I’d like to say a public thank you to Gill Stoker at the Mary Evans Picture Library for inviting me to write a poem inspired by one of the photographs held in their archive. I chose ‘London Pubs at Closing Time’, mainly because I loved the expression on the face of ‘The Duchess’ (left of frame). I created a found poem exploring the idea of voice and blurring the boundary between past and present. Depending on the sources, found texts can really lend themselves to this. I also used lines from my own writing. Somewhere along the way, between moving bits of cut-up text around on the kitchen table, sticking them in my notebook, then typing them up, the poem achieved its form.
You can read the poem below. Better still, click here to read it on the library’s poetry blog, where you can find some amazing contributions by other poets. Of the more recent ones, I really enjoyed Natan Barreto’s ‘To read a language / Ler uma lingua’.
It’s certainly worth looking at the library’s archive. It’s easy to search through and there’s a wide range of both historical and cinema images. If you feel inspired to write something in response, contact the library as they welcome new contributions.
I feel like we can talk about anything
like 90% of poetry isn’t of any value
like one man especially was attracted to me
like solitude and time alone are unavoidable
like the terrifying reality of Saturday night
like there are people who move in a very humble sphere
like you are whoever they want you to be
like I’m here to prove you can do it differently
like from the first time I set eyes on him
like no one ever challenged me on the dress code
like I prefer the imagination to the real
like there was something truthful behind his stare
like after midnight the pub is a refuge
like what if anything has changed for women
like single is a relative term
like some people hinder me from growing anyway
I’m continuing to produce composite fictions, although I realise I haven’t said much about my sources up to now. This piece uses text from Mademoiselle by Geraldine Symons (cover illustration by Alexy Pendle) along with extracts from Vogue magazine and Treasure Island. I’m finding that the most interesting found poems come from mixing genres and also using older texts with more contemporary ones.
Mademoiselle was a great charity shop find by the way, as it also has line drawings by Pendle inside, some of them full page which makes them perfect for using as backgrounds for further poems.
Last week I posted my first composite fiction on Instagram. I admit that I wasn’t entirely happy with the result as it seemed to auto format, and therefore crop, the picture I took with my tablet. However, as someone who doesn’t use a mobile phone (on the principal that I don’t need to be connected or contactable 24/7) this was technologically a big step forward! I need to spend a bit longer getting to grips with the tags on Instagram too, but at least I’ve made a start. It seems like the perfect platform for this type of visual poem.
After looking at some of Helen Ivory’s artwork, I was inspired to do some more composite fictions. For this one, I’ve used the novel’s cover image as well as bits of found text. My only rule was that some of the found text should come from the actual novel (you’ll have to guess which line/s I’ve used).
I’ve just ordered Ivory’s book, Hear What the Moon Told Me, which is a full collection of composite fictions. I can’t wait for it to arrive!
from Helen Ivory’s ‘Castings’ series
It was great to have my poem ‘Bad Dream’ featured on the Ink Sweat and Tears website earlier this week (Mon. 21st Jan). It’s a found poem, and I felt both grateful that it had been accepted and also heartened that there is a readership for my more experimental work. Moreover, the journal is edited by Helen Ivory, whose poetry I’ve long admired. What I didn’t realise is that she’s a visual artist as well. Have a look at the beautifully unsettling poem boxes on the artwork section of her blog (an example of which appears above).
I was also thrilled to find a selection of composite fictions taken from her book Hear What the Moon Told Me (Knives forks and spoons press). I’m full of admiration for the way these pieces are crafted (see below) and it’s inspiring to see a whole book created in this way. Now I have lots of ideas buzzing around in my head, but first I need to spend some time typing and editing a couple of new poems I’ve written. I’m trying hard to prioritise!
from Hear What the Moon Told Me by Helen Ivory
Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel (Tarcher Putnam 1995)
At the Poetry Business Writing Day yesterday I was talking to the wonderfully talented Laura Potts about how, when we don’t have the opportunity to write, our anxiety levels soar. I thought back to Eric Maisel’s book, Fearless Creating (above). It’s a while since I’ve read it, but he’s very insightful on the tension between working and not working. I’ve just dug out the book from my very disordered bookshelf, opened it at random and found this:
Is it honourable to say ‘no’ to the work? Yes! Is it vital to say ‘no’ to the work? Yes! Is it permitted to sit in the sun and sip a soda and not feel guilty about not working? Yes! Is it right to say ‘no’ to the work when you hear your child crying, when your loved one wants a hug, when your day job demands it, when there’s a wrong to right or a principle to defend? Yes!
There are a thousand times when you can righteously say ‘no’ to the work. But there are as many times when you must righteously say ‘yes’. Between the two there is no time left ever to say ‘maybe’. (p.93)
I realise this yes/ no thing might sound a little contradictory, but for me even the smallest act of writing can be useful. I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As Maisel says: ‘Working means starting’ p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’ . That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.
Of course, there are as many ways of working as there are writers, but I hope this helps some of you who might be feeling stuck right now.
Amazing street art in Berlin, by one of my favourites, Belgian artist ROA. I first encountered his work on the cover of a reprint of the novel And The Ass Saw The Angel by Nick Cave. That’s fairly indicative of how I learn these days, following odd leads that often aren’t poetry, but that speak to me in some way. The best I could do this week in terms of the blog was couple the above image with a line of my own:
if the earth stops turning, we’ll fall upwards to the sky
Hope that puts positive spin on whatever’s happening to you right now in this fast/crazy/amazing world.
Here’s great way to kickstart your writing in the New Year. Cut some snippets of text from a range of newspapers/ magazines/ novels (whatever you can lay your hands on). Maybe add some found images too. Pop them in a bag and post them to a fellow poet, challenging them to make a poem out of the contents. This is what my good friend, the academic (and poet) Dr Zoe Walkington did for me just before Christmas. I didn’t realise until I’d created the poem (above) that Zoe had already had a go with the same bits of text and image. I can’t reprint her poem here yet, because I’ve urged her to submit it to an online journal. However, here’s what she says about the process:
‘The way I created it was cutting up two magazines. As you have identified one was a Sunday supplement, and the other was a “specialist” magazine which was a sort of ‘psychologists digest’ type magazine which I receive as part of my membership of an American psychological society.
I made up my own poem, then – being lazy – never glued it together, and so the parts of the poem sat on my desk for a while, and I then looked at the bits one day and thought “what would Julie do with these?”
The idea of putting it in a freezer bag was just a random method of transport but then I thought it could merit the title of “a poem in a bag”!! ‘
Luckily, Zoe saved a picture of her poem, which used more images than I did to create a surreal collage effect. Her use of the text is great, but you’ll have to take my word for that (at least until it gets accepted by a magazine). In the meantime, why not send some cut-up text to a friend and see what they make of it. I think ‘a poem in a bag’ is a brilliant way to start the New Year.