Thursday, 30 April 2015

#NaPoWriMo 2015: Some Conclusions

Well. Bloody hell. That's it - I'm done for the year! :) What am I going to do with myself?!

If it plays out like the last couple of years, I'm probably going to spend the next couple of weeks still writing new poems virtually daily, as the momentum and discipline (and reduction of self-doubt and pre-editing) persists but I'll also start going back to edit, trim, and - in the case of the performable pieces - learn what I've written this month.

Since I also had 2½ days of Poetry To Go in the mix, plus a wedding commission piece to write, I will have written more like 45 poems this month, which was an epic achievement, I guess, but did make things a little harder. Turns out creative energy can be quite finite, especially when you're trying to administrate it - poetry admin cramps poetry writing (and possible vice versa).  I'll try to remember that.  (Handling major, seismic shifts in my day job wasn't particularly conducive to mental energy either!)

Some other observations about my output this year:

1. More (end-)rhyming than usual.

Not only the now-traditional triolet, terzanelle, and sonnet from me, but also clerihews, limericks, and other comedic iambic pentameter end-rhyme (one about perennial enemies, another about an imaginary political candidate encounter, and a seasonal one).

2. More comedy

But only in rhyme. It would appear that, when I try to be funny, I feel the urge to go tumpty-tumpty, ABAB.

3. More darkness

There were some seriously dark imagery coming out in places - the aforementioned imaginary right-wing encounter was pretty violent, the other explicitly politically-themed one was sinister, and there was plenty of interpersonal tension depicted - here, here, here, here, and here. Also the plea to a friend who'd been threatening suicide online that I didn't have to send, after all.

4. Resolution

However, there were lots of "Je ne regret rien" and even happy/ practical resolutions. One of them explicitly inspired by the fun of turning forty this year, and others depicting care-free days and the will to live my own life, unjudged by (and unjudging of) other people's preferences.

5. Welsh

Again, as per tradition, poems cropped up that referenced my heritage and upbringing. This time, however, it was in the form of my one concrete poem, and playing a new form (for me).

6. Conforming

I tend to write free verse; it's just a preference, and I have nothing against rhyming and syllable-bound forms at all, it's just that, to me, it's more obvious when it's done wrong. (And yes, you can have rubbish free verse - generally it looks like what Stephen Fry memorably described as "shredded prose".) If you have to force the words into scansion or rhyme at the expense of good meaning, consider free verse. Please. But don't shred prose.

However, during NaPoWriMo, I push myself to more form - and not only were there the aforementioned end-rhymers, but two from my happy place with form (haiku and senryū), a new one - clogyrnachau (ion? pluralising is hard in Welsh), and an accidental following-of-an-earlier-prompt in the form of abecedarian poem.

(I also ended up in a debate about the merits of socks on Facebook, where all our statements were made up of words beginning with the letter 's' - after last year's stab at Nordic-style alliterative poems, that was a breeze!)

7. Promptless

Last year I either explicitly or accidentally followed quite a few of the "official" prompts.  This year, I think only two came out (clerihews and abecedarian), but I honestly wasn't bothered enough to check either way. Whether this is cause or symptom of my feeling of disconnection, I'm not sure... (Particular props to Emma for following all the prompts - that's extraordinary dedication right there; and I was so impressed at how well they came out (especially when the prompts were a bit... well... let's say tricksy...)!)

So, how did that all make you feeeel?

Oh, you always ask, dontcha? ;)

It's been interesting - I found it harder than previous years, and felt more detached from the process. I started well, and was ahead of myself, in fact, but then I fell behind far more, and for far longer, than I ever have done before in NaPoWriMo, and felt simultaneously more under pressure to turn out good quality work, and just let go and throw whatever out there, and experiment with form. Of course, this pressure all came from me...

And then, about five days ago, that pressure suddenly dropped off.  I'd bought myself a bit of space by posting a couple of the Poetry To Go poems I felt were suitable to share publicly (i.e. none of the haiku/ senryū, and nothing where I'd've had to explain quite why "hide-and-seek" or "apples" or "elephants" meant so much to the customer), and then, after writing two on that aforementioned care-free day, I steamed away through the backlog (courtesy of giving myself a break in the form of linked haiku/ senryū, a concrete poem, and rambling free verse about a legendary queen, and then a brilliant workshop exercise, which brought me one of my favourite of my pieces this month). I followed other impulses and inspirations, and some lovely stuff came out just this week.  I feel very pleased with them.

I already have some notions for editing and improving these poems.  I know that most "proper" poetry competitions and publishers won't touch 'em as they've already been published by dint of turning up on the blog(s), but - thanks to this successful final week particularly - I'm feeling pretty darned confident about my poetry skills.

Would you recommend other people to take part in NaPoWriMo or similar challenges?

YES. For several reasons:

1. Comparing this year's output with 2014 and 2013, I can see immediately that I've improved a lot. My writing is tighter, and there's a consistent voice (what Leanne calls a Fay poem - all internal rhymes and knight's move images) And writing challenges, commissions, games, and workshops have been a big part of that.

2. You have to write a lot of crap out, like clearing the pumps before the clean water flows. This kind of thing will do that, so you can winnow the good stuff (yay! mixed metaphors!) out afterwards.

