Poet workshop

Poet workshop

By hattie- IdeasTap 27/01/11

Find out what happened when Faber New Poet Jack Underwood gave The Poet winners a masterclass...

Yesterday was a brilliant day at IdeasTap HQ. The winners of The Poet came in for the first part of their prize, a workshop with Faber New Poet Jack Underwood and Clinic.

I’m pleased to say it went very well.

We started by doing some word games, kind of like poetry consequences (see below).

We moved on to discussing what Jack calls a “very good poem,” Tin by John Glenday. It’s a brilliant poem about the fruitlessness of writing a love poem, (like trying to get into a tin without the opener). He references to the explorer and US founding father Benjamin Franklin, whose crew was poisoned by trying to open tins sealed with lead.

Next we workshopped the winning poems from the brief. John Challis’s Jazz Maggot is a fantastic scene set in a nightclub with a fishing metaphor. The maggot (bait) is the girl; the men, with their “tonic suits” and  “combed fins” are the fish, “sleek silvery breams.”

The poem is in two parts and there’s a particular line in the second half: “But they don’t know you wear a wire maggot?” Jack suggested bringing this line up to the start of the second half to mark a distinct shift-change. From the girl/maggot as a victim in the first half to the fish/men being caught in the second. It was also mooted that John could tone down the fishing metaphor; it’s a strong enough idea to be more subtle. Jack calls this “taking off the scaffolding so the house can stand alone.”

Here's John, enjoying Clinic's Anthology...

Niall Campbell’s Bank Holiday perhaps prompted the most debate of all the poems. His “ghost fruit” flummoxed us (in a good way). We found ourselves debating the definition of ghost for a long time. It would be fair to say Bank Holiday is about a journey, or a stasis in a journey, a stay-over. We looked at some small details that can seem pernickety, but make a poem more considered. But overall, we agreed it is a beautiful, intelligent and haunting verse.

Here's Niall, humiliated to be in a room full of imbeciles...

We were thrilled that George Meredith was able to attend as a runner up. He’s doing his A levels at the moment and his poem, Rain on the M25, was an exceptional piece of writing. Again, it was suggested that George have confidence in his concept and remove some of the more obvious references. The poem focuses on a meeting between estranged parents, he compares them to the raindrops racing down the windscreen: “Water against water.”

We finished the workshop by looking at a poem by Frank O’ Hara called FOR GRACE, AFTER A PARTY. Jack has been teaching this poem quite a lot recently and explained (very eloquently) O’ Hara’s skill for both including and excluding the reader. “It’s almost not even there,” he said. We agreed that the beauty was in its celebration of the mundane. It’s a love poem about being comfortable, almost an antidote to the love poem.

Finally I wanted to say a massive thanks to Jack Underwood (below) for running an amazing workshop. Thanks Jack!

Closing Update

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