Unformatted Ramblings

cast

The cast of ‘Love and Information’, The Nottingham New Theatre, January 2017.

Last year, I struggled a lot with the poetry module of my MA. Perhaps because I’ve read so much less of it than fiction, but writing poetry doesn’t come easily to me. Two problems I struggled with:

  1. I tried to rhyme everything
  2. I didn’t think enough about line breaks

The latter problem is interesting. If you think about it, line breaks are sometimes the only thing that differentiates a poem from a chunk of prose. Line breaks can be a real crutch, when you aren’t feeling creatively inspired. Or should I say….

Line breaks
Can be –
a real crutch,
when you aren’t feeling
c
r
e
a
t
i
v
e
l
y

INSPIRED.

That it to say, it can be really easy to get caught up with the formatting, without thinking about what the formatting is actually adding to meaning. And if it isn’t adding to meaning, aren’t you just finding a pretty way to arrange your prose?

Last month, I was involved in a production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, and found myself facing the exact opposite problem. The play consists of 57 separate scenes, each with no fixed characters, no context and no stage directions. It’s not even always clear who is saying what. In Love and Information, there’s a huge amount of content and very little attention paid to formatting. But, gradually, I had a bit of a revelation about Churchill’s approach. Without any formatting to cling to, the bizarre content had to speak for itself. Sometimes, the content came out as nonsense. Sometimes, it came out as abstract, unexpected and utterly profound. To still be figuring out your intentions for a line several performances into a run actually kept our performances fresh, and felt much more in the spirit of theatre than trotting out the same tired emotional highs and lows, night after night.

So I thought that perhaps, I ought to attempt to learn from Churchill in my own writing. Let go of the line breaks and the double spacing and the Palatino Linotype, which make crap writing feel like good writing. I often have ideas for poems while I’m walking, and write them down on the ‘S memo’ app that’s built into my phone. Then, I edit in line breaks and fix the grammar when I get home. But with this poem, I thought it could be interesting to leave them out entirely, and to see how I like it. So far, I actually like it better!

Emily x

P.S. if you’d like to have a go at formatting the poem, feel free to have a go and send it to me! 🙂

URGENT MEMO

YOU COULD WEAR PURPLE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE OR DON’T BUT YOU COULD YOU COULD START TODAY OR YOU COULD RIP YOUR SHEER TIGHTS AND WEAR LEGS SNAKED WITH LADDERS THROUGH THE MUD SPATTERED WINTER IF THAT’S WHAT MAKES THE CAR HORNS HONK IF THAT’S WHAT SCANDALISES YOUR MOTHERS TOP LIP TRY A SEARING TEAL JACKET WHY NOT PAIR A DEAD WOMAN’S JUMPER WITH LEATHER CHAPS OR CLASH MENSTRUAL RED WITH THE KIND OF PINK THAT REALLY SHOCKS KNOW WHAT I MEAN SNATCH A RAINBOW TROUT FROM THE RIVER WITH YOUR BARE HANDS SCRAPE HIS SCALES WITH YOUR SEAFOAM GREEN ACRYLICS THEN GLITTER THEM THROUGH YOUR HAIR AND WEAR THEM TO THE OFFICE IF THEY DON’T FIRE YOU FOR THAT QUIT WHY WERE YOU EVEN WORKING IN AN OFFICE ANYWAY WHAT WOULD TODDLER ASTRONAUT YOU SAY IF YOU LIKE THE OFFICE THAT’S FINE TOO I LIKE USING COTTON BUDS AND CHOOSING SHAMPOO AND BITS OF COLDPLAY’S EARLIER WORK THERE’S NO ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE NO PUNISHMENT ANYWAY

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Verbatim Poetry

The first time I heard the word ‘verbatim’ used to describe an art form was in reference to theatre. A drama teacher I was shadowing in my PGCE year was encouraging her A Level students to produce pieces of verbatim theatre by reading through transcripts of historic court cases and shaping them into performances. *As a side note, a shout out must now go to Alessandra, Bao Vi and Yeon Kyu, my former AS Level English Lit students, who may or may not still read this blog. All three of them got an A in their English A2 result (so another shout out must go to my friend and their teacher, Emma). If you’re reading this girls, CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT! And let me know how you got on in your other results!!* Ok, side note over. The definition of Verbatim Theatre is as follows:

a form of documentary theatre in which plays are constructed from the precise words spoken by people interviewed about a particular event or topic.

To be honest, I didn’t get the point of it. To me, it seemed lazy: a way of spoonfeeding students a ready made story line and script in the absence of real creativity. But then I saw my first piece of Verbatim Theatre and changed my mind.

