Archive for March, 2013

Last April I took part in the “write a poem and publish it every day of the month” challenge as part of National Poetry Writing Month.

I’m going to do the same thing this year, starting next Monday, so watch your inbox for a daily poem of some kind.

Lots of poets respond to this sort of challenge with “I can’t write a poem a month, never mind a poem a day”, or “I’m too busy” or “that’s truly scary”.

I agree with all of those responses. But I’m still going to do it.

What I found last year was that it forced me into some sort of writing discipline, and writing discipline is something that I sorely lack.

Also, I think that you just need to shut down your internal critic, the voice that says “what if you write 30 crap poems”. Thirty crap poems are fine, as far as this exercise is involved. Thirty crap poems are better than no poems at all. And out of the thirty crap poems may come two good poems, which is twice as many as my normal rate of output.

How to do it? Based on last year’s experience, I think the following will help:

1. Dig out all those half complete / quarter complete drafts that are sitting in your notebook or on your computer.  If you’re stuck, just take one and finish it off.

2. Start working on new poems now. Have a few worked up that you can finish off fairly quickly.

3. Use websites which give you a daily poetry prompt. These are great for just giving you an opening idea that you can work on. e.g. Robert Brewer’s “Poetic Asides” http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs//poetic-asides

4. Give up the idea of quality. It’s quantity that counts. And that quantity is one: one poem, one day.

So bear with me over the month of April. I’m promising that you will get thirty poems (which may be crap poems), one every day.

Richard Thompson wrote the song “For Shame of Doing Wrong”. Sandy Denny (in my view one of the greatest ever female singers), turned it into “I wish I was a fool for you again”.

A few of my poet friends have written and talked recently about the feeling of shame, and its involvement in the writing process.

Marianne Musgrove wrote about it on her blog:

http://www.mariannemusgrove.com.au/creativity-2/surrealist-tea-party

Shame can block us from being creative. Being creative exposes us to criticism, reveals our vulnerability, our fear of rejection. A lot of poets I know, especially women it seems, devalue their work and / or don’t like to promote themselves.  Yet to me, they are clearly incredibly talented poets.

Last night I competed in, and won the World Poetry Day Poetry Slam in Adelaide.  I’ve placed in slams before and won minor competitions. But this is the first serious slam I’ve actually won.

I have my lovely niece, Catherine Ford, and her best friend Kate Lang, staying with me for two weeks, visiting from Cambridge, England. They’d never been to a poetry slam before. We’d spent the day cycling, and then rushed into town to catch the slam.

I did everything you’re not meant to do. I didn’t learn my poem. I hardly prepared at all. And then, during the pre-slam announcements, I changed my mind about the poem I would perform. What could possibly go wrong?

I ended up being relaxed and enjoying myself, which of course is how you always want to feel when you’re competing.

The reason I changed poems at the last minute, was that the wonderful M.C., Daniel Watson, mentioned that one of the drivers for slams was that audiences often found poetry boring; that slams are a way of getting audiences more involved in poetry. “Audience Involvement”. Aha! I have a piece called “Selfish Bastards” (written for Tracey Korsten’s “Word Box” event, which also encourages audience participation). I quickly dug out the words for it, from the little spiral bound journal I had with me.  The audience were very participative, and  I quickly had them all shouting “Selfish Bastards!” after every stanza of my poem. It was great fun.

What’s this got to do with shame and Sandy Denny?  Maybe not much, except that I ended up winning the slam. Two of the five judges gave me 10/10.  I won $100.  All for an unrehearsed, unprepared poem that I read from the page.

That’s when a sort of shame feeling can jump out and grab you. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself saying things like: “It was just luck”,”I didn’t deserve to win”, “The judges got it wrong”, “It was a fluke”, “He / She deserved it more than me” etc.

These days I can recognise those voices for what they are, but certainly it’s something to watch out for. My generation was brought up “to be seen not heard”, to not brag or stand out from the crowd. The teachers (mostly priests or ex-priests) at the Catholic Boys’ Grammar school I attended, mostly told us over and over that we would never amount to much. When you’re young and impressionable, those messages can sink deep into your subconscious.

Winning can take some getting used to.

I’m sorry for the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done
I’m sorry for the restless thief I’ve been
Please don’t make me pay for my deceiving heart
Just turn up your lamp and let me in
 
(Richard Thompson: "For Shame of Doing Wrong")

copyright Mike Hopkins 2013

Many people eschew Facebook. (I don’t.) It’s a useful tool if you use it properly (I don’t).  If you’ve got a few interesting Facebook friends (like my friend and performance poet Robin Archbold), who share interesting videos with you, then it’s all worthwhile. Thank you Robin for passing this one to me, with the words “sometimes words are obsolete”. So of course, I immediately reached for a pen.

The background story:

Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love affair in the 1970s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided, in 1988, to walk the Great Wall of China starting from opposite ends. Ulay started from the Gobi Desert and Marina from the Yellow Sea. After each of them had walked 2500 km, they met in the middle and said good-bye, never intending to see each other again. In her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ in which she spends a minute of silence with each stranger who sits in front of her. Ulay turned up unexpectedly.

Present

She sits

waits

eyes closed

lips moist

breathes.

Footsteps.

Opens.

A stranger.

Looks deep

drinks in a face

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes

breathes.

Foot steps.

Opens.

A stranger

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes

breathes.

Foot steps.

Opens.

A stranger

another

another

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes

breathes.

Footsteps.

Opens.

It is him

opens wider

opens wider

wider

wider

shockwaves

breathes, breathes, breathes

no air

tears

breathes, breathes

he sits

exhales

a nod

a  smile

tears

she leans

pushes her hands

he smiles

he leans

first touch in twenty years

whispers

tears

leans back

he is gone

closes.

Footsteps.

Hope.

Opens

not him

closes

opens

not him

closes

tears

he is gone.

Fixing his face

behind lids

breathes.

Opens.

Looks deep

drinks in a face

which is not his

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes.


copyright Mike Hopkins 2013.