On Day 2 of Arvon, Caroline Bird gave us an intensive series of 7 minute long writing exercises. So if you want to set aside an hour to bang out seven poems, I recommend this as an intensive series of exercises. I have given the beginnings of my own for each task just to give you an example of the kind of thing I mean.
The rules to all these exercises:
- Be bold.
- ‘When you are at the top of a blank page, you have to punch up into the nothingness, you have to trust in the continuous I don’t know.’
- So get your timer ready…
Poem 1. – Backwards
- Establish an event you play over and over again in your head
- Take the event and tell it backwards:
- Focus on the visual of the backwardness
- Think about it as a film you are rewinding
- How does it alter how everything looked?
A wave retracting from a cliff face,
my hand fizzles from the fracture
between his drawstring bag and his spine,
our legs step back in time and synchronised,
Poem 2. – Future
- You are going to write this story again
- But you are going to tell the story as if it hasn’t happened yet ‘you will’… it hasn’t happened
You will mistake the rain
for fireflies, turn off your iPhone
watch them falling. Pause mid-air.
You are in the eye of a firework.
He looks at you, points at a tree
Poem 3. – Magic Eye Pictures
- Think of an object you always encounter at least once a day; a bed, a cigarette, a shoe etc. write down the first thing that occurs to you; a mouth, an eyelash, a beer, eyebrows, a belt etc.
- ‘Let yourself roll down the hill, start small and trust that you will gather’
- ‘Keep writing, this is not one you can do with caution.’
- ‘The unlearning is based a lot on the length of this poem…’
Loose belts, tight belts, gentle shuffly belts, broken belts, shucked belts,
balcony belts, thrift store belt,
belts that remind you of your mother, Father, brother,
lover belt, straight out the sea wet denim belt,
thumb belt, bum belt, straight out the shower late for work
belt. Absentee belt, low-bat belt,
running for the bus and fall to the ground
belt. Heroine belt, matching belt, black belts,
Poem 4. – The Room of my Life
- You are in your bedroom – if you have just moved house, go to an old bedroom, you need to know it well and it should feel like yours.
- Describe this bedroom, letting the objects live and breathe and become new things.
- Surprise yourself; don’t be scared for things not to make sense.
There are six identical boxes under the bed
Filled odd socks, underwear, bedtime t-shirts,
soft toys that smell of bleeding gums
and a sandwich bag filled of dental floss.
Poem 5. – ‘To say no to the taste of whiskey, this is saying no to who you are’ – Barbara Guest
- If Barbara said no to the taste of whiskey she would be saying no to who she is. What are those little things that if you said no to, suddenly you would no longer be yourself ? The things you would lose that would mean that you were dead.
- Don’t question yourself or wonder, just write.
- Write a gathering list of things that if you no longer had them you no longer had you.
Poem 6. – Misdirection
- Think of something little that there are lots of; nails, lips, tongues, eye lashes, eyebrows, earlobes, forks, spoons, water bottles, bottle caps, grains of sand, ants, rain drops etc.
- Write from their perspective as a collective ‘we’, think about their world view, think about their power. Think about their plans and plots, their territory and what they can do that others can’t.
- What are their unique properties? Relish your words, their smallness and how much you can do with little phrases.
- Let the smallness be your power.
Plump pops, we are punctuations of presence.
Something to run from or into, we freckle you.
We slide down the windows of your eyes
evaporate into outlines of ourselves
on shower doors and into skies.
Poem 7. – Weaving from the Silence
- ‘Effectively we are always just writing from a blank page of silence’.
- ‘I would argue that a blank page is not scary but a power – you are creating something from nothing, you are putting words to the wordlessness.’
- Rule 1: ‘I don’t want you to know what on earth you are on about’
- Rule 2: ‘All of you are going to give yourself sections; 1,2,3… whatever you need (at least 5) the sections should vary wildly differently in tone’
- Rule 3: Play.
Sweet meat, cured beef, fleas breed, I need
space, lace, grace, other abstract nouns and clichés.
I feel things so big I don’t know how to explain
Love anymore. Which is shit right?
Plight, mice, think rice, I’m nice
Aren’t I? Nice guys finish nice,
‘Sometimes the only thing we know about a poem is if it is alive or dead and that is all we need to know.’ – Caroline Bird
I hope you got some life out of this hour!