Jan Dean is the author of Wallpapering the Cat, Macmillan, A Penguin in Lost Property, Macmillan, (with Roger Stevens) and Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls Macmillan, (with me and Michaela Morgan).
She has also written two fiction books for children, but describes herself as “a poet who sometimes writes fiction, not a fictioneer who knocks of the occasional poem.”
Jan is great fun and a brilliant poet who works in schools – her projects have also included working with groups from Covent Garden’s innovative music theatre education programme in the Purcell School for gifted young musicians and writing in the environment with Northumberland schools. She has led workshops for both adults and children in Manchester, Liverpool and Chester Cathedrals, and has also run workshops at major festivals.
Jan’s blog is here and her Twitter account is @glitterpoems
I hate grey weather. It makes me miserable. Sometimes I wonder if the weather has seeped inside my head and filled me up with fog… and when I feel like this I find it hard to write. So I have to kick-start the process. These are some of the things I do:
• Look out of a window and write down the first three/four things you notice, then go to another window and do the same. (You can do this for every window in the house if you like.)
• Say the words out loud to hear if there are any interesting sound patterns going on in the lists
• Visualise the things in the list to see if there are any striking colours/pictures.
• Write six or seven opening lines based on the list. (You don’t have to use everything and you can mix the lists up. Or you can write one verse about your room and one about a better/worse room.)
• Work up the best four into draft poems – be sure to weave your mood and any changes of feeling into the drafts. Remember that once you start writing you don’t have to stick to the ‘truth’ of what you saw. Making the words work is what counts.
I did this one from the list of stuff from my window. It might be finished. I won’t know for sure until I’ve put it away for a few weeks and then come back and re- read it.
Wren in the hedge. Hopping
like a brown ball. Stopping
for a second on the red brick wall.
I wish I had just an ounce
of your bounce…
Slug on the step. Sliding
smooth as oil. Gliding
by milk bottles then back to black soil.
Writing your route in slime
while I write mine in rhyme.
I did see a bird in the hedge – but it wasn’t a wren. And I did see a slug – but it wasn’t on the step. I changed what I saw to improve the sounds and rhythms in the poem. (My actual list was: Blue tit in hedge bouncing on branch. Bright blue car in road. Slug on ivy root. Recycling bag on gate.)
I’ve got a couple of other drafts to work on too – one about how sinister ivy is – the way it creeps and clings and takes over; and one about matching your day to the first thing you see when you open the curtains that might begin like this:
‘Today is a tin can day
a clattering day
a rolling away day
Today I am going to bang about
howl under beds
and throw stuff….’
Or it might not. I’ll have to see how it goes.