Through a megaphone


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This week I’ve been continuing to play around with redacted poetry. I’ve mentioned Austin Kleon before on this blog because I love his take on creativity. One of his maxims is: ‘Make stuff every day … Fail. Get better’ (Kleon 2012). I rarely write every day, not only because I don’t have time, but also because I don’t always feel I’ve got anything to put down on paper. However, what I’ve found with redacted poetry is that the source text provides the inspiration (and you don’t necessarily have to read it either – in fact it’s better if you just skim it). Because of this I’m managing to be more productive. It’s not ‘writing’ in the traditional sense, but it’s generating some quirky little poems all the same and I am ‘writing’ (or making) every day.

So, now for my personal challenge – this week I’m going to post a redacted poem every day, no comment, just a poem. That way you can follow the creative journey. And in case you were wondering, you will be seeing more of Frank! Hope it inspires you to do some redacted poetry of your own.

Kleon, A. Steal Like An Artist (Workman, 2012)




Language is hardwired for poetry

Just a short post this week as we’ve been on holiday in the Lakes. As is often the case, I didn’t do much writing while I was away. However, after rereading Kerouac’s ‘Beliefs and Techniques for Modern Prose’ (which is practically a poem in itself) I went back to one of my cubomania pages and came up with what seems to be half poem/ half manifesto.

Here’s the cubomania collage followed by the poem.

cubo hardwired

Language is hardwired for poetry

sketch the flow every day
like Proust, be the eye within
include linguistic practice
write such as watching
give an account, grammatical and pithy
engage and mimic strangeness
go beyond the language sea
remove the world for yourself
(de) compose extremely
die in solitude


Like I said, a short post. So, until next week ….



Bring your body into your work


Hands on

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist (Workman, 2012)


You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Our nerves aren’t a one-way street – our bodies can tell our brains as much as our brains tell our bodies. You know that phrase, “going through the motions”? That’s what’s so great about creative work: if we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kickstarts our brain into thinking.’
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist (Workman, 2012)

I had a good day of writing and workshopping yesterday at the Poetry Business Writing Day. I can’t recommend these writing days enough – Peter and Ann Sansom have a way of getting you to bypass the inner critic, partly due to the variety of poems they introduce and the quick-fire nature of the exercises (you’re only given a few minutes to write each poem) and also because there’s a real sense of energy in the group itself. I find it hard to create that sense of energy and drive when I’m left to my own devices, which is why I’ve been enjoying playing around with different ways to generate poems.

One of the things I’ve been having a go at is redacting texts, deleting in the hope of revealing new meaning (s). I’ve quoted from Austin Kleon above, not only because he has real insight into the creative process and puts it very succinctly in his book Steal Like An Artist, but also because his redactions appear throughout the book (see also his book, Newspaper Blackout, a collection of redacted poetry). ‘Every poem in that book [Newspaper Blackout] was made with a newspaper article and a permanent marker. The process engaged most of my senses: the feel of newsprint in my hands, the sight of words disappearing under my lines, the faint squeak of the marker tip, the smell of the marker fumes – there was a kind of magic happening … It felt like play.’ (Kleon, 2012).

I’ve been using a fiction text, rather than a newspaper, to redact. It’s an unsettling feeling when you use a book, almost like you’re defacing it. I had so many misgivings about doing this I actually downloaded some books online and redacted on screen. Then I realised this was too safe because you can easily undo anything you’re not happy with, whereas the marks you make with a pen are permanent – you have to live with your mistakes! Anyway, here’s an example:

redacton for blog-page-001 close up cropped

I’m treating the redacted poems as a side project (along with the cut-ups I’ve been doing). I still want to write more traditional poems, but the redactions are a way of keeping fresh and interested. I don’t always feel like writing – sometimes I really don’t have anything to say. Redactions, for me, are a means of being creative, of working with words which isn’t physically writing but is making meaning all the same. I hope some of you will give it a go.

