Nine writers talking about poetry

Stephen Spender: “Great poetry is always written by somebody straining to go beyond what he can do.”

Benjamin Zephaniah: “I would say that the poet’s role was to question things in an accessible way and to raise people’s spirits.”

Les Murray: “My poetry is like a rope in a shipwreck.”

Rubem Alves: “Poetry: this desperate attempt to say what cannot be said.”

Martín Prechtel: “Poetry is the most honey-tasting form of subversion.”

Robert Frost: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life – not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”

Pablo Neruda: “Poetry…has a cat’s nine lives. They harass it, they drag it through the streets, they spit on it and make it the butt of their jokes, they try to strangle it, drive it into exile, throw it into prison, pump lead into it, and it survives every attempt with a clear face and a smile as bright as grains of rice.”

Adrian Mitchell: “I write my poems for love  –  love of language, love of my family, friends and animals, love of the planet, love of life, and I’d be a damned fool if I didn’t.”

Dylan Thomas: “Poetry is what…makes my toenails twinkle…”

 

Writing secrets – PLAYFULNESS

You want readers to enjoy what you write, so it probably helps if you enjoy doing the writing.

If you look at children playing, they seem very absorbed in what they’re doing, but it’s light rather than serious, and they’re having fun.

I like to start writing in that spirit.

If I manage to get going in a playful way – absorbed but free to try this and that, not taking it so seriously, and having fun – it’s often the beginning of a good day’s work.

Sometimes I write well at the weekend, when things are more relaxed all around and there’s less expectation to get something done.

It’s something described better than I’ll manage by the Nigerian writer Ben Okri in a book of essays published back in 1997 called A WAY OF BEING FREE. In one of the essays, called NEWTON’S CHILD, he says:

Creativity, it would appear, should be approached in the spirit of play, of foreplay, of dalliance, doodling, messing around – and then, bit by bit, you somehow get deeper into the matter. But if you go in there with a businessman’s solemnity or the fanaticism of some artistic types you are likely to be rewarded with a stiff response, a joyless dribble, strained originality, ideas that come out all strapped up and strangled by too much effort… Do not disdain the idle, strange, ordinary, nonsensical, or shocking thoughts which the mind throws up. Hold them. Look at them. Play with them. See where they lead. 

 

INSPIRATION…Helen Taylor

My mother, Helen Taylor, is an amazing woman. She turns 80 today. There are many things I love about her, and many things I owe to her.

As a younger woman she was a music teacher. So she encouraged me to try out playing instruments and to sing and to listen to music. Until today I love doing all three (though I should admit I’m best at the third one by quite a long way!) And I’m sure that the grounding in music she encouraged me to get feeds into my writing today.

Listening to music helps me when I’m writing. I find different sorts of music boost me in different sorts of ways. And there are the things that you learn about from music too – rhythm, harmony, dissonance, silence, beginnings, endings. All these will feed into just about any kind of art work I can think of.

And as well as being a musician, my mother is a painter. As I was growing up I’d often find her wearing a paint-spattered shirt, absorbed in a painting, working long (and often quite strange) hours.

That was an introduction to the spells of untamed focus that comes with a passion for a particular art form. And, as with the music, there were specific things I learnt.

My mum taught me to mix colours. She’d tell me to fill the whole page if I did a drawing. She showed me how she plays with a picture, taking things out and painting over things in layers until they feel right. She’d tell me the best way to find out what a picture was like was to look at it upside down. Sometimes she’d turn a painting to the wall and say it was good not to look at it for a few days…so she could go back and see it with fresher eyes.

Some more directly than others, these are all things I find myself doing these days when I’m writing.

Here is the sort of work she would do. It’s a sketch for an oil painting of hers from over thirty years ago…

I know she painted that over thirty years ago because it was before she was ill.

At the age of 50 she suffered a stroke which left her paralysed down the right-hand side of her body, and took away perhaps 80% of her ability to speak.

It’s a sad thing to say every time I say it but, overnight, the illness robbed her of her ability to play music. She’s never moved her right arm since. Nor has she played a piano or a guitar.

But it didn’t stop her painting. She learned to paint with her left hand, and has come up with many new paintings with a different sort of beauty.

Here is one…

The determination and strength of character it took for her to paint pictures like that might be the most inspiring thing of all about her. I have never heard her feel sorry for herself about her disability, or even complain. She just gets on with things.

Here she is. Happy birthday, Mum!