In 2012, the National Theatre staged a production of ‘London Road’: a verbatim MUSICAL, no less, about the Ipswich murders. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it: a script drawn entirely from interviews with the residents and prostitutes living and working on London Road, and which aspires to be both hilarious and tragic. Every um, every er, every accidentally misspoken word would be preserved in the script. I went because I loved the National Theatre, but I wasn’t expecting much.

To my surprise, it really worked (and not just for me – it’s since been revived, transferred to other theatres and even turned into a film). The moment though that, for me, really crystallised the value of verbatim came towards the end. After a busy, cheerful string of show tunes about flowers, town hall meetings and other innocuous aspects of suburban life, the lighting dropped to a single spotlight and a single woman, alone on the stage. In a wavering falsetto, in a tiny circle of light surrounded by all that darkness, she sang:

“I mean, sounds awful, doesn’t it, but they’ve. They’ve um, done us all a favour, haven’t they, really?”

The ‘they’ she referred to? The murderer Steven Wright. The ‘favour’ he did them? Improving the class of her neighbourhood by murdering five prostitutes.

After that line, the spotlight cut to black and three women (representing the prostitutes who lived on to mourn their friends deaths and fear for their own lives) stepped onto a balcony, their faces lit from below. They stood for maybe three minutes, utterly silent. No one in the theatre made a sound. Three minutes of silence to reflect on whether you’ve ever felt like that spot-lit woman. Three minutes to realise that those words were really spoken, by a real human. Three minutes of silence to remind you that these women’s voices were never invited into the conversation, so there are no lines to give to them in a piece of verbatim theatre. That was the moment that this art form first made sense to me. Sometimes, the power of art is not in creating something new but in casting fresh light on something which already exists. Verbatim theatre can do just that.

P1010649
The National Theatre, London in July 2012 (summer of the London Olympics AND London Road: what a time to be alive!)
P1010644
A bad photo of the staging of London Road at the National Theatre, 2012.

So is Verbatim Poetry a concept? Why yes, yes it is! Although it’s often called Found Poetry instead, as sometimes the art is in noticing that the poem already exists, whole, if you look at it the right way (as opposed to constructing something artificial from things that already exist, as with the London Road script). Google Poems are a great example of these, in which Found Poetry lovers screenshot Google’s predictions from half typed searches. The results are sometimes hilarious, sometimes profound. Here are some fun examples…

So this morning, for my poetry writing warm up, I decided to write some verbatim poetry after getting the following poetry prompt:

Grab the closest book. Go to page 29. Write down 10 words that catch your eye. Use 7 of words in a poem. For extra credit, have 4 of them appear at the end of a line.

Since I’m in the library with Pete today, the nearest book to me was ‘Principles and Practice of Surgery – 6th Edition’. And page 29 is all about ‘transfusion of blood components and plasma products’. Yay. As I was reading through to pick my ten words, trying to think how ‘immunoglobins’ or ‘coagulation’ could be embedded into a poem that I might be able to both write and understand, I decided to make that the focus of the poem: applying random scientific phrases to the topic poets normally seem to write about: LOVE. As a result, I ended up with these: two short, silly verbatim poems which list commonalities between blood components/plasma and love.

Hopefully the informative nature of this post will make up for the flimsy nature of the poems. =]

Enjoy! If you’d like to try some verbatim writing, why don’t you try writing your own poem listing commonalities between love and something? You could use any kind of non fiction book: a recipe book, a text book, a travel guide… as long as it’s page 29!

Happy plagiarising!

Emily x

Ruminations on The Principles & Practice of Surgery (6th Ed)

1) Commonalities between Love and Fresh Frozen Plasma

Most important
Complex
Available for use in children
Can be removed
Can be removed from a unit of whole blood
Associated with severe bleeding

*

2) Commonalities between Love and Human Albumin

No compatibility requirements
Burns
No clear advantage
There is increased vascular permeability
There is a risk of acutely expanding the intravascular space and precipitating pulmonary oedema

The Art Of Sinning

DSC00949
Some cows taking over and a chicken fleeing in Treen, Cornwall, June 2016.

Here’s a short, light poem which I wrote this morning in response to the following poetry prompt:

Write a seven-line poem about one of the 7 Sins that only contains seven words in each of the lines.

I ended up writing eight lines, plus I wrote about all the sins instead of just one (couldn’t pick a favourite). However, breaking the rules in a poem about sinning seems appropriate.

Happy Monday!

Emily x

p.s. the prompt came from this list , which has lots of excellent ideas to help combat writer’s block.

