Swindon Festival of Poetry – psychogeography and sestinas

6 Oct

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Caught the aftermath of Michael Scott’s psychogeographical stroll around Swindon yesterday morning, in Swindon’s Central Library Poetry Space.

Psychogeography aims to make the everyday more interesting or to absorb and appreciate above and beyond the usual tourist attractions one would look for in an urban environment. Just the thing for Swindon, then.

Comments about the session included: “In context signs are really boring, but out of context they’re silly” and “I liked the skip” also “The Wyvern Theatre has stalactites.”

A visiting Australian took part in the fun. He described Swindon as “very normal…with an inferiority complex as it’s in Wiltshire, one of the most beautiful places on earth…Really interesting place and people. Masses of old stuff – a lot of it fantastic, a lot of it crap.”

And one man wrote his first ever poem.

Next was Bethany Pope’s sestina workshop.

Bethany was well placed to teach us: she was so addicted to sestinas at one stage that she transcribed the whole King James Bible into a sestina poem. That’s a lot of sestina. She described it like ‘braiding words, weaving a pattern’. She read us: ‘You Can’t Rhumoogie in a Ball and Chain’ for Janis Joplin by Alice Fulton as an example, before we collectively tried our hand at writing one. Our subject matter was the less enigmatic Little Red Riding Hood.

So here’s how you write one: it contains six stanzas of six lines. First decide on six key words, ours were: wolf, grandmother, wood, axe, hood, red. These are the last words on each line. Then – based on a 13th century mathematical formula – the words end on different lines for each verse, so the order is: Stanza I – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. II – 6, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3. III – 3, 6, 4, 1, 2, 5. IV – 5, 3, 2, 6, 1, 4. V 4, 5, 1, 3, 6, 2. VI – 2, 4, 6, 5, 3, 1. Our first stanza ended with wolf, grandmother, wood, axe, hood, red. The second stanza ended wood, red, axe, wolf, grandmother, hood, and so on. The poem finishes with three lines of freestyle – traditionally the moral – containing all six words in any order.

A key part of the story was assigned to each verse and we worked in pairs on a different one. I had stanza III, Meeting the Wolf, working with Cristina Newton. After a discussion about the story being symbolic of growing up and moving into adolescence, this is what I came up with:

Under the protection of her hood,
She skips through the wood:
An exciting shortcut to dear Grandmother.
Taking the route Mother declared red,
She meets the lurking danger of the wolf –
And wishes she had Father’s axe.

Not usually being a massive fan of rules in writing, I actually found this quite fun.

So, the next challenge for Bethany: ‘War and Peace’?

One Response to “Swindon Festival of Poetry – psychogeography and sestinas”


  1. Swindon Festival of Poetry – Mabel’s House Party and ‘The Joy of Sex’ « Festival Chronicle - 8th Oct 2012

    […] enjoyed a song for Swindon (see previous post) composed by a visiting Australian who felt the town deserved one. After being handed a ukulele by […]

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