Midweek writing prompt – writing from art

Stargazer by Robert Llimos photo by Judy DarleyIn around a month’s time I’ll be leading a creative writing workshop at Carol Peace’s sculpture studio on writing from art, and I thought I’d give you a sneak preview.

The pictured sculpture is actually Stargazer by Robert Llimós, snapped in Barcelona when I visited in June. I chose it for this post because I know Carol retreats to the Catalan city at every opportunity to draw inspiration for her own art.

I also particularly love the contemplative quality of this piece – it makes me think of beautiful fantastical children’s books involving journeys across oceans and into the stars.

Consider what might be going through the mind of the boy, what his fears and hopes might be. Throw in a detail from a child you know or knew (yourself as a child, perhaps) – a passion such as playing football or eating popcorn – then turn your impressions into a prose poem. Discard any bits that seem trite or clichéd, and explore further the sections that ring particularly true. You might be surprised by what takes hold.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Poetry review – Beautiful Girls by Melissa Lee-Houghton

beautiful girls coverHalf truth, half dare, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s second collection, Beautiful Girls, carries you through a landscape of secure hospitals, red light districts and bedrooms where little sleep seems to happen, through adolescent yearnings, childhood dread and adult regrets piled together in a disconcerting, fragile heap that seems likely to topple over at the slightest pressure.

Sinister undertones give way to outright panic, and Lee-Houghton unflinchingly casts grenades in our midst, strewn with lines so tightly wound they may well explode.

In Jade, the opening lines can refer to nothing good: “They called me at three o’clock in the afternoon to tell me/ you’d no longer be able to call me at three o’clock in the morning”.

Couplets like these bound from poem to poem, each so original I want to copy them down, savour their sly promises. (In Sundown by the Abattoir, “Nobody trusts a blue sky./ I am too good to be true and you are too good to be true.” Irresistibly damning.)

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Free literary event today – Books Are My Bag

Foyles Bookshop, Bristol cr James HainsworthToday, Saturday October 11th, I’ll be at Foyles bookshop Bristol for the Books Are My Bag event co-hosted by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers. It’s on from 2 till 7pm and promises to be a really fun, informative afternoon of literary riches.

Fancy coming along? Writers taking part include Jo Reed, Ali Bacon, Mike Manson, Nina Milton, Kevlin Henney and Amy Morse. There will be readings of poetry, flash fiction and short stories, plus pop-up workshops, writing surgeries and masses of opportunities to pick up some ideas and inspiration on how to further your writing career, or simply what to read next.

It will also be a great chance to meet some really interesting Bristol-based writers – I’m looking forward to finding out what self-publisher extraordinaire Amy Morse has been up to since her guest post for SkyLightRain.com.

Tickets are free – just register on the Foyles website to get yours.

Books Are My Bag is from 2-7pm on Sat October 11th at Foyles bookshop in Quakers Friars, Bristol.

Poetry – seen and heard

Speaker cr Judy DarleyWritten and performed poetry are often classified as completely separate genres, but until you start to place words on a page, or step onto a stage, how do you know which one you are creating? Here Joanna Butler attempts to untangle what it is that sets written and spoken poetry apart.

It’s possible to become a poet almost by accident

First things first, not every poet starts out by making it their life’s goal to become a poet, performance or otherwise.

“Writing and performing poetry was not my life’s ambition,” Joanna Butler say. “I always loved reading and listening to poetry when I was younger, and poetry and performance were always connected in my mind because of Shakepeare. But being a poet just never crossed my mind as being a career choice.”

Joanna comments that she “seriously underestimated poetry’s seductive power over the course of a life. I got to the age of thirty-five and poetry just fell out of me. It had slowly been creeping up on me all that time.”

Joanna began by writing poetry, but felt that “it just seemed like the words wanted to get out into the world and be heard – not just stay within the pages of a book.”

Let the poetry out

Of course, there is a distinct difference between poetry being read aloud, and poetry being performed, but in either of these instances the poet makes contact with their recipients that goes unnoticed when confined to the page.

Joanna feels poetry as  “a physical impulse in my chest. A compulsion to capture something in words and share it with someone else – an aching to make a connection.”

And that’s all before the writing even happens. “It feels like something that has to get out,” she says. “Then my job is to craft it into a form that can then be given to someone else. To share moments that strike me as amazing.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Joanna sees herself as the audience when she’s writing poetry, as opposed to preparing to perform. “I’m more interested in how the words sound to me. I have my fantasy audience, of course, when the writing’s not going well. The audience are big, appreciative and have come specifically to hear my work. This usually allows my ego to have the free rein it wants, enables me to stop being too serious, laugh at myself and continue to play with the writing and avoid mentally stiffening up. “

Expect conflicts between the ‘writing poet’ and the ‘performing poet’

While for Joanna, the writing poet and the performance poet are both parts of her, she admits that she’s met poets who hate performers and performance poetry and performers who think poets are the dullest people on earth. Everyone has an opinion and they always will. I don’t worry about it too much. I just do what feels right to me.”

