Woman looking out of a large window over a cityscape

The view from here

In Kate Clanchy’s poem, ‘Patagonia’, we look out over a wide, icy landscape. We listen to the waves and hear birds above us as they wheel through a cold, clear sky. But the poem also makes us think about something else – about a relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of the poem, which is characterised by a sense of sadness and loss. The two aspects of the poem work together: the imagined, physical landscape of Patagonia connects with and helps us to think about the emotional landscape of the relationship.

In our surrealist game from the previous Step, we also brought two things together. We mixed up the definitions of abstract and concrete nouns, attaching each definition to a new word. At first, the mixed-up combinations seemed odd, sometimes funny, sometimes unsettling. But each new, strange definition helped us to think differently about the nouns to which they became attached: we saw things in those nouns that we hadn’t noticed before.

We’d now like you to use some of the ideas that we’ve been exploring to write a poem of your own. The title we’d like you to use is ‘The View from Here’. You’ll need to make notes so have a pen and paper to hand, or make notes on your device. Here’s how we’d like you to write your poem:

Look out of the nearest window.

What can you see? It might be trees, pylons, fields, office blocks, buses, street lamps, cats, birds or anything that catches your eye. What can you hear? Listen carefully – closing your eyes if necessary. How about smell? Are the sounds and smells coming from outside, or are they connected to the place you’re looking from?

Now think of an abstract noun. It might be a feeling like fear, hope, comfort or loss. It might be a quality like strangeness or kindness. It might be something that can be experienced, like racism, empowerment or the future. Try to make it something that feels important in your life, right now. What does that noun mean to you? Where do you experience or feel it?

As you’re looking at the scene outside your window, hold the abstract noun in your mind. For instance, you might be looking at a busy street and thinking about worry, or you might be looking at a tree and thinking about wonder, or at a wall and thinking about childhood. The concrete world and the abstract thought don’t have to have any obvious connection to one another. Just hold the two things – the world you’re looking at, and the abstract noun you’re thinking about – in your mind at the same time.

Write down your observations about the concrete world. Make a note of three or four things that strike you about what you can see, hear or smell.

Write down your ideas about the abstract noun you’ve been thinking of. You can give it a definition if you want to, or you can just write down what it means to you. Note down three or four observations about this noun.

Your notes don’t have to be arranged in lines of poetry – just plain sentences are fine at this point. They don’t have to be long or fancy. Just use language that feels comfortable to you.

Take a look at what you’ve written. From the notes that you’ve made, choose four or five that you like best. You don’t have to know why you like them – just trust your instincts.

These notes may not look like a poem yet, but they form the basis of the poem that you’ll shape in a later Step.

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A-level Study Boost: Unseen Poetry and the Creative Process

University of Reading