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#WriteCBC tip and task from Joanna Lee

BY Katie Smart
3rd Feb 2022

Welcome to our February edition of #WriteCBC, our monthly Twitter competition. I hope you’re ready to be inspired by our latest writing challenge! If you haven’t taken part in a #WriteCBC competition before, we’re excited to welcome you to our writing community – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s a lot of fun, and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

To celebrate our newest six-week online course, Writing Poetry, which has exclusive teaching videos, resources and tasks from award-winning poet Anthony Anaxagorou, this writing challenge asks you to turn your hand to writing a tweet-length poem.

This month’s special guest is the wonderful Joanna Lee. Joanna joined Curtis Brown in 2019, and currently works alongside Karolina Sutton on her brilliant list of authors. Joanna has a background in literary publishing, and previously worked at Faber. She is also critic on the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics scheme, and has reviewed poetry for many publications including the GuardianThe White Review and The Poetry Review.

Joanna's tip:

Perhaps more so than in any other form of writing, poetry makes each word work really hard. Consider how your poetry plays with the stability of language to invite your reader to take part in an emotional experience.

More advice from Joanna...

One of the magical things about poetry is its capacity to make us consider how unreliable the language we use everyday is: we pay attention to the physicality of language, the shape of its sounds, the echoes and resonances between certain words, the way that assemblages of language appear on the page. Poems shift through time and meaning in a way that is utterly unique.

I’ve been reading Jack Underwood’s latest collection, A Year in the New Life, recently, which places uncertainty at the very fore. His essay in The Poetry Review too states that ‘poems use language so unstably they remind us that the concept of meaning in the universe belongs only to us, and not, in fact, to the universe itself.’ I love this! Great poetry is brilliantly, joyfully non-didactic, invites a reader to join in the act of meaning-making through the reading experience itself. The way that we interact with literature, with language, is inflected by our personal libraries and life experiences.

With this in mind, consider these lines from Nuar Alsadir’sFourth Person Singular:

Within: a chattering of girls who talk & talk, starling

murmuration of mathematical chaos across my sky –

The poem begins by saying ‘The door to my interior was propped open and a fly / buzzed in’, situating us in the speaker’s mental interior. From here, consider what kind of image or atmosphere you take away from ‘a chattering’, the description of a group of girls (and how reliable are these ‘girls’ anyway?) as ‘starling / murmuration of mathematical chaos’ (‘murmuration’ feels particularly neat here as it suggests a flock, and the sense of low-level chatter), the way that they intrude ‘across my sky’. How does this passage interact with language? How does it make you feel?

Joanna's task:

Write a tweet-length poem that evokes a specific feeling. Write your way towards an emotion without using any words or images typically associated with it. Remember, you can be experimental and playful.

Start by thinking of a memory that features your chosen emotion: what characteristics spring to mind that feel less obvious? How can you invoke that emotion or involve the reader in the experience, rather than just telling them about it? Use sound, line-breaks and punctuation to upturn familiar language. Placing words together that you wouldn’t usually expect to see can lead to some really fresh, exciting new atmospheres!

Have fun with this challenge, poetry is expressive and playful and naturally lends itself as a form for exploring emotions. Join in the fun on Twitter (@cbcreative), we can't wait to read your poems.


This month’s winner is… Alexandra Morton @mortonae

Marmalade sun spreads candied
over the bed,
still unmade.

The road to hell
was not paved
with last-minute

We eke out
leftover fried rice
and hours
to stay the week.

Make the minutes
slow and sticky,
because when Monday comes
things will be

We loved the way Alexandra represented the longing to stretch something out, to make the moment last in the face of the creeping dread of whatever awaits the speaker on Monday. She grounds the poem perfectly in reality with quotidian imagery of marmalade, vacuums and leftovers. The imagery of the 'leftover fried rice' in the third stanza which extends to the 'slow and sticky' minutes in the fourth stanza is particularly powerful and explores the familiar feeling of counting out the minutes in a fresh and original way.

Congratulations! Alexandra has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of her choice.

Well done to our runners-up!

Ralph Dartford @Dartford and @CorrineLeith both win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice.

Please email cbccourses@curtisbrown.co.uk to claim your prize!

If you want to investigate and play with poems further, why not join our Writing Poetry course?