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Mouthy Workshops – Anne

11 Dec

4th December


After the disclosure of the theme for Say Sum Thin 10 (e.g. light, if you missed that!) a wave of excitement  got us all. During the sessions now you can feel we’re working towards something. Something great.

It is curious how different people respond to the same stimulus. It’s like a social experiment. We’re like a social experiment. You say a word, light, and each of us will associate that with their own experience.

You say a word, light, and everyone will think at its opposite: darkness. Then you are caught in darkness for  minute and all you can write about  is light. It’s the logic of the opposites.

Mix light with winter, sadness, ocean, traffic, flights, childhood, first time, art, tragedy, growth… and you’ll have a beam of light. Work on that and you might have a raw little draft. Mix everything up again and you might be lucky enough to create a poem.




Mouthy workshops: Debris

4 Dec

27th November 2015

When entering the room for this workshop the clumsy me almost slipped on the floor. Was it a banana peel? No, nothing of that sort: pictures and quotes were scattered on the floor. What were they there for? What were they representing?  What on earth could a picture of the aurora borealis and a toddler facing a red wall have in common? I was quite puzzled, but didn’t lost my faith. I trusted Debris and followed the instructions: ‘go around, look at everything and write about one picture/quote that grasp your attention- as soon as the inspiration is gone move on to the next significant one’.

That was a good way to get started:  creating something, put some ink on a blank page gives you great satisfaction. But still the question of what the connections were was hanging around. Then the revelation: light.  Looking around at all the little things in the room, light was everywhere. It was more evidently coming out from the light bulbs of one of the pictures and was emerging more subtly from a beautiful quote on dreaming, but light, oh- light was all around. And we got even more excited when we realised that LIGHT was gonna be the theme for our brand new Say Sum Thin 10! Understanding how broad and changing  and fragile the concept of light is opens so many creative possibilities for us! Yay!


Now, more technical stuff. It was an extremely full session, a lot to take in, but great great stuff. We talked about lineation, which is… ? Well, basically the way you break your lines in poetry. You could say that lineation is what differs poetry from prose. You could also argue that lineation makes the difference between an absolutely amazing poem and an average one. So, let’s try to understand lineation in practice. We looked at different way of breaking a poetry line, depending on different types of units:

Realisation Units

With realisation units, the line breaks just before (or after-it’s up to you!) there is a moment of realisation for the narrator of the poem. In general, every new one should bring a revelation of some sort, linking to the line just before that. Examples of poems we looked at: Michiko Dead by Jack Gilbert andAlways and Forever by Ocean Vuong.

Music Units

With music units, you listen to the sounds of single words and how the flow together. It might be useful to read the poem aloud to actually listen to how sentences sound like and how well they go together. Example for this technique: Thaumaturgy.

Sense Units

With sense units, you just go with the syntax of the phrase. Wherever its meanings breaks, you break your line of poetry. Example of this: Prelude collected in The BreakBeat Poets

So what now? Take a draft of your poetry and try to play with lineation, you’ll see that a different form can really make the difference!

We did that with our drafts on light and we creating some exciting new material. Just remember: do not see form as a constriction to your poetry, sometimes a good structure is all your poem needs to become a great one!



Mouthy Workshops: Dean Atta

4 Dec

20th November 2015

The associate Artist programme came finally into being: three great external artists have come to Mouthy and will join the crew for the rest of the year. Their role will consist in supporting our poets, helping them growing and, of course, we want them to become part of the family!

Among other things they will also lead our weekly sessions, showing their  exciting views on poetry. The first artist to do so was the amazing Dean Atta, that lead one of my very first workshops and that will always have  a place in my little heart for that . Apart from being an excellent published poet (go and have a look at his website at ) he’s a lovely human being that brings with him calm and harmony. The comments of our Mouthies at the end of the session all agreed on one word: peace. He’s one of those people that take care of your inner self without knowing it, without any effort.  So it’s time to share with you the experience of that workshop, giving you some tips to recreating the exercise at home if you’d like so.


List poems were the focus of Dean’s workshop. OK, now.. what is a list poem? As I discovered, ‘list poem’ can mean a looooot of things. It can be really just a list of things or sensations; it can be a numbered list or a plain list; it can be messy, it can be tidy: even your shopping list can become a list poem if you work on it with the right dedication. It is great, isn’t it?

