Moving Into Spring

Although Saturday 25th February was actually the second meetup of the year, it had a special inaugural quality of its own…..

During January, the PROJECT 2017  blog had filled up with so much inspiring  and challenging material that for the first time we were able to structure the whole meetup day around the ongoing projects of the writers in the room. We are hoping to maintain this pattern for the remaining meetups of the year.

First up was the rich compendium of project writers’ thoughts about deciding which of their poems were most likely to achieve  competition success.  The list was compiled from group work in January and gave the February writers plenty of opportunity for discussion and food for thought.

We were able to apply these ideas to AMA BOLTON’S excellent poem, Fig, which had been highly commended last October in Torbay.  Groups considered Fig as a successful competition entry and took the role of judges explaining the reasons for their choice. One of Fig’s most striking qualities was the poet’s fierce and forensic attention to her word choices.  A piece of writing can only be as good as its weakest word is one of the main themes of this year’s meetups.  Fig, in the judge’s and February group’s opinion, simply had no weak words.

CLAIRE DYER’S project is exploring the ways that words carry meanings below their literal surfaces and the ways in which meanings can come up from the deeps of the mind and heart.  The conscious brain can sometimes be deaf to these subterranean messages so Claire introduced us to an anagram technique to free us from too much attention to the literal.  The music and patterning of her poem Owls was a very effective example of allowing the words to lead a poem’s ‘meaning’ rather than the intended ‘meaning’ putting a  straitjacket on a poem’s words.  Owls appears on Claire’s Page on this blog.

It is only a short step from the idea that words can give us doorways into deeper meanings to SARAH GREGORY’S exploration of the effect of bringing words and images together on one page, giving neither one priority.  Sarah brought seven specially made posters, each based on the same poem, but each combining the poem with a graphic image in a slightly different way.  Sarah has written about the usefulness of the ensuing discussion on her Page.

MICHAEL LOVEDAY had already raised questions about the problems of truth-telling in autobiography.  During the afternoon, we shared poems by several of the meetup writers for whom this was an issue and began to explore the boundaries between fact and fiction, straightforward personal narrative and revelation of the deeper self.

All the themes we explored in February  will play an important part in the April meetup, when LESLEY SAUNDERS will be bringing us into the magical space of her work as a translator and sharing with us some of the detailed decisions a translator has to make.  This close editing is crucial for every writer so we will all be both inspired and (probably) daunted by the experience of sharing Lesley’s work.  There is a recent entry about this on Lesley’s Page on the blog.

Other excellent recent blog contributions to explore….

  • new progress reports from Janet McClean, Marilyn Francis, Verona Bass, Ama Bolton and Ann Preston
  • the new Page from Sara-Jane Arbury outlining her project to create a collection around her neurological condition, with 2 fantastic poems by Norman Macaig
  • the new Page from singer/songwriter Miranda Pender
  • our first musical Page from Graeme Ryan
  • the new Page from writer/artist Paul Michael Browne who will be adding to our Words & Images exploration by introducing us to some of his work with film when we meet up in the BRLSI in June
  • a new Page on successful Pamphlet Submissions first published by the Poetry Business
  • 2 Max Ernst images to trigger experiments with Words & Images (on the Ekphrastic Page )

And, as RSThomas said, “That was only on one island”

We are still hoping to see personal Pages filling up with more project writers’ monthly Progress Reports, and more entries coming in for the Magazine Successes and Competition Placings, and for the upcoming Readings Page. 

It will also be very good to have more Almanac entries month on month, in the manner perhaps of the January contribution from North Devon poet MARK HAWORTH-BOOTH.  I have just added a new Page to the header list –ALMANAC  – to which you are all invited to contribute a brief but brilliant seasonal piece of writing every month.