 

Trip Advisor Review: Seven Sins Cruises

Four stars. Recommended to those who need

a quick cobweb shake before morality resumes!

Wrath closed for maintenance, frustratingly, but Lust

buffet delicious: took mine to my room.

Envy amazing – wanted it all to myself!

Could’ve done with more Greed, considering price.

Loved Pride – was a natural – (sorry, bragging).

Didn’t bother with Sloth; did Gluttony twice.

In Memoriam

P1020122

A Little Wave

I didn’t know that it would be the last

time that I’d see you. In that living room

 

where South Pacific droned to fifteen down-

cast silver heads. You receded as we

 

approached you, all six foot and eighty-six

years of you shrinking, the heavy blinks of

 

a napping cat. I saw blood on your mouth

that was only jam – a practical joke

 

gleaming on your lip, undetected for

the hours since breakfast. South Pacific

 

still blared on as we left. You acknowledged

us for the first time to wave a small goodbye.

 

Ours the only three names in the guestbook.

Ours the only tyres on the gravel outside.

Poem A Day Prompt: A Celebration of Self Adulation

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International Women’s Day at Saigon Outcast, 2015

I was at a party on Saturday and was introduced by my boyfriend Pete to a woman called Mel. The conversation went something like this:

Pete: Emily, this is Mel. She’s doing a PhD in Psychology! Mel, this is my girlfriend Emily. She’s starting a PhD in October too.

Emily: Oh, well, it’s not a proper PhD like yours… it’s in Creative Writing!

Mel: Oh, please, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing most of the time and I’m probably not even going to finish it!!

I immediately realised how ridiculous the scene was: two apparently intelligent, hard working women, lucky enough to live in a place and time where their access to education allows them to pursue not just degrees but doctorates … both clamouring to let the other one know how rubbish they were. It wasn’t the first time I’d done it and sweeping generalisation alert: it’s something I see a lot more in women than men. I’ve introduced my boyfriend to plenty of people as ‘studying to be a doctor’ and not once has he said anything along the lines of ‘yeah but I’m shit at it’ or ‘not a proper doctor, I’ll probably fail and kill someone!’ He just smiles and nods. The whole thing reminds me of this Amy Schumer sketch (NSFW warning: it’s a bit sweary):

In my experience, women – myself included – are often quick to undermine compliments or indications of their achievements. Why? For fear of seeming arrogant or conceited? Resisting arrogance has it’s place, sure. But permanently undermining yourself (not just conversationally, but by not putting yourself forward for promotions or assuming yourself incapable of physical, traditionally masculine activities) seems to me not only potentially damaging but also wasteful. Western women living in the 21st Century have more of a voice, more freedom and more opportunity than at any other point in recorded history. That’s not something I want to stifle by selling myself short, for fear of seeming conceited.

With that in mind, today’s poem is a confessional poem of self love. Below is a beautiful poem by Maya Angelou on the same theme. Maya had it harder than me, and she still acted like she had diamonds at the meeting of her thighs, so I think I will too.

Emily x

Self-Love: A Confession

Every day
my inner voice
narrates the story
of my life in
firework fragments
of imagined reactions
to the devastation
my storybook eyes
are wreaking
or to the universe
blooming between
my thighs and
effusions of the
yearning to be
near to me as
I am near to me
and of the longing
to climb in here
and to find out
what’s inside.
.
The impulse exists
to share my
amazement to
startle you
with honesty
to win your respect
by using my outer
voice to tell
you all of this
so you can
commend
my sincerity
outwardly
while shaking
your inner head
and willing me to
get over myself
and be more humble
because you know
I’ve got the casting
wrong and maybe
I’d be better off
knowing that in
your inner world
I’m a bit part.
.
God knows
I’d do the same
for you.
.
But your script’s
not worth reading
in fact nothing
ever is or ever
will be worth
so much as
being ever
loved like this.

*

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou - Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Poem A Day Prompt: Write a poem about AUTHORITY

DSC00792
Is natural authority learned, earned or innate? I don’t know, ask this cat. His name’s Toffee. – Nottingham Kitty Cafe, April, 2016.

The Authority Suit

I found it at a flea market
on a bright cold Saturday.

A gleaming, peach monstrosity:
not my style at all.
Perhaps a size too big
or a size too small.

But not a blemish on it.
And only £50.
And the vendor crowed that
it was worth a grand.

I have the eyes
of a magpie
and the grace
of a magpie.

So I took it.
Cash in hand.

The first day I wore it
was a confetti of compliments.
I bought new tights
and wore six foot heels
accessorised
with the confidence
of a cuckoo.

