Saturday, 12 January 2013

My five a day: writing poetry 1

Five a day! This has been a long-running campaign to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables. Less familiar, but perhaps more significantly, this health drive was followed up four years ago with the mental health campaign proposed and promoted by Andy Gibson:

mindapple (mīnd-ăp-´əl)n.
      a simple day-to-day activity that is good for the mind 

The idea was once again featured in The Guardian earlier last year.

It is difficult to quantify how much depression and mental health really costs the country, as there are so many ways to measure what it is, and quantifying its perceived impact is open to a variety of competing methodologies. But one estimate suggests that the cost in Britain alone may be more than $100 billion every year. That means that worldwide cost could be meausured in trillions of dollars.

My recently adopted mind activity is to write a daily poem.

In case this sounds elitist or exclusively literary, let me just be clear that my working notion of a poem resists tight definition. In fact, my daily poem does not even have to be written down. It can be spoken, or silently composed in the head.

But writing works best for me, and it's nice to have a record of my workout.

For me it's a case of making an effort to use language creatively and consciously every day; deploying it in a way that is different from writing undertaken for practical goals such as current projects at work.

So let's be clear: there is no need to measure lines, or to impose a pulse or a beat, or find rhymes, or divide your work into stanzas or verses. The word "Poetry " comes from the Greek poiesisποίησις —literally just 'making' or 'creating.' So I'm not going to be beaten down by notions of traditional forms of poetry, or feel alienated by the many poems, poets, and traditions that I admire and respect.

I'm also not excessivley anxious about delivering a finished product, or a clever idea, or a systematic thought. Just a few words will do. In  fact, I'm delighted with a glimpse beyond the unconscious, automatic use of language that rots our brains and oozes through our consciousness. But I'm wanting to be a tiny bit self-conscious, perhaps even with a faint glimmer of imagination or inspiration. That's enough. That's the limit of my daily work out.

Actually it's not that much more difficult that doing a Tweet, and that's how some people present their creative efforts to the public. There's also Facebook sites where you can post a poem. And some of them are quite good, I daresay. I write mine on scraps of paper, or in a range of notebooks. They are private productions rather than disasters in self-promotion. Each to his own.

But if I have to interface with social media, what I find works best is to take a random word or phrase from the social media flow, and make that my topic for the day. This means that there's no excuse to make a start, as you have a ready-made topic to hand.

I am finding that the randomness of this approach also means that parts of your brain, and the deeper parts of your mind start to unlock. I'm finding that my thoughts throughout the day are moderately more supple, subtle and alive.

Just like my muscles after the gym, in fact. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences

 (Quibble Academic, 2013)