Circular poetics

Since a mental breakthrough three years ago, I have been on a poetry journey that has been enriching, circular and self-revealing. As my confidence grows, I am more able to claim the identity of “poet” in all its complexity, feeling convinced that poetry is more than words spoken or on a page, but a way of thriving in the world.

I’m sure all poets see their craft in specifics distinct to them, and poems are always a process of self-determination. For me, writing poems has been a way for me to conceptualise myself as a whole. There’s something circular about the process of expressing a meaning, a moment or even my own barbaric yawp.

Creation

A seedling of an idea falls to the earth and is slowly, through work, cultivated into new and steady growth. Over a process of time, the nurturing and watering of the concept creates an ever-changing life-form upon which to meditate. So the words are chosen, combined and ultimately expressed to make something new: the very essense of creation.

This act of creation then takes on its own power and teaches me something about myself or provides a mirror for seeing my reality differently, or just anew. I form the poetry, but the poetry ends up forming me in turn, completing the circle.

This give and take (giving life to a poem and then gaining life from the result) is absolutely vital to my process. The poetry feeds me even as I feed it, the yeasty starter to a lockdown sourdough. No Frankenstein’s monster, a poem must be loved and supported to love and support me in turn.

From evolution to revolution

The hundreds of poems I have written since 2017 have all given me something. Now with a solid body of my best work almost ready for publication, a collection that has been moulded and caressed over a period of years, I find new meaning daily. I grow stronger and more realised through the effort put in and the resulting outputs.

I hope this circle will be forever enriching as I continue on my poetic journey. I am more determined then ever to forge ahead, excited about the inevitable self-revolution.

The poetry sails on

Obviously the world is a very different place since my last post in January. I am very thankful for my loved ones, my health and my material situation. I have been able to keep working on poetry during this lockdown period, refining past work, performing new work virtually at Celine’s Salon and featuring on Soho Radio.

The City Lit course, “Ways into Poetry”, taught by Joanna Ingham was brilliant. I learnt new poetic forms as well as exercises to improve creativity. My fellow students were talented and dedicated. During the course I also went to my first poetry fair, met some more established poets over a pint and bought loads of pamphlets.

My current goal for my poetry is further publication and eventually a pamphlet. I have been through about 80 word-processed poems that I have written in the last year (which don’t include hundreds handwritten in notebooks over the past three years), and narrowed down a shortlist of 12 that I plan to redraft ready for publication.

As always I am very grateful to author Lucy Tertia George for her support, guidance and feedback on the poems. I am also enjoying making my way into the London poetry community, particularly getting to know poets at Celine’s Salon in Soho, Speakeasy in Fitzrovia, and the “Cheerfuls”.

There are a couple of deadlines coming up in May for publications that I am focused on and there will be more to follow. In the meantime, the poetry voyage is still very exciting and vital, and I’m lucky to have wind in my sails.

Poetic inspiration and creative focus

Since my last entry, my creative writing process has been reenergised, refocused and awash in inspiration. Happily I had one of my poems read by an amazing poet on BBC radio. That same poem also won runner up in a competition.

I have made a decision to only focus on poetry at this time which definitely means I spend more time rewriting and editing, instead of constantly coming up with new, undeveloped ideas in my notebook that never go anywhere.

I currently have just over 50 poems in various drafting stages. In January I will begin a poetry course at City Lit. The talented members of the poetry group of which I am a member are flourishing. And I have continued performing, reciting and learning about presenting poetry in public. My goal for 2020 is to publish a collection of poems.

I find writing poetry so important and so satisfying. It’s not just about the initial inspiration, but also the restructuring, the reordering and the finessing. I have not had this much fun with writing since my time in academia writing about history.

Recently I have begun a new phase of poetry writing that is not about grief. This is very refreshing and, again, I am learning what works and what doesn’t. I am also exploring humour. I am enjoying writing discrete episodic poems, in which one small activity or incident is dwelled upon and dissected to the core. Hopefully this brings greater meaning to the mundane.

I am also extremely lucky to share ideas and feedback with an extraordinary writing partner who is fundamental to this process.

So, since my last post things are looking up creatively. And I am very pleased.

Tomorrow I am performing a new poem at Celine’s Salon in Gerry’s Club, Soho, London, 7.30pm.  See you there.

