Tag Archives: creativity

This is not Dante – writing prompt

Dante, by Botticelli

One of the poems in this week’s inbox came courtesy of The Paris Review: Identity Check by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. The title is intriguing enough, the first line is a bold claim and a denial:


This is not Dante


This immediately sets up tension and hooks the reader’s curiosity. If not Dante, who is it? We get an answer we know can’t be true: This is a photograph of Dante. Then: This is a film showing an actor who pretends to be Dante.


The poem continues like this. It reminded me of a poem of mine published in orbis magazine which uses similar techniques. If I feel really ‘stale’, then using two prompts of a different kind is guaranteed to work.


In 2017 I went to Tate Modern for the exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg – very stimulating. It included his telegram This is a painting of Iris Clert if I say so. A visit with a poet friend to Manchester Art Gallery then started the poem. The painting described is Portrait of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon. Here is the link.

Franz Kafka

This is a portrait if I say so


A portrait of Kafka, in a long coat; dark grey, almost black. No, it’s not. It’s just paint on canvas. This is a portrait of the man who was a friend of the man who put the paint on the canvas. Paint is history. Painting is looking for something, then losing it again. This is a portrait of a man, based on a photo of Kafka. My friend Kathleen asked Was Kafka’s face that long? The man in the long coat in the portrait is striding out. No, he’s not. The note to the right of the portrait says the man who is not Kafka is leaning against the pillar, but the pillar isn’t straight. This is a portrait of a man who isn’t famous, based on a photo of Kafka, and Kafka became famous, and the man who put the paint on the canvas became famous. Kafka is dead. The painter is dead, but this portrait is living, dead paint is living. This is the living portrait of a man who had friends. The man in a coat the colour of death. All colours become history. A coat; a face; a pillar. A portrait is, he says so.

Meeting Paula Rego – writing prompt

I was sad to learn of the recent death of the artist Paula Rego. Last century I saw her work at the Whitworth Museum in Manchester, UK. That’s when I bought Nursery Rhymes. In March this year I went to the first major retrospective exhibition of her work in The Netherlands – at the Kunstmuseum here in The Hague. The museum shop had copies of Power Games.


I admire her as a person and an artist. As she told it ‘art was a way to work through fear and trauma, to soothe and comfort, as well as to erase, attack, scratch out and destroy.’

Whitworth Museum, extension


After a major refurbishment the Whitworth reopened in 2015. I would have liked very much to meet Paula Rego and talk with her about life and art. This imaginary meeting is set in the new café. The poem was published in my pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020).

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

Shading her eyes with a small black fan
she looks distressed and even out of place.
Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face.
To me she seems older now, frailer than
in the short winter days of that other year when
the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played
with black hen, spiders, women who prayed
for open roads, escape, a private den.

There was a boating lake once in the park.
We wait for panini, service is slow.
Café in the trees, I say, canopy.
Her earrings sparkle, her eyes are still dark.
It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito.
Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.

Gratitude and Forgiveness … writing prompt

Happy New Year to you all.

Twice a year, early July, on or close to my birthday, and on New Year’s Eve, I sit down and write a gratitude list. Being alive and kicking: always the first item. It’s a practice I got from the classic Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. I have the 1982 Bantam edition, with that special yellowing-pages smell.

The Dutch couple below made the paper. Most days they put a gratitude note in a glass jar. On NYE with a glass of wine and music in the background, they take items out and read them to each other. Of course, it’s often the small things: the colleague who did your work when you were ill, a kind note from someone when you needed it, a hug, waking up with a body that’s just doing its job, a walk in the forest. Ah yes, that was a special moment they say to each other.

Two more things I am grateful for are the acceptance by Broken Sleep Books of the manuscript Remembering / Disease. Here are the names of other poets and writers with a book out with BSB this year.

Matthew Stewart publishes an annual list of Best UK Poetry Blogs on his site Rogue Strands. I was chuffed that this blog is one of five ‘top notch newcomers’. You can read the full list here. Matthew lives between Extremadura, Spain and West Sussex. His collection, The Knives of Villalejo, is published with Eyewear and a recent Poetry News Book of the Year selection.

Here are two short prompts. In the current issue (27) of the online poetry magazine Allegro, editor Sally Long, the opening stanza of the poem by John Grey caught my eye. For Gratitude I’ve chosen the opening stanza of Joy Harjo’s poem Perhaps the World Ends Here.

Forgiveness

The woman with the forgiveness
is out there in the world somewhere.

Gratitude

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

Table 64 – writing prompt

Credit: Pexels on Pixabay

This week my friend Valerie celebrated her birthday. We met 30 years ago on a residential week in Spain. To celebrate our friendship, here is a short poem in which we’re together. Bowler’s is a very large indoor and outdoor carboot sale location in Manchester.


