Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Creating Found Poems - Carol Ross

Creating found poetry means taking words, phrases and lines from other sources and using them to create poems. I’d like to tell you about two types of ‘found poem’ I have been introduced and enjoyed.

1. Finding poems in published prose

I first heard about this type of found poetry from Kirsty Stanley, who is an occupational therapist and a writer. On her blog, Kirsty includes found poems she crafted by photocopying a page of a book or magazine and creating a poem by artistically highlighting selected words and phrases on the page. This is a fun technique that can create something quite unexpected – for example a poem on a topic that is different both from your usual poetry and from the source text.

For the poem I have included below (Stalled), I didn’t use quite the method Kirsty describes on her blog – she creates a poem directly on the photocopied page, whereas in my example I typed the words up and inserted line breaks where I wanted them. However, like Kirsty, I didn’t add or change any words or change their order.

The method I used was: (i) photocopy a page (two pages in this case) from a book; (ii) select and highlight words, phrases and sentences to include; (iii) type them up; (iv) insert line breaks; (v) fine tune, e.g., by adding or removing words (ensuring that any words added are taken from the text and in the original order).

I have scanned and highlighted the double-page spread from a (very good) novella, A Penny Spitfire by Brindley Hallam Dennis, published by Pewter Rose Press, that I used to create the poem ‘Stalled’ (see below). I used pages 82-83 (reproduced with permission). 

If this type of found poem is new to you, my tip would be choose a page with plenty of words and little or no dialogue. This is a technique to play with – just have a go and see what you find.

Stalled (‘found’ in A Penny Spitfire by Brindley Hallam Dennis)

His workshop
stood untouched,
encrusted with dirt
and cobwebs.
Spiders hunted in
threads of silk.

He’d changed.
Raw edges where his
life had torn,
had hardened.
Pain turned
to numbness.

She too changed,
The simplest things
divided them.
They began to live
as strangers.

He tried to remember
what they had before
but it seemed far away.
They had lost something,
did not mesh anymore.

They could not talk
about the past.
Yet he sensed
through words they could
come back together.

But how did you do that?
How tell the things
he wanted to tell?
Even thinking about them
made him shake inside.

2. Poems ‘found’ in conversations with others

On a Writing in Healthcare course at Ty Newydd I learned about another kind of found poem from poet, tutor and co-founder of Lapidus, Graham Hartill. Graham told our group about found poems he has created from notes he made of conversations with inmates when working as a poet in a prison. This technique can be used or adapted to give someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be very creative, or who does not or cannot write much, the experience of writing a poem. 

Here I describe using the technique to create a found poem about a child’s experience of World War II.

My mother was 10 when WWII began. To create a found poem based on her memories I first interviewed her about the war. During the interview I made rapid notes and also recorded the conversation. Later I typed up the main ideas from her responses, sometimes but not always using her words. I played with the order of the ideas until I felt I had them grouped and in a logical order. Then I played with the lines themselves, editing and refining to turn whole sentences into the lines of a poem that I hope has rhythm and flow. Finally I checked back with Mum to see whether she was happy with my poem ‘Make do and mend’ (see below).

Make do and mend

I was 10 when war started.
We kids didn’t hear much about the fighting. Just
what was on Pathé news at the pictures.
The man had a funny voice.

None of my family joined up.
Young men had a choice: go down the pit or go to war.
My Dad was a miner, and my brothers,
those that were old enough.
I remember seeing young men on the buses though,
off to start their training.

There was an army camp near us.
The soldiers unwound electric cable
right through the village. To untangle it.
Then they wound it up again.
Our Mary tripped over it, broke her leg.
She got fifty pounds.

Clothes were on ration.
Mostly it was make do and mend.
A lot of folk knitted. Pulled out old things
to knit new. Cut down women’s dresses
to make clothes for kids.

You had to queue to get stuff.
Me and Lil walked four miles to queue for a pork pie.
Dad grew vegetables. And mushrooms.
Mushrooms were dear then.
He dug a pond in the garden and kept ducks.
God they made a mess.

He raised cockerels for Christmas.
And in our stocking: an apple, an orange
and a few pennies.
We made cakes with powered egg.
Grated carrot in the Christmas pud
made the fruit go further.
Mam could make a meal out of anything,
a ham bone and a few peas.

