How many writers bought the first Amstrad word processor when it came out? Did others sit, like me, and marvel at the curt green pixelated characters on the screen, at the miraculous cut and paste facilities and the speed at which a sheet of printed text appeared out of the behemoth of a printer? I remember my Amstrad with shock and awe. It changed my writing practice and it’s interesting that A Year In Beadnell has made me think about all of this.
Preparing funding bids, talking to partners and generally starting to beef up our planning for this project has made me reflect more deeply on how and why I do what I do: in my case what I do is write poetry, fiction and generally be creative with words and language. A PhD (which I am currently researching at Northumbria University) makes you ask these kinds of questions but my scholarly research is around poetry and poetics. A Year In Beadnell is fieldwork not deskwork. Though in truth a practice-led PhD – because that’s the kind of doctorate I am studying for – is also fieldwork: it’s writing in action, and then reflecting on it and contextualising your activities in a wider academic framework.
In Beadnell I am working out in the field with a digital developer and fine artist (they’re one and the same person!) and last night Mel asked what I thought of sharing a poem-in-progress as it develops through drafts. My PhD is concerned with Anne Sexton and Selima Hill and I am already familiar with the huge amount of times Sexton would draft and re-draft different iterations of a single poem. There are photographic images of her writing practice as it played out on the page. And I remembered, last night – as Mel and I discussed this current project – that I too used to draft on paper. And that since that first Amstrad landed on my desk I’ve been using paper less and less.
So I’ve decided to try it out and see if I can share a poem-in-progress as it develops here in Beadnell. Of course being prescriptive about the creative process is usually its deathknell so I’ll do what I can and see how it goes. And this is not a luddite strand of postings about the evils of computer technologies. I love my laptop and the access it allows me into the plasticity and possibilities of text. One of the reasons Mel and I are doing this work together (rather than her supporting me to share my work on digital platforms) is that we are fascinated by the marriage of the poetic and the digital. As a dyslexic writer I use a lot of assistive SpLD software and I am glad of it. However, I am wondering how I actually draft a poem in a digital environment: is it that much different to the paper version of events? I write on to screen – often after starting with a first, then second draft on paper – and then move to the screen to begin experimentation with form, prosody, diction, intonation etc. A poem can look simple but they take time to gestate and hard graft to form.
I started a poem yesterday prompted by a line in Rachel Carson’s masterwork Under the Sea-Wind – “Full-bellied and silvery of scale”. We’ll see how it mutates…