Poetry blog: Get into gear and write about the things we wear

30 Sep 2014 @ 10.14 pm
| News

Roll up your sleeves, kick off your shoes and get writing. As Carole Bromley explains, clothes can reveal as much as they conceal

Costume designs for last year’s York production of Blood + Chocolate. Photograph: Allan Harris on Flickr

Autumn is upon us and people are scurrying to the shops for sweaters or shaking out last year’s and hoping they haven’t got the moth. All those flimsy tops and comfortable shorts will soon be consigned to the bottom drawer till the spring and it got me thinking about clothes.

So this month’s challenge is to write about an item of clothing. Of course, your poem won’t simply be about a garment but that’s your starting point.

See how far Robert Pinsky travels in his wonderful poem Shirt.

You might want to imagine or research the making of a garment, the lives of the people in the sweatshop perhaps or, if you’re planning to write about a piece of clothing with a history, use it as a springboard into the life of the relative or the imagined owner.

Costumes in a museum are great for this kind of exercise.

Or you might want to explore family history through a piece of clothing as Charles Simic does in his poem My Shoes.

Or as Jackie Kay does in a very different way in her poem The Shoes of Dead Comrades (PDF).

Shoes are so very personal, shaped to our individual feet in a way most clothes are not, that it is hardly surprising to find poets using them as a starting point.

If you want to write about the loss of a loved one, shoes might help. If you want to write about a child, put his/her first shoes on your desk (unless you’re superstitious) and remember first steps or just the day you bought them or the day they were finally discarded.

Or perhaps you want to write a love poem? What better place to start than Robert Herrick’s Delight in Disorder? It’s very sexy and might make you feel a whole lot better about looking a mess.

Carol Ann Duffy’s anthology, Out of Fashion, is packed with poems old and new about clothing. I just spent a frustrating half hour searching for my copy and I notice you can get one for 1p on amazon. Money well spent, I’d say.

Of course, Duffy herself writes wonderfully about clothes and also jewellery. Think of her famous poem Warming her Pearls.

Now put on your glad rags, your best bib and tucker and write me a poem about shoes, your lucky pants, a little black dress, knitting, a football strip, a stripper, your gran’s feather boa or any other garment under the sun and let’s hope the sun sticks around for a little while longer.

Send your poems (maximum of three please) to [email protected] by October 14th and we will publish the most interesting responses here.

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.