Friday 17 November 2023

Some ideas about writing and recovery

This week, I gave a talk to Lewisham headteachers about writing and recovery. I read some poems and talked about why and how I wrote them. Here's a very brief summary of some of the things I said:

1. I learned from DH Lawrence's poems, like 'Snake' and 'Man and Bat' that there's a way in which  you can write where one moment you are 'in' the moment and the next you are reflecting on it. I say that this is a bit like the experience of swimming 'in' a swimming pool and the next you're walking along the edge looking at yourself swimming. This kind of writing can be very immediate and a line later be quite detached. When  you're detached, you can think of yourself as the questioner, asking yourself (in the pool) why you're doing it that way. 

2. One way two write about big, difficult, very emotional things is to avoid writing a lot. All you need to do is 'write small'. Think of each thing you write as a stone from a mosaic or one piece of glass from a stained glass window. This means that you build up a picture from the fragments. But there's no pressure. You can take your time, just writing about a single sensation, or something that someone said, something that you said, something you saw, a glimpse. Then turn over your page, and create the next fragment. In time, the fragments will start to talk to each other. 

3. When you're writing about big emotional things, don't swerve away from writing about 'things'. In fact, do that: focus on the things that were 'there' in that moment: the table, the chair, the window, the tree, the plate, the hat...whatever. It helps you grab that moment and what was particular and special about it. It's called the 'thingness of things'. 

4. When you write, remember you don't have to write in sentences. You don't have to write the way you do prose. You can write in phrases or single words. Instead of writing these in a line, as in prose (as I'm writing here in this blog), you can put each phrase or word under each other. Imagine you're 'unfolding' words and phrases under each other. It gives you a different sense of time, in relation to what you're writing about.

5. Think of yoursel as a collector or as an archaeologist. You're collecting stuff to do with what you've seen, heard and thought about. You dig around in your mind to find memories, thoughts images. When one appears, grab it, put it down. Don't worry about making it bigger to start off with. Let it grow slowly. 

6. Play the metaphor/simile game. Why or how is one thing like another. If you think that a given moment or feeling is like something else, try writing about that something else. If you think losing someone is like seeing a bus disappear over a hill, try writing in detail about the bus going over a hill and not about losing someone. 

7. Give yourself time to daydream. Give yourself time to grab the thing you're daydreaming about. Don't disregard or diminish daydreams. They are precious. Nurture them. Encourage them. 

8. Think of writing as a form of release, that relieves you for 'getting it out of yourself'. Release and relief. Which then restores  you. Release, relief, restore.

9. The school curriculum is about expected levels. This kind of writing is about unexpected levels. Always be free and open to the idea that what you write might surprise you, might be unexpected. Even aim at the unexpected. Write something that you don't expect yourself to write. 

10. Try banning emotion words. See if you can convey the emotion you want to convey without mentioning the emotion.

11. Try doing impossible writing. Create phrases or sentences that express the thing you want to express but do it so that physically or materially it would be impossible. The man is lying on the pavement is possible writing. The pavement is carrying the sleeping man is impossible writing. 

12. Try banning adjectives and adverbs and putting all your effort into finding unusual verbs. 

References: I've written about writing poems in 'Write to Feel Right' published by Collins Education, Big Cat series. 

And in 'What is Poetry?' published by Walker Books. 

And in 'Getting Better' published by Ebury Books, (forthcoming Penguin)

Examples of me doing this kind of writing are in 'Many Different Kinds of Love' (Penguin), 'Selected Poems' (Penguin), 'The Advantages of Nearly Dying' (Smokestack).

There are two 40 minute pieces of me performing these fragments on our YouTube Channel, 'Kids' Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen'. One is called 'Many Different Kinds of Love'. The other is called 'The Death of Eddie'.