Monday, 6 October 2008

And more Warwick Words.... Jo Shapcott

On Friday I went to a Jo Shapcott workshop. For more about Jo, see

Again, she is a most generous and clever teacher, a quality which has pervaded the writers and poets I encountered at Warwick Words. This is how the session was described:

Angela Carter wrote: 'There’s a materiality to imaginative life and imaginative experience which should be taken quite seriously.'

Join acclaimed poet, Jo Shapcott, at this workshop which will take as its subject the imagined world and give participants the chance to dip a toe into its materiality.

Well, I couldn't pass that up, could I?! We worked extremely hard over the three hour session, and each produced three poems. The first poem came from a freewrite that we all did when we first arrived. I think I'll put the poems on here, just so you can see what I achieved in three hours. Now please bear in mind that these are rough drafts, not even first drafts, and I have reproduced them here exactly as I scribbled them. No revisions! But they are interesting as you can see perhaps the seed of a poem in them.. So, this is the first poem I wrote:-

A tiny dead bird almost under my foot
Head curled down onto breast, skin flecked with feathers
I look again and it is two spiky seed-heads clinging together.
Then I see a dead cat in the gutter
Fur matted and legs splayed
I look again and it is an old scarf tangled with some twigs.
I sense foreboding everywhere these days
In counting magpies and stormy skies.
Shadowy figures lurch out of the dark
I swerve the car to avoid nothing.
A barn owl swoops across the road
A real white ghost to properly frighten
But I am calm.
I am only afraid of the thing I cannot name
That I see from the corner of my eye
That moves closer in from the edges of my world
To threaten me.

Strangely, (or perhaps not with the current climate) a few other people, including Jo, had also picked up on this dark mood, this general malaise, and so the second poem she set us to write was a hommage to a poem by Neil Rollinson called 'A List of Requirements for the End of the World'

Because I'd been so depressive in the last poem, I didn't want everyone at the workshop to think I was some kind of suicide risk, so I tried to make this next one a bit funny...

So, here is my poem entitled, 'A List of Requirements for the End of the World' (apologies to Neil Rollinson)

These are my demands...
For this to happen when I am very, very old.
To have reached spiritual enlightenment, any religion will do.
To be crying with laughter listening to Billy Connelly telling me a really funny story.
To not to have to think, 'I wish I'd had more sex', in my dying seconds.
To be really glad I took out the 'Buy Now, Pay Later' deal on that sofa,
And overspent on fripperies on my credit card.
To ensure I don't enter some kind of collective unconscious with George Bush and
Anne Widdecome.
To be eating a full Christmas dinner, rest of Christmas not necessary.
And drinking as much good wine as I can take.
To not know, or have any inkling, that this is going to happen.
If I'm going, everyone else is too.
For it to be quick, like someone turning the light out.

And to find out that we really are made of stardust.

The last exercise was interesting. We each selected an image at random, and had to firstly write a set of 'rules' - social or physical, for the world that the image depicted. I picked out a Pieter Breugel painting of The Tower of Babel. Then we had to write a poem incorporating those rules. Mine was written from the POV of a stonemason working on the tower.

I carve the arches from the blocks of stone
Curve the rounded edge to each square piece
Chip, chip, chip, gentle cut and smooth
Careful under a loaded sky.
You ask how many I have made
And how many left to birth?
I cannot answer your question.
All I know is the stone and the chisel.
Place the keystone in the centre
And then move on to the next arch.
Sometimes I wonder how high we have to build
Already clouds lace the upper walkways
And it seems the stones are smaller these days
And veined with faults and cracks.
But we kneel before our king in fear
And chip, chip. chip, gentle cut and smooth
Careful under a loaded sky.
We work until we are told to stop
Or fall upon our stone and die.

Make of all that what you will.....!!

Thanks, Jo, and all the other participants, for a great workshop.


Ernest de Cugnac said...

Good stuff claire. I especially liked the end of the world (as it were).

claires inner world said...

Yes, I'm quite looking forward to it myself, now I've got my demands listed...!

I just so enjoyed the whole workshop, and I should have said in the post, but each poem was written within a strict time frame of between 15 and 20 mins.

Thanks for stopping by, Ernest! I appreciate it..