The April meetup is under construction at the moment.  As well as Lesley Saunders’ translation project mentioned above, ROBIN THOMAS will be sharing his recent Eyewear pamphlet, A Fury of Yellow, which has already been reviewed by AMA BOLTON and SUE SIMS.   We will also ( hopefully) be sharing off piste outcomes from the February meetup with some new ‘anagram’ pieces, some explorations with Words & Images, and pieces inspired by the Böcklin painting, Isle of the Dead, which RUTH SHARMAN posted for us on our Ekphrastic Page.

Happy Writing, Everyone!

Truly Hot Off the Press!

Before many of us got home after today’s meetup, Janet McClean had already posted this poem for the blog!  What a wonderful gift from such an amazing day…. Thank you so much, Janet, and thank you also to everyone who brought such energy, grace of spirit and talent to the Pulteney Room today. 

Door 6516 into Project 17

And so to start

Sitting in this room full of writers

Listening to jewels echoing in the ear

Our lioness urges the pride

To strive for

Truth and excellence

Excellence in Truth

Kindness but no false flattery here

I scribble in pencil

A Papermate with rubber attached

For ease

To erase any clumsy word smudges

And so to start

February the Fascinating Month

Almost a month since the last Project post.  You can see from the way the blog Pages are filling what a creative month it has been.  Here are some February highlights, but this is by no means an exhaustive list!

THIRTY WRITERS are now actively engaged in Project 2017, from places as far afield as Taunton, Wimborne, Exeter, Malmesbury, Reading, Newport in Essex, Glastonbury and Wells.

Singer songwriter MIRANDA PENDER has just joined us as a long distance guest. Miranda is just completing her second album and has written about it extensively on her Page.

PAUL BROWNE  from the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute is planning to let us share and respond to his exploration of the relationship between writing and film.  ( This will be a special, extra workshop session, with details still to be announced.)

Those of us who have been brave enough to keep up with our online progress logs, are now running into obstacles… changing direction…. beginning to discover what our project commitments really mean.  There are eloquent new ‘progress’ entries from LESLEY SAUNDERS, VERONA BASS,  and MICHAEL LOVEDAY, to name three.

MICHAEL LOVEDAY’S progress piece draws attention to one of the core problems we all face when writing personal memoir/autobiography. He puts it very well.   The process of writing and gathering (poems about a relative ) has raised doubts about the viability of my  project. ….Tension and conflict is the stuff of writing, and the writer in me does not have the same agenda as the son. Can I produce a rounded portrait without risking offence? How does one write interesting biography about living relatives?  So many of us have been in this place. We will certainly be visiting this conundrum when we meet up on February 25th.

February’s principal theme is the how writers select the individual words which are the raw materials of everything they  do.  A piece of writing can only be as good as its weakest word.  What does this mean for our poems, our translations, our prose pieces, our magazine and competition entries?  We will have three extraordinary contributions on this, one from LESLEY SAUNDERS who will be drawing us into her experience of translating from the Portuguese, and another from CLAIRE DYER, who is exploring how differently meaning arises from the conscious and the unconscious selves.

Writer/graphic artist SARAH GREGORY will be bringing images to spark verbal responses, and helping us think about how the processes of moving from image to word / word to image really work. How do they feed each other?  How do they qualify each other?  How do they complement each other? How do they conflict?  All these ideas will inform our feedback sessions on the pieces of ongoing writing the thirteen workshop participants will  bring in.

We will also be visiting ANN PRESTON’S project in relation to her fascinating piece about artist Djordje Ozbolt whose work has featured recently at the Holburne Museum.  Please seek this out on Ann’s Page on the blog.  We will be using this as our first portal into the EKPHRASTIC theme which has already appealed to so many writers who have joined Project 2017.

And finally, three marvellously chosen quotes from JANET McCLEAN  who is rejoining the Writing Days this month.

QUOTE ONE :   Instructions for living a life.  Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it. 

