On the 23rd of November, Westerly welcomed the four participants in the 2017 Writers’ Development Program (WDP) to the University of Western Australia for a workshop with respected local author Susan Midalia. The talented 2017 WDP bunch includes Vidya Rajan, Wesley Robertson, Maddie Godfrey and Alana Hunt—who participated from Kununurra through Skype and phone. Elements covered included writing poetry, writing short stories and tips on finding publication.
Along with Chris Arnold—who has joined the Westerly team as Web Editor since participating in the first iteration of the WDP in 2016—these writers spent the afternoon in creative mode, responding to Susan’s beautifully crafted activities, experimenting with different forms of writing, and extending their technical skills with Susan’s guidance. The results were so impressive that we’ve decided to share them with you here, without editing, as an example of the way in which such workshopping can produce excellent original work. (Susan has been kind enough to permit the inclusion of elements of her exercises for context.) This writing bodes well for 2018, when the 2017 WDP participants will be published by Westerly in print and online. Something for Westerly readers to look forward to!
Imagine that you are a colour, then ask yourself why you chose it. For example: what do you to see or feel when you picture that colour? Which qualities/states of mind do you associate with that colour?
Begin your poem with a line that states you are a certain colour.
Then, write two lines that suggest your reasons for choosing that colour.
I am blue.
have you ever eaten an ocean?
ever challenged the water within you?
Turn the prose extract into a poem by changing how the words are set out on the page. Feel free to make either small or radical changes: omit words, add words, change the syntax (the order of words in a line), and the structure; use typographical devices such as brackets, capital and lower case letters, ellipses and longer spaces between words, change the third person (“she”) to the first person (“I”).
(Extract from Susan Midalia’s story ‘The Hook’; it evokes a woman’s grief at the death of her husband):
She remembered hanging out the washing in the dead of night and looking up at a moonless sky. She remembered crying out to no one and to nothing: You’re gone.
she hangs in black—tenses coils, releases.
plastic fingers grip linen, polyester,
not salt or her water, her throat:
hollow of human and moon.
Zero divided by zero
The kitchen is a museum
when the lights are off.
Glinting fork, and
this empty saucer in the dark –
a porcelain moon
eclipsed to pieces
on a clean floor.
We segment time like a clock
but with our own divisions.
This is how the world keeps busy
and makes a collection
of a girl
of her memory.
Try taking a story you’ve already written and re-write it by using a paratactic structure (a series of headings). You don’t have to adhere to the chronology of your original story. Headings can include: a time; a place; an object; a character’s name; an abstract noun (fear, freedom, love); a sensation (itch, burning, oozing); a colour; the title of a novel, poem, movie, TV series, etc; a historical character; an historical event; a genre; a building. Anything you like.
Choose three of the above headings (or choose one of your own) and underneath each heading, write a few sentences relevant to that heading and which focus on a different moment in time.
A seeding tree
The tree stood in the afternoon light, yet the sun was still hard. When the wind blew the tree shed its offspring. The ground was soon covered in thousands of open seed pods.
Her knee skidded into the ground. That instant of impact moved in slow-motion until she felt a hand on her back and was thrown into the car.
He washed his hands in the bathroom sink. The dust mixed with white soap to create a pink dirty froth. This was the limp colour his life left behind.
The Beeliar Wetlands
I come to this place when I need to be reminded of something. There is a kind of stillness here that I have never felt anywhere else, that I never notice until I have left the comfort of being canopied by tall trees and rediscover the noise of trucks out on the main road. The boardwalk crouches above the water, which is carpeted with algae, as if someone had poured molten green plastic into a depression that set around the trees. It looks as if I could walk out over the water.
There is a memory that I come back to often. And I don’t know if it was ever real or if I made it up. I have fallen into a pool. I don’t remember falling, but I can see the water surrounding me as I float down, looking up through the distorting blue into the bright disc. A darker shape. Then I am sitting on a lounger, wrapped in a towel with family fussing around me, seen as if from a distance.
In the wetlands, I only hear frogs and insects. No flapping wings or paddling feet, no splashes or cries. No voices or footsteps. Alone, I am safe. When the trees begin to thin, the surroundings become more hostile. Trucks and people.
The colour of slate, its powder coat a passing thought. Your mother: her life a cardboard box on wet concrete. Someone picks it up.
White Shoes I
Your shoes make the sound of waking as they fall. Your face grew longer, thinner, your voice pierced lower, and I replaced what you’d lost. There are always three of you—there is always giving, and always loss.
White Shoes II
The lino is never the colour you’d think, and neither are their shoes. I haven’t seen where you are now. Your mother hasn’t slept for five days.
Write a poem of 4 to 9 lines containing the words mustard, piano, elastic, moat, notorious.
Or, if you prefer, use the words dimple, horseradish, blue, slow, moonlight.
I’m having an American Summer
but in Perth and
in my bedroom. Four seasons of
Seinfeld ready to go. Soy hotdog,
ready to eat of course, but no mustard
cause I have allergies.
In the mornings,
Notorious B.I.G gets me out of bed, almost.
The covers turn elastic in this heat, wrapping
over my lard body like chewing gum.
I spit the hot dog out.
It was disgusting.
A piano falls from a third floor window.
Near miss so
Have you ever picked chewing gum off anything?
It’s a work of patience.
It never comes off clean.
This summer will be never ending.
Tiptoe with piano-steps,
dance elastic-footed across the moat
that I have dug around my open side.
It stretches from here to the deep mustard hue
that fringes the sea at dusk.
His mind sounded like a piano filled with popping mustard seeds.
He longed for elasticity. But a moat separated
his left from his right. It was something he could never reconcile.
He feared he might one day become notorious for it.
piano, elastic, notorious, dimple, slow, moonlight
his dimple was a slow sunrise, a sky too tired to sleep.
soon we would be notorious stories only ever told
at the end of parties, when the elastic band of attention
is almost loose, but still sturdy enough to hold an absence.
like a piano key pressed halfway, we knew how to play
melodies that would make even the moonlight blush. but
we both preferred silence. so we wrote our friendship in
a foreign language. and his dimple stayed asleep.