Stephen Roach: Writing on the road

Stephen Roach, lyric writer for “Songs of Water” wrote about creativity on his blog “Words that Bloom” as he was on the road in Australia:

Creativity begins in rest,
in a moment outside of moments,
in a place where we may pause and reflect
on what has been and what is to be
or perhaps upon that which has escaped the entire notion of being.

We become an observer peering over the shoulder of our own bustling life.
But do we recognize her in the magnificence of this disentangled, free-verse prose?
Creativity is never hurried, for it perceives time in a manner much different than 
the persistent ticking of wrist watches and on-time departures.
It knows her as a mother knows her child.

And if we are able to slip through the cracks of what must-be-done 
and slow ourselves to the pace of eternity’s un-rushed sprawl, 
we might glimpse ourselves in a way heaven has drawn us all along 
– a bouquet of luminesce echoes-
From here, we can enter in again to the movement and the must-be-done 
with a washed countenance, 
a baptized habitation. “


Listening in on the Oscars for Poetry, T S Eliot Prize

Without even the pressure to dress up, you can listen with the leaders in UK poetry to the annual prestigious award ceremony for the T S Eliot prize – audio recordings now available here.

Thanks to the time machinery of your internet device, you are present to hear a master class in reading and presenting your own poetry.  Each poet has 8 minutes to read their work.  This is poets under pressure, reading to a roomful of experts in writing and performing poetry – with a leading prize of £25,000 at stake.

  1.  Ian MacMillan introduces the shortlisted readings.  (2 minutes 29 secs)
  2. (Second track, although this clearly happened before Ian spoke) Bill Herbert, Chair of this year’s judges, reads one of T S Eliot’s own poems – this year a particularly political one “The Difficulties of a Statesman” (5.16)
  3. Leontia Flynn (originally from Northern Ireland)
  4. James Sheard (good at explaining the personal starting point for the poems and engaging with the audience)
  5. Tara Bergin (originally from Ireland) reads from her collection based on the death of Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, who committed suicide after her lover married someone else
  6. Robert Minhinnick (Wales) reads from “Diary of the Last Man”.  He edits “Poetry Wales” and writes with passion about the environment
  7. Roddy Lumsden reads from “So glad to be me”
  8. Jacqueline Saphra “All my mad mothers” – reads short poems with humour and insight about family and art and motherhood (her grownup kids in the audience)
  9. Ocean Vuong (Vietnam/America) reads with intenseness and drama of the fall of Saigon (his mother is Vietnamese/American) and a poem speaking to himself
  10. Douglas Dunn (Scotland) reads from his collection “The sound of a fly”
  11. Caroline Bird reads from her collection “In these days of Prohibition” – which Ian MacMillan describes as being about the surreallness of real life.  7 minutes into the reading, she reads a fantastic poem – which I’ve heard her perform, live – and it’s so vivid and funny, it’s like you join her in the scene
  12. Michael Symmons Roberts reads from his collection “Mancunia” – things to do with Manchester (an English city) are described as “Mancunian”


All in one place, we hear ten poets, current, contemporary, performing – selected by the poetry community as important at this moment in time.  We hear different accents and varieties of ages and styles of poetry.  It will forever be on these poets’ c.v.s that they were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize.  One will win.  (The result is out now, but I’ll let you find it out for yourself.  Can you guess who it is?)

The Poets talk about their work

If some of these readings made you interested to hear more of these poets and how they work at poetry, the T S Eliot Society has made brief video interviews with them on that theme.  (Thank you, T S Eliot Society!)

Leontia Flynn talks about her work

James Sheard

Tara Bergin

Robert Minhinnick

Roddy Lumsden

Jacqueline Saphra

Ocean Vuong

Douglas Dunn

Caroline Bird

Michael Symmons Roberts


Two Painters, one collage

Rick and Brenda Beerhorst, husband and wife, paint and collage together, with other people looking on.  And how inspiring that is.

If you’re wondering where the rich blockprints come from – they make them, themselves. I have a humorous print made by them, which I completely fell in love with.  It arrived from Studio Beerhorst in an envelope clearly reused and with the address written upon it in a child’s handwriting.  (They have a large family, with the kids encouraged to express themselves creatively also.)