QUOTE TWO : Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.” Mary Oliver

QUOTE THREE :  If not now, when?  Anon

a-february-sky

A February Sky

Remembered Days : One

With Marilyn Francis, Sarah Gregory, Verona Bass, Louise Green, John Richardson, Ann Preston, Sue Chadd, June Wentland, Linda Saunders

The first Day of Project  2017 turned out to be an excellent springboard for  the  good things that lie ahead – unsurprisingly, given the talent and energy of the nine writers who converged in Bath with such fine examples of their writing to create the day. What follows is the convenor’s view of some of the key issues and concerns.  Following on soon, I hope, will be additional thoughts from some of the other participants about moments and activities that highlight the day for them.

COMPETITION POEMS AND MAGAZINES

Many people in the room have joined Project 2017 with the intentions of publishing in good magazines, featuring in good competitions and gaining more recognition for their work.  This means that learning to edit for excellence is bound  to be a core concern. Taking inspiration from the poems which won First and Second Prizes in the recent Torbay Festival competition, groups discussed and presented their  ideas about what makes a good competition poem.  This is not quite the same,of course, as the question of excellence in all short poems, but close enough to provide an extremely useful checklist for anyone preparing to send a piece of their writing  out into the world. I hope that these collective thoughts on excellence will soon have a Page of their own on the Project blog.

PAMPHLETS AND COLLECTIONS

Six of the January writers are working towards these. Ideally, every poem in a collation would be excellent enough to win a competition, with added richness  provided by its being part of a greater whole and therefore able also to shine in the borrowed light of the pieces on either side.  Poems in collations should gather strength from their surroundings – providing someone is attracted in the first place to read the book.  We looked at pairs of poems from five of the poets and fed back our thoughts which poem of each pair would most attract us to the imagined book, and why.  This feedback will be very useful in telling writers what readers respond to most strongly in their work, and therefore where their appeal to a professional editor might  lie. We will repeat this activity on future Project Days.

THE POWER OF THE SINGLE WORD

Every writer knows that they have to edit every word in what they do, rigorously, before dispatching anything to the world beyond their room. But this is a process much more easily described than done.  We had a very useful discussion about one word in the last line of an otherwise immaculate sonnet – soon to be published in an excellent magazine  – a word raising issues for some readers who felt it introduced a distracting note. The word seemed to introduce a backstory at a very late stage in the piece which,  for some of us, weakened  rather than enriched.  A poem is only the sum of its relatively small number of words.  We have to learn to read our pieces through the eyes of strangers, and test the possible nuances of every mark we put on the page.

POETRY vs PROSE

One of the writers read us the statement about the personal memoir she is preparing to complete this year. It was a wonderfully graceful, moving, concise, eloquent piece of prose, intended possibly to  preface a sequence of poems which are also likely to work extremely well.  I am about to ask the writer whether she will allow this statement  to be featured on the blog. The question arose yesterday for me – if you can write so excellently in prose, is there any reason to use the alternative medium of poetry?  Prose does not need to be discursive and connected from page to page.  A prose passage can have the same  lovely self-sufficiency as a poem and might give some writers greater scope to express their thoughts and demonstrate their skills.  I am hoping that through the year that we will be able to consider this and that  more of the Project writers will be bring prose passages to share.

TELLING OUT YOUR TRUTHS

I have left this to last.  It is of course, for writers, an issue which never goes away,  but for various reasons it  came most vividly to the surface at the end of the Project Day.  The memoir project lead to a discussion about the difficulties  of personal, revelatory writing, and the different ways we all approach using our personal experience in our work. How does personal experience translate into ‘literature’?  Is self-revelation as important to the reader as it is to the writer?  When we read, is it enough for us to know that the facts as given are true, or are we looking to literature to give us something more? And if so, what is the ‘more’ we want?  Do we actually need to know whether what a writer tells us is ‘true’, or is it enough for us to be persuaded by the ‘authenticity’ of what we read and hear? Writing can be inventive, or confessional, or can find itself a space between these two.  Charles Dickens is and is not David Copperfield.  What are we really looking at when a writer appears to invite us into a life?  This is something we will certainly be exploring when we meet up at the end of February for the second Project Day.

That is scheduled for Saturday 25th February and is already full, with a waiting list.  But there are a few vacancies later in the year, for any writer who would like to join the group.