Creative writing exercises for gardeners – we’re on again!

I started doing prompts for creative writing particularly designed for gardeners a little while ago but then life took over. Hmm.

However, so many of you said they were useful that I’m starting again. Do feel free to share this post, to leave your work in the comments or generally use this resource as you want. I’m going to do them along with you too, so you’ll have my poems as examples.

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The inspiration for this particular exercise came from my lovely friend Penny, who runs Le Petit Jardin in Tunbridge Wells who put these beauties above through my letterbox recently. Some of you may know that I’ve just come out of hospital with the virus so it felt a particular act of faith in the future to be both receiving and planting seeds.

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So I am using this as my first prompt for you. There are six stages and I suggest you do them in order and then see what you’ve got. But as always with creative writing, if any of them takes you somewhere else – GO!

There’s absolutely no right or wrong way to do this.

    1. Imagine an emotion – lust, kindness, joy, even fear – being sent to you. How would it arrive? What means of transport might it take? How does it get to you? How is it packed? Use your imagination.
    2. Link this emotion with something from the natural world – lust with a rose, perhaps, or envy with a weed. If they don’t seem to fit together well, then so much the better.
    3. A snippet of instruction – if joy came to you via helicopter, then might it be to put on your seatbelt. If anger was sent in a vegetable box, then maybe it should be washed before eating.
    4. Now bring in a wish for the future. It can be for the world, or it can be personal.
    5. Now add a snatch of dialogue. It’s often surprising how this can bring a piece of writing to life.
    6. And lastly include a sound, or a taste, or a smell, or a touch. As I’ve written before we too often forget about these senses, concentrating mostly on sight.

 

 

Here’s my version…

Seeds
Sarah Salway

Kindness came through my letterbox
wrapped in brightly coloured envelopes,
each one carrying its own instructions –
some early-mid, some late flowering –
to tide me through the year,
heralding a summer of drinks
in the garden with friends, carelessly
picked sprigs of mint, conversations
meandering without a ‘how are you’
to thud us back to earth. Will we laugh
at how once we bellowed out of windows,
refused eye contact as if even a glance
may bring us too close? I’m going to hug
you so tight, my phone tingles with messages
I read now on every seed packet, so I juggle
them like playing cards in a game of chance,
nature reproducing itself in rustling paper
like a miracle just when we need it most.
You can find more of the creative writing exercises for gardeners here, and I do hope you manage ten minutes with your journal over the next week.

Stepping insideThe Yellowhammer’s Nest

It’s National Poetry Day today – and for this, I wanted to take at least one of our words about nature and its beauty back to where it belongs. I was dismayed recently to search for ‘Yellowhammer’ only to wade through a full page of political jargon before I got to the bird.

Really?

So for today let’s move away from spin and lies and commercial gain.

And what better than a poem by John Clare to do that?

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So here, for the poets, and observers, and gardeners, and birdwatchers, and planet savers…

STOP! I’m in danger of sounding a bit like a building society ad already, and spinning this out of control….

Because as June Jordan said, ‘

“Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.”

Let’s just go straight to the poem….

 

The Yellowhammer’s Nest

by John Clare
Just by the wooden brig a bird flew up,
Frit by the cowboy as he scrambled down
To reach the misty dewberry—let us stoop
And seek its nest—the brook we need not dread,
‘Tis scarcely deep enough a bee to drown,
So it sings harmless o’er its pebbly bed
—Ay here it is, stuck close beside the bank
Beneath the bunch of grass that spindles rank
Its husk seeds tall and high—’tis rudely planned
Of bleachèd stubbles and the withered fare
That last year’s harvest left upon the land,
Lined thinly with the horse’s sable hair.
Five eggs, pen-scribbled o’er with ink their shells
Resembling writing scrawls which fancy reads
As nature’s poesy and pastoral spells—
They are the yellowhammer’s and she dwells
Most poet-like where brooks and flowery weeds
As sweet as Castaly to fancy seems
And that old molehill like as Parnass’ hill
On which her partner haply sits and dreams
O’er all her joys of song—so leave it still
A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.
Yet in the sweetest places cometh ill,
A noisome weed that burthens every soil;
For snakes are known with chill and deadly coil
To watch such nests and seize the helpless young,
And like as though the plague became a guest,
Leaving a houseless home, a ruined nest—
And mournful hath the little warblers sung
When such like woes hath rent its little breast.
PS… If you haven’t seen it already, you may enjoy my TEDx talk about the importance of the words we use here

