Thursday, 3 November 2011

Journal Musings

I need a new journal – possibly easy to remedy, pop to the shops, grab a notebook of some description. But it’s not that simple.

I go through phases of journaling. I might write pages every day for a few months and then nothing for ages. Most of the time it's angsty outpourings that I wouldn’t want anyone else to read. Often what I say doesn’t matter, the words are just shapes on paper, it’s the physical act of scribbling to the page that’s necessary, so I need something in which I can enjoy the physical act of writing.

Which is probably why the journal itself is important to me: what it looks like how it feels, the colour/texture of the paper. Ideally it has to look gorgeous – I’ve written in suede-bound books that are just wonderfully tactile to handle, ones with beaded covers, and lookswise, you can’t beat some of the paperblanks journals.

But also the paper inside is important: ideally unlined, lines seem to constrict emotional outpourings, if it’s unlined I can scribble as huge and angry as I like. And the texture of the paper has to be supersmooth as I like writing in turquoise ink. (On a side note, Oxford A4 notebooks have fantastically smooth paper). (On another side note, paperblanks don’t score so highly here, as their paper is slightly textured).

If the paper is rough, I can swap to writing with fibre-tips, but it’s not the same. I just love the way the nib of my parker pen seems to float ink over the page.

And size is important too – yes it really is! ;) When I’m writing I prefer A4, but for journaling, A5 is more comfortable. An A4 pages is big and blank, it’s hard to tell a secret to, A5 is cosy and inviting. Even the briefest of thoughts fills a chunk of space.

So I’m keeping my eye out for the perfect journal, I just hope I find one before I fill up these last few pages.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The power of poetry

People get frightened by the word poetry. It's always confused me slightly, as I can understand people not wanting to engage with it after bad experiences at school, I can even understand people just not liking it – after all, not everyone has the same tastes. But to see people literally run away when you mention poetry, shows how little understood it is.

People see poetry as separate, esoteric, complicated, when in fact poetry comes from the heart and soul of what makes us human – good poetry resonates with each of us.

But there has to be something done to break down the perceived distance between everyday life and poetry, to project poetry into the lives of ordinary people, to bring people face to face with the power of poetry.

And I was lucky enough to see this in action last week through the Workers of Art ‘Poetry City’ project. The poet John Siddique came into where I work and asked us to (anonymously) share secrets with him, which he would then use as source material for a poem.

I wrote mine down and sealed it in a purple envelope, handed it over and felt a sense of panic that I’d actually written this thing down. It made it real, inescapable. Writing it down gave it a sense of permanence, there was no pretending it didn’t exist. And someone else was going to read it!

John shaped these snippets of real life into a poem, a form that many people choose to run from, but there is no escaping this poem, it’s now being projected in huge letters onto the Westgate Towers in Canterbury every evening. Everyone’s secrets are out there in the open.

Whether you choose to read the words or not, seeing it projected into your everyday life forces a reaction. Whether its ‘wow that’s so cool’ or ‘what the fuck is that?’ people are engaging with poetry in one way or another. And that is the power of poetry.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


The last couple of weeks I’ve spent a lot of time working on stuff for the WordAid anthology. I felt very virtuous when I’d sent out the hundreds of individual emails to all the poets who submitted, but had forgotten from last year that sending them is only the beginning - my inbox has now been flooded with acknowledgements and biographies. It is so lovely though, to get emails saying ‘thank you, you’ve brightened a rainy Sunday for me’, and that even well-known, published poets are replying with a ‘thank you for including my poem’.

We now have all the poems in a folder, in a very rough order, and the task over the next couple of weeks between my fellow WordAiders and myself is to finalise the order of the book. This stage of the process is really hard work, but so exciting. As I read through I am amazed at the generosity of writers, and the quality of the poems we’ve included. I can’t wait to see it published.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Life after the Little Blue Hut.

I confess I cried when I walked away from the hut for the last time, it was like saying goodbye to someone I love. It has been such an amazing experience that I never wanted it to end.

I think my family are probably glad it’s over though – for the last 6 weeks I have spent every spare hour there, I think in all that time there were only 4 days I didn’t visit.

I’ve learnt how important it is for me to have my own space to write, and also just to sit and think. So my mission this weekend was to reclaim my tiny office from the junk and piles of washing waiting to be put away. It’s all done now and I have no excuse not to carry on writing as I have been recently. And, just maybe, if I concentrate really hard, I can imagine I’m in the hut again (with the added advantage/distraction of my computer). Out of my window I can even see a tiny sliver of sea between the houses.

