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An Unwriting Exercise

In his essay ‘Cosmopolibackofbeyondism’, Robert Crawford describes the page as a field, and verse the plough that turns it over, furrow by furrow; he talks about the intrusion of ‘firths’ of white space between couplets. Look over your poems, attending to the white space of the page – the margins, the gulfs between stanzas, what W.S. Graham called the ‘literature of the snow’? Is it really blank? Is it empty? Ask yourself what the white space of the page means to you. Is it breath? Deep space? A span of moorland owned by birds? How does the white space/silence move? How do the words move within the white space/silence? What changes there? What kind of dreaming occurs when we are allowed to suspend our attention, perhaps in an end-stopped line-break, between stanzas; or in the black hole of a repeated word?

Print a poem that you’ve never been quite satisfied with. Cut each line into a strip and then clip out each word. Get yourself a lovely piece of blank paper. Now abandon all attachment to the way the poem was before. Scatter the words on the new sheet. Move them around. Lose some: it doesn’t matter if you huff them onto the floor by mistake. When your new mash-up poem has some degree of coherence, some electricity, some magnetism, scoot the lines around, exploring all four margins, every different line-break permutation. Cluster, scatter. Treat each version as a musical score. Say it. Bigger spaces mean deeper breaths or longer silences. As you do, attend to the signs. Did your hair stand on end? Did something make you begin to cry? Did you want to say a line over and over and over? If so, it may be that in one of the spaces you have made, silent words have begun to grow.

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Taking a character for a walk

Begin by inventing ten or twelve separate characters, all different from each other. For each one, choose five…

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Freedom in Fabrication

The Japanese writer Tanizaki complained that he could not read his contemporaries. Every time he picked up a…

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Radical Reinvention

One way to think about writing is as a tool of curiosity. A way of finding out about…

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Poetic truth

Once, when I was reading a Selima Hill collection, I noticed that she’d used an epigraph by the…

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Let the place do the talking

It is tremendously difficult to write about a place you know as if you are a travel writer….

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Tips for Travel Writing

First, you need to find a subject that lights you up. If beach resorts are not your thing,…

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The Gap Between

I’d like you to do something very simple. Sit back, close your eyes, and try to remember an…

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Veiling the Narrative

Stories are one of the ways we have to make sense of the world.  I’m interested not just…

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Read As If Your Life Depended On It

In What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics the great American poet Adrienne Rich says “You…

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Subjective third person narrative

When I was a child, like most young readers I wanted to identify with the characters in books….

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Five tips about planning your novel (and a word of warning)

1. It will help you get started A lot of people cling to the romantic idea of a…

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