And, for good measure, week 4, The Sun 040411. This is a Haiku taken from the comment given by the Page 3 girl. Well, I did say I was trying for a bit of variety! And her name was Summer, how could I resist a Haiku?

Week 5 to follow soon…

Did I say I was going to update this every week? Hmm… Well, I’ve been on holiday! And busy scribbling on bits of newspaper. So here, a bit belatedly, is week 3, The Daily Telegraph 010411.

It’s a bit different from the two I’ve posted so far, but I am going for variety here so I would be very interested to hear what anyone thinks about it!

A couple of people have been asking me how I go about writing these Newspaper Poems. Found poetry has, of course, been around for ages. William Burroughs even used newspapers. And it was recently pointed out to me that an American poet by the name of Austin Kleon has been doing something very similair, creating poetry by taking a marker to a newspaper.

At first I was a little disappointed to find out that I was not a great originator of form. But what struck me most when looking at (looking at! Not just reading! Hooray!) Austin’s poems was how different they are from my own. I’ve noticed myself, and it has been pointed out to me by others, that despite the fact that I use a variety of different newspapers as source material, the poems I create do seem to have some sort of unified voice. So this seems to be quite a flexible technique.

As such, I thought I would respond to the clamour of hundreds of adoring fans desperate to know how I create such magnificent and exquisite works of art. So (drum roll) here it is: I doodle on newspapers with a marker. Kidding. I have tried a couple of different approaches. The first time I tried to do one of these I found an interesting phrase in the first paragraph and immediately blacked out everything else. I went through the rest of the article doing the same thing, and then did another very soon after. The first one wasn’t up to much, but the second one was pretty good. Good enough to make me think there was something in this, anyway.

But if I was going to write one of these a day for a year, I couldn’t really afford to have any misfires. So, instead of jumping straight in with the marker, I use a pencil to underline any parts of the article that jump out at me. There usual is something – a word that I like, or a phrase that I can see within the article. I have found that reading through the whole article first doesn’t help. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s probably that if I did it would be harder to see past the journalist’s writing. So I go through it, underlining bits I like. Sometimes there are big chunks where I don’t see anything and just pass over. I also tend to notice repetitions and recurring images which might be of use.

After this I tend to have the odd line or chunk here and there that need to be connected together. Sometimes this involves finding bits in between the lines I already have that will connect them. Sometimes it means deleting a lot of what I have underlined. Sometimes it’s easy and very fluid, sometimes like pulling teeth. Whatever the case, it is often at this point that I come up with some of the most interesting lines. Lars Von Trier once advised Andrea Arnold to ‘love your ropes’ and it has always seemed to me very true that restriction inspires creativity.

Then comes the marker. This is really an editing process. I have a complete poem by this stage, but is sometimes a little turgid or overwritten so there is a lot of cutting that goes on here! There is something incredibly satisfying about this part – drawing on the newspaper with black permenant marker.

The final stage is the cutting and sticking in my notebook. This is about form and structure. I have mentioned before that the blocks I arrange the lines into are, in my mind, stanzas. I think quite carefully about this bit. Sometimes these stanzas lift out of the newspaper fully formed, but often they are different bits stuck together. Although always in the original order. This is one of my self-imposed rules (or ropes, if you will) – that I cannot change the order in which words appear. However, by arranging these stanzas I give myself two kinds of negative space – the empty white of the page and the solid black of the marker. This is where the visual element comes into it as well. I consider quite carefully how many solid black lines to leave between words, and whether to connect sections together or separate them out.

The time all this takes can vary quite considerably. I think the shortest is probably about an hour, but the difficult ones can drag out over days. Sometimes I have to put one aside for a while and come at it afresh to finish it off.

So, there it is. I hope that was of some interest! I would, of course be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. And encourage you to write some of your own! I would love to be able to post or link to any experiments.

What’s in a name?

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Poetic ramblings

I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day (I am a Further Education Lecturer in Communication and English at Stevenson College, incidentally), during which the topic of self-promotion came up. I mentioned that I had just started a blog to put out some of my poetry. At which point she got very excited and demanded to see it right away.

And was not impressed with the name ‘Concrete Void’.

Now, I am aware that it does not necessarily make a lot of sense at first reading, and when you do understand it, it is rather pretentious – I admitted as much in only my second post. But I have to admit, I actually do really like it. I think it’s cool. It comes from Howl. And it has, like, layers of meaning. My colleague pointed out that it is not very accessible, and may put off potential readers who are not already into poetry in a big way. I responded that I didn’t think any such potential readers existed.

