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Nafeesa Hamid SST8 Scratch show: first drafts

5 Jan

Hi. I have a few ideas so far for my poem for the scratch show – I’ve done a surprising amount of writing around the topic of food (which I was initially dubious about). Because I’ve got so many ideas roaming about my notebook, I’d really appreciate people commenting on which they feel is strongest, or which has the most potential or perhaps even an amalgamation of all the ideas? I’d also appreciate just general comments on improvements and edits I can make to one or all of the drafts. Thanks!

1.     Self Portrait (Deborah’s session)

My face is the shape of good naan bread,

With ajwan seeds scattered across

Its surface;

Pudgy dough inside;

With dry, cracked surface.

The circumference of my face

Is similar to that of a gulab jaman.

My eyes are the colour of well-cooked lamb kebabs

And the size of a Mushtaq’s jalebi.

They also shine that bright,

When I’m excited, I think.

My mother too, is jalebi-eyed.

My body is multi coloured,

Like the individual grains of rice in a pilau biryani

That come together as a whole

Spicy dish.


2.     Mum’s spicy chicken niblets (Anne’s session)

Rumble. Grumble. Rumble.


Stroke, thrust

And rest.

I’m thinking she probably doesn’t want to touch me;

She looks at me with blank eyes,

Too full with other thoughts

For me to be seen;

She’s bored of this lifetime routine.

Chop, cut, chop, chop, cut –

I don’t bleed.

Spark – it doesn’t light up so she tries



Flame. Thump, sizzle.

My skin tightens around my body,

My anaemic legs burn in the heat.

My insides loosen up.

She swings me on to my back,

Prods her finger into my spine;


I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me.

Brown on the outside, pink on the inside.

A cultural mish-mash.

The boys rush to greet me,

Grab me by my leg and slap me

On to their plates;

My sweat already congealing

Their fingers.

The boys like me;

Their eyes all bright and empty like hers.

They tear off my crackling coat

And dig teeth into my flesh

Which falls off at ease.

The boys like me

When I’m well-browned

And have stopped sizzling

And am silent.

3.     Dough (Deborah’s session)

Morning. Colgate toothpaste.

The glass table. Chairs. Sat on sofa.

Hand-made covers; satin, rough

With age and too many arses.


Mum was cooking curry just yesterday.

The night before.

Roti –

She used to make it


Back then.

People, customers, shop.

Police officer. Woman.

The Police Officer came

To throw dirt in the burn wound.

She came into our makan

Which still smelled of hot roti from the day before.

My mum must have pounded that dough

Until there was roti flour all over the house

And the shop.

The Police Officer came

To throw dirt in the burn wound.

She wanted to retain the juices

That otherwise might drip away.

I just wanted to cook

The leavened dough that had been


To too much air already,

And eat it all up.

But the Police Officer didn’t

Want to leave it to rest;

She wanted to pick through the grains

And bring back

The Baker.

What is Mouthy to you?

24 Aug

Mouthy is that fine line between snooze & life, 

Mouthy is the moment I took responsibility.


Mouthy is teeth and dimples – a hug

when you don’t realise it’s all you need. 


Mouthy is Salt and vinigar Square’s – 

a snack you’ve been craving for days


Mouthy is crying so much I can’t breath 

then getting up and saying what I need. 


Mouthy is a hand on my shoulder 

and a plate of fried chicken, Mr Cool’s. 


Mouthy is friendship, 

it’s a challenge, 


it’s a conversation over Ribena 

and confession and bitten nails. 


Mouthy is an alarm clock, 

I don’t yet quiet understand how to use 


But I am definitely awake.


Ioney Smallhorne is currently making a ‘Mouthy is’ film, to show at the beginning of each of our Mouthy tour stops over the next year. I filmed a couple lines from me with her yesterday and then realised – wow, this is a big film and the lines I just gave her were a bit too random to give Mouthy justice. This film needs to show the world the diversity and breadth of what Mouthy does. This is still really a warm up (my 5minutes of daily writing), but I really want to encourage every Mouthy, Alumni and all to think of a couple ‘Mouthy is…’ lines and get in touch with Ioney to film them in the next week.

Because if you don’t, people might never know what Mouthy really is.


Debris x 

p.s. And if you’re not in the Mouthy Poets -why not drop a comment and tell us what we look like to you?

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.

Mouthy Poets Workshop – Ms PoPOW’s weekly blog entry

7 Apr

Things a title can do

A title is, in essence, a first impression. Like a lack of eye contact or a floppy handshake, if the title of a book doesn’t instantly grab your attention, you’re probably not going to want to find out more – unless of course there’s something about a verbal floppy handshake that appeals to your individual reading taste. Although poetry/novel writing shouldn’t be all about the commercial side of things, publishers will be thinking about the ways to make your book stand out on the shelf. It’s also an excellent opportunity to use all of your writing skills to create a title that says something pretty cool.

