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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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Break your lines

Do read Ann and Peters writing tip first that goes with this exercise: Have a look at…

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Blank verse

We’re often asked about lineation. How we put the words (or how they put themselves) on the page…

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Getting it written, getting it right

We’re fond of quoting Hunter Davies, the great biographer of the Beatles and Alfred Wainwright (and Wayne Rooney),…

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