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5th November 2020

As part of her work as Poet-in-Residence for the Hull Maritime Museum, Rebecca Drake will be running a series of creative writing workshops for school-aged children.

Through these workshops, she hopes to encourage children to engage with objects in the museum through writing poetry, and to explore the treasure trove of stories at their fingertips.

But how do you write a poem? In this blog post Rebecca shares how she wrote the poem, King´s Quoit, about an object that she encounted in her own childhood.

Rebecca Drake At The Hull Maritime Museum
Rebecca Drake is our first Poet-in-Residence

How do you write a poem? There must be an infinite number of ways, like when you tell a group of people to paint a boat, and no one boat comes out the same. If I could break down the process of writing a poem, which is a difficult thing to do because there are so many ways to write a poem! – it might go something like this:

1. Choose your subject

The first part of the process of writing a poem is choosing a subject. I often choose subjects that come from the landscape, where human and natural environments overlap. In my poem, Upon King´s Quoit, for example, my subject is a chambered tomb, which looks like a precariously balanced pile of rocks, on the headland at Manorbier in Pembrokeshire. I was drawn to this subject because of my own fond memories of stolen moments of peace and quiet when sitting on those rocks, among the chaos of family camping holidays as a child.

2. Choose your words

Once you have chosen a subject, it´s time to start putting words on paper. Try writing short sentences, lists, or single words. It‘s all about capturing images, for example, my notes for King´s Quoit say things like: shadow of the rock, red rock, sunset, gorse, and what lies beneath? Then there are the phrases that seem to come out of nowhere and don´t really make sense yet, but feel like they have a place in the poem, such as dust rolls through crooked jaws.

(A good exercise for getting words onto the page is to set a timer for one minute and just write down everything that comes into your head.)

3. Choose a form

When you have written down all the words, images, and ideas that first come to mind, you can think about how your poem might take shape. It can be really helpful to choose a type of poem to fit your ideas around. For example, I wanted to write a sonnet for my poem about a chambered tomb, as the dense structure (14 lines of 5 iambs, or heartbeats), reminds me of the denseness of a rock, while the traditional turn of the sonnet in the third quatrain (the twist in the story of the poem, or the big reveal) makes me think of the way that strata of rock within the earth are slowly moving.

(Upon King´s Quoit, draft)

What lies beyond the shadow of this rock,
where brittle, bone-dry earth ends, breath-wet
moss, wind-dried grass and wiry gorse-bush stop
beneath the crag? The rock does not forget
sun bends its brilliance, dust-stirring rays
between the cracks, torn space and time among
stone, inward lithic spasm, infinite days
falling deep into dark and under song.
To coil into earth, and so remain: b
ones, dirt, dust rolled through crooked jaws -
briars wax around the flesh that wanes - I fragment – narrow – recompose
as rain sends fingers into earth to soothe my skin
but I am not here, only earth within.

The form you choose can always change. In its present form, Upon King´s Quoit became free verse, as I thought more about the space inside the chambered tomb, and the play of light and shadow inside that space, than about the rock itself.

(How would you write a sonnet or a free verse poem about the maritime museum´s whale skeleton, or about a piece of scrimshaw art (pictured below)?

The Right Whale Skeleton Prior To Dismantling
The North Atlantic right whale in the Hull Maritime Museum
Scrimshaw Resized
The museum's scrimshaw collection is the largest outside of the United States

5. Play with language

A great thing about poetry is that you can be creative with the language you use. In poetry there are lots of ways to play with sound and meaning. Try out different things and play around with devices.

Some you could use are alliteration (where you use two words with the same consonant sound, eg. whale and water, museum and maritime), rhyme (where two or more words have the same sound pattern, eg. whale and tail, or whale and tail and tale, or whale and tail and tale and sail), and half rhyme (where two words have almost the same sound pattern, eg. whale and call, or whale and fragile).

6.Play around with the poem

The most important part of writing a poem is editing it. This is the bit I like the most, since it´s when you really get to play around with the words on the page and see what you can create. There are lots of ways to edit creatively. Try cutting bits out (you can always put them back in!). Take out words like the, and, or a and see how that changes the feeling of the poem. Move words about on the page – the white space between words can create just as much meaning as the words themselves. It´s usually only when I´m editing a poem that I understand what it´s about and why I wanted to write it. And this can also be when those words and phrases that popped into your head out of the blue when you started thinking about your poem actually make sense.

7.Finally,

A poem is never really finished. It is a fluid medium that will never be perfect. It is also a puzzle that can never be solved. Once you have done as much as you can with it, the next stage of the poem´s writing is up to the reader.

Upon King´s Quoit

What lies beyond
the shadow of this rock,
where brittle, bone-dry earth ends,
and breath-wet moss among wiry gorse stops
beneath the crag?
Beneath deep-rooted rock
I recompose.
I am not within; bones, dirt, dust
roll through crooked jaws,
turn from sun-bent brilliance
to dust stirred in rays --
coil into earth and remain, deep in dark.

(Rebecca´s poem, Upon King‘s Quoit, is published with Blackbough press, in volume 2 of Blackbough Magazine: Deep Time edition).