This is for anyone looking to put something together poetry-wise; show, collection, album etc. You may have a clear idea of the project/s, you may just know you have loads of writing and want to do something with it. Either way this should be helpful! I am currently in Ghana (West Africa) taking some time to organise my brain for a show and full collection so this is some of my process…
POINTER 1 – ORGANISE EVERYTHING
What are you working on and what could you be working on?
If you know, make files under those headings and start typing up/ organising your work accordingly. Mine are:
-Poems for my first full collection
-Poems for my first full show
If you don’t know, start reading and typing up what you have and have an additional notebook where you are brainstorming the themes, ideas, possibilities of the work. As you are going through it should hopefully get clearer and clearer as to your options. If it doesn’t try organising the work by theme, form, or style e.g.
-Stuff that could work with music/monoglogues/prose poems
POINTER 2 – IT DOESN’T ALL NEED TO BE FINISHED
I always have four subfolders in each of my project files:
-drafts with feedback pending
-drafts with no feedback
If gives you a good sense of how far along the project is. It also means if your not in the mood to create from scratch you have stuff to edit, also it encourages me to send work to people I trust, my editor, go to workshops etc. cause I can see how much work I have that still needs feedback.
POINTER 3 – EDITING HIT-SQUAD
I often like to get 2, 3 opinions on a piece. This sometimes comes across as controversial but my personal philosophy is that art, taste and quality are subjective. I have seen enough films that I think are sh** and someone I trusts thinks is brilliant to know that. So there is no 1 pathway that will get me to the right end result, but instead a series of tools available to get me to where I want to go or help me work out where I want to go. I define what quality is, what I want to achieve and then build an understanding of what editors or mentors can help me get there.
My key editing groups atm:
–Life Editor: I actually have a phew of these but Jacob Sam-La Rose is the longest standing – he was my first ever poetry teacher when I was 17. I remember the first time I cried in a workshop cause I couldn’t edit my performance, how embarrassed I felt – 7 years later I mentioned this to him, semi apologising. He responded with something along the lines of, ‘I teach a lot of people, not everyone sticks at it, at that moment I knew how much you cared about your work. That’s why I am not surprised your still here, writing now.’ (Massively paraphrased but you get the idea).
Jacob probably knows me better than most other humans in this world. A lot doesn’t need to be said about who I am, how I feel, what I am scared of. He see’s me. Over the course of my career I have always found money to bring him on board as someone regularly looking at my writing because he often doesn’t pick the easiest editing road to make a piece ‘publishable’ or ‘performance’ but instead pushes me to say what I need to say and the harder things my audience needs to hear.
–The Mentor: Charlie Dark has known me since I was 18 and got me my first ever paid commission. He knows me as a person, knows my work and is relentless in pushing me to achieve my potential. As the founder of Run Dem Crew, he also pushes my fitness, my social media activity and looks at me laterally as a human, friend, artist and social activist.
The most important thing about a project is understanding why you need to do it and what you want to achieve. Talking to Charlie at least once a month keeps me rooted in that. So although I don’t necessarily get detailed poem feedback, I get a grounding that enables me to navigate accurately the feedback I do have.
-The Peer Group: A group of mentees I met through winning the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring scheme (strongly recommend). They comes from completely different worlds to me and both write really differently (Ian Dudley and Holly Corfield-Carr check them out they are awesome.) They are amazing writers in their own right but we actually often find it hard to ‘get’ each others work and I find thats a really helpful tool, I trust them, but need to work for them to access what I am saying. I often see poetry as disparate worlds converging and enabling new people to understand my experiences – so this is that in action!
–Project Editors: E.g. Niall O’Sullivan for my pamphlet Pigeon Party or my director (soon to be announced) for the show I am working on. For every project I do I have a dedicated editor. I am often juggling a million things, so having 1 person focused on the goals of that book or album and being tenacious making me stick to that is essential.
POINTER 4 – STAY CREATIVE (BONUS WRITING WORKOUT)
When I am focusing on a project, I like to allow myself creativity time. My projects are often huge and all consuming, particularly the show I am working on at the moment and I am conscious it can be tempting to dedicate every waking moment to it, then when it ends wonder – what next?
So, for every song or poem I write for the show, I give myself a little 20min tangent time to create something new.
Whilst going through my work, every day I am aloud to take one thing from the ideas/drafts file and play with it.
So this was the file from the ‘ideas’ folder that drew me in…
Lets make it tender and bright like a peeled grapefruit in your palm
And its rotting in fast forward
And your not sure what to do because verything else is going at the same speed. You want to slow it down. You need to slow it down.
But your not sure how to you just shove the grapefruit in your mouth
Grape fruits are big
So now your face is big
And sour and tastey
But its rotting from the inside.
Editing rules I gave myself:
-20min max (set timer)
-Max 1 editing process
-Keep it to half a page (digestible and snappy)
-Use something from this week that made me feel
“Women are the heart of the informal economy that runs this country and if they want equality, they are strong – they must demand and take space for themselves.”
Response by miscellaneous man taking up the majority of the Q&A time at a talk about women in music, when asked if men have a responsibility to make space for women in the industry. Accra, Ghana 2017.
If he were to make himself a fruit for you
he’d peel himself tender and bright
like a gold grapefruit in your palm
lick the hemorrhage of juice from your wrist
to dismiss the yellow flesh rotting in fast forward.
You’re not sure what to do…You want to slow it down?
You need to slow it down.
But you’re not sure how –
so he shoves the grapefruit
in your mouth, now
he did it because, your face is big, bright, tender as the sun
and sour – swallow it like a gobstopper, wish or fishbone. Hope –
it goes down without death despite its size. Skip –
like a pick-n-mix of Haribo fruit and chocolate mice.
So many children are enticed by whimsy and disguise.
You took the risk –
who can say if the fruit
will rot quick enough
for you to live. As he
pushes his palm into yours –
From Ghana, with love.