What do you guys think? Have I picked a ridiculous, unhelpful, elitist and rather silly name? Or is it an interesting, effective and relevant title under which to post my not-necessarily-very-accessible-anyway poetry?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

And here we have the very first poem in the series: The Observer 200311. Not quite the first one I wrote, I tried out two at a this collection zine making workshop, one of which worked and one of which didn’t, before deciding to undertake the project.

As always, any thought, comments and constructive criticism would be very much appreciated as always.

Hopefully I’ll get a bit more blogging done over the weekend – I’m keen to put a poem from week 3 up as soon as possible, as well as some thoughts on my participation in the this collection slam and some comments on my process which a few people seem to be somewhat curious about.

So hopefully I’ll see you back here soon!

Here is the first in my series of newspaper poems: The Sunday Herald 270311. The first one I’m posting, that is. It is actually the seventh I wrote and is from week two of the project, where I plan to write one of these poems a day for 365 days.

I’m posting this first for three reasons:

1. It’s my favouruite so far

2. It is the poem I read in the final of the this collection slam which put me into second place from third, above the witty, sardonic and brilliant Chris Lindores. This was a feat that can mostly be explained by the fact that Chris (bizzarely) didn’t expect to get to the final and so wasn’t prepared, but also suggests other people like it – Andrew Philip very kindly described it as one of ‘the stand-out poems of the evening.’

3. It’s the first one I scanned in

I’ll be trying to get another two up over the next few days, and will write a little more about the project when I do. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Well, it only sounds pretentious because, um… it kind of is.

Referencing Ginsberg in the name of my blog and Morgan in the tagline is ambitious to say the least, but they’re both geniuses and I am not and I wanted to make a good first impression. I just want you to like me! Writerly cliché no.1 – desperate for approval. Check!

Also, it does kind of explain what I am trying to do. I am a concrete poet. I think. I was watching ‘Howl’ the other day and the phrase ‘concrete void’ just leapt out and grabbed me, so I took it as a gift. And I’m appallingly bad at naming things so having managed to think of one name I was not inclined to attempt to think of another.

And the tagline? Glad you asked, voice-in-my-head. Edwin Morgan is not only one of my favourite writers but the first concrete poet I ever encountered at the tender age of 16. I fell in love with him, instantly. And although it took quite a while to filter through, the idea that a poem was not just words or rhythm but an object never left me. I love looking at poetry. Not just reading it but looking at it, as an object in space. I may even, on occasion, have inappropriately stroked a particularly appealing page. But only when it is printed on very high quality paper! And it was always consensual, I swear. I think that is why I prefer the term ‘concrete’ to ‘visual’. The former speaks of a tactile thing, not just something that you look at.

The first concrete poem I ever wrote didn’t start off concrete. But I finished it, and it wasn’t finished. I didn’t want to add any words to it, but the way it was on the page wasn’t the way it was in my head. So I moved some of the words around, and it bloomed. A short poem of only 11 lines, it went from being crammed in the upper left corner and suddenly took up an entire page, words carved out of empty space. That was what was missing – not words, but space. The words I had just needed room to breathe.

After that, I was addicted. Whenever I wrote a poem I couldn’t help myself from fiddling with the layout afterwards, and I was never happier than when a poem fit perfectly into one page.

This does, however, present me with a bit of a problem. Publishing my work on a blog will change it, as I no longer have pages to play with. I am planning to try and write some stuff specifically for the internet, that similarly couldn’t be printed on a page. But I haven’t had a good enough idea yet. Hey, it’s my first day as a blogger, okay? 

But for now what I primarily hope to use this blog for is a recent found poetry project I have undertaken. For 11 days now, I have purchased a different newspaper every day and found a current affairs article in it that particularly interested me. Then, using a permanent marker, I black out most of the words. I then cut the paper up and stick sections in blocks into a notebook, the idea being that these blocks are the equivalent of stanzas. Hopefully, by doing this, I have written a poem! I intend to keep doing one of these a day, every day, for 365 days.

However, I am way too lazy to update this every day, so I am going to try to put up one a week. I will also blog occasionally about the process.

Hopefully people will be interested enough to check back regularly! Again, any and all constructive feedback will be very welcome.