NaPoWriMo part 2

April 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

We’re in the final stretch of NaPoWriMo with less than a week to go, and it’s looking like this will be the year that I manage to complete it! The changes in attitude towards prioritising my writing and being a perfectionist that I wrote about in my last post have definitely helped a great deal. I’ve still found myself occasionally writing in the last two hours of the day, but my essay deadline now really is chasing me and snapping at my heels like a hell-hound.

I only fell behind once, and only by one day (and that was the day after my birthday so we should be lenient and accepting of this if I do say so myself). I told myself that it would be easy enough to write two poems in one day to get caught up, but it took a few days for this to actually happen. What kicked me back into gear was inspirational monthly live literature night The Stanza (based in the North East of England), which I’ve been attending for over a year now. I absolutely consider myself a page poet, but I also definitely know the value of spoken-word and live literature; not only attending events, but getting up there myself and reading my work. When I was younger, I was really taken in by the idea of the solitary poet, and while alone time is no doubt necessary not only to writers, but to everyone, I’ve found that you can’t shun the idea of getting out there and sharing and developing work with other artists. Not only is it a great way to test your new material and get feedback, but I can’t think of anything that gets me back in the swing like being in the room with poetry as it is happening. (If only the same applied to my academic pursuits – nobody could ever get me to enjoy giving a presentation!)

A notable challenge which I didn’t mention in my previous NaPoWriMo post, and which didn’t really arise until the middle of the month, is choosing subject matter, which is of course one of the biggest problems faced by any artist. For the first week and a bit I was able to use little notions and ideas that I already had floating around my head to kick-start my daily poems, but once they were all used, what then? Well, before this month I had largely rejected aspects of my daily life as suitable subject matter for my poetry, but in the search for something to write about I’ve ended up writing a good deal of poems about my work, which, apart from anything else, has been a pretty good way to vent some demons. Let me just say that I work in retail and leave it there for now. It led me, as someone who almost never uses curse words in her poetry, to spend a day experimenting with letting loose the bad language in one poem, which was great fun even if it won’t necessarily lead to a great poem! What it has also made me realise is that of course the things you come into contact with on a daily basis can become valuable parts of your writing.

Let me leave you with a haiku that I wrote on the drive home from The Stanza. I hope, if you’ve read my two NaPoWriMo blogs, that they’ve struck some chord with you, and helped you with your own writing, whether you’re doing it daily or on a more measured basis!


Add two bay leaves to
the sauce. Remember, poets
once were crowned with these.


NaPoWriMo part 1

April 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

This week I’m thinking about writing a lot. I’ve got an essay deadline coming up, I’m studying for my dissertation, I’m determined to blog every fortnight, and on top of all that, it’s NaPoWriMo – National Poetry Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, NaPoWriMo challenges you to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. That’s thirty poems in thirty days, and boy is it a challenge! We’re now a week in, and to be honest so far I have found it a slog, with some of my daily writing attempts sending me into bouts of frustration and bad temper.

A lot of that is to do with how hard I find it to fit writing into my work plan properly. Feeling like everything else has to be done before I can sit down to write my poem for the day has meant that it’s often late at night before I start working on it, even though I know that late at night is the worst time for me to get meaningful work done. Last year, when I took a Writing Poetry module at university, I deliberately set aside time to write: writing poetry had a slot in my timetable just as studying for my other modules and shifts at my job did. Because the poetry I was writing contributed to my degree, I felt justified in making time for it in my life, and the fact is that sometimes when we sit down to write there is a feeling that we ought to be doing something—anything—else, like doing the dishes or saving lives or whatever (I was so relieved when my tutor said he felt like this). But you can’t think like that when undertaking a creative project like NaPoWriMo, or putting together a pamphlet or portfolio or whatever form your creative work may take. Recognising that writing is worthy of the same time-management I apply to everything else has always been the first hurdle for me, and one that I sometimes still fall at, as this first week has shown.

