Account Login

Blog Archives

Expressing the inexpressible

This exercise is very simple, but it’s an exercise that touches on both the material and language of poems.

1. Think for five minutes and make notes about an experience or a place or a time or a thought or a feeling or a notion that you feel would be difficult, or even impossible, to express in words, or that you have never expressed in words.

I often set this exercise in workshops, and at this point I always give the example of the birth of my little sister, born when I was 13 years old. This was a profound experience for me – to suddenly have a little sister, to feel so protective of this little raw creature, and I remember, in the kitchen, getting very upset with everyone who was ‘coming round to see the new baby.’ I’ve never written about this experience, because I haven’t been able to find words that wouldn’t be sentimental; or I haven’t found an incongruous angle that would release the truth of this experience, even if I wasn’t writing about the exact scenes, objects, sounds and tastes of that childhood kitchen.

2. Using your notes, begin to draft a poem that recklessly uses wild and wildly exaggerated, similes and metaphors, in order to wrestle this inexpressible or unexpressed thing into language. Don’t worry too much about establishing a scene or even making immediate sense. The idea is that you are exploring what it is to forge connections between something inexpressible or unexpressed and a further realm of entirely unexpected images and ideas.

Write for about 12 to 16 minutes, and aim to write about 18 lines.

I usually use Peter Porter’s poem, ‘The King of the Cats is Dead’, as an example of a poem of wild metaphors and similes. This is probably both a good and a bad example, as it’s a dense, knowing and artfully exaggerated poem about the death of a cat. It’s Porter’s inventiveness and somehow appropriately inappropriate use of what is – in metaphor and simile – a fundamental characteristic of poetic language that I would draw attention to for this exercise, and the exercise could be framed quite simply as ‘write an imitation of Porter’s poem, using as your subject an inexpressible or so far unexpressed event from your own life.’

Find out more

Writing the unspoken

quicken: to accelerate; to impart energy or liveliness to; to invigorate; to stimulate; to give life to; to…

Find out more

An art collaboration

You don’t have to know an artist to collaborate with them. They don’t even need to be alive….

Find out more

Mark’s 3 top tips – Critical, forensic and persistent

Click on the video below to hear Mark’s top three writing tips…

Find out more

Rooting our writing

Consider the things we amass during the course of our lives. Not the carefully chosen items but the…

Find out more

Valuing the ordinary in our poetry

My tip is to never underestimate the importance of the everyday. Root your poems in the reality of…

Find out more

Opening out your novel

You have an initial idea for your novel – a scene or a character that won’t go away….

Find out more

Finding the right line

Write for three minutes without stopping, without thinking – beginning with the words ‘The moment I realised…’. Don’t…

Find out more

Poetry: taking a different view

Read a poem by another writer. Then set yourself the challenge of writing that poem anew from a…

Find out more

Write about things that deeply connect with you

In ‘Poetry in the Making’ Ted Hughes said: you write interestingly only about the things that genuinely interest…

Find out more

Repurposing language

Take an article in a newspaper: you could choose one deliberately (for example, it might be interesting to…

Find out more

Starting your novel

You have been thinking about your novel for the longest time. You have taken notes. You have a…

Find out more