Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Creative Process

I've spent a lot of time lately looking at blogs of quilters, embroiderers, dyers, weavers and all sorts of other people who craft with fabric and thread. I used to embroider myself at one time (and knit, and make clothes, too for that matter) and at times I get the delusion that I still could, if I set my mind to it, if I wasn't so busy etc, etc.
In fact, last weekend, I succumbed to the temptation and made some cushions for the story chair in my study. (Why story chair? because they used to sit beside the children's beds so I could read them stories. There are two of them which were passed on from my great-grandmother). Here they are.

But it was enough to convince me I should stick to the poetry.
But here's the point. Looking at the crafters' blogs is more than an exercise in nostalgia and fantasy. It is inspiring on many different levels.
First of all, they are often very beautiful. Mousenotebook and Nature's Whispers come to mind here. Mousenotebook goes in for a very disciplined simplicity, neatness accuracy and restraint, whereas Natures' Whispers is all about the colour - rich, riotous and intense.
As well as inspiring me in the ordinary way - there's a poem about dyeing brewing in my notebook just now - thinking about the values they express in their different media helps me to think about the values I want for my poetry.
Some blogs do more than this. Spirit Cloth shows and discusses work in progress, and this is enormously interesting. Images and materials are assembled, laid out, put together, unravelled. Experiments are made with colour and form and stitching and texture. Ideas develop; understanding deepens. To me it feels a bit like watching a flower unfurl on film.

Poetry isn't often like that for me. I tend to come up with an idea like an untidy tangle of thread. If I pull at the right bit, a good image, an interesting line or two it unfolds into a poem and I look at it with a certain degree of astonishment, almost as if it didn't have anything to do with me. Then it's a matter of straightening it out a little, if it's disorderly, shining up the dull or tarnished bits, occasionally separating out the two poems that somehow got mixed up together. I quite like most of the results so far.

As I go on, however, and write more, I realise that this is not how the best poems come about. Good poetry is much more like good craftsmanship than good ideas. Taking time with your materials, engaging with the process, is as much part of the inspiration as the flash of insight.

And I have also found some poets who feel the same. I'll talk about them next time.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Red Squirrel poets

You can read Colin Will's take on the launch of his The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Café and Eleanor Livingstone's Even the Sea at Colin's blog.
I set one of my Orpheus poems at the Callander poetry festival, and it begins:
when Colin strikes the small Tibetan bowl.
The warmed and singing bronze awakes
a humming clarity

And so poetry started, with Colin's singing bowl.

It was indeed a great night, not only because the poetry books were good, but also because the readings were excellent - which doesn't always coincide. It was very well-attended - and yes, you two are indeed 'national treasures', justifiably well-known and well-loved, not only for your poetry, but for the help and encouragement you give to poetry in Scotland at large. You guys, and Sally Evans and Joy Hendry. Am I right?

I read the two books on the train going home (I know, but it was a long journey and a long wait before). Eleanor's poems are shorter, warm and witty, and deal with growing up, growing older, and the small intimate moments of relationships, but also have some beautiful clear snap-shots of nature and landscape. The poem that made most impact at the reading was It's my Party-- but the one I come back to, which I hope she won't mind me quoting is the introduction to part 2:

a Sunday in June
no bees in sight but listen
to the tree humming

Colin's poems are longer, less personal but deeply reflective. There are a lot about landscapes, Suilven and China, but the tone was set by some serious reflections about mortality and faith - or perhaps lack of it. It seems hard to strike the right tone in a society where we are pretty much in denial about death and a common belief or response is not a thing to take for granted, but these poems were calm, thoughtful and honest, deeply engaged, but not emotional. The only quarrel I have with this book is that it is too short!

You can get both of these books from Red Squirrel press.