Twenty years after he died, Sally Festing inherited an archive of her father’s letters and diaries. Through these she learnt how her aunt and uncle, who she never knew, had been destroyed by schizophrenia. The suffering of his brother and sister drove her father, the neuroscientist Derek Richter, to establish the Mental Health Foundation. Sally talks with familiarity, respect and affection for relatives she got to know largely through studying her father’s records. Her poems vividly capture the lives of people whose suffering led to greater understanding and support for those suffering mental illness.
Sally also offers a writing exercise for writing poems from letters:
“Look at a few letters from the same person. He or she doesn’t need to be family, lots of poets write letters. I suppose they could equally well be emails.
“I’ve books of letters by Keats, and WS Graham. The last has always been an inspiration to me. His letters are pure poetry.
“A method I suggest to come up with a poem, is to copy out lines that interest, on a large page and read through until gradually, a form suggests itself that sends a message.”
So find some letters, see where it takes you and do share the results. Email here or share on social media using #poetrynonstop. The best will be featured on the blog and future podcasts.
The biographical and surreal meet in Julia Webb’s second collection Threat. She shares a few poems and discusses the experiences which inspired them.
She also sets a writing exercise on memories:
Joe Brainard wrote a book length poem called ‘I Remember’ (you can read an extract here) where each line starts with “I remember”. This has been copied a lot but is a good way to free you up and get memories flowing. Start each line with “I remember” and just keep going – thoughts that come up can be from any time in your life and don’t have to be related to one another.
In the second part of the exercise take a memory and expand on it – don’t be precious about the actual details – it is OK to change things if it makes the poem better. Sometimes you might have to have two or three goes at writing about the same subject. One way to be more detached from your subject matter is to use the titles of people you are writing about rather than their names – for example: my mother, your mother, father, brother, uncle etc.
Please send your responses in here or share on social media using #poetrynonstop.
Julia Webb grew up in Thetford, a small town in rural Norfolk. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Norwich University College of the Arts and an MA (poetry) from the University of East Anglia. She lives in Norwich where she teaches creative writing and is a poetry editor for Lighthouse, a journal for new writing. In 2011 she won the Poetry Society’s Stanza competition. Her poem ‘Sisters’ was highly commended in the 2016 Forward Prize. In 2016 she was writer in residence on Norwich Market. Her first collection, Bird Sisters, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016.
Threat and Julia’s first collection Bird Sisters are available here.
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Leanne Moden felt like she’d finally found her place in the world when she accidentally became a teenage goth in rural Norfolk in 2002. In 2019 this became the starting point of her debut show spoken word Skip Skip Skip about finding your identity through music and discovering your tribe. She talks about developing the show and preparing to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe as well as sharing a few poems.
Leanne also offers this prompt for writing about your hometown:
In my show, I write about my home town, talking about how I imagined it when I was growing up there, fifteen years ago. One of the most interesting ways of talking about place is by using personification to articulate character. In this prompt, I want you to imagine the city, town or village you live in, and think about how you would describe it if it were a person. What would the person look like, sound like, and what would their relationship be with you? (This place is my sister. This place is a stranger.) Think about personality, how they dress, how they talk, how they walk. Remember to be really specific. Take fifteen minutes to write around this topic, then refine your writing into a poem.
Good luck with writing your own poems. Please share them via email or on social media using #poetrynonstop. Tune in to hear Patrick conjure up a poem that personifies Norwich.
Leanne is performing Skip Skip Skip at the at the Banshee Labyrinth in Edinburgh every day from 17 to 25th August at 7pm. For details of this and other events see her Facebook page.
In this first series we have heard many wise words about the craft of writing poetry but all that anyone really needs to know is: How does it make you money? Alex Russell is a poet, performer and creative entrepreneur. In this final episode in the first series of Poetry Non-Stop he talks about some of his innovations in poetry including poems for TV ads, automatically generating poetry with a predictive text bot, looking for love in the lonely hearts ad section of Craigslist and selling poems sealed in jars as poetry preserves.
Alex’s writing prompt is to identify and exploitable market and exploit it through poetry using one of Alex’s ideas or one of your own. Patrick responds with an advert for a popular soft drink in the form of a villanelle.
Please submit your poems here or share on social media using #poetrynonstop. You can submit poems for any of the prompts from the first series and those received before June 27 might be published on the blog and possibly featured in a future podcast.