That night
I undressed
in the temple of
myself
and hung
the peach monstrosity
with abject reverence
a shroud
over my former
wardrobe.

I walked on a cloud
for a week.

No one questioned
the suit in re-use:
it was rude
to look the suit
straight in the eye.
It was frowned upon
to speak
in more than
hushed whispers.

Once, a passer by
implored me for the time:
the suit laughed like a drain
and kicked dust in his eye
for the imposition.

But.

That Saturday
I decided to wash her.
She had started to smell,
and bore a baked bean stain.

But I know as much
about laundry
as a magpie.

Only the best, I thought,
for my Authority Suit,
and I cleansed her
in the restorative waters
of the 80 degree cycle
with bath towels
for cushioning.

(And because I needed
to wash my bath towels).

She recovered, sure.
She was resilient like that.
But a size too small now,
and fraying.
Pilling in places
and a sag
in her hem.

Passers by still turned away
but less now in reverence –
more collective shame
at the fall of an emperor.
At the laddered tights
and the sags and frays

of a queen
who’d outlived
her reign.

Poem A Day Prompt: GO OUTDOORS

highfields-boating-lakeSince I’ve moved to Nottingham, I’ve fallen a little bit in love with Highfields Park and the lake, which sits at the edge of Nottingham University campus.

Over the past six months, we’ve been on plenty of walks and runs around its perimeter (and hired a rowing boat once), but the past couple of days have been so gorgeous that I’ve been able to sit in the sunshine and write.

Part of me feels a bit hypocritical, after having always considered people writing on laptops in public to be a bit wanky. But one thing I’ve learned this year – having so much self directed time – is that spending every day in your own house, with no need to change out of your pyjamas, is not as brilliant as it sounds. In fact, you can end up feeling a bit stir crazy, and definitely not so motivated to write.

So this morning I got up and out by 8am and headed to the lake. I sat with my wanky coffee and wanky laptop and started writing, expecting to come out with something Wordsworth or Blake might be happy with, reflective of my verdant, tranquil surroundings.

Instead, I spent an hour staring at a little island on the lake and thinking about the scary geese that lived there, and wrote the following poem about the goose mafia that I imagine run this joint.

Emily x

Highfields Park Waterfall, Nottingham

Goose Island

Fuck off mate,
this is Goose Island.
No duck-heads allowed.
Tell me: which part of
‘Goose Island’
suggests we welcome
your crowd?
.
We earned this place.
Won it, fair and square.
So go on, sling yer
ducky hook,
take yer begging elsewhere.
.
You chancing mallard bastards:
you’re all the bloody same.
Green headed hooligans,
the lot of yer. Yeah,
I know your game!
.
And why should I care, exactly,
if you saw a tufted duck
stopping by?
.
Not that I feel obliged
in any way to tell you,
but it’s a business thing.
Right?
A protection racket,
if you will.
.
They pay their bills.
We watch their backs,
and that’s it.
.
See, Tufty’s bright.
He keeps himself to himself.
Him and the grebes,
I don’t mind them.
They know what side
their bread floats.
They’re alright.
.
Not like you mallard wankers!
Now get out of my sight,
before you get
the sharp side of my tongue.
.
My ganders are roosting;
they need some peace and quiet.
And if you disturb our goslings
you’ll have bigger fish to fry.
Sorry, mixed metaphor.
Yeah, the Barnacle Boys, that’s right.
.
Go on, shake a tail feather,
before the lads shake it for you.
.
Protection for you, mate?
Are you yanking my beak?
Not to state the obvious pal
but right now, as we speak
you’re waddling in
the nest of the beast.
.
If you’ll pardon the expression.
You’ll need an ambulance,
not protection,
if you keep on with this quacking.
.
The SWANS?!?!
Bruv you’re tripping,
you’ve been on the flippin’
pond-water again.
.
Swans and geese
look out for each other pal.
No, I wouldn’t say we’re friends
but it’s an arrangement,
understand?
.
It’s what you’d aim for
with the coots, mate,
if you had any sense.
Try some ducks your own size,
lower your sights.
Try the riverbank by the café
You’ll get a few pity bites.
Toddlers and OAPs,
that’s your target group.
.
I mean you ever see a human
cower from a bird your size?
Well get this: the other day
I hustled curly fries
AND a meatball sub.
Just from one well-placed hiss!
No there isn’t any left, pal.
Are you takin’ the piss?!
.
Now go on,
I don’t wanna see your type
paddling round here again.
And from now on,
just you remember
the pecking order,
my feathered friend!