Account Login

Blog Archives

Veiling the Narrative

Stories are one of the ways we have to make sense of the world.  I’m interested not just in telling stories with poetry, but also how we tell stories, what happens in the act of telling a story in a poem.  There are many different ways of doing this – using different viewpoints, employing repetition or fragmentation to name a few.

Have a look (and a listen) at Dannie Abse’s poem In the Theatre  over at The Poetry Archive.  This seemingly straightforward poem relates a disturbing and haunting story.  It is also not as simple and straightforward as it first appears.

First of all, this is not a first-hand narrative.  According to the poet’s own introduction, this is a story he was told by his brother, which he later wrote down and crafted into a poem.  The voice of the poem though, sounds as if the speaker was actually there.  It feels like a first-hand experience, although the introduction makes it clear that it isn’t.  Secondly, the poet wants us to know that this is a ‘true incident’.  It certainly feels true to me when I read it, but there are always problems around truth.  Each person that features in this poem will have their own version of the truth – and like a game of Chinese Whispers – truth can be changed, exaggerated or diminished in the re-telling.

When we tell a story that someone else has told us, there will always be a gap between truth and the telling, between the story and real life.  When we choose to transform somebody’s story into poetry, it raises important questions about responsibility and truth, about who gets to speak out and who is silenced.  It forces us to consider what our intent is behind telling this story, and who we are telling it for.  These are essential and important questions that poetry can grapple with.

Putting these larger questions aside for now, I’d like you to think of a story that someone else has told you that has stayed with you.  Maybe you have carried this story with you for years, and you don’t even know why you remembered it.  Maybe it is a family story that has been passed down from generation to generation.  It could be a story a stranger told you on a bus, or a story a friend told you that you’ve never forgotten.  Write a poem with this story at the heart of it, but make sure that you are clear in the poem that this is not your story – so no first-person narratives!

Find out more

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…

Find out more

Developing a character

Imagine that there is a young character in your mind, waiting to step forward and tell you their…

Find out more

Developing and explaining new ideas

1. You don’t have to be entirely original. There are plenty of very good, best-selling stories out there…

Find out more

Don’t let them talk you out of it

Spend a little time identifying who the people are who might tell you not to write your memoir….

Find out more

Controlling your fear

Thomas Keneally says that, ‘Writing is an exercise in controlling your fear. Above all the fear that you…

Find out more

Find your story in a setting

This is a research exercise really – one that will help you find a story out of setting….

Find out more

Drawing your childhood memories

We all have child’s eye views – many in fact. Some might say we’re already a step ahead…

Find out more

Creating ‘Child Eye’s View’ when writing for young people

Young people don’t just come under the heading of one audience. There are so many different ages and…

Find out more

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

Watch exclusive this exclusive video from author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark…

Find out more

Planning a film script

‘To make a great movie, you need just three things: a great script, a great script, and a…

Find out more

Finding and Keeping the Language of Nature

Your exercise is to take a natural history field-guide and locate a poem within it. Write it out…

Find out more

Archive