Jenna Plewes: Why I write poetry
Photographs by Douglas Duke
It’s really no surprise if I tell you that I love words. Words are my tools for painting the pictures that I always longed to paint and somehow never could. The first examination I ever failed was art. My love of artworks endures, however, and I have produced a collection of poems inspired by them, ekphrastic poems as they are now called. Word portraits of family, friends and unsuspecting passers-by also flow from my pen; my first poetry pamphlet, Conversations, published in 2021 by Dempsey & Windle, is full of them. But landscapes tempt me too. The natural world calls to me and I struggle to capture it in words, preferably in situ: ‘Life, stand still here’ to quote Virginia Woolf, one of my favourite authors.
In our home we have a superfluity of things. We are amazed how they accumulate. But in my heart I am a minimalist. The problem is that sometimes I love words too much. My prose writing tends towards the verbose. As Woolf once said, ‘The truth is only to be had by laying together many varieties of error.’ Nothing is black and white in my world. I am a colourist. There is always another shade but I am not keen on grey.'
Poetry is my way of exploring minimalism. Aberystwyth University’s Lifelong Learning programme introduced me to both imagist poetry and haiku. The Imagist movement lasted only a few years but reading poems by T.E. Hulme, William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington and others had a lasting effect on my own writing. Released from formal rhyming patterns and rhythms and learning to create sharp, bright images with a minimum of words, I was in my element. An exploration into the Japanese form of haiku took me further, allowing me to combine my love of nature and the seasons with the necessity to pare down language to an absolute minimum. Three lines, comprised of only seventeen syllables, focusses the mind! A friend introduced me to a haiku challenge she was following—one haiku a day for a month. Joining in, I was hooked. A year — and a lockdown or two — later I was still writing and had completed an entire Haiku Journal of 366 haiku (2020 was a leap year). That discipline of making every word count has stayed with me.
Julia Duke is the author of Conversations (2021, Dempsey & Windle)
For further information:
MARK G. PENNINGTON
What, why and how I write
Thinking about the question of what I write – the message, hoping I have something to say, then the question of how I write – presenting the idea, even though it is probably only a reimagining of an event, in explanation: the same story but from a different perspective or another angle, leads me to the question of why I write. I suppose it is this very challenge mostly – the reimagining of events or some grotesque act of nature, or it is finding words or a place for things that were previously neglected growing up. It is the naming of things – a creature, bird, an object, a rock, a river, and so on.
I always admired the writers who produced a great quantity of work as well as quality. Take Bukowski with forty plus books or the sheer weight of Ginsberg’s howls, as well as the romantic ideas of terror and pain of Plath – so turbulent and wonderfully beautiful, confessional and visceral. I like to write in this way – with the addition of nature’s war against us – the us being the occupiers of Earth always posing questions and figuring how we both fit in it together.
A motivation is perhaps a new way of seeing. I read as much as I write or think about writing, every day for hours on end. After a mid-morning walk I tend to read for a few hours, absorbing the language, the word play, the ideas until it sparks something. I find rereading after a break can surprise and motivate a rewrite. I have to say that rewriting is the most important part of the process. Working the rough draft into something publishable is the part I gear myself up for. Imagining an audience reaction – a writing group, an editor – works to situate the writing into a belonging and reading aloud helps work out issues.
I write for those aches in life, the itch that couldn’t be scratched previously, the places that never left me, all reimagined in a poem or a novel.
I’m currently writing new work drawing on one specific event, one place that haunts me like no other has. But it is purgative to breathe all this in and expel it to the page, and wonder what is coming next.
Mark G Pennington is the author of Barren Stories for Moonlit Mannequins (2017) and That Summer they broke the Birds (2019), both availible from him, from amazon.co.uk, from bookshops and from https://www.dempseyandwindle.com/markgpennington.html
Patrick B. Osada: My Poetry
I suppose poetry has always been with me. As a small child my mother taught me nursery rhymes and read poetry to me. Looking back, I realise how wide a choice of children’s poetry I enjoyed.
However, as an early teenager, I was only interested in sport, any kind of reading – let alone poetry – was viewed as a chore and imposition. My saviour was a teacher called C.A.Broome who introduced me to the poets of the First World War as part of my “O” level English course. Suddenly the poems of Rosenburg, Thomas, Blunden and, particularly, Owen, Sassoon, and Henry Reed totally captured my interest and imagination. I realised that poetry could move me in a special way…and, by my late teens, I was hooked and starting to write poetry of my own.
In the first instance, I write for myself – to satisfy this strange compulsion to express myself in a written form. A lot of my early poems were not shared with anyone. Eventually, I mustered the courage to show my work to family and friends, then to seek publication.
I don’t write poetry on a daily basis. I am not one of those writers who works to a timetable, I only write when inspiration and compulsion demand. For me, poetry is a bit like a major illness – stopping normal life and demanding my full attention when it strikes…
Anything can act as a prompt to write. Usually a thought, idea or experience will work away in my mind (like grit in an oyster) and start to form the basis for a poem. When this happens I need to quickly jot down words, phrases or lines that come to mind, together with notes (a “storyboard”) of what I want to say. Once this is done I can usually translate this material into a poem… but if I fail to undertake this process the poem evaporates! Consequently I have been known to get up in the middle of the night to write…
I agree with Philip Larkin’s excellent description of what motivates the writing of a poem, it is …”to construct a verbal device that would preserve an experience indefinitely by reproducing it in whoever read the poem.”
Patrick B Osada is the author of 'Changes' and 'How the Light Gets In' and other poetry collections. His own website has information and a selection of his poems: www.poetry-patrickosada.co.uk
This is a blog written by Dempsey & Windle poets about their inspiration for writing poetry