Rewriting and consolidation

At the moment I am struggling with focus and discipline related to creative writing. I’m not going to be too hard on myself because the summer was very difficult emotionally. I’m actually glad that autumn is here, which is unusual for me.

I’m looking forward to the literary nights starting again and I’m hoping that will spur me on. I don’t need to keep writing more and more introspective poems, flash fiction experiments or hectically scribbled ideas for novels. I need to dig deep and work on rewriting what I already have: the hard part.

Besides the literary nights, I’ve been wondering about other actions I can take to get me to do the hard work: back to a writing group, enter more competitions, sign up for a poetry course, splurge on a writers retreat, send poetry to the whatsapp poetry group, create a poetry collection to self-publish,  contact agents again….? All of these actions would help motivate me to put some work in.

I think for now I will focus on the first literary night coming up in a week. I will choose one poem already written and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; I will go one step at a time back to the creative discipline, as the leaves turn golden and start to fall.

Finding your voice

Identifying your ‘voice’ in creative writing is no easy feat. But it is vital, at least within one cohesive piece of writing. The spoken word can enable a writer’s voice. Here, I’d like to explore how our writerly voices and verbal voices relate.

I’ve been thinking about voice in a literal, physiological sense. I’ve never liked my speaking voice, until recently. I’ve had some good feedback from people so I’m going to drop the self-critical impulse in this regard. Anyway, it is what it is. My voice represents my personal story.

I also find this topic interesting in the wider sense of communication: how do you know what to say? It wasn’t just that I didn’t used to like my voice, I found conversation difficult at times. So much to say potentially, but not knowing what to focus on for each particular interaction. I would be sporadically verbose, and reticent the rest of the time.

But that’s also the self-consciousness of younger years, maybe. I found speech hard, but writing much easier. So I did a lot of personal writing to connect with people. It was easier to formulate the arguments and ideas through writing, than it would be in a verbal conversation.

Still, the happy news now is that I am learning, through recitations, performances and conversations, the power of the spoken voice which has also made me consider the purpose of voice in creative writing.

What does it mean exactly? I found this useful piece from Medium that explains it well:

The writer’s voice: what is it and how to find yours

In a nutshell, voice makes your work you. It’s your personality, your experiences, and it is unique. I’m still working on this in writing, and I guess we all are, always. But I have found that strengthening my spoken voice and putting it on a stage has been very empowering.

Speaking publicly forces you to be the centre of attention. So your uniqueness becomes more immediate and more raw. It is not buried in paragraphs. You can’t hide yourself in an essay.

I do think the writer’s voice and the speaker’s voice can inform one another. For me, the plan is to become more confident in conversation and public speaking, so I can also write with a stronger sense of authenticity.

 

The importance of deadlines

Writing as often as possible is a goal. However, I do not achieve this as much as I would like. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’ve been socialising a lot. Sometimes I’m exhausted from content designing. Sometimes I’m reading.

But deadlines constitute concrete goals that I can structure my time around. At the moment my two forms of deadlines are:

  1. Performances
  2. Competitions

I have so far only performed at one venue (once a month, so four times this year). Each of these occasions demanded plenty of prep work: rewriting, editing, rehearsing and meetings with my writing partner. In May and June I have a few other nights, at different venues, where I will be performing as well. So more prep work to do and concrete deadlines to work towards.

I have also started entering competitions. This takes time and dedication again, particularly as there are so many (though I am choosey, especially when time poor). Unfortunately I missed all the deadlines on 30 April and 1 May due to the reasons aforementioned (tired, socialising, content designing or reading). Still, competition entry is another new discipline, like performing, in 2019 that is lending impetus to my writing habits.

Deadlines are essential for me. I can be quite driven generally, but I still need those extra incentives to focus my writing practice. And both forms of incentives involve sharing work with new audiences, which is absolutely critical to the whole process.

When do you call yourself a writer?

When do we own a label such as “writer”? How much writing do we have to do to achieve this badge?

Identity shifts throughout our lives. Some people identify with the work they do, and some have other primary identifiers. After several years of practicing meditation and noting how much things change from moment to moment, I now find identity tricky. Still, the concept is powerful.

There is a massive discussion point here about identity politics and “where we are now” in the turbulent day to day. The topic is a salient one.

