Friday, 14 February 2014

Liz Crosby, our 2013 winner with her thoughts on poetry and Margaret Graham bringing you up to date on W4W's fundraising skydive.

W4W asked Liz Crosby to guest for us this week. Liz is W4W's first ever 1st Place prize-winner with the poem Gas Warfare for Beginners (read it on W4W's home page) and we wanted to know the 'behind the scenes' story of her writing. Thanks so much, Liz. 

But before we see into Liz's world I must give you an update on the W4W fundraising skydive.  

The 'Skydiving grannies plus one' have fixed a date to leap from a plane (each in tandem with a fit young man - ah, now you get it) on 3rd May 2014. We are all on a diet as you have to put your weight down on the form. 'Whaaat,' we all shrieked, 'You cannot be serious.' Though the 'plus one' who is a young-ish bloke and revoltingly trim just looked smug and self-confident.  

Our fundraising page will be up in time for the posting of the next blog and I will have even more details in place for your delectation. Now over to Liz.   

Liz Crosby

I started writing poetry as a small child, wrote sporadically for the next few decades, and came back to it seriously on retirement.  As you already know, there isn't one 'correct' way to write, so all I can do is tell you how I do it.

I always carry a notebook with me to jot down any thoughts/lines/ideas.  For example, last year, as well as being inspired by a view, a city walk and a Brian Cox lecture, I was entranced by a misspelled sign in a bakery 'Glutton-Free Cakes' (I wish...) and part of an overheard conversation, 'the 'orse 'ad been stood in 'is dahlia bed' – pure poetry!

I find that each poem has a distinct 'voice' and  viewpoint.  I spent years trying to write one particular piece in the third person, and one day suddenly realised it should be in the first person, whereupon the poem seemed to heave a great sigh of relief and write itself in the space of a few minutes!  Another poem may have been written in rhyme but  needs free verse, or vice-versa.  Don't be afraid to experiment, while remembering that free verse still needs structure and control, otherwise it may become, in the words of Robert Frost, 'like playing tennis with the net down'.

I was fortunate to receive a 50s and 60s education, where punctuation and grammar were considered important, and this has provided a great framework. But it's been a hard lesson for me that sometimes all this must be abandoned if the poem needs it and I musn't  get hung up on correctness.
Personally, I don't think any subject matter should be forbidden – bearing in mind  legal constraints – but some may be unwise.

Don't be afraid to take your pen from the paper - or fingers from the keyboard - and prune.  Sometimes it may be necessary to remove what you consider to be your best lines, which always causes anguish! My particular difficulty is always the title of a piece, I am seldom happy with my choice.

Read the poem aloud.  A piece may sound fine in your head and look good on the page but be completely wrong when spoken.  Some poems may need a lot of editing, with others the first draft is the one.  Sometimes you may set the poem aside for weeks, months or even years, but don't panic!  Relax, get out of the muse's way, she and your unconscious will be working on it.  My winning entry for 2013 took a year or so to write
I always write with a pen on paper – somehow I need that physical connection – and transfer the work later to computer, and I'm never far from a dictionary, a thesaurus and Brewer's Phrase and Fable.

Read lots of poetry, from the classics to present day, but don't get too discouraged by thinking you will never write anything as good.  You won't know unless you try. And even great poets had their off days – read Wordsworth's 'The Thorn' where he describes a pond  - 'I've measured it from side to side: tis three feet long and two feet wide'.  Not his best lines!