Tag Archives: spoken word

How To Progress Your Poetry

Hi there.
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Me with the director of Colourscape, preparing to read poetry in London.

Deciding on a title for this post, the first of a few I hope to write on the subject, was a very difficult thing for me to determine. I could call it ‘How I Write Poetry’ really, or ‘My Poetry Journey’ perhaps.I would never be so pretentious as to say this is how to write a good poem or this is how to be a successful poet. I don’t really know myself. It’s a case of the more I know the more I don’t know so to speak, but I do know about my own poetry journey and I can very well recall how much I wanted to write better than I could when I started, when I first became interested and discovered that I too would like to create poems. Ever since that moment I have been looking for help while discovering things about writing poetry, and part of that process leads me to want to share my journey. Maybe, just maybe, I can help someone else just as others have helped me.

I’m very much still chasing the poetry-rainbow with an ambition to write just one really good poem, one perhaps that will live longer than me, something to be remembered by many others hopefully. Realistic? Perhaps not, but I am happy with the journey so far, after all I don’t set free my self-judged failures, so whatever I make public means something to me at least. Maybe the thrill is in the chase. By doing just that I am exploring myself creatively. It can only be a good thing to live life and engage with it as opposed to simply hoping life is something that happens to you, not through you. I once had a cancer diagnosis and came through that, and partly it is why I want to write at all. That sort of thing is a game-changer. You start to look at life more closely, yet we can all do just that without such a jolt. It’s a question of centering ourselves through choice.

Everything we write will not appeal to others, it’s the nature of personal taste, but to be honest I own five volumes of Wordsworth’s poetry from boy to older man, yet most people will likely just recall the one about daffodils, but what a poem that is. That is the pot of gold in a creative sense. At least, while heading in that direction as best as we can, towards the rainbow, I guarantee that we writers and poets will leave behind a valuable mark on the world for our loved ones, friends and descendants at the very least. Poems are time machines, you can bring somebody back to your time, your world, what it was like and how you saw it, how you felt it and engaged with it through your five senses.

What I know is that if you want to explore who you are, what you are about, then poetry is a very good way of doing just that. If you start writing and thinking in a poetic way then lots of what you write will incorporate some part of who you are, your place in this world and how you see the world around you. That latter perspective will always be unique to you, only you. Not even your spouse, siblings or parents will have your world because only you are at it’s very centre. You are quite simply a unique human being and you deserve to write poetry about your world. Others have their own.

All you need, in order to start or to continue your journey, is a pen and paper, or for many, a means to write using today’s technology. It’s that simple. The most important thing at this juncture, is to start writing, keep writing or to re-invigorate your writing journey. The important thing in progressing your poetry is always to take that next step, to actually take it. Doing just that is the start of your journey, or the start of the next stage of your journey. Don’t worry about, or fear failure or rejection, you are entitled to your unique poetic voice. In a future post on this subject, I’ll talk about the early pitfalls I found, the stumbling blocks, the poetry-world I encountered and some quite magical things too.

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Madeira Through A Poet’s Eyes.

Some things in life just leave their mark on you, affect you. On our first holiday in Madeira we chanced upon a flower festival and I saw a lady selecting blooms from a display which people were allowed to do as it was ending. However, they were not for herself, she promptly walked up to my wife, a stranger to her, handed the bouquet to her and then walked off down the street. I watched her go, this small elegant elderly lady and I am sure she was just a member of the public in Funchal. What an act of kindness, a thought for someone else, a creator of memories. Isn’t it good to be human sometimes? How far does an act of kindness and selflessness reach? I’ve held on to this memory until finally I produced a poem from it which I like to think is my gift back to the lady, the island and its people. We had the flowers in our room for our whole two week stay. The actual flowers are in the vase below. My poem they led me to create is also below. Sometimes the world can be a truly wonderful place.

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On Holiday With the Poet Laureate

It’s not every day you get to go on holiday with a Poet Laureate, but I managed it, well, sort of. The Poet Laureate in question is the very amiable Bert Flitcroft, who is the poet laureate for Staffordshire for 2016. It was actually two poetry books he has published that accompanied me to Dubrovnik in Croatia, but by the time I’d finished two weeks with them, I felt like he was indeed there with me.

I met Bert recently at a reading session he did for our writing group. He read some of his work and allowed us, invited us, to make it an informal occasion. Brilliant. The comments and questions flowed and Bert gave us a remarkable insight into how he writes and how he sees contemporary poetry. It was a very rewarding afternoon. Bert with his confident assured readings and ourselves with the audience interaction. What strikes me about Bert’s poems is how accessible they are, anyone can reach into them very easily.

What I always like about poetry, is that poems allow you close to the poet. Poems always seem to have something of the poet entwined within them. This I think is particularly the case with Bert, he invites you to witness a marital moment of disagreement in Sonnet For A Bacon Sandwich and makes me smile broadly at the wry observation in Naked. Fishing is presented in a completely new light in First Contact and in my view he has written the best ever poem about retirement in Finished.