Creative Writing Wednesday – week 5. The smellograph…

this is a smellograph,
the delicacy of rose
surrendering to rain

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I went out into my garden this morning just after it had finished raining and the smells were delicious. It made me wish I could capture them in the same way I could snap, for example, the photograph this rose above with the raindrops on the leaves.

So I decided to create some ‘smellographs’, and to just write short poems about the smells I could find. I carried it through the passageway I walk to yoga, stopping and sniffing like a dog! It made me aware of how difficult it was to describe smells – I can capture sound, touch, sights so much more easily, but it’s often a scent that takes me straight to an emotion.

In her wonderful book, Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman writes about members of a tribe in New Guinea who say good-bye by putting a hand in each other’s armpit, withdrawing it and stroking it over themselves, thus becoming coated with the friend’s scent. Now, you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not asking you to do that today, but I invite you to write your own ‘smellographs’ for your garden. You may want to do it at different times of the day, and in particular as we move into autumn, it’s clear that the air is smelling different. There’s a hint of apple, of log fires and wet dog… I love it!

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If you enjoy writing these short poems, you may want to join me on instagram here – I’m 110 days through a 365haikuchallenge. They are not all garden related, but I’m already seeing I’ve created a record of my year so far. So many moments I would otherwise have missed.

 

Creative writing exercise, week 4 – writing your own instructions

The late great Toni Morrison famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

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I like this advice on many levels, but mainly because it deals with the idea that when we are writing, we are also listening to ourselves. Perhaps one of the best things we can ask ourselves before we start writing is:

What is it that hasn’t been said yet, but should be said?

Of course, last week’s prompt was about listening too, but this week we are being more prescriptive. We are going to instruct ourselves!

The idea for this exercise came from a short poem by Ada Limon, Instructions on Not Giving Up. You can read it here and it follows a theme of ‘Instructions’ or ‘How To’ poems. You can read one by the lovely Neil Gaiman here… and another by Ted Genoways here..

In her poem, Ada Limon writes:

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs….

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For me, it’s this mixture of close present observation with future hopes (the ‘something miraculous’) that make this poem work so well for me. And the surprise of that ‘obscene’ when put against cherry trees. What do you think?

So for your writing exercise this week, I invite you to write yourself a list of instructions.

They may be for coping once the summer days, and indeed autumn, have left us and we are in the middle of winter.

What might be your ‘Instructions on Not Giving Up’?

Remember they should be personal, they may be surprising but they will be the instructions you want to read yourself!

As always start with the idea voiced by one of my favourite poets, Wendell Berry, in his poem, ‘How to Be a Poet’

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.

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Or do you long for winter and cold frosty days and hate this heat? In which case, your invitation is to write ‘Instructions for getting through summer’!!!

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But as always, enjoy. These might be the only instructions you actually want to follow – note the (to remind myself) on Wendell Berry’s poem!

You can share your work in the comments section, or email them to me (I’ve been enjoying these so much, thank you!) or on social media using the hashtags, #writinginthegarden or #WITG, or even #sarahsalway. I look forward to reading your instructions.

Creative Writing exercise, week 3 – listening for inspiration

Shhh… what do you hear?

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A simple writing prompt for you today – just sit out in the garden (enjoying some sunshine hopefully) and make a list of everything you can hear around you. Write down everything from the van backing in the next road to the grass in the wind. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a bee working hard near your chair.

Now read this list out loud to yourself. You may want to change the order slightly and pay particular attention to your verbs. Are they working hard enough for you? Is there a better work you can use – sometimes it helps me to underline all my verbs, to change them ALL and then decide which ones I want to put back to the original. For your first draft, nothing is sacred.

