|The lamp post in Narnia?|
I joined others at Gainsborough Community Library in Ipswich yesterday for a Creative Writing Workshop. We were considering the topic of 'plot', which is not something that crosses my path very often in my poetry endeavours, although it certainly has a bearing on narrative poems. It made me realise (again) just how fundamental the concept of 'story' is to our lives.
The ancient Greeks knew this all too well, with their epic ring cycles that would allow the same yarn to be narrated in fresh ways. A child's version of Homer's Odyssey captured my own imagination at a young age. I went on to study and teach Classical Civilisation. We also think of Beowulf and of countless other myths and legends that became part of the warp and weft of our human society. The New Testament parables, stories told for a purpose, rely heavily on narrative. Think of 'The Sower' or 'The Prodigal Son'. Journalists tell stories. Most of us do.
But how often do we employ story-telling techniques in our poems? Should we be telling more stories if it is these tales that help us to come together and forge connections? We were talking yesterday about 'martyrdom' (among other things) as a feature that is common to many well-loved tales.'The Chronicles of Narnia', which we cited by way of example, speak for themselves at one level but also probe the heights and depths of something more - the Christian story, of good over evil, of the laying down of life for others.
The employment of an extended metaphor has been recognised as a popular and successful poetry ploy in recent years. Epic is 'out' in the traditional sense - or is it? There have been exciting re-workings of the old sagas and tales, but archaic language and sentiment have largely been abandoned or, at least, re-cast. I am currently reading 'Now All Roads lead to France' by Matthew Hollis, about the life and last years of Edward Thomas. It is fascinating to read about the Georgian poets and how very different they were to the emerging Imagists. Edward Thomas had a great gift for sharing small insights into the world of nature with his readers. Of course, he often employed narrative along the way: think of 'The Owl'. Today we worry whether it is 'enough' for a poem simply to paint a picture. Our response has sometimes been to use poetry as a vehicle for (often political) change. Adjectives and adverbs are treated with extreme caution - sorry, with caution - but are we sometimes in danger of aspiring to an art that is losing touch with its recipients? Poets may be driven to write for any number of reasons, but I found it helpful yesterday to be reminded that 'plot' is occasionally a useful tool to select from the work(shop) box.
P.S. And in case you were wondering, my organic writing in the workshop yesterday focused on an orphan, a multi-cololoured explosion and a rift in the cliff face ...
- Do check out the Magma feature on Imagist poetry here