Ink wasters

pen 2

The late poet Gerard Benson coined this term for the warm-up, stream-of-consciousness exercise at the start of a workshop: Start writing, don’t stop writing, don’t think, just keep the pen moving.

If you’re familiar with The Artist’s Way, then you have the Morning Pages in your toolkit. To me, the Morning Pages are still more of a “dumping” ground of grumpy stuff, Aargh – not a morning person and never will be….

At a workshop the tutor or facilitator gives a starting line and sets you off. But, how do you create that effect when you’re by yourself? How do you nudge your self on to the track? Here are some options I’ve used:

Liminal lines
The immediacy of being on a threshold of sorts, for example:
Standing on the flood line I noticed…
When I stepped into the room…
Waiting on the platform there was…

Lines that open onto the unexpected, the other side
I turned the corner and then…
As I opened the door…
At the back of the cupboard…
I thought I saw…., but….
I never even once…
It was that dream again…
Sometimes you’ll think of…
No telling what arrived here in the night…

Unlikely/Doomsday scenarios
It hadn’t stopped snowing for thirty years…
It rained for ninety days, then suddenly….
The morning after the storm…
Your body lies on the floor, with or without you…

Juxtapositions
I have an envelope with pieces of paper, some with names of rooms in a house, others with objects, others with abstract nouns. So, we might get hallway, stapler, vanity. Off we go just putting those together in some way or another.

List poems
We’re not expected to write a “proper” list poem with a story arc, a development, an argument. Just a list of anything will do. Six lines is a good starting point, six things I would never eat for breakfast. Then another day there could be a list of the opposite: breakfast favourites (scrambled eggs and my poet friend E told me to add mustard and some dill, homemade porridge with berries, and I’ve just found out that one berry is one calorie, so I’ll have a few more, and strong black coffee in the mug with lavender fields on it. That mug was given to me by a lodger who’d had wanted to become a nun, but then decided to train as a nurse instead….)

Borrowed lines
Using opening lines from poems often work. I have typed up a batch of these, cut them out and put them inside an envelope. Picking one out gives the surprise effect that just reading it in the book doesn’t give.

I’m signed up with the Academy of American Poets for poem-a-day. I really like getting a surprise poem in my inbox every day and sometimes use the title or the opening for my warm-up. Yesterday’s poem started Imagine your heart is just a ball. Go to poetry.org to sign up. Similarly, there may be good “triggers” from other websites – on-line magazines, poetry publishers. A recent newsletter from Carcanet showed Snow in C Sharp Minor which I found intriguing and could have used as a prompt. It is a poem from Errant by Gabriel Levin.

And there is always Carl Sandburg’s This morning I looked at the map of the day…

Sometimes ink wasters can be developed and turn into a poem. It’s rare for one to be a complete poem straight-away. That’s a bonus. Below is one of those. It was published in The North, No 48.

On the town

In the time it took to buy a birthday card, a special
80th birthday card, they had arrived in a long, black limousine,
jumped out, set fire to the hotel and released wicker
baskets. The flying baskets with wicker wings chopped
tops of trees, trees falling on traffic lights – chaos everywhere
and in the middle of it the small bronze statue.
A smiling woman holding doves covered in birdshit.
The wind howling, sirens crying like the end of the world had come.
And me and that card that had cost me £2.99 and nowhere
to buy stamps, no letter box to post it.

2 thoughts on “Ink wasters

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s