Teasing words from The Write Women

It's been some time since I ran a workshop for my group, Thanet's Write Women. Living part of my life in Wales doesn't allow me to take part in regular monthly get-togethers, and this week was the first I'd been able to get to for several months. I thought I'd give them a warm-up first, a short exercise to get them going before the BIG ACTIVITY. I thought it would be a doddle, five minutes of writing a rhyming couplet, 10-12 syllables per line, and using at random, three words - Chalk, Blue and Riveting. My example, (not great) was:

Etched into chalk in indigo blue

the riveting question, What is true?

Bless them, the hour was late, they held an evening meeting just for me. "How many syllables did you say". "How many lines?" "Do you have to use the words in each line?" There is a rebel or two in our group. But I can't remember the last time I saw such concentration, or heard so many sighs, and non-verbal utterances of despair. But they did it as I knew they would, producing perfect little couplets which I shall wrest from them and share next time round.

I then selfishly threw a new poem of mine for critique and feedback, a poem I can't discuss here as I've done something I haven't done for ages, hopefully entered it into a competition. It's the type of poem that contains references one may not be familiar with, and the question was - how accessible does a poet need to make a poem and how can we invite readers to read poems that may need a bit of work? Both the warm-up exercise and the poem raised the question of form and content, something I've been thinking a lot about since being challenged at a workshop recently by someone who needed pointers on both. There is still some resistance by some readers in appreciating the application of visual layout, heightened language, line endings as punctuation and the vagaries of the post-modern voice as being recognizable formula for a poem to be called a poem. At a later date I might reflect on diasporic voices, and the battle to carve our own creative approaches and set our own standards.

The main activity was produced by more fluidity and less sighing. (The warm-up and poem paved the way). Each person was given a first and last line of a proposed poem; person 2 had the last line of person 1 as their first line, person 3 had the last line of person 2 as their 1st line -a sort of round robin with the robin already rounded if you catch my drift. They were then asked to write a poem of 8 lines between the lines given, to make up 10. The theme was Place and Memory and the lines given were open and suggestive enough to give everyone the freedom to write what was important to them. The women produced poems that were beautiful, poignant, and surprising, linked by the form and the theme to produce what I believe will be an excellent performable, group poem. This was Val Doyle's poem with the given lines in bold:

There was something about the light

that entered, beckoned song;

sun crept between the fronds of

the clustered leaves,

and glistened on the tree bark

whilst in the corner of my eye

a movement shimmered then was gone

snatched before my head could turn.

Yet fear did not touch me,

and only a wondering curiosity

waiting to be gathered with my eyes, my mind ...


and my effort:

with laughter on the wind

my ears are deceived into memories of children

laughing unconcernedly          as they hurry to the gate

to greet visitors who were still living -

uncles and aunts, god-mothers wearing

seersucker and cotton, lipstick kisses.

Now the telephone is the bearer of news

of who has passed away in Toronto

 and ghosts gather close

to the light, and shadows dance.