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This content is taken from the University of York's online course, Poetry: How to Read a Poem. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds As Writer in Residence, my themes are silence, crisis and excess. In this introduction to a creative writing exercise, we shan’t take other writing as a model. I’m offering pre-activity activities, in which you compose your mind and produce fragments or texts. Let’s begin by doing, not by explaining. So, I’ll share a creative writing exercise in ‘dream translation’, which I enjoy. The outcome is for you to have freer access to the imagination and vocabulary that you already unconsciously possess, to enrich your conscious practice. Additional material, outwith this video, will give you related techniques. Like a lot of exercises, this one may feel silly, overwhelming, or tedious. Don’t stop.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds It’s about re-tuning the relationship between your inner source of words and how you express yourself. You can repeat it for as many sessions as you like. Here’s a text to accompany you throughout, from Iain Crichton Smith’s long poem, Deer on the High Hills (1962). (His Collected Poems are available from Carcanet Press.) The deer step out in isolated air. Forgive the distance, let the transient journey on delicate ice not tragical appear for stars are starry and the rain is rainy, the stone is stony, and the sun is sunny, the deer step out in isolated air. Create a ‘ritual’ with these verses. Read them slowly, perhaps more than once, before switching off. You’ll know what activity or time of day suits you.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds I’d recommend before sleep. Make this reading the last input you have from anything or anyone. If sleep is not your friend, read before spending time in nature, or in the bath, or doing a repetitive task…you get the idea. Give the text a good chance to sink in. Nothing is permitted afterwards, except drifting. No browsing or scrolling. Drift off with the words accompanying you. When you wake up – when you throw your ‘on’ switch, note down whatever’s in your thoughts. It could be one word. It could be as long as the sample text itself (try not to make it too long). If you do this for, say, a week, try combining all the texts you wrote on waking.

Skip to 2 minutes and 33 seconds Use any method you like – cut-ups, erasure, colouring, close reading – to select words from the combined text that echo in you or stick with you. You now have the makings of a ‘mind map’; or a new text, a dream-translation. You’re engaging your lesser known self, with its treasure house of unlikely inspiration. In the additional material, we’ll explore that further.

Introducing the creative exercise

In this video, Vahni Capildeo introduces our closing creative exercise, encouraging you to write freely and to try your hand at writing poetry.

What did it feel like to undertake this exercise? How many times are you aiming to return to this? Feel free to share the results of this exercise – this poetic conversation! – with us in the comments.

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This video is from the free online course:

Poetry: How to Read a Poem

University of York