View Full Version : The Guardian poetry workshop

25-01-2005, 12:32:07
This has been going on for a while now, a different poet sets a challenge each month (i think) and readers can send in their own poems for appraisal by the poet.

This is the main pagewith the past workshops:


There has been some interesting excercises and some really good poems. This is the poet's picks of this months crop:


and this month's poets opinions on them:


Haven't entered yet, will do in the next one.

25-01-2005, 12:42:17
Cool. When do they announce the next topic?

My Mum's got a couple of her things into the top three of the weekly Guardian topical Haiku thing.

15-02-2005, 12:00:39
An update!

Take a look at Chris's exercise, which he has called 'Journey poem, with the theme of love'

Think of a journey to a loved one. The journey can be imaginary, or based on a real journey you have undertaken.

Organise the poem in the following three stages:

Describe the act and feeling of travelling in a train, car or airplane. Use the senses to achieve this - colour, smells, sounds, textures - make it crisp but vivid.

Establish a sense of the surrounding landscape. Perhaps aim for some kind of sympathy or correspondence between what is inside and outside the car/ train/plane; or a contrast between the exterior/interior.

Develop a sense of what makes the journey special. Perhaps introduce a metaphor here, an equivalent for the feeling you want to achieve. Aim at some kind of transcendent or sublime moment, an insight which lifts this particular journey out of the ordinary, and makes it memorable.

See Seamus Heaney's 'Night Drive' (http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/Newsbriefs/9510/10-05/poems.html) for a fine example of this type of poem.

Points to consider

By organising it this way, you introduce a kind of trajectory into the poem. There is a movement from things to a final idea, from concrete to abstract, from the physical to the metaphysical. This can be very effective, drawing the reader in.

Choose your title carefully. Make it slant, oblique to the poem - nothing that immediately gives the game away.

Think carefully about how best to lineate the poem (where to break the lines).

17-02-2005, 10:40:00
I think I shall submit this:


With fire below
A billowed skin that lifts
Me like a very noisy rainbowed dove
I float to you, my sweet

Through skies of shocking blue
And clouds beyond my reach
A perfect English summer's eve
I float to you, my sweet

In full view of a thousand eyes
That stare and wave
And wish me well upon my way
I float to you, my sweet

I bring the roses to my nose
And feel the first light wind
That gently pulls me off my course
Away from you, my sweet

And in a heart stop'd instant see
The somewhat diminished canopy
And the nearness of the open sea
So far from you, my sweet

And falling falling like a stone
Amongst a sudden gale so unexpected
That it will no doubt vex weathermen
Or weathergirls like you, my sweet

I crash, quite gently, upon the ocean
To the inquisitive consternation
Of a darkened, fishy world in opposition
To your soft love, my sweet

So now upon the sea this flightless mess
Of I and basket, canopy and all
Bobs lightly like a punctured ball
And floats to you, my sweet

17-02-2005, 11:40:23

17-02-2005, 11:41:54
Originally posted by sleeping_satsuma


17-02-2005, 11:45:06
oh i put somthing else cheeky but erased it because i though kg might be offended, and i didnt want to offend his loveliness

17-02-2005, 11:53:49
you didn't like it?

it was kind of jokey in tone, but it came to me as a concept yesterday afternoon at work and i wrote it in about twenty minutes

i suppose i could do a 'proper' one as well, but to be honest it's not the most inspiring concept, and i recently wrote a poem at home about my train journey so i can't be bothered with more fucking travelling poetry

17-02-2005, 11:57:41
It's not. I was thinking about entering but this topic bites.

17-02-2005, 13:14:52
Originally posted by King_Ghidra
you didn't like it?

it was kind of jokey in tone, but it came to me as a concept yesterday afternoon at work and i wrote it in about twenty minutes

i suppose i could do a 'proper' one as well, but to be honest it's not the most inspiring concept, and i recently wrote a poem at home about my train journey so i can't be bothered with more fucking travelling poetry

No what I originally wrote was:

roses are red, violets are blue
Your poem is pretentious, and so are you :)

but then I thought you might take it seriously and I didnt mean it seriously :nervous:

17-02-2005, 13:16:23
:lol: on CG the least of my worries is being called pretentious

The Bursar
17-02-2005, 14:06:34
I like it. The meter wobbles a bit in the second half, but apart from that it exactly the kind of poetic quality which makes the meaning of the words irrelevant, and it takes two readings to understand what it's about, which is essential in any poem.

07-03-2005, 16:57:12
Well surprisingly my effort didn't make last month's shortlist:


But the new one is now out anyway:

Take a look at Anne Stevenson's exercise, entitled 'Can you write a sonnet?'

Poets these days, like artists and composers, have won for themselves almost unlimited freedom. You can pass yourself off as a painter without being able to draw, as a composer without being conscious of key relationships, and as a poet without making yourself familiar with traditional verse forms. Originality and inspiration can take you anywhere.

Or can they? Have you ever heard of a pianist who never had to practise - or of an architect who didn't bother to find out why buildings stand up? What I am asking you to do this month is to exercise your brain and put aside, as a first priority, the pleasures of self-expression. I want you to do what I do when I find myself short of inspiration, and that is, write a sonnet - in one or another of its traditional forms, 14 lines, iambic pentameter, with end rhymes that follow a regular pattern.

