In case, like me, you had no idea that there was such a thing as a 3D poem, here is what I produced at a poetry workshop yesterday run by Winston Plowes for the Hear My Voice project (held at Cawthorne Museum, Barnsley).
Simply write your words in a spiral (we started at the outside edge and worked inwards) then cut and attach thread to the centre (we used a needle to pull the thread through and then secured with a piece of tape).
Our subject was moths and the writing was generated by listing ideas and descriptions that were suggested by looking in very close detail at some live moths which Winston had collected the night before and stowed in the fridge! Looking at these butterflies of the night close up almost made me forget they were moths at all. In fact, l had everything from forks to typewriters in my notes. That, l believe, is the power of poetry and somewhere at the heart of why we do it. But it is also the sign of a realy good workshop so thank you, Winston Plowes, for making me see the world a little differently.
from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist (Workman, 2012)
I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately, not just found poems but collages to compliment them, even a found poem in a box (see below). I loosely term all this stuff ‘composite fictions’ and last week I started to realise I’d got quite a number of these pieces. So, I’ve created a gallery page on this blog where you can view them under that heading.
Sometimes, the cutting and sticking has felt like it’s taking over from the poetry all together, but I’ve kept at it, in the belief that that you learn through doing, and completing, things. That’s not to say I’m happy with every finished piece, but completing is a stage in the process. Unfinished work makes me feel uncomfortable. What would it have been if I’d got round to finishing it? Good or bad, I’ll never know – unless I complete it. And it’s reassuring to be able to put one project aside in order to concentrate on something else, then go back to the first one later.
from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist (Workman, 2012)
Viewing my poem collages as side projects has been helpful. It’s stopped me feeling guilty about not doing ‘real writing’ (I still write, but less so than say a year ago). The fact that the ‘found’ and collage work may take over and become a new direction is also fine, because why should we push on with work we’re not really enjoying? Maybe these collages are the work I really need to be doing? That’s why I included Jessica Hische’s quote at the start of this post, to get you to think about the direction your own work is taking.
Below is a little ‘poem box’ that has pretty much taken up every spare creative moment I’ve had for the last three weeks, but has given me so much pleasure I had to continue with it. In truth, it’s not completely finished, in the sense that I still want to add a couple of things but haven’t found the right materials yet. Still, it’s a project I can come back to …
from Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules by John Hegarty (Thames and Hudson, 2014)
I’ve been working with found texts recently, creating what I’ve termed ‘composite fictions’ (found poem collages). This involves plundering a range of sources until I come up with something that works. Advertising creative, John Hegarty, says it’s not possible to be original: ‘Ideas borrow, blend, subvert, develop, and bounce off other ideas’. Therefore, to claim your work is original is arrogant. He prefers the word ‘fresh’.
‘when reaching for freshness ask yourself these questions:
Does this piece of creative work stop you?
Would you notice it straight away?
Does it awaken your interest in the subject …?
Does it move you to action?’
I think these questions are useful for interrogating both the sources I use and the found poems that come from them.
For me, the writing comes first, so when I’m working with found texts, I’m scanning for words/ phrases/ lines that spark a reaction. I don’t have any idea at this stage where the poem is, what it will say, how it will say it, but I have that initial phrase and that’s enough. I can’t predict where I’ll find what I’m looking for. I mean, I’ll go to a charity shop and buy a handful of books that in some way look promising, or I’ll scan a newspaper or a magazine and find an article that looks like it’s got potential. However, it’s not until I sit down to work with these sources that I know if they’re of value to me or not. Also, I’ve noticed that if I try to force it by settling on a phrase that’s ‘just good enough’ (because I can’t find anything that really fires my imagination) the process of creating the found poem becomes too conscious and invariably generates a poem I’m not happy with.
