Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Leopard Can Change Its Spots

May 17th meeting of the Staffordshire Poetry Stanza at The Leopard, Burslem

It’s not often in life that you can sit in rickety old room and have Act V of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ quoted at you while the melodic sound of Dire Straits drifts through the haunted pub from the bar below. There’s something almost … well, poetic about it, albeit in a surreal sort of way. There’s definitely something surreal – though ‘oxymoronic’ might be a better term – about having a debate on whether a materialist would ever write a poem, while Mark Knopfler’s masterful guitar is interrupted by what sounds like a fight trying to kick off.

(Outside the meeting room, on the landing window cill, sit a selection of books, a number of which are Lee Child novels. I can’t help but be comforted by this – after all, if any fight somehow reaches upstairs, there’s an immediate resource to turn to for advice on how to handle a physical confrontation. Bless Lee Child!).

And to think the Leopard seemed such a sedate place on my first visit three weeks ago! (A visit you can read about here, if you so desire). Fortunately, nothing more untoward than accidentally standing on the barmaid’s foot on my way out took place; the evening therefore remained a peaceful one and I wasn’t forced to resort to invoking the spirit of Jack Reacher to protect my fellow group members. There was some good poetry too, which was probably the most crucial aspect of the night(!).

Coming almost exactly two months since writing the blog post that led me down this path, and with that nervous first meeting out of the way, where do I feel I stand?

Perhaps it’s an age thing, perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t help but think that referencing Jack Reacher in the introduction to this post highlights probably the single biggest difference between me and most (if not all) of the other attendees. Maybe I do some of them a disservice, but if I were to bring up Lee Child and/or Reacher in conversation, I’d be very surprised if anyone really knew who I was referring to.

That’s not a criticism in the slightest; I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so warmly welcomed by a group of complete strangers and then, crucially, remembered by the same people when meeting them again three weeks later. No, the only reason I say it is to contrast my approach and background with that of everyone else’s. There was me last night, impressed with some of the popular fiction stacked in the window, surrounded by people who had written poems about Sappho, abuse in the Catholic Church, the nature of existence, coal mining in the north-east during the war, and the French painter Valette.

Surrounded, too, by people who could quote poets and poems of all subjects and styles without batting an eyelid. It was impressive and inspiring three weeks ago, and again last night. Do I feel intimidated? Only in as much as I don’t share that knowledge and cannot sensibly contribute. I don’t mind the fact that that is the case; my only fear, perhaps, is that I might quickly bore people if I do contribute.

Not that I didn’t offer a few suggestions. Mainly on a poem or two that – and please let me assure you that I say this with the self-awareness that I only wrote my first ‘proper’ poem in March! – reminded me of something I might write (in terms of style, at the very least, if not language). I may not have studied English or Literature since GSCE level ten years ago, but I like to think I know if something sounds ‘right’, so hopefully I can keep contributing as I attend more meetings.

And I possess every intention of reading a little more, even if it doesn’t quite stretch my knowledge to that all-encompassing level. On John Williams’ suggestion at the last meeting, I submitted a couple of poems to a magazine called Quantum Leap, run by one man from his home in Rothesay. With some amazement, I received a reply from him last week – together with a copy of the latest magazine, natch – saying that he wanted to keep one for publication (‘Reading Light’, which will appear in the November issue). Rejection slips will surely follow in sufficient number, but as starts go, this seems a pretty good one.

I haven’t read the magazine in any detail yet, though I have skimmed through it and read a few of the printed submissions. At first glance it certainly seems more accessible (to me) than, say, some of the poems that were contained in ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’, which makes me wonder why. Is Quantum Leap simply ‘my sort’ of magazine? Is ‘amateur’ poetry (non-professional poetry?) simply a bit easier for my untrained eyes to read? Or is it always the case with a diverse collection like TNFCP that there will be some you like and perhaps more that you don’t?

Probably it could be quite easy to get downcast at the possible answers to some of these questions, not least when you factor in my complete ignorance of even the basics of poetry (I mean, what exactly is a foot?!). I acknowledge that I started writing poetry in March, (a) to enter a competition, but which then developed into (b) the idea of trying to become ‘a poet’ (whatever that means), if only as something to chart the progress of on the blog.

Poetry has, however, got under my skin. Having started with the intention of writing only irreverent (and hopefully funny at times) work, in the last week or two I have begun to discover the joy in aiming for something more profound and more, dare I say it, artistic. On that basis, I took ‘If It Pleases You More’ to read last night. It met with a favourable response, but also garnered plenty of suggestions for improvement – including, ironically, the idea of reinventing it completely to focus on the verse about Tesco trolleys, which was generally considered to be the more imaginative part and generated a few chuckles.

Maybe I should stick to the original aim of irreverence!

Frankly, even if this desire to write poems were to suddenly disappear in the middle of one random night, I’d like to think I’d keep attending the Poetry Stanza. Rare is the opportunity to sit with a group of warm, witty, creative individuals who come from such a diverse range of backgrounds. Listening to people read their work, enjoying the respectful and constructive discussions, learning something along the way – it really is a splendid way to spend three hours on a Tuesday evening.

Even if I can only offer some discussion on the combat techniques employed by the fictional Jack Reacher. And even if fights might break out in the room below us! Isn’t there a poem about keeping your head while all around lose theirs?

(Note – that was a humorous rhetorical question at the end there. Even I know that line of verse!).

Poetry ‘things to do’:

- Subscribe to Quantum Leap and read the latest edition.
- Read the Roger McGough collection from the library.
- Continue reading ‘Poetry Writing – The Expert Guide’, by Fiona Sampson.
- Rework ‘If It Pleases You More’ into ‘The Tesco Trolleys’.
- Enter three or four competitions that have deadlines at the end of May and June.
- Keep writing and chipping away at the list of ideas!

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