Today was a jam-packed literary day. In the morning I paid a visit to my old high school to hear a very funny talk by Keith Gray. After chatting to the pupils, answering questions and signing books, he very generously sat down to talk to me for half an hour about his latest novel, Ostrich Boys. I will post the interview as soon as I have deciphered my notes and typed them up.
In the evening I went to a workshop with Mark Thomson, a performance poet from Dundee. He is a charismatic performer and I really enjoyed hearing him recite some poems from his debut collection, Bard fae thi Buildin Site. He writes and performs in his local Dundonian dialect and the pace and rhythm of the poems is thrilling. He told us that writing in dialect allows him to write closer to his own voice. He uses dialect words as “ammunition”; the richer the vocabulary he has to choose from, the more he can play with the sound and rhythm of the poem.
In the workshop Mark did an exercise with us where we had to write down our initials on a page, then come up with ten words that started with each letter. He suggested that we use dialect words where possible, but as I’ve mentioned, I am dialectically challenged so I just put English words in my list. Afterwards we were given about five minutes to write a paragraph using those words, and he assured us it was absolutely OK to write nonsense.
Mark explained that when you read poetry out loud, it often sounds different from the way it flows in your head, so we all took turns to read out our nonsense paragraphs. Lots of people had come up with some really funny stories and one person even managed to construct a rhyming poem from her words. All the pieces had a really nice natural rhythm, thanks to the alliteration.
I found the exercise very inspiring and I am planning to try it again to help me write a short story. I’ll keep you updated on how that works out. In the meantime, here is the paragraph I wrote in the workshop today for you to chew on:
She had huge curls of copper hair that she combed around her head in a halo. Sometimes she crimped and clipped them, or coiled them up under a hair net. She kept her kirbys in a clear glass jar on the hope chest; held her hair back, clawed it behind her ears, clipped the coppery strands in place – calm, collected, controlled. But at night she let her hair hang loose, howling around her face; her hard face, hot hair, cold face.