It is harder though. Even as I’m sitting here, I’m can hear the washing up screaming at me. I’m resisting, but it is a distraction. It was far easier when I could just leave it all behind me. But I guess that’s just a case of training my brain.

I think I will keep this blog going though, after all it's 2011 - shouldn’t every writer have a blog? And since the Little Blue Hut I feel more like a writer than I ever have done before.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Little Blue Hut Open Day

I was really lucky with the weather today – it was sunny but not too hot. I had a fair few people come, including fellow writers, family, and some friends I hadn’t seen for over fifteen years.

It was lovely to catch up with everyone, and amazed me how many people could actually sit in the hut without it seeming too crowded. Much cake and fizzy drinks were consumed, and many bubbles were blown.

Seeing all my poems pegged up on the wall highlighted the interconnected threads that run through many of them. They are obviously inspired by the location as they all revolve around the sea in one way or another.

While here I’ve played with various methods of poem generation, and I’ve listed them below.

  • Free writing from a line of poetry

  • Just free writing about what I can see

  • Mind mapping – write the main concept word in the middle, then mind map all possible links and connotations on a BIG piece of paper.

  • The alternate line exercise

    • Take any poem (although often better if it isn’t one you know well) and write out every other line.

    • You then fill in your own lines in the missing spaces.

    • You then rewrite out your lines, with the original ones missing, and again fill in the blanks, then tweak.

    • It’s really interesting how your own ideas come through, even when using another poem as a skeleton. (Thanks to Maria McCarthy who showed me this idea).

  • I’ve also used random poetry generation

    • Draw a square 2 inches by 2 inches on the cover of a magazine, then cut right the way though, to end up with a stack of small squares.

    • The next step is to write down all the phrase fragments, then pick some of them out and shape a poem. (Thanks to Tamara Schultz who introduced me to this idea).
I’ve found the free writing exercises best when I’m feeling inspired, whereas the other exercises are more about making a poem appear, finding a way to access that creativity when it doesn’t want to come out to play. Concentrating on the mechanics of an exercise often helps by distracting the logical part of my brain. It does seem though, that no matter what method I use, what direction I approach the writing, whatever needs to be said, comes out in one form or another.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Noticing things...

Since being here, I’ve started paying much more attention to what’s going on around me. Listening more, noticing the tiny details, beetles on leaves, the untied shoelaces of a toddler, the spiders' webs on my raspberry bushes.

Last weekend there was an event up on the slopes, Classic Cars I think, there were bands playing for most of the day. At first I thought the music would annoy me, but actually it encouraged me to sit and listen and people watch. The conversations I overheard really brought it home to me that people are people, the way they interact is the same everywhere.

I heard a few comments about the beach huts themselves…

A couple following a man down the grassy slope, he reminded me of an estate agent, seemed to be selling the area to them… Of course you can always get a beach hut, for when you come down for the day. There’s no electricity but people have little gas stoves so they can make a cup of tea… or even a cup of coffee! The couple just nodded enthusiastically.

Another man talking disparagingly about the huts there’s nothing to them, just changing huts really, or you could sit in them when it rains – my thoughts were, how little you know!

An older couple walked past, the woman pointing to a stripy hut and saying very indignantly There it is, I told you it had stripes. The man replying, in an even more indignant tone well you could have just told me the number, while she walked on ahead very quickly.

Then, a sure sign that love isn’t dead… a woman was balancing along the groyne and wobbling. Her other half at first put out his hand to steady her… then thought better of it and pushed her off. However, in his defence, he did then use the excuse of her sitting on the pebbles for a kiss and a cuddle.

Wednesday at the hut was the opposite. It was unbelievably still. The air scarcely seemed to breathe, the tide was way out, seemed to barely skim the seabed – there were no waves, just tiny tiny ripples. Apart from the change in colour from brown/green to silver/blue, the land and water just flowed into one another, both sea and wet sand reflecting the clouds equally well.

When it’s this quiet, every sound sticks out. The plop of a seagull diving, the different languages of seabirds, gull and oystercatcher duets. Swallows swoop past the window, the hum of their wings vibrating amazingly loudly. I can hear the thud and puff of a jogger, and the hiss buzz of tyres on tarmac.

There's something about space and quietness that allows you to notice the little things that usually get drowned in the rush of everyday.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Thinking aloud

Introspection can be a good thing. So often we spend our time rushing from one place to another, and we just don’t get the time to process everything that’s happening in our lives. We run at full tilt and then, when we do stop, everything we’ve been dragging behind us catches up and crashes into us.

And it takes time to work through that ‘stuff’ – for me some of it has come out in poems, other stuff has just been splurged onto the page or been unloaded to friends. I think so often we don’t realise how fast we’ve been moving, how much we’ve miss because we simply haven’t had time to notice.

