Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (Part 6)



Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (Part 6)


Chapter 12.


NORMAL POEMS. I do write “normal” poems. Often these are poems influenced by Haiku and by Buddhism. My favourite poet for meaning, is K. Issa. And for listening to the sounds created, is Dylan Thomas (although Richard Burton read Dylan Thomas much better than Dylan Thomas read Dylan Thomas).


The United Nations has sent one of my Poems around the world (twice), by e-mail. This was my Rap version of a Human Rights Document: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have used this poem on a couple of occasions as one in which different members of the audience can join in by reading different verses from large printed cards that I hand out.


RECORDINGS. I have a short story, which is available on the Cutting Teeth Issue 9 CD (it was a special issue with contributors to the magazine also being recorded for the CD). A few years ago I read my “translation/modernisation” of the battle of Bannockburn verses from Barbour’s, Bruce on the site of the Battle of Bannockburn. This was broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland. I organised a campaign to save the battlesite and accordingly was interviewed for Radio a few times (Talk FM and Radio Scotland).

On 16th April, 2008, I was interviewed live on Radio Café. Two Poets (Wendy Miller and Tawona Sithole) read two of my multi-voice poems.




“FOUND” OR “DISCOVERED” TEXT. For many years, I researched quite deeply into a number of topics (Buddhism, animal rights, non-violence, and Military History). I found that some texts have a power which comes from the meaning of the Document; the importance of the Document itself, and from the sounds of the words. I had always wanted to write a Poem which was built up around the words of e.g. a historical Document. I have just done this with a Poem called Road Block which is built up around the actual words broadcast by the “Hate Radio” in Rwanda in 1994.

If you use “found” text, then I think you have to obey a number of rules. Not to use the text for the purpose of plagiarism. (I have been badly plagiarised and find it offensive. It is very hard to do something about it though.) You have to admit the source of the text. You must show respect to the “found” material. You must not use someone’s personal writings or letters for a purpose that would be against their wishes. If it is possible to gain the permission of the person who wrote the original material, then you must do so. The Poem that you make out of the text must say something new, and say something that couldn’t be done without using the “found” text.

Poets have been using “found” text for many years. One of the easiest ways to use it is to set a piece of text dealing with a situation and set it against or in the body of a piece of poetic text that you make up. For instance, you could collect small snippets of information about Human Rights Laws already in existence in a Country (e.g. from the internet) and make up a poem that includes these snippets or phrases as text scattered throughout your poem. I rewrote (in Poetic terms) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was liked by the United Nations themselves who sent it around the World, to all their contacts, twice. Or, you could use sentences from the laws relating to Health Service provision set in a poem you devise about some elderly person ill and in distress from a failure of these services. You could even make up your own “found” text with fake laws e.g. laws that relate to how things really happen rather than the ideal way in which they should happen.

I have heard performed (a couple of times) entire performance pieces made up with just “found” text. One was a piece of Theatre showing film about The Iraq War in the background, while Actors read out the actual words of various World Leaders. It worked amazingly well (Talking About Iraq).

As always, look at things through your eyes. If there is a piece of History or a World Leader you admire, you could use “found” text relating to them.


Chapter 13.

New Techniques (That I have been developing myself)


SCRATCHED POEMS. I use two types of “scratched” Poem. The first is similar in purpose to what the Disc Jokey does when he “scratches” between two Records i.e. well known phrases are repeated, sometimes mixed, and often meaningless sounds are added in as filler. The second type is where a Narrative Poem with a strong rhythm structure has bits cut out and pasted in elsewhere in the text. This can work surprisingly well.


VERY LONG LINES. A couple of years ago I started to wonder how it would work if I made the lines in some poems very long-two or three sentences long. I used various techniques to keep a flow going between the sentences and phrases, like internal rhyme and alliteration. Using very long lines is not the same as breaking the line up and pushing them down the poem. With such long lines I get a chance to build up images and ideas much better. The poem flows better. I also get a chance to work with complex rhythms which can be repeated in the next couplet. For instance in a poem about Cycling up the Crow Road, the long lines allow a multitude of images to be built up as the cyclist rides on up and then down the hill. The rhyming is so complex that it took me six weeks to get it nearly perfect in performance. Although a reasonably good performance could be achieved after a few days.

As the cyclist goes downhill I increase the speed that I read the lines to show the increase in speed of the cyclist.

One of the main difficulties in writing such poems is getting very long lines to fit on a page. I use landscape mode, but I don’t like to use too small a font-as it makes the text hard to see. I am though very satisfied with this type of poem and intend writing a lot more. However, so far, the poems I have written in this style have had more imagery and rhythm than depth.