We had a think about the function of a title:

  • summary
  • retrospective
  • intriguing
  • misleading/irrelevant
  • can be pretentious
  • shines a light
  • looks nice (font)
  • memorable
  • hidden meaning
  • punchy
  • incite questions
  • layers

We looked over a list of the titles of Poetry Collections and each picked out our favourite and least favourite. Then collectively we picked out these four titles:

  • After the Dancing Dogs
  • The Second Child
  • Sunday at the Skin Launderette
  • Yoik

We split up into four different groups – taking one title each – and had a chat about why it did or didn’t work well as a title. Then we did a five minute free-write to brainstorm some ideas.

Writing Villanelles

The Villanelle is an interesting form because it repeats two lines several times throughout the stanzas so once you’ve got those two, a lot of the poem is already written. The skill here, however, is creating something that works as a cohesive, creative poem within the strict rhyme scheme.

“The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.”

(See more at:

We looked at Seamus Heaney’s ‘Villanelle for an Anniversary’, Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ and Dylan Thomas ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and discussed what it was we liked and didn’t like about them. We thought that there is even more need for the two repeated lines to be strong because there will be more attention drawn to them.

Then, returning to our original groups, we each wrote a Villanelle under our chosen titles and collaborated to orchestrate a performance of our work to the rest of the group.


We played a game of Consequences in order to brainstorm potential title ideas. For those of you who don’t know what this is, we basically had to write a definite article, fold it down and pass it on, then an adjective, fold it down and pass it on (and repeat this subsequently), then a noun, a verb, an adjective and a noun.

This was what mine said:

“The bohemian pleb runs grimly… cats.”

– So this might be a bit of a long shot but the general consensus was that ‘bohemian pleb’ sounded pretty nice.

Here were some of the other phrases that we liked the sound of:

“The petulant leotard.”

“The fragile apple.”

“Snobby nerves”

– Apart from enjoying the strange combination of words that erupted out of this exercise, it showed us how important it is to get the balance right between the familiar and the surprising when creating a title.

Mouthy Poets Workshop – Ms. PoPOW’s weekly blog entry

31 Mar

Don’t write before you can read

Well, actually, do write, always. Write whenever and wherever you feel like it. But reading a range of literature, whether that is books, poems, magazines, newspapers, the back of cereal boxes, the scribbles on toilet doors, the terms of conditions of a Netflix subscription, will help to inform your writing in so many ways.

Do you ever get those moments when you’re reading when you’re like, wow, what beautiful writing – this makes me want to start writing right here right now? I frequently get this when I’m reading literature on my course but I don’t always act on my urge to write because I’m under to pressure to finish reading and then find that by the time I sit down to write the moment is gone. This also happens when I’m reading on holiday – if the book is really good I don’t really want to put it down so I often lose the moment of creative inspiration.

Of course, a lot of what we learn from reading goes into our subconscious and comes out naturally in our writing. However, reading like a writer and thinking about how it is the writer phrases that so well, or makes you feel that way, or reveals something to you in a way that you’d never thought of before, is the best way to learn. This isn’t copying either. It’s a borrowing process which all the best writers are savvy to.

Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ book also recommended that writers should read badly written literature to see what doesn’t work too. This might be a good way to learn from other people’s mistakes! (This is an excellent book if anyone is interested in writing, whether or not you’re a fan of his).

So in our Mouthy Workshop session, we were given a selection of books to choose one from to read for five-ten minutes. Then we did a five minute free-write.

I picked up Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’, because I love this book; but having studied Morrison in quite a lot of depth, I couldn’t really see it as just a piece of writing. All my preconceptions were getting in the way a bit. I’d recommend that if you are going to try this exercise that you pick up a book that you’re not familiar with. Then your response to the writing will be fresh.

A poet told me that he often buys random magazines that he would never be remotely interested in normally and reads them front to back, just to have his mind opened up to a whole field of vocabulary that he wouldn’t otherwise come across. You might never want to write a poem about knitting, or gardening, or fishing (just picking random hobby-related magazines I’ve seen in the newsagents), but gaining knowledge in places outside of your interests may help you write less autobiographically and get you creating some interesting, convincing, “rounded” characters.

Looking for some inspiration? Maybe a map can show you the way!

