Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Expropriating and readdressing: cats and bats

My morning. I start with an exercise from Dennis O'Driscoll, based on his poem 'Towards a Cesare Pavese Title' that rewrites one line fourteen different ways, taking all kinds of liberties. We discuss what happens, then I give them a new line and everyone gets busy writing their variations. At the end we do a lightning quick few rounds with one line from each person at a time, so at the end we are in a kind of vortex spinning round the original line.

Next I take out my various sheets including propositions about poetry, ideas about sound, ideas about thinking of poems in terms of other arts. This is a good hour long discussion, then I move to the main item, a study of pronouns, using three or four poems employing the figure 'I' as examples. Having looked at them I ask everyone to write down in prose of some hundred words or so, one memorable or significant incident either in their lives or in someone else's. They then fold their sheets up and put them into a bowl. I mix them up then hand out an incident to each person. I tell them I shall repeat this process twice more, so by the end they will have seen three different incidents, none of them their own. They are going to write a short poem for each. Task is two fold:

1. People must use the you form in one poem, the he / she for in another, and a proper name in the third.

2. One poem is in free verse, one in an epigrammatic quatrain(s) form, and the third a prose poem.

It's important to take possession of the incident, seize its potential and to be ruthless with it. If they don't like a part of an incident, forget it. If they want to add something, then add.

I have never set this before and to my great relief it works very well.

Miscellaneous things in between and at the end, where just for light relief I read William Carlos Williams's famous poem about eating the plums in the ice box, and follow it with Menneth Koch's marvellous four parodies. I like a lightness of spirit in these sessions. It absolves people of responsibility and tension, and frees the imagination. Laughter is far more important, especially in serious matters, than we generally realise.

All this time there is a strange little white cat out in the rain pleading to be let in. We understand it is not very popular at the centre because of allergies 'and other things'. But eventually it gets in and makes itself at home. It hovers round the place the rest of the day.

In the afternoon the tutorials, eight of them, good things, students more relaxed now, more able to talk about work in hand, more able to listen too.

Jane and I talk about the crisis at the Poetry Society among other things then I return to my room to rest and wait for Michael Symmons Roberts who is the guest reader.

Michael arrives half way through supper having sped away from a meeting. The reading is in the barn. He reads from his various books, though not his collaboration with Paul Farley, Edgelands, since this is a poetry course, but conversation does get round to Edgelands afterwards.

Michael is of course very good: a fine visionary poet he is also an immediately sympathetic figure the students feel comfortable with. After people go, Michael and I are left in the barn. As we chat a bat flitters round and round, quite close to our heads. It's good to see a bat. I have a sense of them as lucky creatures.

Once I get back to the tutors' house the white cat reappears and, the door having a cat flap, follows me in, doing its plaintive best to enter my room. That's not going to happen.

A white cat and a black bat. Nice conjunction.

I haven't forgotten about the world outside with its crises and causes, but relatively little gets into the head here. Too many other things to think about.

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