Since I haven’t posted anything up in a while, I think now might be a good time to post something remotely original.
Now this last Wednesday was the Writers’ Festival at my University, and it’s something that all English students can attend for free (rather than have a lecture), so it was worth it to have a taste of the writing workshops that were on offer. Of course, because these things often happen, I couldn’t get into the sessions that I wanted, so I was almost tempted not to go. But, since I knew I was going to skip the afternoon session to get ready for the Theatre, I decided to go along, otherwise I was going to regret it. This session was Postcard Poems with a writer from my home town of Sheffield, Debjani Chatterjee, who introduced us to the idea of a small poem that you might write on a postcard back to your relatives. Of course, the concept is not nearly as exclusive as I’ve just described it, although it can be based around travel and tourism. They can also be combined with Persona Poems, where the voice of the writer, a fictional character (or even a real person – one guy in the group wrote one based on Justin Bieber’s upset with the UK tour) is expressed as something of an interior monologue. The voice is expressed in a non-judgemental way while the reader reads between the lines as the voice gives away more than they might have intended.
They’re fun to try out once you have an idea for a character, and there’s no specific requirements; they can either rhyme or be in free verse. The only rule for these poems is that they’re a maximum of 14 lines long – which is about enough for a Shakespearian or Petrarchan sonnet (would you like to hear the difference between these two in another post? Let me know!) if you really want to go to town with this. The idea of a poem anyway, is that you try and say volumes in as little words as possible, so it’s a great exercise for writing concisely in any poetic piece you attempt.
I’m guessing that you’ll want to see an example, so this is one that I wrote in the 2 hour session:
Erm… this might be bad timing,
But I’m going away for a while.
No, I won’t be going far,
But to me it’ll seem farther -
I’ll be in my armchair,
So… give me a nudge
If you need me.
I was told after the session that it sounded like a postcard from someone attempting suicide, and that the ‘nudge’ was ironic, but trust me, it’s not. This example is more akin to freeverse, which is intentional, as is the prosaic speech. You see, postcard poems don’t have to be about literal travel, they can be about transitions from one stage in life to the next, or even about going from one place in your head to the other. Some of you might be thinking that you could pretty much make a postcard poem on a man that has been unplugged from the Matrix, sending a postcard to a bluepill [shameless Matrix reference], but given my reputation, I already thought of that one in the session. In case you didn’t guess, this character was going on a daydream, and because he isn’t paying attention to anything in the real world during one of these things, it’s just like going on a journey. Really, the limitation of where you can go with a postcard poem wholly depends on your own imagination.
As this concept is intertwined with Persona Poems, this will also be a good exercise for characterisation. Anyone can think of a character and what they might be like, but then you have to take up the challenge of engaging with that character, and how they might speak, as well as how they think about things. If you’re doing a number of these poems with an array of different characters, then try and make each character distinct, so that your reader can tell the difference between them.
I realise that, not only am I sharing a poem with you, but also giving you an exercise, but that’s because it’s something I need to get into the habit of. You see, as of September, I will be the President for my University’s Creative Writing Society, and it’s a post I’m very excited to take up. So, as well as running this blog, I’ll be running the society’s blog on wordpress as well, so once I get a better idea of the username and get full control of it, I’ll recommend that you follow it – I definitely want to bring the blog into more common use this next year.
I also wrote another poem during the session, but as I wrote it, it wasn’t much of a poem based on travel or transition. It’s just a short thing, but I won’t put it up on here. I’ll share it on another post at another time, so expect that to be the next update. I hope you give this exercise a go, and please let me know how you went on with it.
Poems in comments are most welcome!