Our Next Meeting
Thursday 8 November 2018
Excavating the past for poetry - with Zoe Mitchell
In this talk and workshop session, poet Zoe Mitchell will discuss the value of using history and mythology as a means of expressing modern concerns through poetry. Her talk will include a discussion of various research techniques used to generate inspiration, how to shape a poem and a number of workshop exercises. Zoe will be sharing examples from leading poets and her own work. As a prolific writer, Zoe will also share her techniques for maintaining motivation and generating the creative spark which supports her writing She will offer thoughts on the importance of taking work public and her personal process for managing submissions to magazines.
Zoe Mitchell is a poet and a PhD student at the University of Chichester. She previously studied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, where she graduated with distinction and received the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. Zoe has a passion for history and a fascination with the beliefs and stories of the past. Her MA thesis focused on the clash of people and cultures during the Roman invasion and the impact on Celts and Ancient Britons. Her Creative Writing PhD is focused on witches and their presentation by female poets. Zoe is a widely published poet whose work has appeared in a number of prestigious magazines including The Rialto, The Moth and The London Magazine. She was commissioned to write poems for the Chalk Poets Anthology which she performed at the Winchester Poetry Festival in 2016.
Zoe has recently been announced as the joint winner of the Indigo Dreams First Collection Competition. Read more about Zoe here.
You can also see a copy of her presentation here.
Review of the meeting
About her: Zoe gained a distinction, and won the Kate Betts memorial prize for her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester. She has had 40 poems published in magazines since 2015, and is now researching for her PhD. Her website is www.writingbyzoe.com .
Research and Inspiration: Zoe listed many ways to do historical research – reading reference books, popular histories (including online) and fiction about the period of interest; watching films; going to places with links to that period, and visiting museums (“room after room full of poems”).
Examples – Simon Armitage’s response to photos from the Somme, Helen Mort’s ‘No map could show them.’ Zoe was inspired by a film of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth, to write work about modern cultural invasion, and its impact on both societal and landscape environments.
Poetic Responses: These can be in the forms such as narration, dramatic monologue. Zoe reminded us to be aware of perspective – modern, personal etc. She suggested ekphrasis, which I now know is a written response to a visual work of art.
Example – Carol Ann Duffy’s – Mrs Darwin.
We were challenged to write in the voice of a figure from history.
Mythology: What do myths tell us about the people who told/believed in them? E.g. ancient Romans pictured Apollo’s chariot – tells us Romans had chariots. Myths may give historical context, or expose material that won’t be found in textbooks.
Example – Louise Gluck – Circe’s Power.
Transforming a Local Legend: Zoe told us that Edward Thomas’s ‘The South Country’ had inspired her to write three poems, including ‘The Strange Children.’
Zoe challenged us to write about Cissbury Ring.
Personal Histories: ‘Your life, your family, your ancestors.’ Former homes, family businesses, family legends.
Example – Tim Liardet – The Storm House
The last challenge was to use something from our personal histories. The idea of writing a letter, which might or might not be read by an ancestor, inspired several audience members.
Editing a poem:
Language – consider tone, audience, vocabulary, cliché. Historical accuracy and emotional immediacy. Every word needs to justify its place.
Sensual (Sensory?) detail – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell – ‘the past was messy.’
Line breaks – can add tension, like when wily coyote runs off a cliff in the cartoon and doesn’t realise it.
Form – Be aware! Consider repetitive forms, structures of various degrees of formality from villanelle and sestina through sonnet to free verse. Zoe recommended Stephen Fry’s writing on Form, Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making and the Norton Anthology (of Poetry).
Rhyme – Consider why you are using rhyme, what pattern and why. Zoe recommended leaving the rhyme until the end or ‘the tail wags the dog.’
Read the poem aloud, ideally record yourself and listen while reading the text. Listen for sound, tone, emotion, rhythm, consistency, internal structure – is it what was intended?
Submission: Lots of guides to where you can place poetry, Zoe recommended looking at Mslexia and Indie Press Guide. The former only publishes women’s writing. Keep track of submissions, Zoe uses a spreadsheet. Manage rejection, don’t be crushed, Zoe has had poems accepted after they were previously rejected nine and even ten times. Celebrate success.