Rough Trade Books Extra Curricular - A little online amusement for abnormal times Randomise!

Charlotte Newman’s Poetry Workshop

“The moving pen writes on”—Madge Gill

People often complain that poetry is ‘difficult’, that it has to be worked on or deciphered in a way that prose does not. The needle might be moving on that a bit now, but it still puts a lot of people off poetry. There doesn’t have to be anything rarefied about it; it can be purely musical or muscular, rhythmic. As a poet I am a big fan of clashes, so I often like to combine something that pulls at the brains and the body in equal measure. You do not have to be from a certain type of background to write poetry, or have gone to a certain school, or to have a certain accent or have a particular type of life experience. You can be self-taught. Shakespeare didn’t go to university.

And Madge Gill is a self-taught artist. I am not an art historian, but I take a lot of inspiration from the visual or plastic arts. Literary writing about art is called ekphrasis. I have engaged in it time and again, writing poems inspired by paintings, sculpture and collage. I am not talented with the visual arts and have had people laugh at my stick figures, but I love taking the reaction to the visual and translating it into words.

The Brief

For this workshop I am interpreting the line ‘the moving pen writes on’—taken from one of Madge Gill’s letter—to be all about pressing through and getting things written down, even if they clash with what you might think is logical. Drawing on Madge Gill’s sense of being driven to create art by her spirit guide Myrninerest, and her free experimentation with different media including embroidery and textile, I would invite you to allow your imagination to run a bit wild, bringing together different—even opposing ideas or things—into a single poem.

This is something I have done frequently in the past. Recently, the pandemic has made me think more about this, and how taking a more positive outlook in the future might manifest as poetry writing that celebrates things that are joyful to the writer. I refer to this as ‘the Sound of Music’ approach to writing poetry: “these are a few of my favourite things.” I have been thinking in particular about a poem I wrote called ‘The Black Lodge and the White’, which brings together two unrelated subjects: Kate Bush and David Lynch. The thing that sparked the idea was Kate Bush’s music videos for ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Lily’, which both feature a colour palette and a cast of characters reminiscent of David Lynch’s idiosyncratic universe in Twin Peaks. But mainly, I wrote about the two because they are two things that I like, and they create a world that I like to step into.

Handy hints…

Example of poem by Charlotte Newman…

Brute Spirit

There is a gap between the flat sky, cumulus

and the domed expanse arching

over the rivulet of philosophy—

classifiably different to feeling cold from the waft

of skinflint ice sacking a flatland

versus the known fact of absent sun

switching its lust to the lunar system.

So it is with the underside of sewn heft

stretched on a loom,

its machine guts and hemp and gravity

owing as much to pedal and mulch

as mattress springs to mind

body and brute spirit; quilt comfort

beats the climate’s overture

not unlike a drummer boy, starched

in taffeta, turfed in time spent not paid.

Potters, weavers, welders owe also to men

as to ducks; elder and eider

either way down, mermaid

learning on the curve of the bell

and the self, moth on the lip

curlicue, ink on paper,

pearl on skin, perilously

oyster pressed to death.