3. You'll find you're better than you think you are, especially when under pressure of time.

4. Challenges like this tend to have a community vibe to them - you can celebrate and commiserate with other poets, and even the simple "like"s and "favourite"s from social media, let alone more detailed comments, will help to boost you (I joint blogged this year, as last, with fellow Cambridgeshire(ish) poets).

I was also very privileged to spend writing time with these poets, and it was wonderful to be inspired by (and even, sometimes, inspire!) their writing, conversations, and comments, and to be able to see them explore a form or a topic that might be a jumping-off point for me, and to see them grow in confidence, technique, and flair. :) Knowing people have got your back is pretty precious.

Emma, Mal, Poppy, Nikki, Leanne, Russell, Daisy - thanks for being part of the journey; it was an honour and a privilege. Same time next year?

5. There is something quite energising about completing a challenge - and that confidence and energy can buoy you along for quite a long while. In fact, the idea that I might have my first NaPo not posting my 30th poem on 30th April was what got me pulling my big girl pants on with, funnily enough, the female pharoah poem. I'm so glad I did.

Any resolutions coming out of this?

Yes - doing more Poetry To Go, entering more competitions, seeking more commissions, giving myself more explicit time to write. And give more positive feedback to other people, because it feels very, very good and encouraging to receive (thanks, Leanne, in particular - you rock at that!)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Bus Stop Sunday 19:39

We are brave,
You are a warpaint screech
Reaching back into our
Corridor battles.

But whilst we have aged
Past landmarks
And recognition
You are strapped

For as we rack
On an inward history
You lift spiked battlements
Of mutual, youthful laughter.

And after all: we are
More than twice your age
And waged,
Engaged in life

And our momentary disquiet
Only highlights
The darker path
We've left behind.

You choose the top deck
And we reckon relief
In loosened breaths,
Ourselves again.


I have been writing a crapload of poems lately but not necessarily letting all of them out into air. Here's one.

Inspiration (for Eva)

Sing us a song.
Weave words and breath,
The free air that
Generations bled for.

Sing strong.
Summon fire from bedrock,
Lock arms and charm a path
That every heart can move on.

Sing sweet.
Be the mead that
Quenches loneliness
And go your own way, blessed.


We took our Poetry To Go stall to the Women of the World Festival again and, at the end of the day, the Mayor of Cambridge came up and asked us for a poem for a young poet she'd met that day. She'd found herself inspired by the day and the amazing women she'd met; she wanted a 10-line, free verse poem about how women support each other, raise each other up, inspire each other. After some detective work, we found which poet she meant, wrote the poem and today presented one copy each to the Mayor and Eva Day Hagger tonight at the launch of the Women of Influence book.

Check out all of these people and projects...! :)

Monday, 23 February 2015


I've had a few people asking me about memorising poems recently.  I've always said: oh, you just need to rehearse it, but recently discovered that I come from a line of eidetic and semi-eidetic folk, so I may have a genetic advantage - what I consider "normal" memory is, in fact, "abnormally good" memory.


In addition, I was a musician (most notably: a singer) before I was a poet, so I have the near-life-long practice and discipline of memorising songs and pieces behind me that I take for granted along with performance skills like breath control, etc.

But there's technique behind the skill, it's just that it's long-embedded.  I've been asked again recently about memorising, so I thought I'd break it down a little, and share what I think you need to do so that you could all potentially benefit. Or comment and add your own tips.

I get the feeling that I'll be running a workshop on this soon... :)

Rehearse. A lot (I still think that this is valid!):

1. Run through it twice, all the way through, at the right speed, with pauses, etc.

2. Take the first stanza and start by doing the first line without text. Look up, gesture, *perform* it.

3. Now add the second line, so you're doing both lines together.

4. Keep going until that first stanza is secure.

5. Do the same for the second stanza, then add it onto the first and do them both together.

6. Keep going until it's all there.

During Rehearsal:

1. Use linking images. Find anchor points (not too many of them!) that you can pin a particularly vivid image in your head to that fits the line/ phrase.

2. Run through the whole thing at high speed, using a daft voice, just to prove to yourself that the words are there. Gallop. Do not stop for missed lines.

3. Start breaking it down a little by starting e.g. in the middle of the second stanza and seeing if you can get the next three lines. Practise until you can. Now pick another random spot and do the same thing.

4. If some lines aren't sticking consider one of these solutions:

a) are they the right lines? Are they not sticking because they actually don't fit the poem?

b) are they emotionally difficult? Learn to take a deeper breath before them - bolster yourself to be able to push through them to the easier bit on the other side.

c) say them over and again and again. Pepper these lines in your head with particularly vivid anchor images.

And rehearse. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then leave it alone. Then rehearse again. Then leave it.

Before/ During the Performance:

Make sure you're well-hydrated before the performance, make sure you have enough carbs in you. When you get on stage, make sure you have a crib sheet to hand, but not too temptingly in front of you so that you rely on it. Don't be afraid to refer to it if you need to - you haven't failed, you've just succeeded in ensuring that your poem is going to be heard in its entirety! :)

And enjoy the freedom and exhilaration of performing without wires - you will likely feel more connected with the audience, and freer to gesture, make eye-contact, etc. - all those good things that can really help your performance. Also: that extra jolt of adrenalin, baby! :D