“There’s a powerful vibe that comes off of things that are handmade and having those things in your environment where you live, I think, is really important.”

– Rick Beerhorst


In this 4 minute video, Rick muses on the experience of failure and success, as well as what a big city (New York) gives and takes away from the artist.

Studio Beerhorst prints and sculptures are available to purchase on their Etsy shop.



Poetry Writing 101 Hands-on

Reader, if you are a wouldbe poetry writer, then get your hands on this book “Writing Poetry” by W N Herbert.  It’s like having a writing tutor patiently helping you – because that’s exactly what is happening – its writer is Bill Herbert, Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

dictionary meaning of spondulicks

Please do take that book token Christmas present, or lean over your local library counter and demand that they order it, or borrow the spondulicks from a pal, to buy this instantly useful and enjoyable book.  

Whether you are a beginner, near beginner or have written a couple of hundred poems but still feel like you’re at the start of a writing apprenticeship – this book takes you through the process of developing the skills/craft and – more difficult to explain – the feel for, writing poetry.



Simon Armitage, videopoem, video, poem, travel, poetry

Making poetry from the ordinary: Travel

Proof positive that when you’re writing a powerful poem, its shape can be something as simple as a twist on an everyday voice/situation, or the banal pauses between events. And yes, it can include humour.  And it can be great in a video.

(Video by Faber & Faber to illustrate poem “Thank you for Waiting)

Creative Takeaway Prompt

Do you have a very ordinary, boring situation/conversation/speech which you hear everyday?  Take that form and write it so that you make it talk about something else, something you feel passionately about.  Increase the strength of your words at the end to the extreme.  (As Simon Armitage does, in this video).

Advanced – time how long you think it will take you to read your poem, allowing an extra 5-10 seconds. Have a friend video you on a mobile phone in that banal situation, then do a voiceover of yourself reading the poem.  Finally, have the courage to put it on Youtube and publicise it in social media (this could be as simple as your personal Facebook page or Twitter.)

More video work – look at your written poems so far – is there one whose atmosphere could be videoed in a setting which reinforces the message?

How Lyrics work – by Carly Simon

The now-defunct online magazine, Doubletake, printed a short but very good article on lyric writing, by Carly Simon, the hugely popular song writer.

Amazingly, at one point she was so discouraged about her apparent lack of success with songwriting, that she decided to give up on that career.  However, on her ferry trip home, a song from George Gershwin kept playing on the jukebox – and she found herself writing a poem in response, asking George how it was for him in his life and work.

As if he could hear me, I asked questions: “Did you buy your house in the country? Did you wait for something that never came? Did you die still waiting for your train?” Every time I asked a question, the refrain “Embrace me, my sweet, embraceable you, embrace me, you irreplaceable you” kept hitting, and as it kept hitting, I repeated it in my letter. It became a quoted chorus in a bed of my questions and observations. At the end of the letter, I vowed to go home and sit at the piano and try to write songs again. “In honor of you, George, in honor of you . . .”

This eventually became her song “In honor of you, George”.  The whole article on songwriting is still here to be read – and worth reading if you write lyrics.  (Thank you, Doubletake, for leaving it online.)

Creative Takeaways

  • If you’re feeling like giving up because no one ‘gets’ you or your art – just keep on going – pushing though discouragement has been an experience for pretty much every achiever (with the possible exception of child prodigies)
  • When you’re stuck and lyrics won’t come – write a response to someone who intrigues you, ask them questions.  This automatically gives you a starting point.

Going back to Carly, one of the recurring questions asked about her was who she wrote her big hit ‘You’re so vain” about?  Here’s the final answer….

Art = “a fresh seeing”

If you know anyone who loves Matisse’s cutouts but says “I’m scared to make art” or “I dread old age”, show them this video.  Eunice Parsons is a vibrant, working collagist in her 90s. She works with huge pieces of paper, ripping them and rearranging them carefully into new, eye-popping pictures. (Note: she made this video at age 90)