That Generation Game is a tv game show in which teams of two family members, but from a different generation compete. The winners see a conveyor belt with goodies wobble past. No worries: if they can’t remember them all, the studio audience will shout to help …

Table 64

We carried the plastic crates and cardboard
boxes into Bowlers at bloody six o’clock.
The locusts, proper traders, picked items
from the piles we carried, threw us
pound coins and a few fivers.

The early flurry was good and then it was
like the Generation Game in reverse:
suitcases went, a pile of books, glasses,
a wok, costume jewellery, some cuddly toys.
We sat back in our folding chairs like regulars,
holding off sleep.

Writing Prompt: Did you do a car boot sale with a friend? Were you a market trader (for real or in your dreams)? Did you go to an auction of lost property? What is the object that you lost or found?

Celebrating creativity …

marigolds

Too many gardening programmes can seriously damage your health! They said if you plant out your marigolds you will get a splendid display, but Nigella hasn’t had a single flower. Monty Donkey. What does he know?

During lockdown, the first thing I did after breakfast was to go to Facebook to see what my poet friend Helen Kay had come up with that day. As Helen explains:

“In 2016 I wrote some poems about chickens. I hit the road and read my poems to local groups, but something, or someone, was missing to bring a spark into my performance – and that was how a hen glove puppet came into my life – you could call it puppet love. I had no idea that my lively alter ego would become more popular than me, delighting all ages with her lively mix of bright-eyed innocence and femme fatale. She even has her own little book of poems called the Nigella Monologues- it’s all about me.

In 2020 lockdown came and Nigella and I left our home to live with my 99-year-old Aunty Phyllis. It was all very sudden; our packing was mostly food parcels, a laptop and a couple of books. Hidden away, we wanted to help others. Facebook seemed awash with anger and sadness, so Nigella and I decided to do a funny daily photo on the theme of keeping Sane & Safe. People liked it, so we ended up doing 103 posts. We made scenery using toilet rolls and old paint in the garage. Aunty Phyllis home schooled Nigella about the war and dug out bits of fabric. People added their own puns and quips and chatted to each other. The last week Nigella had her own art exhibition, then left us for the stars in her A Pollo 103 Spaceship. Out of the dark a star was born. Who knows what next?”

Nigella 2

Home School and the pecking order. Today maths: some things are more equal than others.

The posts brought me joy and gave me a cheerful start to the day. Some posts included references to very British phenomena: those Marigold gloves, Monty Don, a well-known TV gardener, Orwell’s Animal Farm. The wit was a bonus. The posts showed me how curiosity and creativity are a fundamental part of our survival kit. Let’s finish with a celebration!

NIgella 3

Celebrate May Day with a social distancing activity. Don’t get yourself in a tangle.

The Artist’s Way

At Ty Newydd on the Writing Retreat the other week I talked with one of the people about books that might be helpful for dealing with “blocks”. I mentioned Julia Cameron’s bestseller The Artist’s Way. They hadn’t heard of it.

The book was recommended to me by a good friend who was a musician/painter. It had helped him work through blocks about being an artist and he thought I might benefit too. The Artist’s Way was first published in 1992 and it is A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self.

The book is based on the creativity workshops Julia Cameron had been running. In the book she briefly introduces Spiritual Electricity: the Basic Principles, then outlines the Basic Tools. Each of the 12 chapters addresses a major block. You’re expected to work through a chapter each week, by completing various exercises. Most pages have one or two short quotes about creativity in the margins. I found many of these very uplifting and supportive.

the-artists-way.jpg

I have just found the Contract which I signed on 30 June 1997. I had also highlighted a quote by Oscar Wilde: The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

In sequence the chapters are Recovering a Sense of: Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, Faith.

I found several of the exercises, tasks, questions extremely challenging and even very painful at times. Julia Cameron had warned me about the process in her initial chapter, that working through the course would be peaks-and-valleys, that I would experience anger, grief, defiance, want to give up the whole thing before I came to the creative U-turn from which there would be choppy growth.
She was correct! But I stuck with it and I have kept up with the Basic Tools since then:

1) Morning Pages – the main purpose is “to get to the other side” – of the critic, it’s a “brain drain”, just stream-of-consciousness dumping, angry, whiny stuff. Cameron suggests three pages in long-hand and she says “you shouldn’t even read them yourself for the first eight weeks”. After that period, it’s okay to read and see if there are things that could be used in your creative work.
2) The Artist Date – a block of time, perhaps two hours a week, set aside to nurture our inner artist. It doesn’t need to be expensive; it could be a solo walk on the beach, a visit to an art gallery, seeing an old movie. It’s the time commitment that is sacred. This is all about “Filling the Well, Stocking the Pond”.

If I was compiling that list of books that changed my life, The Artist’s Way would be on it.