Dogs and cats

11 Oct

I am Dog.

It is the final day of Poetry Swindon’s festival. For an entire week, I have stood silently in the Tent-Palace of the Delicious Air, watching and listening as poets spin colours from words. Now I leave my china body and send my spirit out across the festival.


I am in the Richard Jefferies Museum. Daljit Nagra’s masterclass has begun. There is a fine table covered in sleek green leather. Daljit sits at one end, like a friendly teacher. Like a friendly headmaster.

Some of the students are established poets. Others are relatively new to the poetry world. One, in particular, feels like a pretender. The word “master” is not a term he identifies with.


The class begins. Introductions are made. The pretender admits his pretence and is immediately drowned out with support from his fellow poets. He begins to feel more relaxed. Beginners are welcome here.

The first exercise of the class is to think of a particular place remembered from youth. The poets become artists, drawing plans of their childhood homes. Daljit encourages them to annotate their diagrams with memories, including as many senses as possible. Sights, sounds and smells. The pretender finds himself recalling moments from childhood simply by considering each part of his diagram. He remembers the school bully following him home and starting a fight on his own driveway. He remembers Tiger – one of the family cats – leaping into his bedroom late at night, carrying her kittens to safety from a predator (the kittens stayed inside after that, growing up on the bottom shelf of the pretender’s wardrobe). In the living room is the spot by the record player where he stood exclaiming in amazement at how well he could see through the first pair of glasses that properly corrected his short-sightedness. Also in the living room was the window he smashed while trying to balance on the back of a chair. His father created a temporary fix with chipboard and brown tape. The temporary fix lasted for years.

Daljit splits the poets into groups. The instructions are to pick a single memory and talk about it with fellow poets for three minutes. The pretender picks the moment he found his cat – Ginger, not Tiger – dead at the side of the road. He’s unsure this is material for a poem but it’s pointed out to him that the dead cat lying in “superman” position is a very strong image. The sprawl of the dead animal with a single paw outstretched. Supercat, cut down mid-flight. There’s definitely a poem lurking in this idea.

Other exercises spring even more ideas. And the poets also talk about poetical techniques – line breaks, word choice, imagery, subtext. Our pretender starts to understand poetry a little more. It’s not just text on a page. It’s art. The poet is trying to paint a picture in the mind, using only words. And with this thought comes another realisation…


Poetry doesn’t have to make sense. Just as it’s possible to appreciate a piece of abstract art without needing to discern the image, it’s also possible to enjoy a poem without needing to understand exactly what the poet is trying to convey.

The pretender has learned something. Perhaps, next time he takes a writing class, he will feel less of a pretender.

Daljit draws the session to an end. The final workshop of Poetry Swindon’s festival is complete. Time now for poetry readings, thank yous, and fond farewells in the Tent-Palace of the Delicious Air.


I am Dog.

Daljit Nagra’s masterclass took place 9 October 2016, Richard Jefferies Museum, as part of Poetry Swindon Festival.

Chronicle written by Dog, AKA Mark Farley.

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