There are loads more, so many easily read poems but still poems that kept calling me back. It’s not the poems speaking, it’s Bert himself, and the words let me plug into his intellect. Believe me it’s worth it. Keepers for sure. Singing Puccini at the kitchen sink.  ISBN 978-1-907741-03-6   and Thought-Apples  ISBN 9780956551870 both by Bert Flitcroft. Go on, treat yourself.

 

A Poetry Recording

It has taken me a while to post this but it relates to my fairy recent (for me) post The Fastest Poems Ever Written and this is a recording I made of Looking At An Arthur Berry Exhibition. The tone of it  is about my response to his paintings, which are very dark colour-wise, and very reflective of life in a raw sense, a bit like Lowry which Arthur’s works were exhibited with.

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Here is the final tone-poem I recorded in response to my tour of his work. You can read more on my earlier post if you wish, The Fastest Poems Ever Written.

 

A Poem

Recovering From Depression                           by Neil William Holland

I cannot tell you where this sea will take me.
I have never journeyed to the horizon where I look.
I just stand on each shore and search horizons.

I will stand on the pavement now and do the same.
It matters not where I am or where I look.
It pays to live on the spot where I stand
and describe to myself that first step you said I took.

The Fastest poems Ever Written

The Fastest Poems Ever Written

Well, the fastest poems ever written by me to be precise. I hope you don’t mind the headline grabbing title. Have you ever revised a poem to death, lost the very thing that sparked it in the first place? It’s a common enough occurrence for poets I believe. Even more common if you are revising to keep other people happy, such as workshops and the like.

Most people revise, it’s how you hopefully morph your initial spark into something that might be vaguely acceptable as a poem of merit, or at least a semblance of a poem.

Like all writers, I jot ideas down. I’ve even been known to do it in the middle of the night, jumping out of bed to get that sudden line down. What happens though if you don’t revise, if you want to keep the initial explosive event that boomed from your pen instead of refining and processing it to the point of wetting the powder? Can the original thought ever be more powerful than the edited one?

I suppose it is subjective. As with painters, sometimes that fresh spontaneous stroke of the brush can be preferable to the pedantic sure footed but lifeless colouring-in of a piece. There is a certain appeal to be had from quick sketches as much as there is from a photorealistic painting. Can it ever be the same with writing?

On Saturday 3rd October 2015 I found myself at the Lowry and Arthur Berry exhibition at the Potteries Museum in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, U.K. I was there to take part in a ‘Writing Is Seeing’ workshop run by Paul Haughton, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Staffordshire University. Part of the workshop brief was to walk around the exhibition of the two artists and note things that may form the basis of future writing and later workshop discussion.

What followed for me was a rather strange experience. Perhaps I misunderstood the brief, who knows, but the very first note I made at the Lowry exhibition was in response to the figures in his paintings. They immediately made an impression on me that they looked like musical notes. So I jotted that down “Quavers and semitones.”

This impacted upon me, not as a note (pun not intended), but as a line, the first line of a poem perhaps, and I carried on in this way, preserving immediacy and freshness, going with the sheer rawness of it all. In a way it was liberating, unconstrained and instinctive. I found myself writing poetry without thinking, just getting onto the page my immediate impression, my immediate resonance, my reaction. The thought process, at least the conscious processing of thought wasn’t engaged. It was more like word association or the inkblot exercise.

My intention was to work these initial responses into a poem, but the longer I have lived with them the more reluctant I become to alter them. I believe I was subconsciously writing poetry, but instinctively. By altering the original words, developing them through replacement and rearrangement, they will surely cease to be my responses at the time of writing and become instead something far more considered and deliberately articulated, a poem. One that will more likely become a consideration, and I use the word carefully, of the two artists’’ work, not the immediate experience of an instant response that the artists’ elicited from me.

You may say that this process of refining is perfectly normal and is a logical workflow but the question I ask is do we sometimes lose spontaneity and freshness when we overwork and over-consider our original spark?  Is it sometimes, maybe only sometimes, better to let the warts and all version go into the world or should we always try to make sure we produce the very best written piece? Such a piece, a poem, may though, be one that has lost its spark. I suppose editors and proof readers and some poets may be tearing their hair out reading this, but I think that reaction may be more relevant to prose writing than poetry. I think poetry is closer to painting in a way. It has more room for artistic interpretation and risk.

Here we are then. I offer my original pieces, my poems word for word. All I have done is given line breaks and space. Not a single word has been edited and if they do have any value, it may just be a novelty one, as the fastest poems I have ever written, but there is something telling me to leave them alone. They have something I might lose. Perhaps looking at photography as opposed to painting is a useful analogy. Where would we be if all portraits of people were just studio portraits? What value can be placed on the humble snapshot?

Against this more forgiving approach to writing might be the argument that it is unacceptable to the traditional academic poetry authority. You know, a good piece of writing is a good piece of writing and a poor piece of writing is just that. Or is it? For example, the writing of an autistic child may be academically poor, but just how more valuable may it be in poetic terms? (My own grandson Sam is autistic, but I would like to thing he can see the world in his own scrutinising way, a way unique to him. He may just simply need help in transcribing that into what we know to be poetry.)

Should we look deeper and wider when considering the heart of poetry? Is polish the only validity.