So, Dean’s session. We looked at some wonderful list poems to understand how they worked and then we tried to create one ourselves. The first was ‘Ten Things About Me’ by James Turner, a numbered list poem that aimed o describe the poet’s life in ten sentences. We read and enjoyed it, talked about its strengths and weaknesses, and then moved on writing ours. The only rule was keeping the first words of the original poem and adding to them personal content. The structure of our new poems then would be:

  1. I was born..
  2. My name..
  3. My longest love…
  4. I have a terrible…
  5. I feel safest..
  6. I am a free person because..
  7. I am not a free person because…
  8. Best place is..
  9. Best time is..
  10. (free line)


We were encouraged to practice this kind of exercise with every poem that had a particular grip on us. My question was ‘How can we choose?’ -everything was triggering something inside me.

An entire book would not make justice to the beauty of those poems and of Dean’s session in general. I’ll leave you with the titles of the poems we practiced, so that you can have a go if you feel inspired!

  • ‘Ten ways to avoid lending your wheelbarrow to anybody’ by Adrian Mitchell
  • ‘Ten ways to avoid hearing your dad say sorry’ by Keith Jarrett
  • 34 excuses for why we failed at love by Warsan Shire
  • ‘Freedom of love’ by Andre Breton
  • ‘She loves you like’ by Jack Underwood
  • ‘I come from’ by Dean Atta
  • ‘My people’ by Kim Moore


Good luck with your list poems guys, and stay tuned for next blog!






Catching Up!

15 May

Oops. So that’s about a month gone by with me forgetting to blog. It’s been busy, what can I say. Guess what though, means you lot get a bigger blogpost today!

Starting off with the workshop a few weeks back, we discussed the theme for Say Sum Thin 9 in groups of three else four, debating for themes that were not our first choice. Cruel trick on Anne’s part maybe, but hey, it got us motivated for alternate ideas we may have otherwise decided to overlook completely! And some of the ideas were really something, with everyone plugging some great points regarding marketing, writing, and performing each potential theme. In the end though we settled on having Carnival as the theme for Say Sum Thin 9. So broad AND so specific, I don’t think we could have asked for more in a theme! Having the whole of the Playhouse to mess around with will be a real treat with this theme as well.

Fortnight ago though, I had another mint (great) day. Showing up to the Mouthy office I was told to go to Cobden Chambers for the Creative Quarter’s Enter Festival where we had a stall being set up. We manned it till about 4 and got to meet some awesome people doing various creative and entrepreneurial things in Nottingham. One group even brought shark beanbags in! Like, I’m not kidding there were shark beanbags and you sat in the shark’s mouth and they just looked aces. I think we should get some: they’d suit the ‘Mouthy’ vibe, do you not think? Enter Festival’s going to be carrying on throughout the month so check out some of their stuff here:

And Hannah Silva came down for the workshop. What a session. Now I’d never seen her before though I knew about her Gaddafi poem. The rhythms she used and the sounds she chose to focus on were just brilliant. In one poem she took a sentence from an Ed Miliband speech and picked it apart, working with just the vowels of a part of the phrase and the syllables in other parts to make what I can only describe as a truly musical poem. Following her performance we all joined in trying to work with our own phrases, pulling them apart by letters and syllables to get to grips with one of Hannah’s most fun strategies for writing.  The session saw many of our lot write some cracking stuff. One of the activities we did was to walk while thinking, sit while writing. This was to try and get the rhythms of walking into our poetry. To generate ideas Hannah gave out various objects including photographs and foreign money and old action figures. I got a postcard of a lady with an iguana on her head; sure gave me some weird and funky ideas.

To get us up to scratch, last week we had a heavy session on identity. I’d never known I thought myself to be so chilled out about everything, at least to a point. It helped to focus my thoughts about myself as a writer though, especially regarding what I want to achieve. We discussed things like who we think we’re writing for, why we write, and who exactly we identify ourselves as. Don’t know about the rest of you lot, but I’d not thought about that stuff quite so much. Thankfully, it reasserted that yes I do just want to write nonsense and regional things in my poetry, and that’s fine by me. Tell you one thing though, it showed how diverse and awesome Mouthy are, and that can only be a good thing!

Tonight we’ll be brainstorming ideas for SST9 and I’m well excited to see what everyone’s been thinking up.

Till next time


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.