Episode 37: Ken Cumberlidge – Abracadabra

Many budding poets are put off by forms with complicated rules restricting what they want to say and how they can say it. In this episode Ken Cumberlidge explains that working within rules and limitations can give your creativity a boost and help you find new ideas and original ways of expressing yourself. The more restrictions you have the better!

Ken also talks about how he discovered poetry at a young age with the help of a wonderful English teacher. Performing at poetry nights in Liverpool in his teens helped him overcome a stammer and he went on to have a long career as an actor. It’s an inspiring story for anyone interested in writing or performing.

Ken’s abracadabra and bibliomancy exercise

While listening to the podcast and doing the exercise you will find it useful to refer to Ken’s poem here.

The abracadabra form was created by another former podcast guest Fay Roberts. It is based on the abracadabra sigel with the first line having 11 syllables (one for each letter) then going down by one each time to end with a single syllable on the last line.

But this restriction alone is not enough for Ken who combines it with with another technique for generating material to work with – bibliomancy. This involves randomly selecting passages from two different books (non-fiction works best) and using them as a starting point for a poem. As a further restriction Ken limits himself only to the words in the two passages to construct his poem with all its syllable restrictions.

Try to write an abracadabra poem. You can use as many of the other limitations as you want. It is certainly a good idea to give yourself a few rules for the first draft or two. If, as the poem develops, you feel it would work better with other words or a different form that’s OK. The rules are there to inspire and challenge, not hold you back.

The link above includes Ken’s poem and the source texts with the words and phrases highlighted that were used in the poem.

As always please send in your poems. It would be great to share them on the podcast or blog. You can submit poems here. Thanks to everyone who submitted great supermarket poems in response to John Osborne’s prompt on the last podcast.

You can find more of Ken’s poetry on Soundcloud and Youtube via the links here. His final poem in the podcast “Contactless” was first published in June 2021, in Issue 7 of “As Above So Below”, edited by Bethany Rivers. You can read it here.

Books by many of the poets featured on the podcast are available from the Poetry Non-Stop bookshop here. All books purchased via this link help to raise money to keep this podcast going.

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