The day of judgement is upon us – tomorrow I attempt to write 100 poems in a day You’ll be able to check my progress on the blog and on my Twitterfeed, and join in if you want to. Err… cheers to all the people who’ve sent me poem titles or generally said ‘Jesus… good luck!’
There’s a good chance my internet connection may go a bit spotty on a couple of occasions over the course of tomorrow – I’ve got mobile broadband and although it’s pretty reliable if I stay in the same place, occasionally it drops out for a few minutes. If that’s the case, I’ll switch to writing in a Word file rather than direct into the blog, then copypaste them back into the blog as soon as the signal kicks back in. If you want to join in, just look at my Twitter page or the Twitter gadget on the side of either blog to see what the latest poem title is, then give yourself a strict 10 mins to bash out a poem with that title. Don’t worry if it turns out okay or not – if you don’t mind other people seeing it, please email it to me at joshureplied[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk and I’ll put it up on the blog afterwards. Obviously if the idea of having your rough first draft workings exposed makes every part of you cringe like a prodded anemone then I’d rather you had a go in secret than didn’t try at all!
Speed poetry is weird for a number of reasons, not least because, for most poets, the title’s the thing that comes last. Often it’s a bit of an afterthought – something unobtrusive, like a single word, or the first line repeated. A lot of the time now, when I’m onstage I don’t give my performance poems titles at all.
This week I’ve been reading Logan Murray’s Teach Yourself Stand Up Comedy and really enjoying it. He manages to be positive and practical at the same time, and there’s lots of specific, robust technical advice on stagecraft and developing a set. Surprisingly though, I found that a lot of his advice could be equally well applied to writing and performing poetry – humorous or otherwise. I very much recommend you read it.
I think, in particular, some of his ideas about deciding on an ‘attitude’, then channelling material through that attitude may prove really useful to anyone attempting speed poems tomorrow. For the most part, if, once you’ve read the title, you can answer the question ‘who is (in my imagination) writing this poem, and what do they think about the subject matter?’ then a lot of the words end up writing themselves. If you can quickly choose a specific voice (note – specificity is key: ‘mortally wounded pizza delivery boy gasping onto someone’s answering machine through his mobile’ is much better than ‘dying guy’) then have that implicit character respond to the title, you filter out a lot of distracting possibilities and get to work within fairly manageable parameters. Not all poems are monologues, obviously, but by faking up an attitude towards the subject matter, even if it’s just ‘deep, abiding loathing’ or ‘sexual arousal’ is more likely to produce something interesting than just attempting to fit the words from the title into a series of unrelated sentences.
The other main guideline is just switch the censor off and go for it. When I’ve done speed poems previously I’ve often later discovered – to my considerable dismay – that in my rush to get words on the page I’ve ended up unconsciously plagiarising other poets, and plagiarising them cack-handedly at that. You don’t have much time to look up the meanings of words, so I often find my poems are littered with awkward malapropisms. I often paint myself into corners and have no idea how to finish the poem.
It doesn’t matter. Better to plunge into the poem with no real idea of how it’s going to end than to sit there for 8 minutes growing ever more nervous and ashamed at the blank page. Every so often, something surprising, pleasing, and exciting comes out of it – something I’d never have known about if I’d spent those 8 minutes making a sandwich or watching a youtube video. If you have a go, I hope you get that experience at least once. But I hope I get it lots more than you. Heh.
So anyway, I’ll do the last of my prep stuff now, collating the list of suggested titles, then I’ll try to get a little sleep. Fingers crossed. See you tomorrow…