Carving Poetry From Blocks of Stone: a workshop with Alison Craig – 13 October 2021

How lovely to have Alison Craig back with us in Ayr Writers’ Club! After her poetry workshop on Wednesday evening, I’m sure even those unconvinced by, and wary of ‘free verse’, have come away buzzing. Alison – always practical as well as poetic – set activities that really engaged even the most reluctant poet.

For our first 5 minute ‘free writing’ (don’t stop; don’t edit; don’t even punctuate), we had a choice of four prompts:

My shoes …

My hands …

Through the window …

In front of me …

Some people were surprised at how their mind flew off along an unexpected track. Others stared blankly at a clump of words and wondered what to make of it. Alison described this as being like a block of wood or stone, the basic material from which you might be able to carve out something of significance. A word here; a phrase there, might well be the first ‘chip.’

We discussed how best to define poetry.  Suggestions included: ‘a crystallized idea,’ ‘it does a great deal in a few words,’ ‘a neat container for an idea’ and ‘words that stay in your head.’

Use of assonance (rhyming of vowels, not consonants), imagery, word association and the musical qualities of language, can all be used to create a poem. Listening to the work of recognised poets, such as The Orchard by Kathleen Jamie, Midsummer, by Em Strang and The Fourth Craw, by Nalini Paul, (our competition adjudicator) we saw some of these techniques in action. Sometimes meanings are well hidden and you need to take time to re-read and enjoy the experience, letting the meaning percolate through in its own time.

Our second activity took us back to childhood, to relive an experience in some way involving the natural world (in keeping with our competition theme). To make it more immediate, we were to use the present tense. Alison suggested meditation as an aid to writing. Breathe deeply and steadily, allowing images to form in your mind. (Sitting rather than lying down is advised, in case you nod off!)

After the break, the results of the book review competition were announced.

In reverse order:

Highly commended:   Rose McGregor, Maggie Bolton

3rd place: Betty Porelli

2nd place: Chris Palmer

1st place: Bob Crane

Well done all!

Our final and, for me, most stimulating activity, asked us to use all five senses to describe a familiar place. The ten minutes of flow writing was divided into two-minute sections – one for each sense.

Finally Alison summarised her useful tips:

Use all your senses. They can trigger emotions.

Focus on small detail

Immerse the reader in the experience

Use imagery, tone and structure to convey meaning

No clichés!

Read it aloud


Thank you, Alison for a stimulating and enjoyable evening. We are off now to polish our poetry, carefully carved from the original block!

I must also mention that we raised our glasses to the memory of a dear friend and long-time member of Ayr Writers’ Club, Catherine Lang, whose funeral, several of us attended this afternoon. You will be missed Catherine.

Maggie Bolton

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