Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Writing opener

As a teacher of writing classes and someone who occasionally needs a nudge in the right direction from my inner voices, I like to use what I call "openers."  These are little exercises to get me to leap into the spaces I haven't filled, to trust the urge to experiment and play with words.

Here's one of my favourites.  I call it "Thunder and sunshine."

Find a poem or passage filled with fragrant words -- words that hit the olfactory nerve and go straight to the brain stem.  You don't need to be able to interpret the passage or poem -- you just need to connect with the words.  Two poems that have worked well are "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and "The Second Coming" by William Yeats. 

This works best if someone else reads it out loud, but you can skim it yourself as well.

Go over the poem twice, and listen (or read) for the sound and taste of the words, not the meaning of the poem.  When a word or phrase hits your senses, scribble it down.  I like to use pencil and paper for this, because it's a tactile, sensual activity, but if your preference is a keyboard, go for it.  You should aim for about 15-20 words or short phrases.

Once you've finished the second reading, go over your list.  Choose the ten juiciest words.  Mess around with them -- put them in random order, alphabetical order, size order -- anything that mixes it up.  Gradually allow an order to come to the words and incorporate them into a poem or a paragraph of your own.

You may be surprised what emerges from your hungry heart, what slouches towards you to be born.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Wood works

Trees are a miracle.  Shade, fruit, syrup, flowers, soil stability, planks, spars, plywood -- trees provide sustenance and beauty that make our lives liveable. Wood is a thing of infinite possibilities.

One of the delights of leaving a job behind is the option of spending an afternoon with the smell of fresh cut wood in my nose and the prospect of a glowing natural surface under my hands.

My wooden kayak, built by my husband decades ago, needs refinishing.  It's a beautiful boat, light enough to heft onto my shoulder and walk down a beach, strong enough to take the grind on shell beaches.  It skitters over the surface of the ocean like a leaf, tracks through choppy ocean waves with a few twists of the paddle, and drifts silently with a current when I want to be still in the water.  I'm not a designer or builder, but I'm a whiz with paint scraper, sandpaper and varnish. The kayak is made from "tortured marine plywood" and as I sand I feel the tension and spring in the wood.  When I stroke the smooth hull, I feel its yearning to leap forward into foaming waves or glide quietly through swirling eddies.

Working with wood reminds me of what happens when I write.  Writing needs a vision, fragrant and beautiful raw materials (good words smell like fresh-cut cedar), skills to shape and assemble it, and then the patient sanding, painting, varnishing and polishing to make it gleam.  I can feel the yearning of a story, the echoes of characters, the wonder of something new. Words too are things of infinite possibilities, and it's another delight to work those into a creation that can scud across the water to another shore.