‘See if the draft poem has thematic and technical substance or throw it away. Subject it to all the tests you can think of.’
In September’s instalment of ‘How to write a poem’ Frances Presley shares her lovely and instructive wisdom for approaching a poem:
1. Write a sequence of poems with a theme and a form, such as Neolithic stone settings and visual poetics. It means you don’t have to constantly think about how to write the next poem, but should be flexible enough to allow changes of direction.
2. Be in a landscape. Take with you a pre-determined poetic. See what happens when it is subject to land slips and torrential rain. Abandon conscious control and note what happens around you and inside you.
3. Try ‘blind writing’ which like ‘blind drawing’ focuses on the thing seen rather than the page and allows the lines, the words, to emerge. Use all your senses and remember that the referee with peripheral vision is no use if her brain is blind.
4. Be in a source text. Lift the language of other writers, both good and bad. Look in the archives of forgotten women, such as Exmoor historian Hazel Eardley-Wilmot, for their letters, unpublished manuscripts and diaries. Rewrite and redesign source texts to reveal their concealed meanings.
5. Collaborate with artists, musicians and, for a real challenge, other poets. Through collaboration you create something that is neither one nor the other but a third entity. The best collaboration is simultaneous, non-hierarchical and feminist, as well as an act of love.
6. See if the draft poem has thematic and technical substance or throw it away. Subject it to all the tests you can think of.
Frances Presley is a poet whose writing is widely published. Most of her work up until 2009 can be found in Paravane (Salt, 2004); Myne (Shearsman, 2006) and Lines of Sight (Shearsman, 2009). Since then she has produced An Alphabet for Alina with artist Peterjon Skelt (Five Seasons, 2012) and Halse for Hazel (Shearsman, 2014) which received an Arts Council award, with its companion volume, Sallow (Leafe, 2016). Her work is in the anthologies Infinite Difference (2010), Ground Aslant: radical landscape poetry (2011) and Out of Everywhere2 (2015). She has translated Salt on the eye: selected poems, by Hanne Bramness (Shearsman, 2007); Outside the Institution: selected poems by Lars Amund Vaage (Shearsman, 2010) and No film in the camera by Hanne Bramness (Shearsman, 2013). She lives in London but also writes in Somerset with the visual poet and performer Tilla Brading. You can also find Frances’ poems in Poetry Wales Spring 2016 Vol 51.3.
Sallow was published last year by Leafe Press. It continues a long sequence of poems about the languages of trees, Halse for Hazel (Shearsman, 2014), especially those used by women, including local dialect and botanic classification. Halse for Hazelbegan on the hills of Exmoor and Sallow explores low lying wetland areas, mapping political and environmental pressures. ‘Crack willow’ is a collaborative text with Harriet Tarlo from a walk near her home in Yorkshire. The poems are juxtaposed with images by the artist Irma Irsara.
Sallow, by Frances Presley with images by Irma Irsara, 24pp, published by Open House editions, an imprint of Leafe Press, http://www.leafepress.com. £4.50 (inc. postage), £6.50 RRP.
‘I found her work a highly pleasant revelation, at once thoroughly alert and judged yet delightfully manic and far-reaching in its wildness, risks and resultant freedoms’ David Morley, Poetry Review
‘Presley’s work sleights the relationship between landscape and language, each deploying (or deployed) as markers for the human eye.’ C. Waldrep, Kenyon Review