A classroom of masterpieces: Poetry from Images day at Winchester Discovery Centre

A brief break from Hampshire Poet news to say thank you very much to everyone who came to my ‘Poetry from Images’ workshop at Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday. You were a great bunch: that moment when everyone’s hand went up for a shorter lunchbreak, so we could do more poetry, summed it up. Thanks for your dedication and hard work, and for writing some great poems. It’s really unfair to pick out particular poems as there was so much good work, but a few have stuck in my head: Zoe, Roger, and Angela all taking different but equally fascinating perspectives on the same enigmatic snapshot; Jon, Sonja, and Hugh doing the same for a Hockney piece; Steve giving us a cosmic-scale rethinking of Warhol; Marisha for the giant steps you made in imagery in just one day; Kerry for starting to echo Matisse’s snipping of paper in your rhythms; Stephanie for sharing for the first time your original, strikingly visual poems; and Sue B, you wrote the best poem I’ve seen or heard from you yet.   Unusually for me when I’m running a workshop, I also had a good day with the pen, starting several drafts that I want to keep working on.

Why is that writing based on images so often works really well? I can think of a couple of answers. Firstly, you’re applying your creative mind to material which has already been worked on by someone else’s: it’s sort-of predigested, if you like, which makes it easier to absorb and rework. But at the same time, because the stimulus is visual rather than linguistic, there’s still plenty of creative space for you to introduce new elements; so what comes out can be genuinely original, not just a re-telling.

Secondly, as Zoe said on the day, having the image there in front of you takes away creative anxiety. You’re not staring at a blank page to start with, and every time you feel ideas drying up you can just look back at the image. Bliss!

And on that note, you might like to take a look at 1000 Words, a project set up by another former student of mine, Natalie Bowers, to celebrate the first ever National Flash Fiction Day (16th May). Images posted for you to respond to in flash, 1000 words or less; and as Roget showed us on Saturday, the link between poetry and flash fiction can be very close, so poets do have a go too.

My next poetry workshop at the DC is Saturday 26th May, when I’ll be running a day on learning about poetic forms: how they work, how to use them, how to think flexibly and creatively about them. Tickets aren’t on sale yet but if you email me I can let you know when they are.

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