I’m very fortunate to have as a friend Macaque, a very, very talented poet. Yesterday he gave a poetry workshop for a small group of us which not only had interesting and quite challenging exercises, but made me rethink my use of language – not just when I try to write poetry, but in everything I write. I am so driven by character and narrative, pushed along by the story and images in my mind, that I sometimes… well, quite often, actually, neglect my audience and don’t pay enough attention to the medium of my writing rather than the content. I guess I’ve got into bad habits!
In one of the exercises Macaque asked us to give him ten words that occurred to us off the top of our heads, as a group, when we thought about war. We came up with what anyone might say – I think the list was death, terror, pain, sacrifice, mutilation, hatred, oppression, blood, power, and tyranny. Having made it, he challenged us to write a poem without using any of them! Thinking about it afterwards I realised that was such an excellent exercise before embarking on any piece of writing.
I continually puzzle over how best to tell the stories my dad told me – not very many of them, about his time in the parachute regiment during the second world war… how to put into words the few experiences he shared. He told us very little about the actual fighting, but concentrated on the strange, or funny, or peculiar things he had experienced. I’d never thought to try and convey these second-hand memories through a poetic form. However, in the workshop I tried to pull a couple of these together into poems for the exercise Macaque had set.
The ‘work’ we did wasn’t meant to be a finished product, but just a first working, a rough sketch of our ideas. I’m looking forward to playing around with words now to try and convey something of experiences a young man had over eighty years ago. I’m not sure I will write actual poems, but I have some ideas now.
You can read Macaque’s poetry here: