Exploring our lives through poetry

A few weeks ago Tara and I lead a group activity exploring poetry during Journal Club organized by postgraduate students in our Biosciences Department. Sat alongside a local stream, the idea of the activity was to get us all thinking about poetry, and using it to communicate about our work, daily lives, and associated encounters and observations. We wanted to share this activity with students ahead of tonight’s ‘What is Water?’ event organized by FIRE Lab. We also thought others might be interestd in the approach we used for the poetry activity, and so have shared it below for this week’s blog post! If you try out the activity, find it useful (or not), or modify it for your own needs, do let us know in comments below or on social media @FIRELabTweets!

Poetry invites us to experiement with language, to create, to know, and to engage creatively with our experiences. Our activity started by each of us sharing our experiences with writing poetry, and our thoughts about what poetry is. Poetry involves seeking ways to attach ourselves, our words, to emotion, and draws on imagition and inspires it. We agreed throughout the activity that people have creative potential, and can compose their life with imagination. Observation, looking, listening, being attentive, and engaged with the world around us are all important when it comes to developing and creating poems.

We explored using these skills in our first exercise, which was modified from an activity shared by Jo Bell and Jane Commane in ‘How To Be A Poet‘. I found this exercise interesting when I first read it in Jo and Jane’s book, because it quickly reminded me of an approach that we used in terrestrial ecology classes to observe and quantify different flora and fauna within a measured area. It goes like this: a. Set down a sheet of paper or other objective; b. Slowly lift up the object and observe everything under that object area, even observe the surrounding sounds or smells; c. write down words and thoughts that come to mind based on your observations (what can you hear, smell, see?); d. share about the words or phrases that you wrote down; e. if you started to write a poem, perhaps share that with others as well; and f. further develop the words and phrases you drafted through the observation exercise, working on a draft poem.

In a second exercise we explored found poetry. The idea with this exercise was to explore how poems use language in different ways to prose. We discussed why it might be useful to write about our work or someone else’s work in poetic form or free verse. For this exercise, we each brought an existing article or abstract to find words and phrases that stand out to us or that seem poetic. We spent 5 minutes finding the words and phrases, and then used these to craft a haiku about the article and the moments in time we were sitting along the streamside thinking and working together. Haiku is roughly 5-7-5 syllables, and tend to be poems about nature and capturing a moment in time.

We closed the evening further exploring the streamside and our time spent there, and worked on the poems we had started and further developing those. I’d like to close by saying that the activity that we shared above is short, and informed by my own recent experiences studying poetry – both on my own and through an on-line course with Oxford University’s Extended Education. At the same time, the broader interest that emerged after the activity does mean will look into pursuing additional poetry activities and writing together as a group of scientists.

More next week about our community event on ‘What is Water?’. Thank you!

 

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