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.

selective focus photo of obalte green leafed plants during rain

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

Week 1 of Writing in the Garden – a free creative writing exercise

Hello!

I had such a lovely response to my recent article in the RHS Garden magazine on reading and writing poetry that I’ve decided to put a different creative writing exercise up on this website EVERY WEDNESDAY. We’ll see how we get on, but I suspect we will make some poetry and prose creative fire between us!

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Personally I know how much pleasure I get from taking my journal outside to write – there’s no need for expensive materials, subscriptions or even a completely quiet and free hour (what’s that, I hear you cry!). All these exercises have been designed that you can do them in ten minutes – or take as long as you want. You can do them even if you have never really written creatively since school. And heck, you can even do them with a pencil on the back of a seed packet, or whatever comes to hand.

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You don’t need to share unless you absolutely want to. I hope you will though. Please feel free to post in the comments here, or send them direct to me at my email – sarah@sarahsalway.co.uk. I won’t comment on them, but I do promise to read them all. Also for those on Twitter or social media, let’s use the hashtag #writinginthegarden or even #WITG to link through. I’ll try to collate and retweet some every week.

If you want a warm up, do use the exercise I posted from the Garden magazine article here. But otherwise, let’s jump in….

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WRITING IN THE GARDEN, Week 1

We’re going right back to the beginning – using memory, and with a little bit of help from Joe Brainard . He was an American beat poet who in 1970 who published the first edition of his memoir poem, I Remember which quickly became a classic. This book consisted of a list of one or two lines of memories, all beginning I remember. Here is an extract:

From I Remember by Joe Brainard

I remember ‘no ankles’ on some old ladies.
I remember trying to imagine my grandfather naked. (Eck!)
I remember white marshmallow powder on lips.
I remember a very big boy named Teddy and what hairy legs his mother had. (Long black ones squashed flat under nylons.)
I remember Dagwood and Blondie shorts before the feature started.
I remember not allowing myself to start on the candy until the feature started.
I remember big battle scenes and not understanding how they could be done without a lot of people getting hurt.
I remember crossing your fingers behind your back when you tell a lie.

There’s something about the rhythmic pattern of this repetition that brings up memories we might have forgotten, and allows us to move onto the next memory without pausing.

So I invite you now to write your own list of I remembers… but sticking to garden or outdoor memories.

Set your timer for six-eight minutes and just keep writing. Don’t worry about making them chronological, or even intelligible to anyone but yourself. Don’t censor your memories, or worry about grammar at this stage. You’re just collecting information, gathering seeds if you will.

If you find yourself getting stuck in one particular memory, then I suggest you move yourself out and deliberately pick another. In my experience, it’s the random quality here that works rather than trying to craft something right from the beginning.

And remember what James Thurber said, ‘Don’t get it right, just get it written.’

What next…

Well, you may want to finish there. I think you could usefully do a list like this this every day and just the process of writing things down would be valuable, but it may be you are inspired to take it further.

So… circle or tick the lines and memories that have particular energy for you. Just three. And then from those, pick one.

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Now shut your eyes and try to time travel yourself back into that moment. Go through the senses – what could you hear, what food did you like, were there any smells, what was the weather like? Now think externally – how old were you, who else was there, what was on the news at that time, what records were playing, what were your big concerns and excitements? This is your map.

I treat this kind of writing like compost – the words sit in my journal and sometimes they stay a messy mess, but more often than not, they transform themselves into something that brings another idea to life.

It may help for you to read these two poems, When I was A Bird by Katherine Mansfieldand The Elm by Hilaire Belloc. For me, they both catch exactly what it feels like to be a child.

When I was a Bird
Katherine Mansfield

I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.
I made up a song that went on singing all by itself
And hadn’t any words, but got sad at the end.
There were daisies in the grass under the tree.
I said just to try them:
“I’ll bite off your heads and give them to my little children to eat.”
But they didn’t believe I was a bird;
They stayed quite open.
The sky was like a blue nest with white feathers
And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm.
That’s what my song said: though it hadn’t any words.
Little Brother came up the path, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.
Then when he was quite near I said: “Sweet, sweet !”
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: “Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see your legs.”
But the daisies didn’t really matter,
And Little Brother didn’t really matter;
I felt just like a bird.

 

The Elm
Hilaire Belloc

This is the place where Dorothea smiled.
I did not know the reason, nor did she.
But there she stood, and turned, and smiled at me:
A sudden glory had bewitched the child.
The corn at harvest, and a single tree.
This is the place where Dorothea smiled.

And here’s a short prose extract from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The sun was shining inside the four walls and the high arch of blue sky over this particular piece of Misselthwaite seemed even more brilliant and soft than it was over the moor. The robin flew down from his tree top and hopped about or flew after her from one bush to another. He chirped a good deal and had a very busy air, as if he were showing her things. Everything was strange and silent and she seemed to be hundreds of miles away from any one, but somehow she did not feel lonely at all.

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So now, from all the material you’ve now collected, try to jump into the moment of your memory rather like these writers have done. Please do it in poetry or prose as you want, but if you are writing prose and you can do it in less than 500 words, so much the better. The idea of this exercise is to bottle a particular memory, rather than expand it into a novel. For now, anyway.

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But most of all, enjoy! Do let me know how you get on.