Not only has the hut given me space to sit and write, to rediscover what I need to say, but it has also given me a chance to catch my breath and clear the clutter I’ve accumulated over the last few years. It’s made me realise how important it is to make time to just sit, as well as make the time to write. To just let life flow past for a while and get some perspective. How can we create if we’re clogged with everything that’s going on around us?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Midsummer's day

It’s Midsummer’s Day and its cloudy and grey, looks like rain. I’m guessing that despite it being the longest day of the year, curtains will have to be drawn and lights put on early tonight.

I’m also at about the midway point of my time here – this week is a pivot, tilting into the second half of my time at the Little Blue Hut, and the beginning of the countdown to Christmas (187 days by the way).

The mad outpourings of last week seem to have slowed somewhat, and I’ve taken a little time to go back and read what I’ve written so far, and tinkered a little too. On the whole I’m pretty pleased with what’s emerging, it feels like there is some potential there – I just need to lean into the language a little more, stretch what I’m trying to say (although on some pieces, working out what I’m trying to say would be a good start!).

I actually feel like a writer again for the first time in months, feel like I have something worth saying. I realise for the early part of this year I’ve been writing just cos that’s ‘what I do’ rather than because it’s ‘what I need to do’. The Little Blue Hut has given me back that need to write.

The Hut feels like it’s mine now, and feels like it has a life and personality of its own – I’ve found myself saying ‘hello’ when I arrive, reading aloud to it and almost waiting for a response – it’s a bit like talking to a dog… a big, blue, wooden dog….

Monday, 13 June 2011

Sunset over Whitstable bay

Slow motion and freeze frame...

Sometimes it feels like time slows here. I stare out to sea, lose myself in the pattern of seagulls in the sky, watch people walk, run, bike along the prom, then return to find only a few minutes have past.

If I stare at the clouds they seem unmoving, only changing shape and shifting space while I’m not looking. Gaze at them, play the childhood game, find the shapes, a rabbit, a duck, an old man shouting, close your eyes for a few moments and look back to find a heart, swans with necks entwined, a dragon.

The sea, on the other hand, makes no pretence at staying still, it ripples and flickers, shadows race across its surface, the wind beats a rhythm in blue towards the shore.

I’ve still been free writing – a few times from overheard comments rather than lines of poetry, and sometimes from phrases that seem to rise from the view. I always spend a lot of time looking out to sea anyway, but here and now, sitting staring at it for hours at a time I’ve become fascinated by its surface, how changeable it is, how it reflects the sky above – this seems to recur in my scribbling at the moment.

My work has a tendency to shift towards water or the sea on a pretty regular basis, probably because I’ve always lived close by. Strange as it may seem, I did wonder if it would happen again – I did consider that maybe I’d heard all the beach had to say, that even actually sitting and writing so close, I might not write directly about it. But predictably that’s not the case – the sea and sky, the wind and the clouds are all clamouring to be heard, creeping into everything else I try to write. At first I tried to stop it happening, determined to try a new direction, then realised that was pointless and I’ll write what needs to be written.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

My first week in the Little Blue Hut

The first time I sat in the beach hut and stared out, I felt all the stresses of the day disappear. It was gorgeously sunny, the sea was postcard blue, and there seemed no better place to be. I’ve been down here almost every day, and this first week I’ve been focussing on listening to the quietness around me, letting all the brain chatter we carry around fade away.

I’ve been doing a lot of free writing, a favourite of mine. You take a random line of poetry, write it down, and when you get to the end just keep writing, don’t stop for 10, 15, 20 minutes – for however long you decide in advance. If you don’t know what to write, just write out the line again, and again, and again if necessary – until your pen starts to write something different. The idea is to try and disengage your brain, at least that annoying overly critical part of it anyway. This week I’ve found myself in a trance-like state at times, just watching the words appear on the page.

Most of the stuff I end up with is random rubbish, half of it doesn’t make any sense at all, but sometimes, every now and then, you get a spark, feel that little lurch in your gut when a phrase feels right, or there’s a tiny kernel of an idea emerging. Allowing your brain to wander in this way can generate ideas that may not have appeared otherwise.

My aim for this time I have been given in the hut is to make my critical editor shut up for a while – its been very vocal recently and has stopped a lot of my writing. I’m going to concentrate on using different methods to generate poetry, and focus on getting as many first drafts as possible. While I’m here, I want to use this space for ideas, rather than polishing and editing – I can do that later. There’s something quite liberating about deliberately not looking for a finished piece.