Wellcome & Time to Breathe

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The splendid Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had some enjoyable time off over midwinter & Christmas. (A strange time; it can feel both restorative and exhausting, all at once.)

As I’m emerging from my festive burrow into the new year, I thought I’d blog about the Exhale and Exchange workshop I was invited to host (by NHS Harefield & Brompton Trust & Imperial College London) at The Wellcome Collection Reading Room last month – and share some of my own writing from that session.

We had a wonderful group of participants, some who planned to attend and some who happened to be in the building and joined in – and the resulting atmosphere was fizzingly creative and communicative.

The intention for the workshop was to use creative writing as a way of exchanging experience, knowledge and stories about breathing and lung health; exploring the potential of language & poetry to offer new ways of looking at breath and breathing.

I used a few approaches in the workshop, including the use of found words (cut out, fridge poetry and from the Reading Room collections) mixing with terms coming up for group members through word-association, mindfulness breathing exercises and discussion.

We took something of an ‘oblique’ angle to warm up our creative & linguistic muscles, using a generated pair of words and an idea from Ginsberg called ‘Eyeball Kick’ *.

I reflected on my arrival in the city:

I Enter The Rumbling Sculpture

of London, its mesh of iron
and its mulch of rain
and voices lost at Paddington
up and down
stairs escalators
an Escher puppet
drinking frothy capital
stuck on the tracks of
L     O     N     D     O     N
rumbling sculpture
with too many artist
information signs
too many
interpretations

We then used a different combination of a breath or airy word alongside a new found word, as a springboard for another piece. For me, this lead to a reflection on the voice, voices and the space in which we were working:

Voices Moulding

All around the Reading Room
are the mouldings of voices
some in plaster of Paris
some in silicone these mouldings
in shapes of sounds
waveforms wobbling
at their edges and jagged
like metal. Voices clinging
to the light fittings
fluttering into the eaves.

How can we contain them?
Should we?
There is no guidebook for how
to capture and store a living
voice. Only how to pickle
the voice, how to tank
and display it.

Any voice which has been
captured & contained
is no longer in the wild
the leaf-strewn moment
with the wild hot winds
of breath where two voices
meet in a clearing
circling each other
not knowing
which will show its
plumage first.

In the second part of the session, we moved to address our breath or lungs quite directly – in the form of a letter or email. We used an activity adapted from poet Rita Dove’s ‘Ten-Minute Spill’, where each writer ‘harvested’ a selection of words that they then had to use in their piece (hopefully pushing the language in interesting directions):

To My Lungs in the New Year

Among your thousands of branches
you capture baubles like suns
among the space in my chest
where twisted flumps & cables entangle,
fly like orangutans among
burgundy branches, wobbling lazily.

All I need is the air that you breathe
on my behalf; a forwarding address,
a lost gift. I wish you buoyancy
through these bleak months. I wish
you the opposite of chloroform,
may you light up like a fairy.

It was a real pleasure to be invited to work in the Wellcome Collection and bring together a group of strangers who were, by the end of the session, connecting so much through writing.

I’m looking forward to all the groups I’ll be running this year, including a course for Poetry School from January 23rd, my ongoing residency with First Story, and hopefully an LGBTQ+ writing for wellbeing and filmpoetry group with St Mungo’s Bristol.

I hope that you have some time to do whatever you find replenishing over these first months of the year – take care of yourself and

remember

to

breathe

 

*Footnote – on ‘Eyeball Kick’ – explanation from Language is a Virus.

Allen Ginsberg, “made an intense study of haiku and the paintings of Paul Cézanne, from which he adapted a concept important to his work, which he called the “Eyeball Kick”. He noticed in viewing Cézanne’s paintings that when the eye moved from one color to a contrasting color, the eye would spasm, or “kick.” Likewise, he discovered that the contrast of two seeming opposites was a common feature in haiku. Ginsberg used this technique in his poetry, putting together two starkly dissimilar images: something weak with something strong, an artifact of high culture with an artifact of low culture, something holy with something unholy. The example Ginsberg most often used was “hydrogen jukebox” (which later became the title of an opera he wrote with Philip Glass). Another example is Ginsberg’s observation on Bob Dylan during Dylan’s hectic and intense 1966 electric-guitar tour, fuelled by a cocktail of amphetamines, opiates, alcohol, and psychedelics, as a “Dexedrine Clown”. The phrases “eyeball kick” and “hydrogen jukebox” both show up in “Howl”, as well as a direct quote from Cézanne: “Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus”.”

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BONES

A room with twelve skeletons; skulls all facing the same way. A bony choir: but what songs will they sing us? Songs from long ago – and songs of struggle, murder and conflict. Through poetry, flash fiction and discussion we’ll be inspired by craniums, tibias and mandibles, exploring what we feel in our bones. All skeletons have a tale to tell – what’s yours?Skeletons M Shed Workshop YP Info 2.8.17I’m running a young people’s workshop for young people aged 14-17 years at M Shed Bristol on 2nd August, exploring their Skeletons: Our Buried Bones exhibition…

It’ll be a rich & strange day, where I’ll be inviting the group to really get to know the bones on display and what they might think about all this, as well as thinking about our very own skeletons – we’ve all got one. Details above: please pass them on…

 

 

Wyldwood Write On Video

I’ve just finished facilitating four sessions, working with Wyldwood Arts  – a group of 18-25 year olds from the Bristol Old Vic young producers worked with residents of Monica Wills House writing around the themes of Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

There was a lot of laughter and some really beautiful, playful and moving pieces of writing – and Wyldwood have made a wonderful short film which captures some of this. Here it is!

