Category Archives: Workshop

May, June, July Challenges all in one!

So here’s your starter for three:

Let’s call this one July Challenge 1:  Here’s a poem by Jackie Kay (after clicking on it you’ll find it in your ‘Download’ folder – I hope. Never tried this method before):

Muse, Jackie Kay

July Challenge 1 is to draft a poem using one of the five senses in the first line.


July Challenge 2: Here’s a sonnet by Helen Mort:

What happens next, Helen Mort

July Challenge 2 is to draft a poem about books/reading.


July Challenge 3: Here’s a poem by Andrew Greig:

By the way, I highly recommend the Scottish Library site. You can hear Andrew G read this poem by clicking on ‘Listen’ and read about the poem by clicking ‘About this Poem’.

July Challenge 3 is to draft a poem about an activity not often spoken about.




A new poem form

Last night at the stanza meeting I mentioned that I have written (but am still editing) a sequence of 23 poems. Some of these have been around for a while. However, I am slowly converting the sequence to use a form that I have invented (though doubtless, unbeknown to me,  it has been invented many times before). The form is quite simple to explain, but a bit of a bugger to use. It is based on prime numbers.

For those who don’t know, or have forgotten, what a prime number is the explanation is simple: a prime number is a whole number that is only divisible by itself or 1. So for example 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19 are the first 9 prime numbers. Mathematicians have been in love with the primes since the time of the Greeks, and maybe longer. Euclid (he of the Elements) proved two of the most important facts about primes. First he proved that there are infinitely many of them. More importantly he proved what is now known as the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic. This states that if you take any number (100 say) then you can always break it down into a product of primes (so 100 = 2 x 2 x 5 x 5). What’s more this can only be done one way – there is no other way of breaking 100  into a product of primes. The prime numbers are the building blocks of the whole number system!

The way I use primes in the form is twofold. First the poem must contain a prime number of lines (excluding the title). Second, each line (including the title) must contain a prime number of syllables. That’s it.

Below, by way of example, is another poem from the sequence. This one mentions someone called Mr C who has appeared in my poems lately. The poem actually first saw the light of day in 2001 after an Arvon course (my first), though it was quite different to the one here. Indeed I think I brought a version to a recent stanza meeting.


Saturday Morning

Candle drool blears at Milo.
His stubbled chin scrapes the breeze.
He reaches out over the garden railings
until he touches the crags of Golden Clough.
He shakes the dew from the Scots pines silhouetted on the horizon.
Drifting wood smoke snags his throat
while he’s splashing his face in a gritstone trough.
Blackbirds chink chink chink at his rude intrusion.
Somewhere a toilet flushes.
Steam vents from a pipe.
Someone coughs and a door slams.
An urge moves Milo to leap
into the stream by Lumb Mill.

me got language now ~ me help that mr c
me master blaster milo

The week is over.
Things will never be the same.

Seamus Heaney Poems

Some time ago we spent a wonderful stanza evening discussing the poetry of Seamus Heaney.  Here’s a couple of favourite poems brought by members that evening:


From ‘Lightenings’:

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.


The Rain Stick   


Up-end the stick and what happens next

Is a music that you never would have known

To listen for. In a cactus stalk


Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash

Come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe

Being played by water, you shake it again lightly


And diminuendo runs through all its scales

Like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes

A sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,


Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;

The glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.

Up-end the stick again. What happens next


Is undiminished for having happened once,

Twice, ten, and thousand times before.

Who cares if all the music that transpires


Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?

You are like a rich man entering heaven

Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.





A few feedback guidelines

The purpose of giving feedback is to provide constructive criticism to enable the poet to produce a final draft.  Making sure that feedback is constructive not only benefits another poet but also helps us to become more thoughtful readers. Treating other people’s work with the respect we’d like our own to receive is always a good starting point for making the feedback workshop a constructive exercise.

Things to consider:

– What do you like about this poem?

– Describe parts of poem that work really well. 
(Consider imagery, originality, rhythm, title, language use)

– Technical matters – have you any advice re. line lengths, stanza/line breaks, suitability of form, consistency etc?

– Are there any areas that are a little unclear, or could be tightened up?