sought to express the horror, and the suffering of it all. Poetry in particular is exceedingly well known through the works of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen, and David Blunden to name but a few of the more famous examples.
I hope this discussion inspires you to think more deeply about how you could write about particular landscapes (or waterscapes) and stimulates you to research a really interesting contemporary writer and her ideas about poetry and places.
In the end, it’s not just about flowers.
Content-wise flash fiction, however short, will have a narrative arc while flash poetry will catch a moment with maybe implied narrative. In fact, flash poetry will have more in common with a photograph than with a piece of prose.
So your tutors are giving you good feedback, and you’re happy with what you’re writing, but what’s the next stage in sharing that with…
One of the reasons I read literature in translation is to extend my sense of the possible – to get a sense of what English-language writing might be missing.