Poetry blog: Awash with ideas

A view over the sea to the Paps of Jura on the west coast of Scotland. Photograph: Richard McDougall
9 Oct 2013 @ 9.56 am
| News
A view over the sea to the Paps of Jura on the west coast of Scotland. Photograph: Richard McDougall
A view over the sea to the Paps of Jura on the west coast of Scotland. Photograph: Richard McDougall

From a raindrop to an ocean, the wet stuff can open the creative floodgates, says YorkMix Poet In Residence Carole Bromley


There was water, water everywhere on National Poetry Day which is why this month’s challenge is to write a poem about water. There are plenty of wonderful examples to get you started.

The Poetry Society website is awash with poems about canals, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. There’s even one of mine.

The Poetry Society’s Stanza Poetry Competition theme this year was drought and if you click here you will find a few familiar names too.

Perhaps one of those poems might inspire you to write a watery poem of your own? Or you might like to take a look at this beautiful film poem, one of four about canals on the Poetry Society site.

I often suggest to students that they think of their poem as a film. That way you focus on the visual and also the auditory aspects of the poem. In order to evoke your watery scene for the reader you need to go, either literally or in your imagination / memory and sit awhile looking about you and listening.

You don’t need to go very far. There is plenty of water in York, sometimes too much. You might want to walk by the river, look at the lines drawn on the wall near King’s Staith marking the levels the floods reached in various disastrous years and imagine or remember that area underwater.

You might want to sit by a lake or a reservoir and watch the fishermen enjoying that special peace and quiet. Note down the flora and fauna, observe the birds and insects, listen to the sounds. Literally make notes. Don’t go without paper and pen.

Wet weather has returned. Why not sit by an open window and listen to the rain. Can you convey in words precisely what it sounds like? What it reminds you of? What it looks like as it falls or as it settles on a path or the leaves and petals?

Or perhaps you’d rather write about being on the water or even in the water? Sailing, swimming, drowning, going on a cruise or a ferry, even looking down from a bridge could make a good poem.

You might have a specific memory of learning to swim or handle a boat, the first time you took the oars. Or you could write about the dangers of water, the Titanic or more recent tragedies.

Here’s one about the Titanic by Thomas Hardy. Note how Hardy pictures the ill-fated movement of the iceberg and the “unsinkable” ship towards one another

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

Write your own shipwreck poem or maybe a poem about deep-sea diving? Or even simply snorkelling to watch the underwater world of sea-creatures.

The winning poem in the Stanza Poetry Competition was about a well.

Once a child fell in. Vainglorious on the rim,
terrified in his fall. I drank deep of him.
from Jan Bay-Petersen, Owner of an emptiness

It is written in the voice of the well and derives its strange power from that. Could you write in the voice of a stream or the ocean?

What might the sea or a river think of us? What would it hear and see of our world? Or write your own well poem.

Heaney was fascinated by wells too. In Personal Helicon he writes:

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and moss.

There is a poem in Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings called Water. It begins:

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Water has religious connotations for many of us. Think of its uses in worship, its purifying and life-giving qualities. Baptism would be a very good subject for a poem. So would taking the waters.

If you’ve ever been to the Turkish Baths in Harrogate (I did once and it gave me a headache I haven’t forgotten but I know people who swear by it) you might want to write about water’s health benefits, its healing qualities.

You might want to write about washing your dog, crabbing in Walberswick, reflections in a canal in Venice, watching Tom Daley in the Olympics or cleaning out drains. I don’t care so long as your poem involves water in some way.

Click here to send your soggy poem to me by the end of October and I will choose the best for my November blog.

Send up to three if you like so long as they are unpublished. As an attachment in word please or as PDF with your name at the foot of each poem.

Carole Bromley is married with four children and lives in York. Twice a winner in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, she has two pamphlets with Smith/Doorstop (Unscheduled Holt, 2005, and Skylight, 2009) and a collection A Guided Tour of the Ice House. She has won a number of first prizes, including The Bridport and Yorkshire Open, and her poems have appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies. Carole is a graduate of the MPhil in Writing at Glamorgan University and teaches creative writing for York University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.