Found Poetry

 

There had been nursery rhymes, there had been recititations learned for Sunday School, possibly even the possibility of Peter and Jane reading books but the first unofficial poem I found was on the label of the HP Sauce Bottle.

LA SAUCE HP

EST UN MELANGE

DE HAUTE QUALITIE DE FRUITS ORIENTAUX

D’ESPICES

ET DE VINAIGRE…

Did I know it was a found poem? Could I understand it? No, reading was quite a new activity for me. Did I love it? Yes. Does it still make me smile on a cold February morning. Yes.

That’s found poetry for you…

Instant poetry

Brenda Read Brown from Poetry on Loan asked if I’d like to be an Instant Poet in John Lewis in Birmingham on the Monday before Christmas. I wouldn’t be alone, there would be the experienced and inspirational Jonny Fluffypunk and Steve Callow from Birmingham libraries. I said yes before I had chance to change my mind. So there I was on the Monday before Christmas with my little case of pens and pencils, glitter and glue still wondering if I could actually do this. The idea is that Jonny and I would be writing poems for people on demand as they were doing their Christmas shopping. It takes me years sometimes to write anything I’d like to show anyone else.

There was a poetry table and chairs ready, waiting for us between the escalators on the third floor. Being John Lewis, all the chairs matched and there was not only a red cloth on the table but also a miniature Christmas tree. All we needed was people to come and sit at the table to have poems written to order.

A quiet start: I’m not sure if I would have taken the offer of a free poem. but by the time we finished our shift at 1.45, 19 people had tarried at the table.

I wouldn’t think any of our poems would stand up to too much scrutiny but they felt fresh and immediate and free and no-one else would have a poem quite like it.

Watching Jonny at work was a revelation. I enjoyed writing poems for the vicar with a sparkly coat who was having a day off before Christmas, and the little girl who wanted a poem for her ticklish daddy and the man who liked dancing with his wife and the woman who wanted to give thanks for three grandchildren born this year. I hope they liked their poems…

Imaginary Friends

I read ‘Imaginary Friends’ to my Poetry Readers’ group earlier this week at a small event that included wine and cakes. When I introduced the poem I remembered how I came to write it. At school, I had a real friend whose imaginary friend was called Dumney Harding.

It seemed that Dumney has been waiting for an opportunity to come out of the shadows and into a poem. He re-emerged after a conversation I had with a very old lady who asked if she could talk to me. She wanted to tell me that she couldn’t pray any more. She sounded desolate. I didn’t know what to say to her. Later I thought how wonderful it would be if the imaginary friends who protected us when we were children could come back when we are old and can’t pray anymore. The poem wrote itself from that. I don’t know if I could say this to the lady. I find myself saying on paper what I can’t say directly.

lights, camera, action

Lovely day yesterday with Reuben from Trapeze Films who came to film me in my kitchen reciting ‘Now I Can Make Scones’.

This surprised me in a few ways: firstly, I learned the poem and remembered it, and kept on remembering it for the four or five goes it took for Reuben to be happy. Gold star for Jane on that one.

Secondly, I never have my photograph taken if possible. Since 1975 there are weddings I have been to where I have managed not to be in the photographs so a video would normally be out of the question.

And being lazy although I thought it would be a good idea to be filmed in my kitchen, surrounded by kitchenware and plates of scones, because I really can make a good scone courtesy of my cousin Chris who taught me, I never actually thought it would happen. Thanks there to a small pot of Offa’s Press funding and to Emma Purshouse who knows everyone and organised it.

The last surprise was how much I enjoyed it. Not to the point I would want to do it for a living, it took longer than I thought it would and how many scones can a girl butter and nudge around a plate artistically?

I sent Reuben away with a bag of scones, had scones for tea and enough left over for breakfast but will not be making scones again for a while.

Very pleased to have a photogenic kitchen. Only one thing I won’t be doing is looking at it, I do have my red lines…

Poetry shoes

Our Beautiful Scars is now a real book and is out there in the real world. One way I know this is true is that this afternoon I shall be reading from it in Tipton Library.

I have chosen the poems I’m going to read, now I have to decide on the best poetry shoes for a damp November day. The short list is trainers — which are springy and upbeat, or black suede boots with a sparkly element to them. Springy or sparkly? Sparkly or springy?

The World Premier of Our Beautiful Scars…

…took place last night at City Voices — a long-running spoken word event — at Light House in Wolverhampton.

When I first saw the book, I thought — well here you are, do I like you, will we get along together? I put it on the sofa next to me, but it was days before I could open it. But I had to open it, because I had to read from it, aloud, to real people in an actual place.

I can report we got there — the Book and I have bonded…

Our Beautiful Scars

Email from Simon Fletcher saying he will collect new book from printer and bring copies for me next Friday.

Is it because I was brought up in a Baptist household, but I can never believe something good will happen until I see in for myself. After all, a lot can happen in a week — there could be a national ink shortage, a steal-to-order thief could be out there targeting new poetry books, the government could ban poetry on health and safety grounds…

And once more from the top

I had forgotten how boring learning anything by heart can be. You just have to go over it again and again and again.

Flashback to schooldays, swotting for exams. Hours, weeks, months and years learning things. On the plus side, I could still draw and label the alimentary canal of a rabbit if had to.

Back on the poem front — I may have know it more or less. Before I got out of bed this morning, I could say it in my head.

But can I say it in front of an audience. I was thinking of an audience of one in the first place…

To learn a poem you must first stop cleaning the oven

…well maybe not exactly cleaning the oven (although that’s what I did when I was writing my MA dissertation — good result in the end, clean oven and MA)…what I mean is that you have to actually apply yourself and start learning a poem.

Eventually, when I had run out of things to do that weren’t learning a poem, I sat myself down and started work. I printed it out when I said I would learn it and now the printout has started to go yellow.

I started by saying it aloud to see how much I already knew — about half, I reckoned. But there are two or three places where I can’t remember what happens next.

I said it over and over until the word ‘scone’ seems to have taken on an independent life of its own…

let’s see how much I can remember tomorrow

Learning a poem

I am about to learn a poem off by heart. In theory this should be easy — I wrote the poem. I weighed up each line and each word — why do I think I don’t know it already?

The poem is ‘Now I Can Make Scones’. In the next couple of weeks, this poem is going to be filmed. I could have said I would read it but I said I would learn it and perform it.

Hard to say which part of this I am looking forward to least — being filmed or performing a poem.

As Emma Purshouse and I say to each other when we are about to do something poetry-related that scares us: Remind me why are we doing this again? Ah, yes, because we enjoy it…