Tag Archives: Carl Sandburg

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.

Hyacinths and biscuits

In Good Morning, America (1928) Carl Sandburg wrote thirty-eight definitions of poetry. My two-day one-fruit detox (apples) has left me a little obsessed with food and drink, so this one stands out:

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

I wrote a poem once about hyacinths (inspired by one of the Louise Glück flower poems), but it’s in a huge pile of So-so poems that I’m going through this week and it may not survive the cull.  As for biscuits, I can only offer broken ones. It’s a long prose poem that was published by Valley Press in their Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry last year. I rarely do politic poems and I rarely do rants…

Broken biscuits

Is there poetry in broken biscuits? Discuss. The short answer is yes, provided it is articulated in the unashamedly Yorkshire, tongue-in-cheek, twinkle-in-the-voice tones of Ian McMillan of The Verb. You need a risk assessment now before being allowed to step onto a soapbox: its size, the maximum weight of poet it may carry. There is the marshal in a fluorescent jacket, carrying a walkie-talkie, clipboard and stopwatch, holding at bay some members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Biscuits. Biscuits are indexed and cross-referenced, generic categories and brand names listed: Bourbon, broken, chocolate, chocolate (milk), chocolate chips, chocolate digestive (Milk Chocolate & Orange Digestive), digestive, dunking….. Specifications are laid out, spelled out and laid down for the packaging of biscuits. Here the blue and orange house colours of McVitie’s nestle up with the listing of the ingredients: wheat flour, dried whey, cocoa mass, along with emulsifiers (soya lecithin, E476, natural vanilla flavouring), raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, ammonium bicarbonate, tartaric acid, malic acid). A touch then of the barbarous, barbaric, acidic and malicious. Raising agents might be the euphemistic title for these officials. Some Government-funded scheme would have lifted people off the scrapheap in a cold and distant Northern town; the group photo – five of them smiling in their smart uniform – appeared in the Echo, and now they do their daily rounds: moving beggars along, breaking up groups of young men loitering, or giving the impression that they are, or might be soon. The faded For Sale signs creak in the windy cave of a shopping mall, windows are boarded up and people – young girls in anoraks, smoking, pushing their friends; pensioners with stick and Zimmer frames – queue up in Penny and Pound shops for bags of broken biscuits.