Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No Shortcuts

Creative writing, hooray!  Anyway, despite a poor turnout we're on to travel writing. Our in class task was as follows: Pick three places, one somewhere you've been to that you want to go back to; one somewhere that makes you glad to be here; and a third that you've never been to but would like to. Write a list of sense impressions about each place, then pick one and expand into a piece on the place.

So Place One, where I've been and would like to go back[1]: Beach at Greymouth, New Zealand[2].
Smells of sand and salt. Driftwood monsters. Cloudy grey, steel grey water, almost mist. Wind comes off the sea, waves crash.

Place Two, which makes me glad I'm in class: New Street Station, Birmingham[3]. I expanded my notes so rather than be redundant, here's the full piece, in real sentences:
The stark lights make sharply defined shadows as the tracks hum and whir. Strange clanks and roars come from unknown directions. Yells and unexpected drafts come out of mysterious holes in sight obscuring concrete walls, carrying the odour of oil, metal, fried food and disinfectant. Rumours spread that the train is late. Again.
Place Three, never been but would like to: Berlin.
Coffee and cake, beer and sausage. Brandenberg gate, statue high. Sound of cars, hard sound of German voices.

Gone a little cliche there, but that's what happens with a place you've never been.

So the homework from last week. Task: Write a poem (or 2 or 3 short poems, or prose) which truly captures the essence of a specific place. Use the senses to help evoke and enhance this. No more than 250 words.

The ghost of smoke clings to me
My footsteps muffled on the dew-sodden path
Hidden by the night shadows
Between high hedges

Fresh cut grass and damp earth
Their flavour overlays the clean wet air
Branches rustle as I push past
The cool night chilled with a colder spray

The moon sneaks between two trees
Light glistens off the ground and the leaves
A far off rumble as a lorry
Vibrates the quiet tree-lined track

Looming from the dark is a house
No, a shed, giving off a rich smell
Rotting wood and mould its
Shadow hides a puddle that I splash through

Emerging between two bushes
Onto the verge of the road
A sudden roar and glare of lights
As traffic tears through the darkness
Anyone recognise it? I included what's called a semantic field, which is lots of words to give an impression of something[4]. In my case lots of sneaking words, as though I'm not supposed to be there. (The semantic field example used was Romeo and Juliet, where lots of religious imagery is used to show that this isn't just a teenage crush).

So on to a travel writing piece for my assignment. Your assignment is the one at the top - pick three places and sense words that describe it. Go!

[1] This is, of course, one of the times and places I summon up when under stress.
[2] Mum reminds me of her story about Greymouth; her and Dad having arrived there late afternoon they attempt to go out to dinner. The first two places are full, and they see several couples with the men in shirt and jacket, and thee women in dresses. All this on a Tuesday night! They get to a third place and find they have one table as a couple haven't turned up. The heart decorations around the bar then give it away; they've lost track of the dates while travelling and it's Valentine's day.
[3] Birmingham got it in the neck a bit in class. The station gets the thumbs down from me, not just because I don't like it, but because I will inevitably go back there.
[4] "What's it a metaphor for?" I was asked. It's not a metaphor, but it has a subtext, as I said, although with about five times as many words and much less clearly.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Valentine's Day Poetry

Shall I compare thee to a creative writing class? It was sonnet day on Monday, but first we did a five minute task on the senses and a sense of place. Task: Write a short fragment (poetry or prose) about a specific place wherein you try to include all of the 5 senses, possibly making some interact as Healy and Flaubert have.
The morning light glares off chilled flagstones, bare feet slap, hurrying across.
Dust swirls with a hint of stale wine, overlaid by the rich smell of today's coffee.
Laughter, the clink of cups, half hidden by the dappled greenery.
 These five minute tasks are brutal. My usual approach is to sleep on something before writing it, preparing it in my mind. If I make a standing start, I've barely got going after five minutes. So this is deliberately fragmented, just getting down whatever is uppermost in my mind. The concision that the poetry has been teaching is useful here.

So onto the homework task. Task: Write a complete sonnet, then re-write the content in another poetic form (any style of your choice...).[1] If any of you wish to write a more conventional, love-driven sonnet for February 14th, please feel free to focus on that.

February 13 1994

Let me tell you a hundred things that make
Me love you. (Is a hundred too many?
Too obsessive? Or too few, the mistake
Describing my love inadequately?)

Your eyes (no, don’t start with the eyes again.
The hair, the nose, the mouth... maybe I’ll start
With less tangible attributes and then
Try and write the words contained by my heart.)

I need words to describe your perfection
(Wait! I haven’t even come up with one
Reason and this needs lots for completion;
I’m nowhere and the time is almost gone.
I guess I’m not cut out for poetry.
I’ll draw her a card for Valentine’s Day.)
So it's a sonnet about Valentine's day. Generally liked: the brackets, indicating the two voices. Also the date-as-title, hinting at the autobiographical content. Of course I had to rework it, in my case into a pantun.


If I had better words then I’d use them
One hundred reasons to prove I love you
Saying what I want is quite the problem
But every word I can’t quite write is true

One hundred reasons to prove I love you
My poem just ends up in confusion
But every word I can’t quite write is true
Being stupid or procrastination?

My poem just ends up in confusion
Description isn’t working out for me
Being stupid or procrastination
Out of time, what I draw will let her see
Description isn’t working out for me
Saying what I want is quite the problem
Out of time, what I draw will let her see
If I had better words then I’d use them
"Out of time, what I draw will let her see" was the most troublesome line for me, and also the class. No one was able to fix it without changing the sense of it, in one or other of it's incarnations. I could always not repeat it exactly, but why am I working within the constraints of a form only to throw them away when it gets tough? The slash in the title drew argument as well. Bonus!

So that's that. Next week, we capture the essence of a place using the senses. Did you want a task? You did? The one at the top is good, but instead you could use all five senses where you are, and think of some words to describe what you sense.

[1] The task notes continue with "This is an age-old tip for creative writing - force yourself to write similar content but in different forms and any genre or structure you wish," in amongst the date and format and number of copies stuff.