Saturday, 27 October 2018

Meddle with a golden shovel poem

For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I'll be sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Meddle with a golden shovel poem. Have a favourite quote or lyric? Write it down the right side of the page and use those words as the last word in each line of your poem. See where it goes – it might surprise you.

A golden shovel is a lovely form of free verse - no rhyme scheme or set metre (rhythm) and a great form when you're not sure what you want to write about or what exactly you want to say about something: the quote gives you something to riff off and explore, and the end words shape your thoughts. As you write each line towards its end word, you follow the flow and discover what you want to say. It was invented by Terrance Hay.

Here's one of my golden shovels. Read the words down the right-hand side for the original quote. (The title and the quote are from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - you don't need to know the story to enjoy the poem, but it's so delightful that I've put it at the bottom of the post, under the poetry course pic. He died in 1944, so it's out of copyright now.)

Drawing #1

Orchids grow so high in the jungle, if you didn’t know then
you’d say they didn’t exist, waxy-lined – not you, though; you and I
understand how the furtive petals splay, out of sight; we would
never betray the dark pink secrets of its lapping labellum, never
expose the dappled shadows of its soft throat to careless talk.
Those who can’t dream their eyes up through the humid canopy to
where they peachly, whitely, redly lick the air think that
all truths are down to earth, punchable facts and grids. A person
like that needs the word “epiphytic” to believe anything about
roots that live off air, dangling and loosely draped like a boa
around an outstretched branch. Such people cling to facts like constrictors
till they still the delicate pulse. Perhaps they just don’t know or
perhaps they’re angry that orchids elude them in the hot wet air. Primeval
things are always the hardest to prove, deep in forests
where perhaps we used to fly. We can’t explain or
convince such people. We can only climb lianas, through the orchids, towards stars.

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.

The Little Prince

Chapter One

Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing.
boa constrictor swallowing an animal

   In the book it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."
   I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked something like this:
Drawing Number One 
   I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.
But they answered: "Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?"
   My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of a boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My Drawing Number Two looked like this:
Drawing Number Two 
   The grown-ups' response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
   So then I chose another profession, and learned to pilot airplanes. I have flown a little over all parts of the world; and it is true that geography has been very useful to me. At a glance I can distinguish China from Arizona. If one gets lost in the night, such knowledge is valuable.
   In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn't much improved my opinion of them.
   Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:
   "That is a hat."
   Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.

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