Friday update: cake, make, and spine

Is it Friday again already? They do come up quickly. Time for my weekly blog post then! This is a new resolution: to make time for at least a quick update on a Friday, if I haven’t managed anything in the rest of the week. Here goes.

I’ve had several different things going on this last fortnight, as usual. The biggest was my daughter’s third birthday, which we celebrated last weekend. She enjoyed herself very much: blowing up the balloons, hanging up home-made bunting, seeing her grandparents and aunties (the UK ones that is); but most of all the magical chocolate cake that my talented foodie wife whipped up. In fact everyone guzzled it much too fast to notice that it was both gluten-free and sugar-free. Our daughter is also old enough now to have really got the idea of presents: every time she’d got through one batch, she did a quick circle of the room to ask us all, ‘Are there any more?’ in an excited, cute, and generally-irresistible sort of way. So she ended up getting some that we’d planned to hold back. A good day all round.

Work-wise, I’ve been doing a little bit more marking: the penultimate assignment from my Open University students. Unlike the last one I was able to keep other things going at the same time, which was much more pleasant.

In particular, Winchester City Council had hired me to attend a Community Action day in Stanmore, the largest housing estate in Winchester, where did my new party trick: talking to people (local residents in this case), then making a poem out of their words. This is something I got into purely by chance  last year, when I wrote a poem whilst attending a County Council event on Active Ageing. Since then, I’ve done it again at Foundry Lane Primary School, and as part of the public art project at a major development near Waterlooville. I’ve also been booked to do the same with children at The Spring’s Hayling Billy Day in November. It certainly seems to be something that interests and engages a lot of people: everyone I spoke to in Stanmore was happy to answer my questions and be involved – and that was despite the endless and freezing rain! Writing the actual poems is different each time: whereas the Active Ageing one came out super-fast, the Stanmore one for some reason took much longer; perhaps because my brain had both rusted and iced up? Anyway, it’s a fun sideline and I hope I get the chance to do more of it: I see it as another way of engaging people in and through poetry, which is very important to me.

As well as the Jane Austen workshop going live, in the last fortnight I’ve also had a couple of new bookings from schools: St Bedes in Winchester and Costello in Basingstoke. I’m very pleased about both of these, of course: I love school visits, and both of these I hope will lead to more children’s poems for Writing Hampshire. Boosting the number of poems on the site by younger authors is a big goal I’ve set myself for the rest of this year.

With the artist and film-maker Anna Cady, I’ve submitted a proposal to Winchester’s 10 Days Creative Collisions arts festival. If it’s accepted, it will be a multi-disciplinary installation, in which film, dance, poetry, and music interact and respond to each other. Fingers crossed it gets approved – it will be an exciting project, and would be the first time I’ve been involved in organising something like that, as well as writing for it.

Oh, and I’ve been writing a bit too. I’ve decided that the poem I’ve been nibbling at for two months (see the last post) has gone as far as I want to take it for now. Instead I’ve gone back to a  poem which has already gone through a few iterations and caused me some problems. Although it was shortlisted for last year’s Bridport Prize, I don’t feel it is finished; however, I have been at a loss as to how to develop it. It has one very basic problem: I don’t really know what I want it to be about. Any good poem should probably have a bit of mystery to it, of course, and if I always knew what I wanted to say, that would just be dull. But this poem has never had what Twyla Tharp calls ‘spine’: the core structure from which everything else hangs. If I’m honest, I have just thrown a lot of stuff in – as much as I could think of – and not been able to work out, or otherwise find, a backbone to make overall sense of it. I could also say that my problem is that I know too much about what I want the poem to mean, without knowing exactly how the poem is going to lead the reader to those meanings, or some of them.

So I’ve been asking the poem for a few days what it thinks the spine should be, and, frankly, it is stonewalling me. After bashing my head against it repeatedly I think may have made a few tiny cracks, but it’s hard going. With luck, by next Friday I’ll have some more progress to tell you about.

Flowery picture is the alleyway at the back of our house. Lovely to cycle home to in the evenings.

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