Something about the BBC's Poetry Season must be catching. I've been to a blitz of poetry dos this week, starting with my own Northern Lights event at the Space Centre.
Then on Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with poet Mimi Khalvati on 'Line Endings'. 'Really? said my partner. 'The time must have just FLOWN!' Well, it did actually. I tried to explain that it was like he'd attended a session on using html for websites or something but I couldn't sound technical enough and he'd already wandered away to his on-line geeks-with-no-graphics game.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of how a poem is put together is immensely satisfying. As Mimi showed us, without dividing verse into lines, you have no poetry. And since modern poetry tends towards free verse rather than those regular blocks, there are far more decisions to make about where to end a line and which word to draw attention to. She had a very clever exercise where she showed us different shapes of poems on the page from a distance and asked us to guess what kind of verse it was. 'Blank verse, male, pre-C20th, someone like Tennyson,' we said to a solid block of text. Others were spaced out verses or raggy, uneven shapes. It turned out each was the same bit of text transposed from a Virginia Woolf novel and set into verse lines. But how the lines were broken up made a huge difference to the tone and emotion of the piece as well as our expectations of it. In the blocked text, single images got lost in the mass of it, the narrative flow, but when it was set into couplets, we seemed to hold our breath and take in every beautifully described object in her scene. And words we end on or begin on take a much greater weight of significance - like a close-up in a film perhaps.
Anyway, I learned a huge amount from this very experienced poet and was grateful to local group Soundswrite for organising it. It's sent me back to my own poems with a fresh eye - 'Oh, that's why I do that! - and I see so many more possibilities.
And then, on Friday, I had the pleasure of hearing the poetry of Alison Flett who travelled all the way from the Orkneys to visit Leicester Poetry Society. Her early poems were quiet and fierce, conjuring voices from her native Edinburgh with their broad working-class Scots dialect. It was interesting to hear how much kids were penalised at school for speaking in this dialect but Flett was later inspired by the poet Tom Leonard to bring that voice into her writing, and with it a world of characters who rarely make it into poetry. I particularly loved 'Learning' but also the haunting new poems in her sequence about 'Veterans' of WW2.
And my 'poem a day' reading this week has been the 'Inferno' by Dante but that's another story and another blog ...
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.