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Posts Tagged ‘reading’


Often in my therapeutic writing sessions, we will use a poem as a springboard. This poem is chosen for its relationship to group concerns. For example, Rumi’s Guesthouse helps people who are feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings they cannot understand. Or Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings resonates with people who feel trapped (for example, caregivers).

The people I work with may have had scant experience of reading poetry. They are sometimes surprised at how relevant poetry can be – even if the poetry they have met previously was written in language not remotely relating to their everyday lives and seemingly placing the poet’s concerns somewhere different from their own.

So, when we have read the poem (several times), we then consider some of the following questions:

  • What does this poem do for you?
  • What feelings does this poem call up in you?
  • What similarities are there in your life?
  • How do you relate to the speaker’s situation?

These questions are quite different to the questions asked in usual literature classes and may generate surprising discussions. But if the group is willing to go further, I may ask also the more usual questions such as:

  • What is the important idea in this poem?
  • How does the language help to express this idea? The images? The sound? The rhythm?
  • Which vivid detail speaks most to you?

And if group members are interested in ‘having a go’ themselves, I ask them to make notes on the following:

  • If you wanted to write about your own situation, what image would you choose?
  • Have you any ideas about a poetic form you’d choose? Eg couplets (two line verses, lists, alpha poems? Free verse?
  • Would you write it from your own point of view – or choose another person? For example, we might read Hawk roosting by Ted Hughes.

And then, we do ‘have a go’!

Sharing is an important part of this kind of work. Some people are willing to share there and then. Others like to polish their work as ‘homework’. Others consider publication or public performance.

But, for some, what they have written is entirely private. And, whatever they choose to do is good. In fact, for some, having a choice is empowering. Choice for some is a rare experience.

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Reading and writing are concerned with people. The reason why I have been drawn to literature all my life is because I hoped – through story – to find out about people, to understand them better, to make sense of them where at times there seemed no sense. Sometimes, I have wondered how this works – this quest to connect to humanity. And, it seems to me, it works through the senses. And through the imagination.

As a writer, through sense impressions, you can build up a world for the reader which he can recognise. Sense impressions – visual, aural, tangible, olfactory, gustatory – link the writer and the reader through their common humanity. And, when this linking happens, as a reader, you know you are not alone, not a freak. You know you have something in common. You then take it further. You want to gain the insights which will help you make sense of your life. You want to be prompted to ask the questions ”What if . . . ?’ or ‘Where next?’   And, as a consequence, ‘What if . . .?’ and ‘Where next . . . ?’ are two of the most important questions a fiction writer can have in his or her tool kit.

The process has another important dimension. When you are the writer and the audience – as when journaling – the whole experience moves up a gear. You learn to understand yourself better, to make sense of your own life. You learn what is important to you and what your chief anxieties are. And, in the ‘safe place’ of solitude, you can learn how to express these – first to yourself and then to the world at large.

Here’s a writing game to engage you with your senses!

Settle yourself down where-ever you like to write, relax into your writing state and take up your pen. Complete the following:

On my way to my favourite chair, my desk, my bed:

  • I saw
  •  I heard
  •  I tasted
  •  I touched
  •  I thought
  •  I felt
Now, choose the three complete thoughts that seem to you to have the most potential for you to explore in fiction. Think of a character, give him or her a name, and your three sensations. Write a story of no more than 500 words using this material. Consider what you’ve created. Do you like it? Could you develop it further?
Through this game, you will demonstrate to yourself that you possess the imagination essential to linking writer and reader  in quantities.

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Reading and writing are concerned with people. The reason why I have been drawn to literature all my life is because I hoped – through story – to find out about people, to understand them better, to make sense of them. Sometimes, I have wondered how this is supposed to work – this quest to connect to humanity.

And, it seems to me, it works through the senses. Sense impressions – visual, aural, tangible, olefactory, gustatory – link the writer and the reader through their common humanity. This means, as writer or reader, you are not alone. The reader is seeking a commonality, a sign that he is not an outside – well, not entirely. And he – or she – wants to gain those extra insights which will make sense of his life.

Through these sense impressions, the writer builds up a situation for the reader which – on the whole – the reader can recognize. And the reader wants to be prompted to question ”What if . . . ?’ or ‘Where next? . . . ‘ This is produced by the infinite curiosity about the situation a human can find him/herself in. And the story may even produces the solutions necessary to escape from them. As a consequence, ‘What if . . .?’ and ‘Where next . . . ?’ are two of the most important questions a fiction writer can have in his or her tool kit.

But, when you are the writer and you are the audience, the whole experience moves up a gear. You learn to understand yourself better, to make sense of your own life. If you keep a daily journal, you learn what is important to you, what your chief anxieties are – and in a safe place you will practise the communication of these significant concerns.

Reading and creating literature helps –  in the same way. So, for some reading recommendations – and otherwise – please see my Reading List, on LinkedIn.

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