Something else I’ve struggled with is wanting every poem to be perfect. Even though I know it’s unreasonable to expect to write a really really good poem every single day, that’s just what I’ve been doing. So after wrestling with a poem for two hours or so I finally finish the draft (key word!), unsatisfied, and huffily save it on my computer, resolving not to look at it anymore. Now though, I’m learning to look forward to going back through my poems after the month is over, when I’ll have time to be a perfectionist about it, and I’ll be able to put that perfectionism to good use as I tidy up and revise the work I have done. If you think about NaPoWriMo in relation to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, whose participants I really admire!) it all starts to make sense: no one is really going to write a novel in a month. What they are going to do is draft a novel, get words down, and later take as much time as they like going back through what they’ve written in order to make it a proper, finished work.

The biggest part of the challenge is, of course, that poetry will not always come ‘as naturally as leaves to a tree’. But that shouldn’t mean, as Keats once wrote, that it shouldn’t come at all! Though there has undoubtedly been great writing that has come ‘inexplicably and without method’ (I’m quoting Stranger Than Fiction now, watch it if you haven’t), just think how little literature there would be in the world if people only wrote when they were struck by inspiration out of nowhere. Don’t let Wordsworth fool you, he had to work at his poems too. If you’re stuck, the NaPoWriMo website posts an optional prompt every day. I’ve used a couple: yesterday’s tritina was great for me because I love a form’s rules to pin down my thoughts, especially when I’m struggling with choosing a subject, but day four’s fan letter to Nick Cave produced rather odd results. The prompt won’t always suit but I’m getting into the swing now, prompt or no prompt I’ve written something every day.

Today’s poem, which I’ll post below, was the product of some reading I was doing for my dissertation this afternoon, but only because it latched onto an idea of ‘audacity’ which has been pirouetting through my consciousness for years. It just goes to show that you should never dismiss your ideas just because they don’t materialise immediately and effortlessly – their time will most certainly come!


That a person can dare to cross over
into death and ask the king for favours;

(Blackbird song bursts loudly from hedgerows;
sensing spring, waking, startling those

not used yet to celebrating light,
still settling in the sunset running late.)

that they can return from that trespass,
make art with secrets rescued from darkness,

and give it to the world before it’s ready,
creating in spite of their tragedy—

the audacity!

What to Expect as a Postgraduate Student in the Arts

March 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

If you’re doing a postgraduate arts degree, the chances are that even though you’re enjoying your studies as much as you’d anticipated, life around your degree has thrown up some problems, which may have had an impact on your work or well-being. I certainly have found this, and if you’re currently studying or about to embark on a postgraduate degree (how exciting!), perhaps this column can help you to overcome the hurdles ahead with more grace and ease than I’ve managed in my time! If you’re not doing a postgraduate degree, this could still be a good read in order for you to be there for the postgrad in your life (everybody has one).

Two things have stuck out for me (and negatively impacted me) most while I have been studying for my MA. The first is the fact that people just don’t seem to believe that you actually have work to do when you’re doing a postgraduate arts degree. That’s right, the (irritating and offensive) idea that arts and humanities students just bum around all day doesn’t seem to go away, even when you commit yourself to a further year or two (or more) of it. No matter how earnestly you insist on the amount of work you have to do, some people refuse to believe that there is any work involved, outside of a few hours a week in a seminar room and the odd essay churned out in a caffeine-fuelled all-nighter. Because your work outside of contact hours looks to them like a hobby, it is hard for some people to see it as work, and in some scenarios you will feel pressured to meet their expectations instead of what you have decided for yourself is the minimum requirement for your degree. What’s important to remember in this case is that you can and should make time for your friends and your family, and give your job the time it deserves, but absolutely do not let other people’s inability to see past the “arts-student-who-does-nothing-but-marathon-TV-series” stereotype jeopardise the degree that you have chosen to dedicate your time and money to. You know better than them that this is what you want and that you have to work at it!

The second issue is other people’s impatience for you to be “done with it,” and grows out of the misconception that you aren’t doing “real work.” What I mean is that the people who were asking you all throughout your undergraduate degree, “What are you going to do?” (or, “Do you want to be a teacher then?”) are still going to be asking this question. In some cases I think this really is just a friendly inquiry, but it can trick you into thinking you need to get your degree over with rather than immersing yourself in your student experience, which is ridiculous! This attitude is also dismissive of the pursuit of a career in academia, which you may have decided is your path. In this case what better act of defiance than continuing to put off a “real job” in favour of your noble academic pursuits? If it’s for you, keep studying for as long as you can, and don’t let the non-believers get you down!

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