writing

Mary Oliver – morning poetry writing

Listen to this wonderfully calm and thoughtful interview with the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver (NPR recording 2013).

In under 7 minutes, she conveys the fresh tang of her words, by reading her poem “I happen to be standing”, written during her usual early morning attentiveness to nature and poetry writing time of choice.  Then goes on to give some thoughts on the practice of writing poetry and her concern with the natural world:

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Comedy writing – Monty Python

As a fully-paid up comedy writing fan, I’m delighted by a Youtube documentary “Life before the Flying Circus” – featuring the background to the Monty Python comedy team.

I’ve watched lots of comedy documentaries in my time, and will seek out ones on Monty Python – but this programme seems to have the edge over so many I have already seen.  It not only has the boys themselves, but also brief but insightful contributions from the bigwigs in comedy who encouraged them at the start.  You get a sense of the industry.  The sight of Frank Muir, with the inevitable bow-tie, was delightful.

What comes across is an unglossy version of the beginnings of being an ‘overnight success’.  When you hear that Eric and Michael would spend all week writing comedy sketches, to only get 2 minutes of their material on air and earn £14 – which they then had to split between them – you realise things have always been tough at the bottom.

So, comedy writers – watch this and rejoice – there is hope, there can be breaks – and here, what worked was being hardworking, focussed and taking the unglamorous jobs and just grafting away – ironically while saying that at least we don’t have boring desk jobs.

The picture from the documentary which I’ve chosen as the photo for the top of this blog post is grainy and not taken with an eye to the future.  But I love it – it’s the start of something special, and it’s “in the room”, as it happens.

W B Yeats, W H Auden, memorial, poetry

Poetry lives on

W H Auden reads his poem about the death of W B Yeats (anniversary today) – not only the passing of the man, but the way poetry lives on in the world after the death of its writer.

Interesting to bear in mind that we are listening to the spoken words of a poet who has been dead for over 40 years (died September 1973). Powerful to hear them read by the writer.

This poem is in fact one of 3 parts.  In the 2nd, he memorably sums up W B Yeats as “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” and in the 3rd it winds up the set by a simple four line verse:

“In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.”

The full poem is found in Auden’s writings 1939-1947.

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.

 

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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.

Contents

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Poetry of Resilience – Irina Ratushinskaya

Poetry can inspire by acknowledging a person, telling their story, celebrating their life’s witness.  I just came across a poem by Luci Shaw, which tells us another poet/person’s story, their persistence through harsh circumstances.  Encouraging.  Luci’s poem begins with her introduction to Irina, in italics.

Irina Ratushinskaya
—Russian poet and physicist who was sentenced
to seven years in a Soviet labor camp for writing about
freedom and God. We met at a conference in Oxford
and gave a joint poetry reading.

In the gulag, denied paper, she wrote her
words on soap, then rinsed them off into the icy air
like breathing hope into the world. The words
she held safe in the wide freedom of her memory.
They were words of faith and love and outrage.
They were like her children, held in her mind’s
embrace for all those years until she could
speak them aloud and own them without fear,
un-silenced and un-cowed.

I have her little gold pill box, a love gift, still
holding in its minor space a breath of her courage.

Luci Shaw

Irina Ratushinskaya

Irina Ratushinkaya‘s account of her gulag imprisonment and how she and the other women survived, supporting one another, is published in her book: “Grey is the Colour of Hope” (resissued Hodder and Stoughton, 2016, Sceptre imprint.  ISBN: 9781473637214 available as paperback and e-book/Kindle)

Part of Irina’s poetry, in the poem “I will live and survive” is quoted in the Guardian’s fascinating obituary:

And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.

A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls,
Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain –
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern – none more beautiful could be dreamt!
The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather
And how many windows sparkled after that one –
But never was it repeated
That upheaval of rainbow ice!

If you’d like to read more of her poetry, its books are titled:

  • “No, I’m not afraid”
  • “Beyond the Limit”
  • “Pencil Letter”
  • “Dance with a shadow”
Bookjacket "In the Beginning"

early formative memoir: Irina Ratushinskaya

She has written the memoir of her earlier years as: “In the beginning: The formative years of a dissident poet”.

Her novels are “Fictions and Lies” and “The Odessans”

Creative Takeaway

Do you know someone who you deeply admire for their persistence through life, despite great difficulties?  Perhaps they could be a theme to inspire your song/poetry/visual art/dance/craft.  You may find this an encouraging exercise, which strengthens your own resilience in life.