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Poems, letters, blindfolded sculptors

photo thanks to Tamal @flickr

Some words from Denise Riley have inspired me today: 

Writing, you can feel like a blindfolded sculptor slapped around the head by damp lumps of clay which you must try to seize and throw back at the haphazardly forming art object before it stiffens itself into some shape you never quite intended. *

Although I find this comparison wildly crazy, accurate and exhausting in equal measures, it seemed the perfect springboard for writing today. I was also inspired by reading a blog piece on the Poetry School's Campus site by Miriam Nash titled 'The Poetry Postbox'.

Nash discusses her upcoming course of the same title inspired by years of letter writing, and as she clarifies, by this she means actual real pen-to-paper letters that get addressed, stamped and posted. I have also found this technique useful over the years, though I admit that I have more of a healthy stack of stationery, rarely the right stamp and quite a few typed up versions of letters that never made it to the post box than I do a routine for writing letters when I need to. Her discussion of this regularity in her own writing practice though did make me want to re-attempt my own. To return to those pen-pal days from my youth and thus, to receive letters as well as write them.  There is something immensely satisfying about receiving a hand-written envelope through the letter box and I am lucky that my mother and grandmother still regularly send me little musings, updates and photos this way. I owe each of them at least several hundred replies.

For those who may want to write and receive creative missives but don't have a buddy-system in place, you could try The Rumpus's 'Letters in The Mail', a wonderful subscription service where writers write letters and they get posted to those on the list. From what I've heard, most of the writers are also open to receiving replies. This too is something I have been meaning to sign myself up to for a long time and maybe now is the optimum moment to do so.

Riley's 'damp lumps of clay' or as I envision them, words, images, and rhythms that will go into the making of a new poem are what excite me in the every day task of sitting down (or sometimes standing up) and getting on with and into the writing. This summer I am really enjoying the hurling of my clay back into the face of who-knows-what to see what or how it will become. And in this becoming lies the process of writing, of engaging with sound and meaning. In the crafting of a trajectory and of an argument, my thesis is properly taking shape now, one word and sentence at a time. And all of it is new in the thinking-it-through for me, and the shape it takes is always a surprise.

quote from: The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony (Standford University Press, 2000) p. 67


  1. Hi Liz, I loved reading this - and I definitely relate to the throwing around of clay! Happy letters to you.

  2. Thanks Miriam (and for persevering with the comment-thing on this blog)! I'll get in touch via Campus about all things letters and Phd. Liz

  3. Ha ha ha, I love the thought of being slapped round the head with a lump of clay. A great read Liz x


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