The Many Joys of May

MAY 20th : Claire Coleman , Claire Dyer, Sarah Gregory, John Richardson, Graeme Ryan, Ama Bolton, Michael Loveday,Ruth Sharman, Morag Kiziewicz, Conor Whelan

The meetup on Saturday 20th May was particularly rich in talent and in variety.  It showcased outstanding work by many of the Day’s participants and lead us all into deep and dark places where – given the sense of trust and community which has developed this year among the meetup writers – we all felt safe to go.  An extraordinary Day, even by the standards of the already remarkable Project 2017 year.

Arnold Böcklin’s iconic painting, The Isle of the Dead helped to define a working ‘space’ for the morning where many disparate pieces of writing, and many different approaches to writing came together in fruitful synthesis.  We were very fortunate that Straid prizewinner Ruth Sharman was willing to speak at length about her marvellous collection, Scarlet Tiger, which Ama Bolton had reviewed.  Ruth’s poem inspired by the Böcklin painting also gave us a springboard into the topic of ekphrastic poetry, which Michael Loveday had already written about very usefully on his personal Page on the blog. Michael had referred us to a piece in which Martyn Crucefix explored the poems in the recent Holburne Museum anthology, From Palette to Pen.  We looked carefully at Martyn’s suggested list of approaches to writing about works of art and tried to relate them to some of the individual poems we were sharing through the Day.  The result of this enquiry seemed very interesting: few of the project writers’ poems actually  ‘fitted’ the categories on the list, but the list provided a wonderful set of starting points for attempting new ekphrastic work.

There was strong resistance among the meetup writers to becoming ‘trapped’ in the dark heart of Böcklin’s piece.  This came over in our first writing exercise, and even more strongly when we considered two further powerfully  life-affirming poems –one  by John Richardson of Brokenborough Poets and the other by  Graeme Ryan from Taunton – whose movement in both cases was out of darkness into light and hope. The diptych pieces written in response to this morning session seem likely to emerge soon as an unusually powerful record of an unusually powerful writing day.

We spent part of the afternoon , under Claire Dyer’s generous and lucid guidance, exploring more ideas which Claire is working on as part of the project she is sharing with the group.  Claire helped us to consider  two contrasting but linked ideas, both outlined on her personal Page on this blog, both experimenting with using  incomplete utterance to suggest meanings without committing ( and therefore perhaps without limiting ) them to the words printed on the page.  The exercise based on the alarming term aposiopesis produced some fascinating work.  A companion exercise I suggested to discover what could be created by deliberately rendering an utterance incomplete – how new meanings could be created by omissions from a text – was much less interesting than Claire’s  idea of actual redaction that had given rise to it. It seemed afterwards that the technique of redaction was necessarily one of shifting a poem into a graphic object.  It was therefore essential to see the redacted space, and perhaps even to see the ghostly residue of what had been blotted out. Merely abstracting parts of a piece of writing was not enough.

The final long session of the Day was devoted to a long poem by Graeme Ryan which brought to the surface a challenging series of questions: what level of difficulty an audience can cope with in a longer piece of writing; the nature and importance of narrative ‘thread’; the use of literary allusion; the desirability or otherwise of devising a new formal structure to suit an extended piece; and the problem of creating  work dealing with political/social issues without the piece being misread by people who have a pre-existing perspective on the subject the writer wants to treat.  Graeme’s poem was a meditation on a nuclear power station, about which there were  different strongly held and well-argued opinions in the room.  It was a brave and  ambitious poem and a remarkable testament to the Day that we were still able to grapple with such issues six hours after our working Day began.

This post is only a thin and inadequate record of an outstanding Day.  Thank you so much to everyone who took part and  who contributed so much.  Poems are already coming in to me from some of the writers who shared the Day.  Now this post is away, I can look forward with great excitement and joy to reading them.  The rest of you, I suspect, will have to wait until they find their much deserved way into ‘proper’ print.

If you were part of the May Meetup, please add your comments below this post.

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