More pages, stages…and poets

joe hakimLast Saturday I attended a creative writing day school with Joe Hakim and Mike Watts two Hull performance poets.

mike watts

They talked about the growing popularity of  the spoken word genre and performed. Joe described stage v page as an artificial distinction but later admitted some poems felt unsuitable for reading aloud. This was reassuring. In the current craze for linking person and poem, we need a place for silence.  Poetry is a personal, private activity.  Performance is public.  It says more about the person than the poem.  Open-mic events encourage the poet to package their personality. Words on a page have no vehicle other than the paper. They are fixed, waiting for the connection – for the resonance which lies at the heart of a successful poem. Extrovert stage. Introvert page.

I wonder how much this resurgence of performance poetry is about re-establishing human connection.  The oral tradition was essential for passing on information, long before Gutenberg or the World Wide Web. Today we have access to unlimited amounts of words, music, stories and entertainment. It is reassuring to dim the lights, sit down, have food, drink, friends and bring on the poet who loves the performance as much as the words.

There needs to be room in the world for poetry. A poem can speak about situations, draw attention to issues, give voice to the marginalised.  It can entertain, make you see the world in a different way. All good but while performance poetry is about the moment, we need to remember the words of a poem are for life.

Make Google your best friend this Christmas

Christmas Google logo


As well as the free online poetry resources mentioned in previous blog posts, there are also multiple examples of poetry OER.  these are teaching and learning materials which have been licenced for reuse and repurposing under a creative commons licence  For more information on OER – or open educational resources – visit A good starting point for poetry OER is the OER Commons website at The keyword ‘poetry’ returns over 200 links at

Another option it to key poets and poetry into YouTube or TeacherTube.

Make Google your best friend this Christmas.

Letting the noise of thinking subside

Chase Twichell writes poetry and practices Zen. In No Imaginary Fences, Twichell compares zazen and poetry saying they might seem to come from different planets, since one is languageless and the other expressive, but both are primarily concerned with the quality of attention one pays to the world.

‘In zazen, we sit without moving and study, without judgment, what the mind does. The mind is very, very busy! It dislikes silence and stillness. It thinks, and thinking gets in the way of seeing things as they actually are, free of all of our associations and distractions. To me, writing poems requires the same kind of concentration, and the same patience, to let the noise of thinking subside.’

Sometimes poetry sneaks in when you least expect it. The chosen words are more than the sum of their parts. The gestalt of a poem is not constructed. It arrives, using the words as its bridge. The task is to make the best possible choices for that bridge. Letting the noise of thinking subside might seem like the wrong direction; writing is an act of doing rather than not-doing.

Twichell has an answer for this.

It’s said that poetry goes where prose can’t, and I’d add that Zen goes where poetry can’t. But poetry gets closer than anything else.

This short video A Day in the Life of a Zen Monk includes the practice of zazen.

Letting something creep, crawl, flash or thunder in…

Dylan Thomas

I suspect everyone has a different answer to the question of poetry and each answer would be valid. Resonance has no monopoly. I like the description given by Dylan Thomas. There are several versions of its origin online.  I don’t know which one is true so am breaking academic law and quoting without reference. It feels strange to do so!

‘You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it technically tick, and say to yourself, when the works are laid out before you, the vowels, the consonants, the rhymes or rhythms, ‘Yes, this is it. This is why the poem moves me so. It is because of the craftsmanship.’ But you’re back again where you began.

You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.’

The sense of a poem tapping into a universal truth like an archetype or some other manifestation of the collective unconscious is often referred to. Poems need spaces which can bring different meanings to different people. Back where this began; poetry is individual and part of the success of a poem might be measured by the number the people it resonates with.

the power of love versus poetry

Valerie Eliot 1926 – 2012

T S and Valerie Eliot

When Valerie Fletcher married T S Eliot the poetry stopped. He was 68. She was 31. They appear to have been happy but there was no more poetry. The Waste Land,  The Four Quartets  and with the rest of Eliot’’s modernist output were all written earlier. Biographical details on the life of T S Eliot are scattered across the internet and make it tempting to connect the poetry and psyche. Maybe we can only write our best when we are in difficult relationships or situations and shows how poetry requires tapping into the deeper layers; the universal experiences of grief and angst. Or do we simply get old. And what about love?

 What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

 The Waste Land. I The Burial of the Dead