The next writing exercise at the workshop involved a bit of map reading. At least, we opened up some maps, had a look at them and did another free-write. I looked at one of West Wales and besides enjoying the fantastic names of the various Welsh towns and cities and reconnecting with my Welsh heritage, I found a place I’d visited with my family years ago. Having never seen it on a map before, it was interesting to see its geography represented on the page in front of me. A beach walk I’d taken with them in a drizzly November sparked up some poetry ideas. Having a strong sense of place and an understanding of the geography of the world can be useful in creating a convincing and colourful setting in writing.

Writing against the grain

I apologise about the puns – they are awful… But for our next exercise we paired up and explained our favourite meals to each other, going into great depth about the ingredients, the recipes, what we liked about them. We each took notes on what the other person was saying and used this information to create a piece of writing. This was a good way of working against the tendency to be autobiographical in writing.

There is, of course, nothing wrong in writing about ourselves. Writing can be great therapy, a way of writing our way through bad experiences and learning more about ourselves. However, it’s also good to write about things that aren’t from first-hand experience. I’m now going to be working on a poem about Spaghetti Bolognese. This just reminds me how much freedom there is in writing!

NB – It is advisable not to do this exercise on an empty stomach as it may have peckish effects.

Mouthy Workshop (21st March 2013)

24 Mar

What do you like about your writing?

It’s very easy to be self-critical and reel of lists of things that you don’t like about your writing, or things that you feel need to be improved. This is not altogether a bad thing as this self-awareness is crucial for the editing process. However, occasionally, I feel, we need to give ourselves a little pat on the back and ask ourselves – what do I do well? This is more than self-congratulation and encouragement (although these are also very important). It’s also a very positive way of honing your skills and becoming even more awesome at the awesome things you do.

So I encourage you to think about three things that you really like about your writing and apply this to the individual pieces of writing that you create.

Three reasons why I like my writing:

1. I write about the kind of thing I like to read.

2. I feel it is always improving and transforming. The relationship between my personal growth and my development as a writer are somewhat symbiotic.

3. I use vibrant images to have a more sensory experience of the world.

Changing your Writing Space


One of the benefits of being a writer is that it is, in theory, a job that you can do anywhere. Whether you’re someone who likes to sit on a balcony at dusk in Southern France with a crisp notepad or someone who prefers to bury yourself in a stuffy attic walled in by books and buried in crumpled up pieces of paper – both are equally romantic – there are definitely places that make the writing process flow more.

ImageA lot of writers are creatures of habit and can only write at a certain place, at a certain time and with certain materials. But a change of scene can encourage your creativity to find you through a different vein. I find that doing this when I have a bit of writer’s block can help a lot.


Personally, I like writing in a café sometimes (and not entirely because I love coffee). I like people watching and thinking about what everyone’s stories might be. It helps to make me feel more connected to the world outside my own head.

During our workshop we were encouraged to leave the room in which we normally write and find somewhere to sit and be inspired by our surroundings. The Mouthies spread out around the grounds of Nottingham playhouse and wrote about things they could see, conversations they could hear and scenarios they imagined. Many found themselves attracted to the creative space of Cast bar, although some also braved the cold outside. Some of us benefited from it more than others – it can be very difficult to get yourself in the right frame of mind sometimes – but it was good to absorb the atmosphere whilst in writing mode.


How about we share pictures of our favourite places to write and why we like it? E-mail or Facebook or tweet yours if you’d like to share. I’ll blog about it!


Here’s a bit of an embarrassing one of me pretending to be an 18th century writer at Jane Austen’s house.

NB. Quill and ink – very cool but not particularly practical.

Writing Exercise

Do a free-writing exercise which begins with one of the following opening phrases.


Last summer…

He/she said…

What if…

If only…


Natalie Popow

Poems From Saturday’s Masterclass

27 Jan

Once per month the Mouthy Poets have a masterclass, lead by Deborah Stevenson. We cover teaching techniques, ask questions, share ideas and we also get the opportunity to practice our session plans with willing guinea-pigs. On Saturday 25th January, i produce a few poems from being a Guinea-pig, one being this list poem…

Poetry protects you from adults who are bullies.

From adults who were too frightened to follow their own

Dreams so now boost their ego by crushing yours. 

From the blazers that straighten out your individuality

From fear. 

From letting those difficult time eat away your aspirations to becoming a pilot or deep sea diver.

Poetry enables you to dive into any world you allow yourself to dream of

Poetry enables you to understand yourself

Poetry enables you to focus on a minuscule aspect of your life and highlight it with images.

And this one…


I’ve always loved cooking.

It reminds me of all the women in my family it took to make me,

And connects me to the Island that birthed them.

The women in my family haven’t always been able to say sorry,

To give a hug or receive one

To ask for help 

To have a conversation about that man that abused them. 

But they have been able to cook for each other

To share a kitchen to boil the salt fish for the ackee. 

To sit together and share one plate.