To learn more about Alex check out his Facebook page. You can get his chapbook (name your own price) here. Write predictive text poems here.
No one knows what it means for eyes to chime or how a song can spin.
Avouleance is a writer living in Norwich interested in exploring experiences with mental health difficulties through their writing. When not writing they’re studying for a masters in computational chemistry as a hobby.
In this episode Avouleance talks about living with autism and related mental health issues and how creative writing helps them express how they see the world. They also explain why they find Reddit a useful platform for exchanging ideas and sharing work.
Avouleance’s writing exercise Take a non-fiction book, open it at a random page and use whatever that page is about as a metaphor for what a character is going through and write a poem about it. You can hear Patrick’s response using a recipe for roast goose from a Hungarian cookbook.
Find out more about Avouleance on their Facebook page. More writing by Avouleance mentioned in the podcast:
In this episode Jenny Pagdin talks about her experiences of post-natal psychosis which she explores in her pamphlet Caldbeck. She discusses how poetry can convey the inexpressible and reads a few poems. She also sets an exercise for writing a gratitude poem.
Jenny’s writing exercise
“Gratitude can come in many forms, some purer than others, including appreciation, relief, obligation, awe and intimacy. You may want to add to this list. The exercise I have set out below is designed to be taken slowly.”
1) For three days, keep a gratitude diary. Each day, list at least three things you feel grateful for. It doesn’t matter who you’re grateful to, this isn’t a religious practice and doesn’t require any beliefs. Research shows that noting down what we’re grateful for makes us happier and is not a bad habit to follow every now and then.
2) Read some odes (praise poems) like Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn or Pablo Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market.
3) Think of the last time something made you happy – can you feel grateful to anyone (or to the universe at large) for this? If possible, talk with a friend about what made you happy.
4) When you feel ready, start mapping out a gratitude map using pen and paper (think spider diagram). Drawing is fine too.
5) Wait until the moment takes you for this stage – I don’t think you can write a gratitude poem without being genuinely grateful. When you’re ready, use your map to develop a poem, letting the thing(s) you are grateful for lead the form you use. Some tricks that have helped me in the past are to think about odes, hymns and list poems – but you may have different ideas. Good luck!
When you have written a poem please share for the chance to be published on the website or featured on the podcast. You can send poems by email here, share them in the comments section of this post or share them on social media using #poetrynonstop.
Born in High Wycombe to a British-Lebanese family, Jenny Pagdin studied BA English at Oxford University and MA Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her pamphlet Caldbeck, which tells the story of her postnatal psychosis, was published by Eyewear in 2017, shortlisted for the Mslexia pamphlet competition and listed by the Poetry Book Society. John Redmond said that “After reading these inward, psychologically acute poems, the reader is likely to be haunted for some time.” Pagdin won the Café Writers Norfolk prize 2017 (“lovely dark stuff!” – Liz Berry) and was longlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation Women’s Poetry Prize 2018. In addition to mental health, Pagdin is drawn to metaphysical, parenting and relationship themes. Her work is often concerned with extreme or indescribable states, Hopkins’ “no-man-fathomed” mountains in the mind. She is working on a new collection to include supernatural themes and has an interest in the meeting points between shared and other ‘realities’.
She is an active member of the Norwich Stanza and regularly gives readings locally and in London. As well as writing poetry, Pagdin is a fundraiser, mother, wife, Reiki student and occasional crafter.
Martin Figura was, and still is, a poet of great wit and humour but beneath the laughter lay memories of a troubled childhood and a dark secret that very few people knew until he started to write about it.
On this episode Martin talks about how writing about the death of his mother at the hands of his father was the beginning of a journey that changed him as a writer. The result was some of his strongest work in the acclaimed collection and show Whistle.
During a wide ranging discussion covering art, literature, photography and social history, Martin explains how he approached writing about this tragic episode using metaphor to reflect feelings and personal experiences.
Martin’s writing exercise: Think of an event that you’ve found too challenging to write about, or have simply not successfully written from. Come up with an abstract noun for the emotion the event evokes in you, such as blame, shame, anger, joy etc. Then make it concrete, a thing or creature or person and write about it, using some detail from your event.
On the podcast Martin reads the poem Sloth by Stephen Dobyns which is based on this technique and Patrick responds with a poem which uses flamingos to talk about feelings of isolation and struggling to fit in.
Please send responses via email, post in the comments section below or share on social media with the hashtag #poetrynonstop.