Mouthy Poets Workshop – Ms PoPOW’s weekly blog entry

15 Apr

Warm up exercises


To get our brains thinking more creatively, we each took an image from a large selection of magazine cut-outs and wrote for five minutes or so about how the picture represents how we were feeling right then.

Then we got into groups and explained why our images were representative of our moods, sharing our free-writes if we wanted to.

It might not be a bad idea to keep a scrapbook of images that capture your interest; if you’re ever stuck for poem ideas you could always refer to these pictures and write about them.


In our groups we were given the task to write a cheesy poem about what poetry is and/or what poetry should be. This was very amusing – particularly when we performed them to the rest of the group in our most melodramatic, “poet” voices. The Mouthy Poets are always so good at getting their audiences to reassess their preconceptions of performance poetry that hearing poems that were intentionally clichéd was quite an unusual experience.



Then we stood in a circle and took it turns to say two words that represented how we were feeling, accompanied by an action, which the rest of the group then copied. This got a little more loosened up.



How can a poem be translated from one language to another? Does it lose its meaning? We thought about this when reading ‘Gocasho’, a poem written by the Somalian poet Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf.

Portrait photo of Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf

Firstly, before knowing anything about the poem, we read the original version in Somalian out loud. None of us spoke Somalian so approaching a poem unequipped with our knowledge of language was quite refreshing. We could not grasp the meaning of the poem so we were forced instead to focus entirely on the sounds of the words and its form.

Then we read the literal translation and the final translated versions of the poem (‘Recollection’). With the meaning now more available to us, some of us still felt that some of the rich sounds of the original poem were lost and we were aware that a lot of the meaning must have been lost too. Similarly, although the final translated version was tighter formally, some of us felt that the literal translation was less contrived and had more of an interesting word choice.

In groups, we then collaborated to write a poem which drew from all three versions. Still not knowing what the words meant, a lot of us borrowed phrases from the original Somalian version because we liked the sound of these words better than the translated ones.


Writing at Speed

Deborah gave us about two minutes to write a poem about the following titles:

  • My life as a potato
  • He failed to notice
  • 10 different types of war
  • The difference between men and women
  • An Instruction manual for Death
  • 5 things you should hide in your shoe at night

After sharing our speedy poems with one another in small groups, we borrowed each other’s and edited them with the intention of making them more easily comprehensible to someone who didn’t know English very well. We tried to think of ways to bring out the literal meaning of the poem.

For some reason, most people chose the ‘My life as a potato’ poems to work on. There must have been something that resonated with each of us about this imaginative exercise! I don’t think I’ll ever look at a potato in the same way again…

Writing on cue is something I have been struggling with over the past few months. When we’d start doing an exercise in a workshop I’d freeze up and get worried because nothing interesting would emerge from my writing. This week, however, I’ve been writing a little every day and I found it so much easier to turn on the poetry part of my brain during this exercise.

I told Deborah about my difficulties with turning on my creativity as and when I want it and she suggested that I write every day in every possible way I could image, whether that is in a notepad, on a laptop, on napkins, or on fallen leaves. (We both got very excited about the concept of writing poems on leaves and handing them out to random strangers).


Poetry across borders

Thinking about communicating poetry across different languages was really interesting, particularly as there is a market for poets in translating poetry from one language to another. The subtle meaning and cadences in words in one language probably won’t translate in quite the same way in another. The challenge of reproducing the meaning and the form (the rhyme/rhythm/metre/sound) of a poem in another language is a difficult one.

This point of discussion is also relevant for the upcoming Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival (NEAT 14) that the Mouthy Poets will be performing in on 31st May as this will follow the theme of poetry across borders.


One Response to “Mouthy Poets Workshop – Ms PoPOW’s weekly blog entry”

  1. M. James April 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Interesting article, and I have to agree with the sentiment about writing on cue; I find it really tough. I think I would have gone for “◦An Instruction manual for Death” as it would appeal more to my macabre side!

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