Of all Hegarty’s questions (above) the one that really hits home for me is ‘Does it move you to action?’. At the moment, ‘action’ involves a lot of cutting up, rearranging, and gluing down. In fact, today I treated myself to a new pair of scissors! The source texts move me to action; I physically cut them up and paste them down in the order that creates new meaning. However, I think it’s valid to ask myself if my finished poem has the same effect. Does it move me to action? As long as the answer is yes, I’ll keep exploring and creating.
Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules by John Hegarty (Thames and Hudson, 2014)
Cut up produced in the ‘Make Your Mark’ workshop
Yesterday I went to a workshop run by print artist, The Fandangoe Kid (Annie Nicholson) as part of Barnsley’s Hear My Voice project.
It wasn’t a poetry workshop, so I was well outside my comfort zone. However, The Fandangoe Kid’s work is centred around text, as you can see from the picture below, so I felt there was enough of a link with my own work to justify going along. As it turned out, everyone was very friendly and supportive, and it seemed like we all shared the same anxieties around our artistic practice too, so it was great to be able to be part of that conversation. I was really taken with the boldness of the work, and if you get chance to visit the exhibition (on until 30th March) you’ll find there’s a tender narrative of love, loss, rediscovery, and self-discovery, running through the work. Presented as a series of brightly coloured posters, each one informs the other, and there’s a lightness of touch, particularly on the PAUSE poster, which really does force you to stop and take stock.
Annie was an inspirational tutor and hats off to Hear My Voice for making it a free event (they have a few more workshops coming up before the end of the month, so it’s worth having a look at their Facebook page). This workshop really made me think hard about what I want to do in my work, and how I want to present it. In my cut-up (above) I tried to say something about not turning back, not trying to redeem past ideas/ styles/ relationships/ selves, but to concentrate on moving forward. That movement is necessarily slow going I think, but every small gesture counts towards something bigger, a positive shift, an ascention.
If all that sounds a bit too pretentious, just bask in the glow of the fluorescent pink background, courtesy of The Fandangoe Kid!
The Fandangoe Kid – at Barnsley Civic until 30th March
Taken from Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (Susan Jeffers, Vermillion 2007, f.pub. 1987)
The reason I wanted to share the off course/ on course model (above) is because it reflects the writing journey I’m on at the moment. Susan Jeffers uses the model to explore how we should embrace mistakes and take a positive approach to ‘correcting’ wrong decisions in order to achieve our goals. She suggests that most of the time we are actually in error. This in itself is not a problem, but how we deal with it is. She urges thinking in terms of a ‘no lose model’ – it’s a sort of ‘learn from your mistakes’ approach where every ‘oops’ offers the potential for growth. In this way, straying off course cannot actually be viewed as a mistake – it’s simply an opportunity for learning.
I think Jeffers’ model is a useful way of thinking about the writing process. Last year I was worried about my poetry becoming stale. I wasn’t as excited by it as I used to be. So I started to experiment with found texts and suddenly I became more enthusiastic and creative. Since then, there have been many ‘oops’ moments, and I know there will continue to be many more. However, something interesting has sprung from them and I’m enjoying the writing process more. I’m also more open to new formats and platforms for poetry, and a little less concerned about getting work published (although I’m not abandoning that goal).
Jeffers is clear: trust your impulses, accept responsibility and don’t stick with, or be protective of, wrong decisions – correct them. There’s no reason why you should stay on the well-trodden path (in writing or in life) if that path is making you feel unfulfilled. Poetry can feel very serious at times. Reading and writing it can be intense and provoke some odd disquieting feelings. However, adopting the ‘no lose’ approach allows you to step off the path and experience new ways of creating without feeling guilty that you’re not doing ‘proper’ writing (you know the feeling, when you sit down with pen and paper and time to write but you’re doing it out of a sense of duty rather than a drive to create ).
I hope this inspires some of you to allow yourselves a little more freedom. Don’t get too anxious about you writing, just follow your instincts, even if these are a bit left field. As Jeffers puts it, feel the fear and do it anyway.
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.