I was talking to a friend about poetry and she’d generously let me read one of her pieces of writing. When I did, I was reminded of advice that my old English teacher gave me. He was the first person, offline, that I showed my writing to. He taught me for four years and, unlike many teachers, he would talk to me like an equal. It felt like he valued my opinions and we would debate the Shakespeare biased curriculum time and time again. My stance being that he wasn’t the only playwright and we should get variety. Anyway, come sixth form, when he was no longer my teacher, we shared poems we’d written and he’d ask for my thoughts on his and offered his thoughts, gently, on mine. He played an important role in my life and in shaping who I became.
But back to the point. One piece of advice he would give me time and time again was to use what I’d written but say it in less words. Strip it back. See what it becomes. And in doing so, you learn a lot about what you’re saying, the point you’re making and the language you’re using.
Having offered this advice to my friend, I went through some of my old poetry and tried to find one to exercise brevity on. But nothing caught my attention, none of the poems I returned to hooked me today. And then I picked up a copy of One Wednesday Night which I’d printed to critique and that did hook me. A poem about nosebleeds and tummies would be hard to pull off but I liked the starry sky part of it. And so I picked out a few words and phrases and started to play with them:
A dusty sky; the stage is set.
Leading role – the crescent moon.
Venus; shining golden in the spotlight.
Before my tired eyes
Dots begin to glow
– the constellations of closed eyes?
The supporting cast step out
From hiding in the wings.
The starry queen holds court;
a dancing bear and timid cub perform.
Street lamps conceal stage hands
and then, like the curtain closing,
the cast, the stars and stage
All fall away.
The play is lost to sleep.
NB, the stars you see when your eyes are closed are called phosphenes.