The Age of Iron – Steve Ely at Wortley Top Forge



It’s been a busy week, with a writing workshop run by Mark Doyle on Tuesday, and then on Thursday supporting the fabulous James Caruth who was reading from his new pamphlet Narrow Water (Poetry Salzberg) as part of Penistone Arts Week.
To round it off, I’ve spent this afternoon on ‘a poetic wander’ around the historic site of Wortley Top Forge near Thurgoland, Sheffield, led by Steve Ely. This was part of the Hear My Voice festival (Barnsley).
Steve has a subtle and complex way of meshing together the historical and the contemporary in his poems. His vocabulary is astonishing, full of quirks and surprises and drawing on a range of registers that span time and often make us reflect on our own culture. He shared a range of thought-provoking texts with us as part of the tour round the site, which influenced our sense of place I think. I’ve visited the forge a number of times, and looking back over my notes from today I have jotted down things as diverse as ‘the refrigerated semen of the white rhino’ and ‘goldcrests in the ivy’!
I hope the photographs give a sense of the atmosphere at the forge, and that the quotations I’ve chosen (all from Steve’s generous handout) illuminate it as they did for us this afternoon.
Thanks, Steve, for a brilliant walk!


DSCN1697 2

‘In the age of iron men never rest from their labours. They sorrow by day and perish by night; and the gods lay sore trouble upon them … Strength will be right, and reverence will cease to be … Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil the men of the iron age are wretched one and all.’
(adapted from Hesiod, Works and Days).


‘He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
‘See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
Show Iron – Cold Iron – to be master of men all.’

(from Cold Iron by Rudyard Kipling, Rewards and Fairies).



Steve Ely with local poet Sue Riley


to Attercliffe, Dresden-derelict,
a crushed brick wasteland where buddleia
and willowherb blow. Cyclops, Aetna and Vulcan
no more, the drop-hammers silenced
and coke ovens grey; Vickers and Cammel,
Lonhro’s East Hecla, given up to the wreckers
and salvage yard, their bankrupt capital
fled to The City, to Jersey and to Man.’

(from ‘Moorthorpe to Sheffield, 1983’, Steve Ely, Englaland)



Language is a virus





Stuck for an idea? Need a randomly generated writing prompt. Want to do a collage but haven’t got time to do that fiddly business of cutting up texts. Give Language is a Virus a try. The poet Pam Thompson recommended it to me a few months ago and I’ve used it a lot since then. It’s great for those inspirational quotes on creativity too, such as:

I say you have to be a visionary, make yourself a visionary. A Poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses…‘ Rimbaud.


Never afterthink to “improve” or defray impressions, as, the best writing is always the most painful personal wrung-out tossed from cradle warm protective mind-tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow!-now!-your way is your only way …‘ Kerouac

Once you’ve primed yourself with a few words of wisdom from some of the past masters (sadly more men than women but that’s the cannon for you) then try one of the writing games or exercises. I really like the Electronic Poetry Kit section, which has a selection of cut up words from writers ranging from Baudelaire to Poppy Z. Brite (in the 90s I think I fell in love with her vampire characters the way Victorian ladies fell for Mr. Rochester). Anyway, this section is a little more balanced in terms of gender and allows you to drag and drop words to make found poems using your chosen author’s words. I actually prefer to work on paper, writing the poems in my notebook with the words on screen in front of me as prompts. My favourite so far is Bukowski. I got Love is a Dog From Hell for Christmas and those poems were in my head while I was using the Bukowski page of the Electronic Poetry Kit. I’ve sent that poem out, so I can’t share it at the moment, but I will share some of the lines that were generated from looking at the sections on Baudelaire and Donna Tartt (another writer whose world I was immersed in in the 90s when fiction, rather than poetry, was my main interest). So, here are two snippets, the first from the Tartt word bank, the second from Baudelaire’s.

‘where we go barefoot and beautiful
to be skinned’


‘the withered hyacinths of your breasts’

I’m not sure that the poems these phrases come from are that strong, but the process of creating them was interesting. It definitely made me do some work, and I’m sure it will feed into other things I’m writing. This post has only just scratched the surface of what the site has to offer, so why not give it a go for yourself and see what you come up with? I’d love it if you posted your poems, or lines from them, in the comments box.
Happy writing!

Cubomania revisited


The ‘snow days’ came at a good time for me. I holed up with a plastic wallet of texts culled from novels and magazines, and set to work cutting them up and making my cubomania collages.
I suspect we become more risk-averse the older we get (as do crows apparently). The process of creating collage poems, for me, puts me more on the edge than when I sit down to write a conventional poem. I’m out of my comfort zone and outside the certainties of language. I have to deal with what the collision of texts throws back at me. Also, there’s less room for the ego to wield its influence. In Saturday’s Guardian Review, Colin Barrett says: ‘Collage works best when it works all at once, which is why it meets most of its success in the visual arts and music … In writing, poetry is where collage recurs most frequently, at least partly because poems are short and generally not dependent on the elaboration of plot in order to succeed’. Barrett is reviewing Felix Culpa by Jeremy Gavron (Scribe), a collage novel that uses lines lifted from around 100 other novels. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it, but here’s an extract from a longer piece Barrett quotes:

Still going into the prison, reading the men’s
writings , listening to their talk.

Fascinating facts and tales from the poky.

Pale wall of dreams.

I loved the beauty of this juxtaposition, but I’m also in awe of the ambition, and the risk, because surely it is a risk to embark on a project where the writing depends on lines from 100 other novels.
A poem is smaller, more manageable, and as Barrett says, it generally doesn’t have to do the work of plotting like prose. So, I’m in a fortunate position with poetry because it’s a freer form. I’m trying to go with this freedom, to go where the texts lead me. I’ve done some more traditional cut ups as well as the cubomania texts, which is to say, I’ve produced collages where the lines and phrases have lots of space between them, but these didn’t provide the same points of collision that the cubomania texts do. I’m being less strict with how much I add (when I first started experimenting with this technique I was producing strictly ‘found’ poems whereas now I allow myself to add to phrases and lines). However, I’m trying not to censor or edit the work too much either, for example:

I monitor my metabolism
I measure my mental illness
christen my housewife and keep her decidedly
in the third person

If I was writing this more conventionally, I think I’d try and justify this stanza, and in essence explain it away in the next verse. As it is, I have to let it stand because the nature of the collage means other lines are vying for my attention so I have to move on. It creates some interesting turns in the poem.
Will these poems find readers? Well, maybe not a mainstream poetry audience, but I am trying not to let that get in the way.
Next week, I’m going to see John Cooper Clarke in Barnsley – I’ve seen him umpteen times but I’m just as excited as when I went to see him the first time. Is he experimental? Maybe not, but he’s a risk-taker, certainly.
I’m also looking forward to the forthcoming R4 broadcast, The Advance Guard of the Avant Garde, on 10th March. There’s a lot of experimental fiction (as well as poetry) that I feel ignorant of, so hopefully this programme will fill in some gaps!

Your own exquisite corpse


Not the most interesting image I’ve ever posted, but I wanted to share this picture to show some work in progress.

We’re more likely to call exquisite corpse (the paper folding game) ‘consequences’. The term ‘exquisite corpse’ comes from the Surrealists who first played it. They came up with the phrase: “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (which Wikipedia informs me translates as “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine”).

I’ve played consequences in writing groups a few times. It doesn’t necessarily produce great poems, but it’s good fun and it allows you to break the rules. It occurred to me that although the point is not to know what the preceeding lines are, if you have just a glimpse of the last few words, you’re more likely to make a link and get an end product that’s a bit more coherent. I also realised that you don’t need to be in a group to do this exercise. As long as you leave your last line alone for a while (just a few hours, although I try to leave it longer) you’ll almost certainly have forgotten what you wrote. This is good, because you don’t want to be too conscious of what you’re putting down or how it fits together.

I’ve also found it useful to have a few sheets on the go at the same time. The way I start off is to glue a line from someone else’s poem at the top of the page. I then write a line or two in response and fold the page. Then I leave it – for me, it might be days or weeks. It doesn’t matter. The point is, I have something I’m working on (which reduces the feeling of anxiety that accompanies those periods of ‘not writing’). I write small and I fold small (no more than a centimetre’s width). And I write anything, because some of the most random stuff takes on significance when I read it back. There’s no way of predicting how the lines either side will alter the meaning – and this is the point. The interplay between these random lines is where the poetry happens.

Here’s a line or two, to show you what I mean:

‘Despite this I feel lovely tonight
after that dream where you murdered me with your hands’


‘People float in and out of my life
like plastic bottles’

I’m not going to post the full poems because I’m going to send one or two out and see what happens. In truth, I’m not expecting them to find homes. However, the value of the exercise isn’t really about getting published, but of keeping going and generating new images.

As Bukowski puts it: ‘I go on the theory of not quitting’.

Bukowski, C., On Writing (Cannon Gate, 2016)