Embrace the fear

However experienced you are, getting up on stage to perform poetry can be terrifying.

“I’d worked as an actress and drama teacher so I had a personal history of performance, but you need a different kind of courage to take to the stage with something you’ve written yourself,” Joanna says. “Always the worst moments for me are when I realise I am performing after another poet whose words have just blown me away. That’s tough. There’s nothing else that makes me feel like my own work is suddenly inadequate, when half an hour before it seemed like it could stand up to anything.”

But, she adds, this fear can be useful too. “Afterwards, moments like that actually drive me forward in my own work. One of my best moments was when, six months after a reading I’d done in Bristol Central Library, I bumped into a guy who’d been in the audience. He told me he couldn’t get a couple of the poems I’d read out of his mind. He could recite some lines word for word. This was after one hearing. That was pretty special.”

Joanna ButlerAbout the author

Joanna Butler is a multi-disciplinary artist who produces poetry, prose, songs, sculptures, photographs, films and live performance. She has given poetry readings at Bristol Poetry Festival, The Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, Bristol Folk Festival and Tate Modern. She has made spoken word recordings of her poems ‘twisted history’ and ‘Snowstorm’ with musicians Paul Nash (North Sea Navigator), Doug Bott (Angel Tech) and Ian Wood (Cubeshiner). Joanna is currently developing an inter-species performance art project with dancers and horses.

Joanna will be performing her poetry and short prose at Travel, Home & Identity on November 7th 2014. Get tickets here.

Roaming with Serena Curmi

According to Plan © Serena CurmiSerena Curmi’s paintings have a curious, nostalgic feel to them – it’s as though I’ve have seen them before, perhaps in my childhood, or someone else’s. She’s illustrating the Russian faerytales I was never told. I love the snowy, misty landscapes and uncanny encounters between girls and forest creatures, especially the way the wolf is just lurking in the background in the piece above. Friend or foe?

Caught in the light © Serena Curmi

And yet, she says, her creative awakenings began as a merchild – or rather, as a small child roaming a sailing boat.

“I’ve always been a creative person of some description,” she says. “I grew up on a sailboat and I think being creative was an outlet for me during the many boring days at sea in a confined space with three other people. I was always coming up with great ideas that I would daydream about. Once I tried to make my own perfume by gathering a very small amount of rose petals together in a jar and adding some cooking oil. Needless to say it turned into a soggy mess.”

Brilliantly, on recalling this she adds: “I improved a little and went on to do a degree in Illustration at Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall.”

The first piece of art she remembers being proud of was “painting a picture of Minnie the Minx on the back of a white 80s cotton jacket that I was pretty pleased with” when she was aged about seven.

Today she draws inspiration from online sources including Pinterest. “I’m addicted. It’s a great tool for finding and compiling images. I look at a lot of surreal fashion photography actually, probably more than the work of other painters. But sometimes it’s something completely uncreative that sparks something in me. The other week I took a trip to Bethlem Royal Hospital (otherwise known as Bedlam) which I found incredibly inspiring.”

Italian Bathers © Serena CurmiIt’s true that her work exudes a sense of the unsettled and uncanny, but also, as her name befits, a great deal of serenity.

“I have quite a minimalist approach to life,” she tells me. “I don’t like clutter and I think this reflects in my paintings. My work is concerned with storytelling with a touch of the fairytale. Through a restrained technique, I try to focus the attention onto only the important elements in the painting which I hope helps to create a narrative which is sometimes peaceful and still, sometimes melancholy, and sometimes provoking a sense of unease of apprehension.”

Queen © Serena Curmi

And this ongoing narrative is evolving all the time, “which means that in a year or so, it might have gone a slightly different direction. I am getting very interested in social behaviours and norms (hence the trip to Bethlem) so I see my work going more towards this kind of thing in the future.”

Find out more at serenacurmi.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Midweek writing prompt – voyage

Edith Grey, Bristol cr Judy DarleyImagine your character is setting off on a journey. They’re preparing their boat and packing up all the belongings they hold dear, kissing loved ones goodbye and thinking about a voyage into the unknown. They may be afraid, excited, eager to go or reluctant. They may be running to, or away from something.

But here’s the catch – you can’t write about the voyage itself, only the days or hours running up to that moment when they cast off and let the waves take hold, wind in the sails, harbour mouth ahead.

Can you create a full tale, beginning, middle and end, action and consequence, conflict and resolution, personal development, without your character actually leaving shore?

Give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what such narrow constraints bring out in your writing.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Midweek writing prompt – reflections

Tree reflection cr Judy DarleyAs autumn rolls in with all its mists and dreaminess, I find myself feeling increasingly reflective, which gives me an idea for a writing prompt.

So many things in our lives show us pieces of ourselves, from literal reflective surfaces such as mirrors, ponds and puddles, to the expressions of those who see us, either as strangers or close friends.

I invite you to take this theme and use it to explore a character – and offer them a glimpse of themselves, of their personality or their appearance, that they didn’t expect. What do they learn about themselves through it? How, if at all, does this alter them?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.