I was lucky enough to spend Easter in Prague. It’s the second time we’ve been there but this is the first time we’ve visited the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, which is where I took this photograph.
This mind map was on the wall near the entrance to the exhibition of Eva Jiricna’s architecture, so I’m not sure if she created it, or if it’s there permanently. Either way, I identified with the creative process it details: the mess-ups and detours, the going in circles and the dead ends. It also made me question the way I work. Look at the right hand side, ‘work, work, work’. Is that really me, nose to the grindstone. Probably not, at least, not in terms of writing. Why? Well, things get in the way, my job for example, cleaning the house, walking the dog, going for a swim, going to the pub or a gig, messing about with collages and composite fictions (a phenomenally rewarding distraction).
I used to be able to cut myself off and I probably had more focus (in terms of poetry at any rate). These days, however, I embrace distractions. I won’t allow myself to feel bad about this because it’s a way of feeding my thoughts. I do realise though, that when you’re fixed on a goal, writing or otherwise, your work has more of a purpose. You know (at least vaguely) where the writing’s going, what you want to achieve. I’ve had eighteen months or so where I’ve not been sure of where I’m heading, even though I still write and get poems published fairly regularly. This lack of direction is self-induced; after my last pamphlet was published, I was determined to experiment, and to do something different. Up to now, I’ve let that principle guide me.
Thinking about that mind map – work,work,work – has acted as a reminder that a few published poems over the course of a year isn’t really that much writing, and also that thinking isn’t the same as doing, although of course it’s important to the process. You have to do the work if you want to create. So, I’m going to give myself a target, or rather a word count. I must fill the equivalent of two pages of my notebook each day. The notebook is A5 so my target’s small. That’s not important. What matters is that I’m writing regularly, and hopefully with a little more direction (I have a theme nudging me into action but I’m too nervous of it to share it at the moment) . So, let’s see how working to a target influences what I produce. In the meantime, in case you don’t know Jiricna’s work, here’s one of her glass staircases. This is what it looks like when someone hits their target:
A found poem in a box, the making of which has given me much delight!
Influenced by a Winston Plowes poetry workshop a couple of weeks ago (see previous post ‘Butterflies of the Night‘), the work of poet and artist Helen Ivory, and the boxes of Joseph Cornell, here’s my latest composite fiction.
I’ve used the found text I am devoted to nobody but myself as a starting point, then created a series of paper butterflies using copies of a photograph of myself taken when I was 19. Although I’ve worked with a single photograph, each butterfly is unique. The whole thing has been incredibly time-consuming but utterly absorbing. Partly, it’s been a problem-solving exercise, and that’s good because it’s made me think in a different way. It’s been a case of literally thinking outside the box!
I want the next piece to include more text, but having an idea is really only a tiny part of the process. The main part is actually doing the work. So much changes along the way that I can’t really predict the outcome. Still, I know roughly what I’ll be working on for the next few weeks, and that in itself is quite reassuring.
My laptop has been in for repair, so this post is a little late. However, I went to a talk about artist’s books on Saturday at the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley and discovered this beautiful book by Jackie Chettur. It’s a perfectly spare ‘distillation’ of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and it works in the same way as a redacted text. However, because so much of the book is given over to white space (see extracts below) it has a very different feel, somehow lighter and yet more expansive. Here’s how Chettur describes her process.
I am interested in how a subject studied with great intensity can start to reveal something of it’s essence, and how surprising and even emotional forms might emerge through the use of systems. My re-working of existing novels explores some of those powerful themes that stay with readers and I have applied unique systems across entire novels to isolate single themes. This process of distillation whilst deleting much of the original, draws attention to the devises and repetition used by authors and simultaneously allows new poetic forms to emerge.
I love Chettur’s approach, producing a text where new meaning is created from what is left out of existing (found) texts.
I’m working on a 3D composite fiction at the moment, where the found text is just a tiny part of the whole, but nevertheless absolutely integral to the piece. I’m aiming to complete it this week so it can feature on my next post. Now I’ve set myself a deadline, I’d better stick to it, so I’m off to cut up some images to make part of the collage. In the meantime, have a look at Chettur’s work by clicking on the link here.
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)