People, Places, Life at M Shed

In  February 2017, I’ll be running a seven-week creative writing course at M Shed Museum, Bristol harbourside.

Here’s a little film I made to tell you more about it:

And if you’d like to book, go to the WEA website here.

There’s info about the M Shed on its website here too.

See you there!

NOT TODAY

Last week in my group with Off The Record, we looked at Andrew McMillan’s poem ‘TODAY’ from his great collection Physical (which you should buy too)…

Having read and reflected on it, we then thought about a space we know really well – and let our mind’s eye (‘floating camera’, as it were) loose around the space, writing about it (as McMillan’s poem does) in direct address (‘you’) and future tense (‘you will…’).

I thought I’d share my piece of writing that came from this exercise – it’s fascinating how changing tense and first/second/third person can affect the way one writes.

Perhaps inevitably, echoes of McMillan’s poem entered all the pieces of writing – so this is absolutely an exercise, response, and poem inspired by – and not something I’ll be taking ‘credit’ for as an original approach! (So thanks, Andrew, for the great poem and inspiration.)

NOT TODAY
– after Andrew McMillan

Today, you’ll step from the door
and into some chewing gum
the seagulls will serenade
the pigeons; the weather-
vanes will all point West.

Today you’ll see that all of the bricks
are spelt the same, that everyone’s faces
rhyme.. You’ll regret going to bed
so late, but you’ll do it again.

Today the binmen will curse
the randomness of the Lane, saying
They think glass is plastic and cardboard is clothing
and you’ll drink coffee as the break
lights glare at you.

Today the waiters of the Grand Hotel
will polish cutlery and their wit
the man with gnarly fingers
who collects the bridge toll
will run out of change and meet
his future wife as he seeks 50p’s
at the Crepe Affaire stall.

 

NaPoWriMo 2.29: The Bristol Queen

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The Bristol Queen…

I’ve been travelling to Weston-super-Mare the last couple of weeks to run a course – and have noticed a boat on blocks, in a car park near the train station…

It’s this one – The Bristol Queen…And there was something about it being there among all those cars that was so incongruous, I thought it deserved a sonnet.

So that’s what I’m writing today, though it’s one I’m going to keep back for potential polishing…

Just as The Queen herself seems to need quite a lot of polishing (having been taken out for refurbishment over two years ago!)

NaPoWriMo 4.28: Ideas

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A zoo sign from Bristol Zoo – and a wonderful artistic intervention.

Something from today, for yesterday…I ran a group today and we worked on the theme of animals – involving writing kennings and also some information signs for The Great Zoo – inspired by Cuban poet Nicholas Guillen.

The idea is that you can put anything into an enclosure in the zoo – and I think this is a really helpful way of getting people to consider and externalise things about oneself, or things that you might find interesting about the world…

So here’s what I wrote (and there were a few different species of this written about by different group members!):

Ideas

In this enclosure, you’ll find Ideas.
They’re social creatures, living
in great communal burrows
in the mind. Sometimes,
you’ll see an Idea break off

from the hive and start
to grow, inflating to around
five times the size of the others.
This Idea will either go off
to start a new colony, or
the transition will be too much
and it will pop.

Ideas generally eat smaller creatures
such as Hunches or Notions, though
they have been known
to cannibalise.


And a bonus Kennings poem – see if you can guess what the animal is! We actually did this as a secretive riddle/quiz during the session, which made it more gamified and fun 🙂

I Am A

Weed-wafter
Seafloor-galloper
Coral-neigher
Tail-wrapper
Fragile-souvenir
Shallow-swimmer
Armoured-slender
Replica-maker
Pregnant-swapper
Eye-diverger
Colour-changer…

What Am I?

NaPoWriMo 2.27: Tele

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Very long lines was today’s prompt from NaPoWriMo – I’m not sure mine are quite long enough, but I don’t have much time today – and have written something…Here it is!

Tele

That ridiculous tele, the size of it, spreading at the edges
of the Panasonic black.; it got so big it wasn’t cinema
it was more than a window, a wall even. It spread out so far
it encompassed the whole of the town, even though
you couldn’t usually see it all from that house. It got so big
that it could see itself from space showing Ultra HD footage
of the Great Wall of China and the plastic islands of the Atlantic
and Pacific. When it showed nature doco’s the tele was so big
it made the Blue Whale seem like a minnow, the Sun
like an energy-saving lightbulb. But that tele was still
too small. It never showed enough. So we wait, wait, wait
for the upgrade.

NaPoWriMo 4.26: Views From the Pen

There was something I really wanted to write for a submission this week – so I duly have (and am treating it as my daily poem – though maybe I’ll write another later)…

It’s for the Show of Strength event ‘View from the Pen’ at Windmill Hill City Farm (just across the road from us here at BV Studios)…Where they’ll be choosing pieces of writing for actors to perform, in the animal’s pens – as the animals.

I’m not going to say which animal mine is, in case it gets selected, but if it doesn’t – then I’ll post it up here at a later date.

But fingers/claws/hooves/paws crossed it might end up coming to life in the City Farm, which would be tremendous fun.

 

NaPoWriMo 4.25: La Belle Dame…

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La Belle Dame Sans Merci
by Frank Dicksee

And so I’m up to date, with two ekphrastic poems

This second one inspired by the above painting, itself inspired by this Keats poem of the same name, which means, ‘The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy’.

My poem is entitled The Beautiful Lady With or, Horrid Warning – and allows the lady without mercy her right to reply. She doesn’t mess about.

(I’m afraid I keeping this one too as it’s bawdy and fun, so should be sent out to appropriately-bawdy competitions/journals.)