Writing Poetry to Order?

Waiting for the Dawn - Maggie Shaw - Eregendal

It’s something I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing when I first wrote poetry in my teens and early adulthood. The anthology Waiting for the Dawn – Poetry from the Depths to the Light is full of those early poems, dashed off as the mood took me. Going through them all as I selected individual pieces for publication, I realised that while some were passable, most were formless emotional outpourings of little interest to anyone except myself. The ratio was about fifteen rejects to one promising piece. Even the ones that had promise took a lot of editing before going to print.

During covid lockdown in 2021, I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Writing East Midlands Beyond The Spectrum writing course. This weekly Zoom course was delivered by two amazing authors and facilitators, Pippa Hennessy and Anna Cotton, to a small but appreciative class of neurodivergent people. Each session had two parts: prose and poetry, with a short break between. In each part, participants were encouraged to write new material inspired by layered, well-structured prompts.

Amazingly, the standard of my poetry improved to a ratio of about three rejects to one piece with potential. Whether I was writing an ode to a loved food, haikus about lockdown, or describing what the word misunderstood meant to me in terms of the five senses, the words came in a controlled flow, rather than the old flood of emotion. I discovered that I could write poetry to order about a range of subjects without waiting for inspiration. Many thanks to Pippa and Anna for helping me and others discover that.

Two of the poems I wrote in those sessions were included in Waiting for the Dawn, and others found their way into the sequel collection Like a Shadow the Night. My favourite is Ode to a Nairn Ginger Oat Biscuit, below. A video version of the poem can be found on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ib-rU7rI5A

Ode to a Nairn Ginger Oat Biscuit

Oh, just an oatcake in my hand;
But so much more – a taste so grand
With sugar sweet and ginger spicy:
Better than foods twice as pricey.

I love to eat you with my tea,
A fitting treat to follow meat;
I love to eat you with my supper,
A scrummy snack with yummy cuppa.

Others sing of haggis tasty;
I will praise my wee oat cakie;
And give thanks for Nairn’s good brand
That makes this product in Scotland.
                                             © Maggie Shaw 26/1/2021

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