When you first meet a new person, “what do you do?” might be an early question. This is a complicated conversation universally, I think. What’s our default answer? For me, it has tended to be about what I do to earn a living: my day job. But we could all say so much more than that.

Focusing on the “day job” side of identity here, I think lots of categories/binaries are breaking down when it comes to work. People’s DIY careers are telling because they often merge many forms of activity: career, work, free time, passion and vocation, among others. It’s not simply professional versus personal.

So, when do we call ourselves writers? Each to their own, I think. Who we are is there for us to imagine and then create (only if we have that privilege: a fundamental qualifier).

I don’t have a straight-forward answer to the question, other than an “I think, therefore I am” approach. I’ve written loads now, so I would definitely call myself a writer. Authorship is a debate for a different entry, but I believe even that identity (like all identities) could be shape-shifting.

 

When is the right time for write time?

Over the years I’ve read about many different routines of great writers and discovered that almost all are strict and followed religiously. Usually the prolific writers start quite early in the morning.

Waking up early is a new thing for me over the past couple of years. I love the quiet of the early morning and drinking coffee in bed, even on weekdays. By the time I leave for my walk to the office, I’ve been up for at least two hours.

However, it is only recently that I have started writing in the early morning. Before this, I still had it in my head that I was not a morning person, so, even if I was awake, creativity wouldn’t work.

Actually, writing in the early morning is very productive, for me at least. The creativity does work. So far I’ve only written in the early morning at the weekend, but I’m considering instigating it on weekdays as well, especially as I feel quite tired in the evenings and go to bed relatively early, if I’m having an evening in.

I am currently feeling very passionate about poetry in the morning. I have recently done another recitation at the same literary night as before. I felt much more solid this time. Still a long way to go, but hopefully that is always the case, the growing and changing.

I have also returned to my short story compilation, to get myself back in the prose head space. For me, with this and other story projects, along with poetry, early morning writing seems to be the way forward for skillful outputs.

Second poetry performance

Second poetry performance. Photo credit: Lucy Tertia George.

From medium.com:

The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers

The ups and downs of writing

Writing, like life, is not always easy or fun. Life, like writing, comes with multitudinous struggles that affect our ability to create. I don’t want this blog to be a litany of successes and goals, because that would not be the full picture.

These past two weeks have been mentally taxing for personal reasons, and I’ve really struggled to write much of anything. I’ve done a few poems, but that’s all. The short story compilation is sitting idly by, gathering e-dust in my hard drive. My writing partner gave me feedback ages ago that I have still not implemented.

But this is all normal and I am learning that in writing, and in life, I don’t have to be 100% everyday. That would be impossible. The perfectionist in me is very punishing at times and I keep having to tell them that they need to take a break from the relentless quest for achievement. We are getting slightly more self-compassionate, but it is an uphill battle.

This morning I have written a poem that I am quite pleased with so I will continue working on that. But in the meantime, I’m trying to remember that productivity comes and goes. We are not machines. Discipline is one thing, but firing on all cylinders all the time isn’t human.

 

First poetry performance

I have some very good news to share since my last post. I have performed my first poem to an audience. This was a very big deal for me as I never thought I’d have the confidence to do such a thing.

I haven’t done any public speaking in years and the prospect, only just a few months ago, seemed incredibly daunting. I have read out creative work in writing groups, but those readings were part of critiquing sessions sitting around a table, rather than a performance.

The act of presenting a poem aloud seemed at once both timeless and contemporary.  Since the origin of humanity, people have been sharing stories and experiences vocally in a group setting. These expressions lead to real connection and support within a community of people. We learn to walk in each other’s shoes. At the same moment, the world in 2019 specifically seems a place in which creativity of all sorts is flourishing, perhaps as an antidote to all that is dangerous politically.

Energised by the performance, I have found that a new door of creativity has opened up in my mind. I can write better poems and I can perform them aloud.

I definitely need to work on my presentation skills, however. I read my poem with my hands in my pockets so they wouldn’t shake, staring at the piece of cardboard I’d inscribed, which rested on a mantelpiece above a fireplace, with my back to half the audience. Not great.

But the goal was to get through it, and that I did. Now I’m ready to learn how to be better and am planning to perform more poetry in the future. first poetry performance

Photo credit: Lucy Tertia George, novelist.