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Write a poem in an hour with Liesl Jobson    
Tue, 19 July 2022



Does writing poetry depend on a muse channelling inspiration from beyond? Many people think this mysterious process is what delivers glittering lines of verse, all polished and ready to win prizes! As the sixth annual AVBOB Poetry Competition season begins, writing teacher, Liesl Jobson, debunks these myths in a series of free online writing workshops to help writers grow their skills and confidence. In this article, she explores how writers can find inspiration for poems in their own physical experience.
 
Your body is your muse
 
There are many curious notions about what the muse is and does, but the idea of poetry arriving as an instant download from a miraculous inspiration lottery doesn’t help poets who are stuck.
 
Let’s imagine instead that the muse is already inside you, and the sound of your bones and breath contain the voice of the poem. What if the “muse” is actually the table where a pen and blank page await you? 
 
At a purely practical level, do this exercise longhand on paper, unless you have a physical disability. The reason for using stationery is to bypass the screen and its distractions. Avoid pop-ups or notifications by switching off your phone. Additionally, when listening to the body, it helps to observe it in action, doing the physical work of moving words across a page.
 
1) Free-writing freedom
 
The fastest breakthrough out of stuckness is free writing. Set a 15-minute timer and write whatever comes to mind until the chime sounds. Keep your hand moving across the page, no matter what. Suspend judgement and keep your pen flowing. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation. Don’t worry if you write “I don’t know what to write… ” for the first five lines. The anxious repetition soon gets boring and your writerly self will find something more imaginative to say. Simply listen to the still, small internal voice finding its way to the page.
 
2) Writing about writing
 
Take note of the physical act of driving a pen across the page. Does your hand plod or dance? Do the words march or crawl? Are you smiling or scowling? How do your fingers feel? Does your forearm cramp or your shoulder ache? Do you feel lighter as the words flow out? Do tears come? Or laughter? Are you humming as you write? Can you hear the sound of your hand upon the paper? Does your pen flow smoothly? Does it leak? Is your pencil scratchy? Do memories surface of other times when you wrote? School exams or filling in application forms? Signing a marriage certificate or writing a letter? Write down these observations and memories using all five senses for 15 minutes.
 
3) Stay in your body
 
Now use two differently coloured pens. Write a question in blue to the body part with the strongest sensation. Let it answer back in black ink. Maybe your arms miss holding a baby. Or your cold toes complain about your broken shoes letting in the rain? Maybe your knees want to flex in prayer as you plant pumpkin seeds? Invite your body’s ailments to comment on what they’ve endured. What are you trying to handle? What burden do you shoulder? What knots your stomach? Describe your bodily sensations in terms of texture, heat, shape and size. Let your body’s story emerge in its own way. Expect a surprise.
 
4) Find the first draft
 
Reread your writing and highlight any sentences that jump out. Find the fragments or phrases that excite you. Join them together. Line them up. Do they circle back? Can you rephrase them? Has an idea emerged that deserves more time? Stitch the lines together into a basic whole. Let it be the start of something bigger. Or chip away what doesn't fit until it feels coherent.
 
Finally, congratulate yourself for showing up. Your poem has arrived, albeit taking wobbly steps. With time and affectionate attention it will find its centre. Another day, you’ll clean up spelling and check punctuation, trim lines and enhance the images. For now, please welcome your new poem and take a bow.
 
Follow AVBOB Poetry on social media for details of the next five online poetry workshops hosted by Liesl Jobson with experienced poets and poetry publishers – Jolyn Phillips, Xabiso Vili, Mangaliso Buzani, Vonani Bila, and Robert Berold.
 



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