Poetry and Lockdown Brain by Sandra Horn

So here we are at the beginning of month three of lockdown. Strange times. I lose track of the hours, the days. My brain has turned to mush. I’m baking too much. We’ll all be spherical if this goes on much longer. I meet with the choir, the book group and the Writers via Zoom, which is better than not at all, but oddly unsatisfying. I haven’t a single coherent thought in my head, so I will just maunder on about poetry, as usual.

I’ve taken part in Apples and Snakes write-a-poem-a-day-in-April challenge, and I’m having fun with Live Canon’s poetry treasure hunt and their online course on exploring poetic forms. It’s all to the good and stops me wandering into the kitchen and knocking up another batch of buns, cheese straws (or cheese planks, as we know them), cakes, biscuits…nothing lasts long, as you would have been able to see from the photos below - half a pear and almond cake and four cheese planks - but the server won't let me load them and I don't know how to sort it. Sorry.

The Apples and Snakes thing was fun. Every day something new to try. Some of it involved ‘found’ poems - cutting words out of magazines or whatever and constructing them into a poem, or using a black marker to delete words in a document or whatever and making a poem from the remains. I’m not usually a fan of that kind of working – it feels a bit like cheating, somehow, but I did it and discovered that I liked doing it. The deleting one was a letter from the Inland Revenue. Mutilating it was curiously satisfying, although the result was not very inspiring.  Here’s the cutting up effort, from the RSH  magazine and i newspaper

To help us
make sense of
cloudy days
the greyness and grimness,
we are determined,
whatever happens,
to replicate the experience
in a slightly different way,
search for balance
without growing weak and pale,
need support to stay upright,
be able to sleep.
Or, in the same season
we may only be left with
cloud-pruned coral

More interesting were the ‘golden shovel’ and  ‘a gram of &s’ methods of making poems:
Golden Shovel: choose a line or lines from a poem you admire and use each word as an end word in your poem while maintaining the order. I chose a line from Louis Macneice’s Western Landscape: (from the) broken bog with its veins of amber water.

Grey heron
She stalks on legs which seem to be half-broken
at the knees. Wary, she skirts the bog
lifting a long skeletal foot with
finicky care, spreading its
taloned toes where blue veins
pulse, mere vestiges of
bones uphold, poised, stilled, over amber
pools of quiet water.

Then there was ‘a gram of &s:

11 lines. Each must end in a word of at least 4 letters, all taken from letters in the title. This one was given, but optional. You can’t use plurals as one of the 4 letters in your end-words.

Going somewhere

This ruined house was once somebody’s home
We wonder, briefly, who those people were
like burglars we creep from room to room
Looking for clues about them, finding none.
The cupboards yield no stash of vintage wine
No under-floorboard gold or diamond rings
Wardrobes are empty of the clothes they wore
When they departed, they left nothing here.
Outside, there is a broken plaster gnome
Smashed flowerpots, a coil of rusty wire
An open pack of sweet peas, never sown.

It was a bit like doing a crossword puzzle. I think ‘rings’ was OK because the ‘s’ wasn’t one of the four letters.

I could go on all through April, but you’d have lost the will to live long before we got to day 30. It kept me working at the words every day, and that was what mattered.

The treasure hunt is still ongoing and is as enjoyable as ever. We’ve sampled poets from Samoa, Jamaica (in patois), Australia (the first woman Aboriginal poet), America, etc. ancient and modern – yesterday was Carol Ann Duffy, today Robert Carver.  

As for the course on ‘Exploring Poetic Forms’ it is terrific, but a real brain-stretcher! I’ve written sonnets (Shakespearian and Petrarchan), haiku and tanka and managed to keep up, but last week’s task involved getting to grips with terza rima. Eek! It was all very well for dear old Dante – with all those Tuscan words ending in ‘o’ he wouldn’t have had to scrabble round for rhymes – but in English it’s bloody hard work, let me tell you. In ‘Omeros’ Derek Walcott uses it so beautifully, throughout the whole book. The rhyme scheme is hardly noticeable. It reads like flowing prose. He uses the rhymes very loosely sometimes – he was a master of his trade and a genius. I just about staggered through the exercises given on the course and was reduced to a limp rag. And there are still villanelles and suchlike to come!  Maybe after lockdown ends my brain will empty itself of sludge. I can only hope.


Jan Needle said…
If that's sludge and mush, Sandra, I want some! You sound a darn sight busier than I'm managing - even my manifold musical instruments have lost a fair amount of their personal magnetism (for me, that is!). I'm getting very good at eating cakes, though. As to poetry, I've fallen back on the old stand-by, WS of Stratford, and just written (and Kindled) a supposed memoir by the great man, called Shakespeare - the Truth. The truth being, would you believe, that he was a junior reporter on Ye Globe of Fleete Streete, whose first big story started when the office phone (yes; great man for anachronisms was our Will) rang, and a voice said: 'Lear here.' Yes indeedy, it was the King of England, announcing he was abdicating.

As you can see, I'm in the wilderness! But I did manage to pump up almost all of the tyres on my car yesterday. Result!
Well now, i have the answer! no flour of any kind obtainable? 2 Authors Electric and one of my cousins living on cakes? Repeat throughout the country! no surprise the shelves stand empty in
ocado's warehouse!

enjoyed this piece though. slices of poetry... and apologies for no caps but broke my wrist while gardening... just to add to the fun...

now to post my blog one-handed... i do love the variety on here...
Ann Turnbull said…
Yes, I was wondering about the flour, but then I realised that you, Sandra, were like us - making scones because you couldn't make bread, because there is still no bread flour and no yeast.

I've been writing lots of haiku - mainly because I'm in a local haiku group and need to produce some for the next meeting! (Zoom meetings now). We have a leader who really stretches us and keeps us writing and improving. However, my efforts with the Jo Bell '52' project, which ground to a halt over Christmas, have scarcely revived since.
Umberto Tosi said…
Wow! Love these poems and what you have made of so many bits and pieces and of enforced solitude. Kudos!
Eden Baylee said…
This line made me laugh >> We’ll all be spherical if this goes on much longer.

I'm not baking but definitely eating more ... and drinking more!

You're a wonderful poet Sandra!

Stay safe, eden
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, kind folks! Clare -not guilty. m'Lud! Ann, you're right! I couldn't get flour for love nor money, like everyone else, so eked out my stock of bread flour with all sorts - pasta flour, for example, from the back of the cupboard, half plain, half strong, enriched.All OK.

Popular posts

The Year of Just Being There: Dipika Mukherjee looks back at 2016

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

Close Reading | Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose | Karen Kao

A Week of Three Libraries -- Julia Jones

Why Would You Vote for Peter Duck? You Don’t Have To -- Julia Jones