Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Poetry. Um... Right...

As I've mentioned here before, I'm currently doing the OU's A215 creative writing course.

The fiction writing was a bit of a doddle. As a student on this course, I have what my teaching colleagues in the vocational sphere call "a spiky profile". In other words, My skills are not equally developed across the different subject areas.

A spiky profile is very common when teaching adults. Kids don't really know much of anything, and because they're learning together and working through a set curriculum, tend to develop more evenly across the board. You will still see the effect, however. Any child who has private music lessons (like I did) will find the normal music lesson dull because it's stuff they already know and it seems easy peasy. Ditto with sport or dance or children with parents who have a particular interest in a subject.

Anyway, my spiky profile means that as far as fiction writing goes, I'm trying to improve my skills from a pretty high base level. I've written several novels and nearly sold one. I acquired an agent on the strength of it, though it all fell through in the end. I've sold a handful of short stories. I therefore feel confident and skilled enough to teach beginners to write fiction and have done for four years.

But when it comes to poetry... Oh, dear.

The problem is, the poetry section of the course book isn't working for me.[*] I did the OU's introductory poetry course some years ago and absolutely loved it. It inspired me to have a go and though most of what I wrote was crap, I produced a couple of poems I was reasonably happy with. I'm not sure why I'm bouncing off the poetry advice in Creative Writing: a handbook with readings, but it may be at least partly due to the fact that the method they suggest is to do a freewrite and then work that up into a poem.

There's only one specific kind of freewrite that works for me and that's based on place. It can be describing what's around me or a place from memory or even an entirely imaginary place. Otherwise freewrites don't work, I produce the dullest of dull stuff. I'm a cluster girl, those do work. Unfortunately, all the exercises intended to get us writing poetry are based on the other kind freewrite. For example: "I'd like you to write on the following theme: an animal you identify with." This animal can be a pet or one you've seen on TV or in the zoo. "The important thing is that you feel the animal embodies you in some way in its characteristics or behaviour."

Now this is the point in a creative writing class where everyone else puts their head down and starts scribbling furiously while I end up starting blankly at the page chewing the end of my pen. I do not exaggerate. That's what happened at the day school for the course I'm on now. All I produced was a few lines of dull and stilted prose while everyone else is freeing up their inner writer.

When it came to clusters, the roles were reversed. What is more, the cluster I produced was actually useful and generated the mood and setting of the short story I later submitted for the first assignment. In other words, the activities aren't working for me because they're all using one learning/writing style, which happens not to suit me.

Riiiiiight... It would seem that, as is often the way, in writing this moan, I've provided my own answer to my problem. I need to try the book again and every time it says "write" I substitute "make a cluster". Aha! There may be a way forward after all -- which is just as well because come what may, I have to produce some drafts of poems over the weekend because the deadline for the next assignment is drawing near.

Oh, in case you don't know what a "cluster" is, it's more or less the same as a mindmap.


[*] Which is somewhat ironic, since it actually contains a haiku written by me! Yes, really. They asked to use my cat haiku.

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