Open to the world - Wendy Woodward    
Wed, 15 March 2023

Do you ever sit in front of a blank page or screen, wishing you had more inspiration? If so, we have good news. Wendy Woodward, a poet who taught creative writing in the English Department at the University of the Western Cape for 20 years, has developed some simple exercises designed to heighten your awareness of your surroundings. Her third poetry collection, A Saving Bannister, was published by Modjaji Books in 2015. She regularly offers poetry workshops and mentors poets preparing manuscripts for publication.

Wendy has shared three exercises that she uses to ease her students into the writing process.

All these exercises require free writing. This involves writing as rapidly as you can without stopping or worrying about punctuation and grammar. You can always edit your work later. 
  1. We all feel at home in particular places, whether urban or rural; maybe it’s a coffee shop, a bench in a park, the beach on a cold day, or the street where you walk daily. What are yours? Make a list of about 12 places. Then choose one, close your eyes, and imagine that you are in this particular place. Note your breathing and your heart rate. Are you keeping tension in your muscles or letting go? What are the feelings that permeate your body? Now free write for 15 minutes on what you are experiencing and what you have experienced in this space.
  2. Most indigenous nations conceive the landscape as alive, with all living beings related. Imagine a non-human ancestor for yourself. What creature or plant or mountain do you feel drawn to? Perhaps a huge camphor tree comes to mind or a kudu you saw in the bush. Perhaps you love the view of a mountain peak from your window. First, list why you have these strong feelings of interconnection. Write rapidly for about 5 minutes. Read through your list and underline the most significant aspects. Now free write for 15 minutes on how you and the tree or animal or mountain are related. What kind of ancestor would they be? How would they strengthen you on a daily basis?
  3. All around us are beings and intelligences we might not always notice, but a poet’s practice is to be open to the world. When you walk or drive anywhere, note how many other species there are – birds, animals, reptiles – that you don’t register habitually. Perhaps it’s a flock of guinea fowl on the side of the road, a gecko on the wall, or a cat in a stinkwood tree. Make a quick list of non-human beings you became aware of once you opened your mind and heart. Now, either recall or imagine an encounter with a being you feel drawn to (or irritated by). Perhaps it’s the hadeda that shouts outside your workspace all day. What crossovers are there between you and the creature – physically, emotionally, intelligence-wise? How do you look at each other? Free write for 15 minutes.
Don’t ever throw your free writing away. Days later you might come back to it and find jewels where you thought there was only mud.

Use these exercises in the coming days to help you while you write down your thoughts. Feel how they sharpen your sense of the outside world, which is always available to you for inspiration and amazement.

You can order a copy of A Saving Bannister from the African Books Collective, and experience Wendy’s clear, brilliant poems firsthand.

Don’t forget to visit the AVBOB Poetry blog for regular tips and updates about the AVBOB Poetry Competition, which will reopen for submissions on 1 August 2023. Visit