You couldn’t get Christmas trees.
Me and our Jamie cut the top off a holly tree.
From up the top I could see a Lancaster
belly up in a field. Jamie wanted me to get down
so he could climb up and see. But I wouldn’t.
We crept along the hedges to get a better look,
snuck past the men in uniform,
the army and air force police.

One night the Germans dropped incendiaries.
Mam made us hide on a mattress under the stairs,
me, Jamie and Lil, while she stood at the door
watching planes trying to bomb the mines.
They missed. And me and Jamie crept
under the kitchen table while Mam wasn’t looking
and pinched some raisins.

Get writing – play, have fun, enjoy!

Writing for Wellbeing edited by Carol Ross is available through the Poetry Space Online Bookshop

If the above has inspired you then why not send your entry in to Poetry Space Competition 2013 

Poems on any theme are eligible to enter. They must be previously unpublished and up to 40 lines maximum.

Monday, 4 February 2013

On Finding Spaces to Write - Monica Suswin

A myriad of spaces is what immediately comes to mind, ranging from the space inside my head to the actual space of my surroundings.   All of importance to me in different ways for my writing.                         

Time & Space
Time and not having enough of it, or any of it, is never an argument I find convincing.   It only takes me ten minutes to get some initial thoughts down onto paper.   Later on I might take another ten minutes to do a free-write, to string some words together, any words that want to flow from the end of my fingers.   I will then fit in any amount of ten minute slots to work on one piece; if I can I’ll double that into twenty minute slots.   Sometimes there is the luxury of three quarters of an hour.

I gather together a jigsaw of draft material when I work like this.   Of course there are days when I might bury myself in a timeless place for endless scribbling, redrafting or editing.   But I find these short spurts of time, given enough care and focus, will eventually give me a form to my writing which pleases me. 

Any project can be broken down into constituent sections to be worked on piece by piece until the whole comes into shape.   This is a permission I give myself whatever other demands life makes on me, and there are always pressing demands.   Mine is a 24/7 attitude to writing.   With this approach to my time, I find the spaces I need to write.                                      

place & Space

This was a satisfying moment: the day I finished Draft Three of my book.  A clear surface, all of the files in one basket.  Wonderfully satisfying. 

I am lucky I have a spacious workroom, and two desks: this one is for my papers; I have another for the computer and phone.
This desk is not for writing proper.   I use it to plan my day’s work.   I try to keep my desk clear, if not at the end of the day, then at the end of a section of my work.   A clear desk helps the clarity of my mind to focus on the piece of writing to be done.  I would be entirely lost if I didn’t have this generous surface, inviting me to settle down, spread out my papers, and provide me with a special place and space to focus on the piece I want to write.  
My best thoughts, however, often come in the shower so all I need is to perch on the edge of my bed wrapped in a huge fluffy towel and reach down for my A4 pad and pencil (always on the carpet by my bed) and scribble them down.  There are times I need the whole house to myself, all the rooms, so I can pace around reading aloud.   Then I listen to how a piece sounds to my ears; a completely different experience from either reading off the screen or from my print-outs. 
Space Away From Home

Here’s a room in Morocco, I worked on the bed - protected from the heat outside with a pleasant breeze coming in through the door.

Wherever I am, I transfer my working methods from home to any room I stay in.   Because my work is portable I carry it inside my head, along with the lap-top, papers and note-books in my brief case.

Cabin 451 on board ship
My cabin on a large working and leisure ship going north up the Norwegian coast.   I drafted many short pieces for my book during the week, as well as read more than 300 pages of Hilary Mantel’s Woolf Hall; the essential point to become immersed in the world of the Tudors. 


Cabin on the Hill  Providing A Writing Space for others: 
I want and am able to provide the kind of space writers need away from home in my cosy wood cabin at the top of our garden.   It won’t suit everyone because it is without en-suite facilities.   But writers can be self-contained and self-sufficient, only coming down to the house for the bathroom.   Really more like a house guest.

 A Guest Writing 

Monica Suswin is working on a book exploring her own creative process of therapeutic writing.   Using extracts from personal journals, prose, poems and dramatic dialogues, Monica shows how she has gained deeper insights into her inner life through her personal writing, and how in turn this has helped her understanding of relationships with others.   Within all her work, she has found an indomitable spirit of a life-force which lies at the heart of her life and her writing.

Contact Details for Monica Suswin: