Poetry Workshop with Clare Best

Thursday 13 April 2017 @ Goring Methodist Church Hall, Worthing

Clare Best


Clare will be leading a Poetry Workshop. This will be based on the theme of 'Place' to coincide with her upcoming new publication - see below.

Clare Best’s first full collection, Excisions, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize 2012. She has performed her autobiographical cycle Self-portrait without Breasts across the UK and Ireland, and in the USA and Canada. Other poetry publications include Treasure Ground, Breastless and CELL.
Springlines – a collaborative publication with the painter Mary-Anne Aytoun-Ellis, and part of their project exploring hidden and mysterious bodies of water – is out with Little Toller in spring 2017 and will be launched at the Weald & Downland Living Museum’s Landscape and Literature Day on April 9th
She is a co-founder of Needlewriters, the quarterly reading series in Lewes.


Review of the meeting

Poetry and Place

Mary and Clare began their collaboration in the dry spring of 2012, walking the Downs above Lewes where they both live. She asked us to consider what we mean by time and place, and recommended the work of Edward Thomas (1878 –1917), a British poet, essayist, novelist and most particularly a first world-war poet. The questions we need to consider when analysing poems in this genre include: Where is the writer in the poem? Do they have a lyrical eye? Are they a detached observer whilst we are present, an existential question. What can we work out about the writer? Does the place write the writer? What imagery and features are important to depict the place? Is it a real or imagined place and does it matter?

Cherry read out Thomas’s poem, Adelstrop that is quintessentially Thomas and ‘of place’. It was published in the New Statesman three weeks after his death and is known to be one of the nation’s favourite poems. We discussed the poem. What are the elements that pin it to the place? The NAME tells us it isn't just ANY place. There was a lively discussion about the poem about where the writer is in the poem and how Thomas contrasts the bareness of the platform, with the richness of nature.

Lynn read Thomas’s poem, The New House. The first verse: ‘Now first, as I shut the door,/I was alone/In the new house; and the wind/ Began to moan’. The complete poem can be found here. We talked about how a poem evokes the sense of a place? Not so much because we know it's the house but it's more about his feelings. Might be what happens when one reads at the time - it resonates with the writing of De la Mare. We see how a mental space exists here, not like the previous poem.

Laurie read out a poem by Alice Oswald (2016), A Drink from Cranmere Pool from the collection Falling Awake and Clare noted that it as a daring ending. Then we talked about how there is a vague feeling of a rather indeterminate environment. The connection with nature, using words the reader will know well, like 'socket'. It was thought both surprising and unsettling. It seemed strange and unusual to end with 'exactly', but the whole thing feels like the place of the title.

Clare read out Poem Postscript, by Seamus Heaney. It was Heaney's favourite poem and Clare's favourite Heaney poem. Very place! It is about what will happen if you go to the place. The last two lines: ‘As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways/And catch the heart off guard and blow it open’ make sense to Lynn from her own experience.

Terry read out the poem, Gyratory, by Jackie Wills. It was funny and people laughed. It was about a frightening place depicted in an amusing way and a bit of a metaphor for life, in a very particular way. Repeating the Gyratory word gives it bulkiness and the cyclist rides through the poem, whilst the Gyratory becomes a monster/creature of its own. The rope-balancing act captures the danger and precariousness of life. ‘She cannot think of herself as flesh in the Gyratory’. It is an accumulation of images, very like a journey of this kind would be.

Some places Clare and Mary visited for inspiration
Since spring 2012, Clare and Mary spent a fair bit of time on the South Downs, places like Chanctonbury for example. Many corners of Sussex are not honoured in writing or painting so they got together to make up for that. She showed us a photograph of the Dew Pond near Ditchling Beacon and talked of trying to get to the essence of Dew Pond. They went in all weathers and worked independently, before putting their creations together. She has given the coordinates of place instead of titles to the works. Clare reads out I am a shock of water and showed us a Dew Pond painting with patterns of wings and so on. There was a wonderful painting of ancient wood common to the North of Lewes. We saw old brick clay pits that made the ponds. It was lovely to see Clare with Mary's dog. Mary’s art work in progress demonstrated her response to place in photo. There was a picture of Stanmer Well and they went inside of the well house to commune with the idea of the depth and the atmosphere of the well. Clare read an extract from the poem it inspired: ‘It looks as if a eye is down there, but it's a light’. Brookside is the house that Mary grew up in and Clare lived in it for seventeen years, separately. They both hate titles. But The moon owns this place is, nonetheless, the title of one of Clare’s poem and Mary’s ‘matching’ painting. At Glynebourne, a chain of pools, inspired chain of poems. There was picture of Holywell at Eastbourne, which was a great inspiration to them. Clare read How `Water comes through - double secular poem (right to left and top to bottom reading - like the blue dress) and showed us the form on the page.

Writing Exercises
After the break, Clare gave us some writing exercise to tackle.
Exercise 1: Firstly, she put the Arrival poem up (projected) as a broad model and explained that we should do some free writing. The idea was to write quick notes, which may or not turn in to poem, whilst trying to get into the place. For example, brief notes of an early sense of being in particular place at particular time noting important details you recall vividly, light, colours etc. Also, add a brief note about something else that has been suppressed in this moment or half remembered. Think how you might work to bring these ideas things together. We could use Arrival as a model or not, just as we liked.

Exercise 2: Clare put up her poem Her gods of sea and limestone. She is working on next collection and this poem will be included. She explained that place is foreground and told us about the feeling of longing and not getting. We were advised to write brief notes about a particular place with lots of detail, but also to write a positive memories list. After that to write list of negative things.

Exercise 3: Clare asked us to write a poem that is something like her poem He gives her directions. The objective was to remember a place you know well and write a few notes about the features, objects, buildings and topographical features. Give directions to someone specific to the place. The imperative was to do the three exercises and end with giving these directions and tell and imaginary person about it all.

After the exercises were complete, Clare reminded us that it was always great to get new stuff out. Terry read out some writings that were triggered by beyond a burial place he had been to in Turkey and over 30 years ago. Members and guests read out some of their work. For example, we heard Loss of Water by Paul, a modern geometric puzzle etc. We heard about one member’s first trip to Trinidad as a child and a description of a Football Match - like a battlefield. Laurie wrote about ‘squirrels and other creatures, then the house with stockings steaming over a...’ Rose had written about 'Island of Harris' and Lynn read out lines, including, 'she makes me come with her to the beach' etc. Next up, Cherry told us about girls wetting their knickers and hanging them on the radiators to dry. It sounded a bit grim. She was remembering Heene Road School - positive and negative - she had not thought of positives before!

We applauded Clare for a great evening of poetry, place and inspiration.

Liz Eastwood