Issue 9, Breathe

Guest post by poet Sophie Sparham

Hey friends,

Today’s issue is a special one, I asked my friend and brilliant poet Sophie Sparham to write a guest post, share one of her poems and some prompts for writing.

Sophie is a performance poet and writer from Derby. Her poetry mainly focuses on political and social subjects, such as depression, LGBT and women’s issues. She also teaches creative writing for schools and vulnerable adults. She has worked with QUAD Derby, Leicester City Football Club Community Trust, Women’s Work, Padley Centre, Nottingham Poetry Festival and various schools, both Primary and Secondary. You can hear more from Sophie on her website and Youtube.

Sophie has been an inspiration to me since I met her earlier this year and I’m so excited to introduce you to her.

During the lockdown I have been sending a newsletter every week exploring different ways of looking at this time. As the lockdown is starting to ease in some places, I am going to go back to the original cadence of sending these out twice in a month. Feedback on how often you’d like these and suggestions for posts welcome!

Happy reading,

Sana


Dear Reader (or as we say in Derby, ey up me duck),  

I hope your lockdown is going as well as it can be. I have rearranged all my socks and am building a house out of banana bread. I’m currently hunting for a large box at the supermarket so I can post myself to the beach and convince the locals to feed me chips and pasties. 

It’s wonderful to be able to write a guest piece for this magical blog, which genuinely has brightened up my lockdown. Before we get into poetry talk, I understand there’s a lot of pressure to be productive right now. For writers, we’re expected to have three collections, two novels, five plays and a woman show about the new philosophies we’ve learnt whilst being stuck in doors. If you’re struggling and wanting to write, you need to get all of this pressure out of your head – you don’t need to write anything, anything. We all write differently and in our own time. Our best work comes out when our mind is in a state of play. You have to allow your mind to play, this is how we mess about with phrases and put weird and wonderful things together. It’s important to play. So please stop setting crazy deadlines for yourself and just enjoy writing, if that’s what you want to spend your time doing. (I’m speaking to myself in all of this).

Today I want to share with you a poem I’ve written over the lockdown. 


Breathe  

By Sophie Sparham after Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese

You do not have to repent for your sins

Pray to Jesus, Allah or the neon sign of the adult store on the A38 

You do not have to open yourself like a flower 

To every ribcage that your hand brushes against

Nor push your fingers to the back of your throat

To vomit out the past from the pit of your stomach

You do not need to search for forgive from gravestones 

Meaning from opera, the Tate Modern, or any artform  

That’s not been made for you

You do not need to innovate yourself 

Change the electronics industry or solve homelessness  

Buy running shoes or a house

Give away words you saved for another tongue

Merely put your ear to my chest and listen  

To my breathing against the traffic outside


This poem literally does what it says on the tin by telling the reader to be kind to themselves. We’re often given a set of rules that are impossible to live up. We’re expected to be the best at whatever we do, the perfect parent, partner, house keeper, whatever. The first line in Mary Oliver’s poem often rings in my head ‘You do not have to be good’. And the truth is that no, you don’t, you don’t have to be anything. Obviously, I’m not suggesting the opposite, you don’t have to be bad either. We’ve got enough craziness going on in the world right now! The point is to give yourself a break. A wise poet once told me not to spend my life looking sideways, I think that advice is more important now than ever before. 

However, if you do fancy doing a writing task or want something to kickstart you, I’m very happy to help. I think pictures are a great source of inspiration when it comes to writing. One of the most poetic photos I think I’ve ever taken is of a piece of pizza on top of a bin. 

I love this picture, I find it hilarious. I mean, who would bother doing that? But also because it’s a good metaphor for Derby. If I was going to show you a picture of where I live, this would be one of the first things I’d show you. I especially love it because it makes you ask questions — Who put the pizza there? Was it a joke? Were they drunk? What happened to the rest of the pizza? I could go on… 

So, if you’re up for it and want something fun to do, find a picture. It could be one that you’ve taken or one that you found. You could even use this one.

If it’s one that you’ve taken, ask yourself: 

  • Why did I take this photo?

  • Think of the five senses: What can I see/ hear/ touch /taste/ smell in this photo?

  • Does it take me back to a certain time or place in my life? 

  • What does this photo remind me of?  

If it’s one you’ve found, ask the photo questions about itself:

  • What is happening in the photo? 

  • Are there people in it? If so, what are they doing?

  • Why are you drawn towards it? 

  • How would you describe the photo to someone who’s not seen it?

  • What do you think the five senses of this photo are? 

  • What questions can’t you answer about it? 

  • What does it represent for you? 

I use images a lot when I get that dreaded writer’s block and they normally unstick me. I hope they help you in some way and that you find your very own pizza bin.

Happy writing and reading!

Stay safe, 

Soph x


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