I mentioned in my previous post, about our stay at the Kalikalos Centre for Holistic Education in Greece, that I volunteered to hold a poetry writing workshop for our group, which included a wide age range and people with varying amounts of creative writing experience.
I decided to choose blackberrying as a theme, as some of our group had been involved in a walk into the mountains a few days earlier armed with buckets: we filled three, and later turned them into a huge blackberry and apple crumble!
Lots of poets have written poems about blackberrying. It seems that certain topics trend in the poetry world for a while – more recently it has been bees – so I thought I might like to try my hand at a blackberrying poem and there was no shortage of excellent works to choose between to read and gain inspiration from.
During the workshop session we read Mary Oliver’s August, and part of Sylvia Plath’s Blackberrying. We did a brainstorming session around the circle on the subject of what made a poem a poem, and an initial getting out of our way free-write (see below). I then invited the group to write for ten minutes on the subject of a walk into the mountains to collect blackberries. One person asked if it was okay to write about something completely different that was in their mind at the time (it was), and the youngest member of our group drew a beautiful picture of her walk instead. I told her that her picture was wonderful because it enabled me to see our walk in a new way – to see it from her eyes – because she had seen things that I had not noticed. Poetry also does this: enables us to see the world from someone else’s perspective and to have new eyes. We talked about how poems do not really live and fulfill their purpose in the world until they are shared: either read aloud or read silently by another person.
I invited the group to share what they had written and all but one person did. The person who did not felt that she had written something too personal, but she was happy with what she had written and we all assured her that that was fine too.
When I first attended an Arvon course back in 2007, Dorothea Smartt used the well-known book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (I found a copy on the Kalikalos bookshelf…) as a foundation, encouraging us to do morning pages and to go on artist’s dates (a great way to overcome any form of creative block). I have always struggled with doing morning pages, but I did learn the concepts of free-writing (keeping the pen moving, writing the first thing that comes into your head, allowing the writing to go wherever it goes, overriding the inner editor for a while – that bit comes later) as a great technique for getting out of our own way and accessing what it is that we really need to write about or say. Often what starts to emerge after a few pages can be interesting and unexpected: unformed, raw ideas and language. This block of prose is a bit like a sculptor’s block of stone before it has begun to be chiseled and shaped.
To illustrate, here is my block of prose, and the resulting poem:
Crumble [Initial Free-Write]
Bitter shrub, we seek you in the mountains. We walked in sweaty heat, ripped our skin on your thorns. I explained, plants have thorns to protect themselves from animals who want to eat them. We are hungry and our hunger makes our eyes sharp. Sharp-eyed animals, foraging for small, black fruits. Alert, to those gleaming beacons in the hedgerows, to their curved spines that would hook us in, as if their long, spiny arms might enfold us into their being – the dark interior of the undergrowth, and we become – in that moment of seeking, of elemental oneness – part of the body of the forest, its smells (oregano, olive) and the sound of running water: the grey, cold pool with its tadpoles and frogs. We walk past log piles, horses resting in cool shade. Sit on rocks. Paddle on icy stones – refreshment for tired toes. Driven by the incessant rumble in the bowels of the earth – we fill our buckets with smudges of purple. We snaffle them. Squish them on the ground. Tiny sound. Squish. Lost amongst the rustle and the cries. Crumble.
Bitter shrub, we seek you
in the mountains.
Rivers tumble to pools
with tadpoles. Frogs.
We pass a pile of logs:
home for snakes.
Horses stand in shade like lace.
We sit on rocks.
We stumble in sticky heat –
rip our skin on thorns. I explain:
they protect you from creatures, born
hungry. We are, and our hunger
makes our eyes sharp.
They probe the melting shadows,
alert to those small, black fruits –
beacons in the hedgerows –
their curved spines that would hook us in,
as if their barbed arms might enfold us
into their being:
the damp interior of the undergrowth.
We become, in this moment,
the body of the forest:
its smells (oregano, olive)
and the sound of thirst being quenched.
Driven, by a rumble in the bowels,
we are earth. We fill
buckets with smudges of purple:
squish them on the ground.
Lost amongst the rustle and the cries.