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You can use this poem below by John Clare as an example. On the surface, it really is a simple list of sounds but just try speaking it out loud and you can’t help but hear the garden come to life… in all its rustling, crumpling, whizzing, flirting glory!

As always, feel free to share your work, and please use the hashtags, #WITG or #writinginthegarden.

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Pleasant Sounds
John Clare

The rustling of leaves under the feet in woods and under
hedges;
The crumpling of cat-ice and snow down wood-rides,
narrow lanes and every street causeway;
Rustling through a wood or rather rushing, while the wind
halloos in the oak-toop like thunder;
The rustle of birds’ wings startled from their nests or flying
unseen into the bushes;
The whizzing of larger birds overhead in a wood, such as
crows, puddocks, buzzards;
The trample of robins and woodlarks on the brown leaves.
and the patter of squirrels on the green moss;
The fall of an acorn on the ground, the pattering of nuts on
the hazel branches as they fall from ripeness;
The flirt of the groundlark’s wing from the stubbles –
how sweet such pictures on dewy mornings, when the
dew flashes from its brown feathers.

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Photo by Bibhukalyan Acharya on Pexels.com

Creative writing in the garden, Week 2

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If last week’s prompt was all about memories, this second writing prompt is all about looking forward in time.

Imagine it’s some point in the future – five years, ten years, twenty years hence. Now picture yourself in the garden. What do you think that future you think about what you are doing right now? What will the plants be doing? What will be coming into its best?

And how would you like to be thanked for your present hard work?

It’s a strange thought, but one beautifully given life by James Lasdun in his poem, Blueberries.

I’m talking to you old man.
Listen to me as you step inside this garden
to fill a breakfast bowl with blueberries
ripened on the bushes I’m planting now,
twenty years back from where you’re standing.

You can read the whole poem here, and then write one for yourself. If you like begin with that phrase … ‘I’m talking to you..’

Another suggestion might be to write back to yourself from that future you. What would they think of what you have done in the garden? What might they even wish you had done?

You probably know Audrey Hepburn’s quote, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,’ but another I love is from Rumer Godden who said, “A garden isn’t meant to be useful. It’s for joy.”

What are you planting or building in your garden for future joy? Rather than a list, this poem or letter exercise lets you time travel to capture that moment and have your reward now as well as later!

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Feel free to share in the comments, or on social media using the hashtag #writinginthegarden or #witg

The risk of blossoming, and a little nyctinasty

I’ve been obsessed with plants that open and close recently (or more properly, nyctinasty).  My new baby passion flower for example seems shy about its own beauty.

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Until ta-da, when I’m not looking…

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Ridiculously splendid! And on a writing residency in Suffolk, I even began saying good night and good morning to the plants in my little cowslip filled garden…

It reminds me of a lovely family holiday in Carcassonne two years ago for my niece’s wedding, and watching the sunflowers turn their heads towards the sun. How hard it is not to give them all personalities.

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And also also not to see some significance to the current joyful spread of the little purple plant, self-heal. With its blue and purple colour and connection to the throat chakra (helping us to all to speak up)  surely  it’s what we all need more than ever at the moment. Here’s my friend, Marian, a true friend to the earth, picking some in her garden. She’s the one who told me to look out for it, and now I see it everywhere:

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There’s no poem about this today. I am actually working on it but after flowing for a couple of lines, it’s ended up being more of a battle than usual. I’ve shut myself up! Perhaps I need more self-heal to strengthen my throat, but in the meantime here are the names (from the RHS website) for this little powerful ‘weed’, surely a poem in themselves:

heal-all  all-heal  blue curls  blue Lucy  brownwort  brunel  caravaun bog  carpenter grass  carpenter’s herb  carpenter’s square  heart of the earth  herb carpenter  Hercules’ all-heal  hook-heal  hookweed  panay  proud carpenter  sickle-heal  sicklewort  slough-heal  square stem  thimble flower

Heart of the earth – how beautiful is that?

It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, from the writer, Anais Nin:

      “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

Lastly, a reminder, if you are interested in writing in the garden, that I put up my first creative writing prompt on Wednesday. Hopefully it’ll become a regular thing. Do make yourself a tea, get a snack, find a bit of space and join in over the weekend!

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