With Marilyn Francis, Sarah Gregory, Verona Bass, Louise Green, John Richardson, Ann Preston, Sue Chadd, June Wentland, Linda Saunders
The first Day of Project 2017 turned out to be an excellent springboard for the good things that lie ahead – unsurprisingly, given the talent and energy of the nine writers who converged in Bath with such fine examples of their writing to create the day. What follows is the convenor’s view of some of the key issues and concerns. Following on soon, I hope, will be additional thoughts from some of the other participants about moments and activities that highlight the day for them.
COMPETITION POEMS AND MAGAZINES
Many people in the room have joined Project 2017 with the intentions of publishing in good magazines, featuring in good competitions and gaining more recognition for their work. This means that learning to edit for excellence is bound to be a core concern. Taking inspiration from the poems which won First and Second Prizes in the recent Torbay Festival competition, groups discussed and presented their ideas about what makes a good competition poem. This is not quite the same,of course, as the question of excellence in all short poems, but close enough to provide an extremely useful checklist for anyone preparing to send a piece of their writing out into the world. I hope that these collective thoughts on excellence will soon have a Page of their own on the Project blog.
PAMPHLETS AND COLLECTIONS
Six of the January writers are working towards these. Ideally, every poem in a collation would be excellent enough to win a competition, with added richness provided by its being part of a greater whole and therefore able also to shine in the borrowed light of the pieces on either side. Poems in collations should gather strength from their surroundings – providing someone is attracted in the first place to read the book. We looked at pairs of poems from five of the poets and fed back our thoughts which poem of each pair would most attract us to the imagined book, and why. This feedback will be very useful in telling writers what readers respond to most strongly in their work, and therefore where their appeal to a professional editor might lie. We will repeat this activity on future Project Days.
THE POWER OF THE SINGLE WORD
Every writer knows that they have to edit every word in what they do, rigorously, before dispatching anything to the world beyond their room. But this is a process much more easily described than done. We had a very useful discussion about one word in the last line of an otherwise immaculate sonnet – soon to be published in an excellent magazine – a word raising issues for some readers who felt it introduced a distracting note. The word seemed to introduce a backstory at a very late stage in the piece which, for some of us, weakened rather than enriched. A poem is only the sum of its relatively small number of words. We have to learn to read our pieces through the eyes of strangers, and test the possible nuances of every mark we put on the page.
POETRY vs PROSE
One of the writers read us the statement about the personal memoir she is preparing to complete this year. It was a wonderfully graceful, moving, concise, eloquent piece of prose, intended possibly to preface a sequence of poems which are also likely to work extremely well. I am about to ask the writer whether she will allow this statement to be featured on the blog. The question arose yesterday for me – if you can write so excellently in prose, is there any reason to use the alternative medium of poetry? Prose does not need to be discursive and connected from page to page. A prose passage can have the same lovely self-sufficiency as a poem and might give some writers greater scope to express their thoughts and demonstrate their skills. I am hoping that through the year that we will be able to consider this and that more of the Project writers will be bring prose passages to share.
TELLING OUT YOUR TRUTHS
I have left this to last. It is of course, for writers, an issue which never goes away, but for various reasons it came most vividly to the surface at the end of the Project Day. The memoir project lead to a discussion about the difficulties of personal, revelatory writing, and the different ways we all approach using our personal experience in our work. How does personal experience translate into ‘literature’? Is self-revelation as important to the reader as it is to the writer? When we read, is it enough for us to know that the facts as given are true, or are we looking to literature to give us something more? And if so, what is the ‘more’ we want? Do we actually need to know whether what a writer tells us is ‘true’, or is it enough for us to be persuaded by the ‘authenticity’ of what we read and hear? Writing can be inventive, or confessional, or can find itself a space between these two. Charles Dickens is and is not David Copperfield. What are we really looking at when a writer appears to invite us into a life? This is something we will certainly be exploring when we meet up at the end of February for the second Project Day.
That is scheduled for Saturday 25th February and is already full, with a waiting list. But there are a few vacancies later in the year, for any writer who would like to join the group.