My tour of both exhibitions was quick, very quick, my impressions formed were immediate and written immediately and of the group I was the first one back to the room, which I didn’t deliberately set out to do, it just happened that way. I remember reacting to the content of paintings, thoughts stimulated by other non-painting exhibits and even words in the title to paintings. The two poems that follow are the result. I intend to record them. As a matter of personal development and comparison it is also my intention one day to write two more poems based on these words. I will then evaluate what I feel about both approaches. In the meantime, here are the fastest poems I have ever written.

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Looking at a Lowry Exhibition    by Neil William Holland

Quavers and semitones,

human notes on a scale

of opera.
Movement

and pockets

of hats and coats
smoking rawness

and dabs of life
Jimmy’s lunch and Edith’s strife.
“Hey bald man,” calls the girl with a dog
here is a man looking out to sea
and a copper

looking down at me
through the mill

for a few pence
or maybe five bob.

Cheap notes

in a Lowry paint job.

Come with me come with me

past the smoke and the mills
to a better place grown

from people talking

factories

and kids walking

past dark window sills.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

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Looking at an Arthur Berry Exhibition      by Neil William Holland

There’s a light on at the back

and Arthur’s seen it

though

crayon and charcoal
and dark thoughts

screen it.

There’s a truth inside

four corners of each frame

honest folk,

dogs and doorways
all the same.

 

How it was, the truth,
painted not said
but truth all the same
and folks that are

you and me
in all but name.

You can scribble and dollop

chalk up age and youth

but stand there long enough
and you’ll see the truth.
Sometimes a bit dour,
occasionally merry,
but all through the honest eyes
of Arthur Berry.

Reading Emily Dickinson

 

One of the beautiful things about poetry is that of living it, by that I mean climbing inside it by reading and thereby trying to make the poem come to life in a physical way. Hearing is a physical process and to make that happen one has to speak the words. I find this makes me connect more with the intent of the poem. Very often this will be affected by how I received the poem when first reading it to myself silently. I have found though that reading the poem aloud makes me far closer to both the poem and the poet. Liking a reading is a subjective thing, but I have no doubt that as a reader aloud I am always richer for it. This poem is one of my favourites and the way I received it from Emily seemed to be conversational in nature, hence my somewhat reflective interpretation. I hope you take something from it and of course please even try it for yourself, it is widely available, and see if you become richer for the experience too.

You can find my reading by visiting my blog and checking out the page

Reading Other Peoples’ Poems

 

Video Poetry

One my 2016 new year resolutions is to develop my love of photography and video by exploring these mediums when combined with poetry. My first two endeavours are posted in the video poetry page on my blog in the pages section on the right of it. All filming and poetry is by me and I do find it appealing to see a visualisation of the words. It seems to add something. I hope you enjoy them. I have plans to create more as I explore the potential of this genre of poetry. Thanks in advance for your visit. I really do appreciate your time. Neil.

What do I look for in poetry?

I like skill. I like cleverness. I like mastery. Most of all though, I seem to gravitate towards sincerety, even if that sincerety is not so well written, we are all a work in progress. This is the poetry that tends to stay with me, lingers in my consciousness, takes a hold and quite often reflects on how l would like my world to be, and how I want to remember it. How about yourself?

Poetic Splinters

Poetic splinters, you can get them for sure, many poetry enthusiasts have dared to guide their poetry to left of centre in one way or another. The Beat poets for example, and often this doesn’t sit too well with ultra traditionalists. Without new views on poetry however there are no new developments and I can’t help thinking that word-smithing such as Rap and Slam Poetry to name but two splinters have helped many young people to engage with the sacred art.

For my own part, try as I may, I cannot peel my poetry away from a sound enhanced treatment, and I am now pretty sure that what may be best described as digitally enhanced poetry will be around for quite some time yet. I am though also keen to keep myself in a straight line down that central poetry course we call traditional poetry and to this end I have tracked down a local Poetry Stanza of The Poetry Society and when I am able I intend to be a regular at the group (if they will have me of course).

Why am I continually fascinated by digitally enhanced poetry? The answer lies in what can be done with it, how it can colour the reading, give it atmosphere and nuances, how it can interplay and bring mood, how it can render a partnership with the imagination. That is ok I think, yes? It’s another way of rendering the essence of what otherwise may be plain unaccompanied prose. Does poetry need this? No of course not, but we live in the age of the digital world and it seems a shame not to let poetry in on it. I am hoping to continue the work in 2016 and add to my Bandcamp collection, but I am also hoping to develop my traditional skills and if you want to improve your game it plays to be in a good team surrounded by good players, preferably better than yourself, hence my aspirations towards my local Poetry Stanza. It seems like a sensible plan methinks. I’m enthused by the thought of it at least having lost my poetry mojo somewhat when everything in the world seemed to be pushing me away from the thing I know I love.

So, anyway, have a listen to the last thing I’ve done, Under The Stars. It is poetry about my dad, something we shared together on special nights. I hope something of those moments can be found by listening to it. I hope too, that you may see how the words and sound-atmosphere can work in synergy. It is almost essential to listen through headphones, as that offers the nuances really. Peace to all.