Monday, 9 February 2015


If I ask you to get lost, I’ll trust you not to take offence. Nowadays, any smartphone can commune with a secret cabal of satellites to plot your location to seventeen decimal places. But it helps, every now and then, to have no omniscient voice advising you to take the next left. Just as closing your eyes heightens the other senses, unhooking from the safety-line of modernity opens up our awareness of other cues, whether it's keeping Venus dead-ahead or Parlick somewhere to our left.
The word "lost" carries so many negative connotations, right up to the euphemistic sense of losing a relative. But writers, of all people, should welcome the exploration of unfamiliar terrain. Do it - really do it.
I have form on this, having spent a good deal of time wandering high places in deep snow, often in mist, frequently at night and sometimes all three. This level of risk is clearly not for everyone. But it's taught me a lot about navigation and a little about the companion of my adventuring.

The hill slunk under a quilt of drizzle
and I within, befogged,
towards indecision
The Other voice intoned “I know the way.
I will lead you on; slot within my bootprints.
The harbour that I know will take you in”
I swallowed all that I was told, so
set off at a servile trot,
noticing the prints went further in
to swirling mists and crystalled rocks
and places where the air was whisper-thin
to cut my throat with jags of frost,
admitting, in the vault of higher thoughts,
both I and I are lost.

Obviously, finding our way out of an apparently hopeless situation can give us confidence to take risks with our writing. Don't know where your poem is going? Strike out from your familiar paths of form and imagery. Struggling to engage your reader? Swap first-person for third or third for second. Sonnet too plodding? Start at the bottom of the page or the right-hand edge. Unlike unscripted mountaineering, the worst-case scenario probably won't require the RAF to scramble a Sea King.
If you're a methodical writer, try hurtling. Insiders of Jo Bell's "52" project will already be familiar with this concept. It doesn’t just mean to career wildly down the page with abandon, though that's a vital component. Write a poem, ready to show to other people, in five minutes. What’s that you say? Oh, all right, maybe ten.
It’s a remarkable discipline because it forces your inner editor to get the hell out of the room. That just leaves your subconscious armed with a stubby pencil and an innocent blank page. It should go without saying that the subconscious is precisely the part of the reader that you want to reach with your poetry - the purity of peer-to-peer communication.
In the “52” Facebook group, we achieve this by releasing prompts into the wild at 7:22 every Thursday, with extra kudos for poems posted before 7:30. "52" is not taking on any more members now but local groups can mimic some of its success in workshops.
So go on. Get lost. Somehow, you’ll find your way home.


Adele said...

Since walking on Wyre, I have done far more walking, especially done by the estuary. Thanks for the links - and for the excellent guest blog.

Norman Hadley said...

Thanks, Adele. More power to your bootlaces. Norman