CHINESE WHISPERS. This can be used in performance Poetry.

It is an activity designed to get an audience involved (or as an exercise for the poets). There are no winners or losers and all you have to do is keep the rhythm of the story flowing.

The presenter reads out a (roughly) five or six word phrase. The audience are then asked to hold hands looking inwards in a circle. Or, if the audience is big, just hold hands. The audience are asked to make up a story following the initial phrase given by the presenter. To keep it interesting the audience has to follow a sequence.

The first person in the audience to speak (the person on the extreme left of the line or a designated person in a ring) has to try to keep the story going by reading out a similar five or six word phrase or sentence. But they must make the last word in their sentence rhyme with the last word in the presenter’s sentence. The second person in the audience keeps the story going using a similar five or six word phrase or sentence but this time they only need to keep the first letter of the last word they speak the same as the first letter of the last word that the previous person read out.

This two-line sequence is continually repeated i.e. last word rhyme, then last word having the same first letter.

Each person must on the spot continue to tell the story along whatever lines it is following and must adhere to the two line sequence.

This sounds complicated but the way it is done allows improvisation, brain searching, and a story to get told.


An example I made up on the spot:


Presenter’s line                                      I can soar

First person’s line                                  From the top to the floor

Second person’s line                             Forever flying

Third person                                          Resting on wings not crying

Fourth person                                       Searching for calmness

Fifth person                                          More not less


HOLDING HANDS. Here, the Poet has one line intimately linked to the following line: part of the line – and the following line – being read at the same time. An example is my Performance Poem, Canada. (Really, it is kind of a multi-voice poem.)



(The, four or five, readers appear to the audience to read out of any sequence. They look at the audience without looking at each other. Each reader reads one line and the second word in each line is spoken at the same time as the first word in the following line. The last line spoken by all.


Snow falling

Falling down

Down wind

Wind blowing

Blowing hard

Hard ice

Ice breaking

Breaking through

Through Arctic

Arctic seals

Seals crying

Crying no more

No more blood

Blood stains

Stain’s Canada

Canada’s shame



RUSSIAN DOLLS. Here I try to have a story partly hidden within another story. Then two stories can complement each other, or can act in opposition to one another. In my Poem called Story, the main part of the Poem asks a question. This is answered by text which is partly hidden within the main text of the Poem.




There is a brief and enigmatic story hidden here. See if you can find it.


where do Plughole Empties start, so begin the movement away, another day fades, fast

stream, Down Until, distant day drifting, sun far lifting, far reaches running track, clue last

field Faster, warmth reaching, colour leaching, day light, bats sight, then last

far Down, fish dark swimming, grey sea rising through brightness, birds fly past

around Travelling, forward fragments finding, toward tiger forest, shadows cast

hot SILVER, Movement, sing softly, Water, treasure trail, wait, waste confuses land

jigsaw, maze haze, Turn, finding , to a Whirlpool key, searching path, drifting back, hand

eyes flies, levity strings, Gravity, star Swirls where, when whispered, cold told, and

search, frog eating jasmine jam, Turning, salty red fish swim, load lorry, sea story, and

one two left right, prime DRAGON, foot print QUEST, journey searching, sand



SEURAT STYLE. At the National Galleries in Edinburgh, I was looking at a Seurat painting when I realised that what he did with vision can be done with sound. He used separate discrete areas of colour to interact together to create new and different scenes or objects-which became visible when the viewer stepped back from the painting. So I am looking at ways to get Poetry performers to read from a group of similar sounding words (they can pick any words from the similar sounding list) and as the poem proceeds, the performers pick from Group 2 of words; then from group 3, then from group 4. Each performer has a different set of 4 groups of words.


As a final note. Read good poets. I read a lot of Poetry Anthologies. At the moment I am reading Dylan Thomas, Edward Thomas, and R.S. Thomas (all three are well worth reading and also have lots of rhythm in their poetry). Read translations of poets who speak different languages!

If you find it hard to listen to poetry on its own, listen to groups and singers who are also fantastic poets: Melanie Safka, Yes, Genesis, Kate Bush, Laura Nyro, and Peter Gabriel. Analyse their lyrics. Beautiful People by Melanie is simple yet says so much.  It is honest and shows empathy (two vital ingredients to any poem). Awaken by Yes has amazing words. Read the lyrics to Blood on the rooftops by Genesis. Read the lyrics to Kate Bush’s concept piece, The Ninth Wave. Read the lyrics to New York Tendaberry by Laura Nyro. And the lyrics to Wallflower by Peter Gabriel. Which make up a fantastic human rights poem. Of course, listen to the fantastic songs too!


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