You will discover that the form allows for considerable leeway as regards subject and language; probably why it has remained popular in English since the 16th century, when the young Shakespeare completed a marathon of 154 sonnets on themes of love and time. An excellent example, and one of my favourites, is sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Read it aloud several times, feeling its rising and falling rhythm. Try not to be derailed by the archaic language (mayst, seest, fadeth etc.), which you will NOT want to imitate in your sonnet. Do notice, however, that every line consists of 10 syllables. You should be able to feel five main beats or stresses in each line. If you label the last word in each line with a letter, you will see that the rhyme scheme looks like this: abab cdcd efef gg - the ground pattern on which Shakespeare built all 154 of his sonnets.

Many varieties of sonnet, of course, have been written over the ages. You may remember Wordsworth's 'Upon Westminster Bridge' from school days. If not, look it up: it's a fine example of a Petrarchan sonnet (so named after the Italian poet, Francesco Petrarca, 1304-74) in which the first eight lines (the octet) rhyme abba abba, and the final six (or sestet) cdcdcd. Shelley's 'Ozymandias' is also a Petrarchan sonnet, though notice how Shelley shifts his rhymes around to make the sense flow smoothly:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Back to you. I suggest that you begin by reading ALOUD as many sonnets as you can get hold of. These days, you have a lot more liberty than Shelley did. 'The Windhover' by Gerard Manley Hopkins, for example, is a sonnet in 'sprung rhythm' that flouts the 10-syllable rule. George Meredith, in a sequence called 'Modern Love', wrote 16-line sonnets, and the American poet John Berryman wrote nearly as many love sonnets as Shakespeare in a very idiosyncratic idiom.

Since this is an exercise, I'd like you write at least one sonnet in which, using contemporary language to express some aspect of life today, you conform to the rules set long ago either by Shakespeare or Petrarch.

Should be fun. Working to a structure can be strangely helpful to the creative instinct.

07-03-2005, 20:19:52
Do you often travel by hot air balloon?

08-03-2005, 08:54:26
mainly zeppelin, but i used some poetic license

09-03-2005, 16:51:20
I shall enter this:


I saw beyond her simple smile a glimpse
Of something deeper there, less innocent
And with a start a sleeper woke, and since
I have seen many things, and smelled a scent
I had not noticed until now, like fruit
which has gone bad or worse, and think my wife
As rotted, turned and twisting me to suit
Her plans (no longer twined with mine) for life
I wonder how i missed it for so long
That simple smile that hid truth all along

Immortal Wombat
09-03-2005, 18:24:24
twinned or 'twined?

10-03-2005, 08:58:14
twined, it is a word in its own right, not just a contraction of intertwined

Immortal Wombat
10-03-2005, 16:04:04
oh yeah

10-03-2005, 16:55:45


Immortal Wombat
10-03-2005, 18:10:07
I think size 10 is a bit excessive. I was mentally contracting entwined. I'll just add it with inflammable in the category of words which have unnecessary prefixes.

10-05-2005, 12:46:11

Forgot about this, well this is this month's anyway, a week left to get entries in. I shall try and knock one up forthwith.

Clothes, which simultaneously reveal and conceal, tell us much about ourselves and our cultures. They can provide a strong focus - or starting point - for a poem. I suggest the following as guidelines:

1 Think of an item of clothing belonging to someone important to you or, perhaps, to yourself. Picture it for a few moments, then describe it as closely and imaginatively as you can: the colours, the feel of it, what it reminds you of, what it suggests about the wearer ... Jot down your own feelings, too.

2 You might find yourself invoking a whole world, or a remembered scene. You may find you want to 'take off' from the description of the clothes into another area, while all the time bearing the clothes in mind. You may wish to include elements of the magical. Peter Redgrove's 'Wardrobe Lady', for example, has a gown that "shimmers without slit or seam like the wall of an aquarium". Anne Sexton addresses her 'Woman with Girdle': "a city from the sea, born long before Alexandria was,/ straightway from God you have come/ into your redeeming skin".

3 Perhaps, at this stage, you already have within your notes the first draft of a poem. Look for a good beginning. It could be the description of the clothes, or the wearer, or an action involving the clothes - "slipping on", "squeezing into" ... Select the lines and ideas that seem most alive to you. Do you sense any emerging rhythms in what you've written?

4 Try using line endings to create small surprises in the poem. Experiment with different arrangements of the poem on the page. Is it a long, 'river'-shaped piece, or does it divide into regular, or irregular, sections? Choose a title that adds to the poem, heralds it, or encompasses it in some way.

5 Read the poem aloud. How does it sound? Do you need to add something, or take something away? Should it start where you began? Did you go on too long, or not long enough? Any minor or major adjustments? Live in it for a while. Wear it close to the skin.

10-05-2005, 14:01:32
This camouflaged hat, best remembered
tossed skywards and snapped
while holidaying in the Canaries

You snapped, I tossed
and that says it all about us

I shall write a proper one, but it made me laugh to write that :D