The August challenges are back! Every week in the month of August, we’ll be introducing a brand new challenge from a young poet to help jump-start your writing over the summer. In this second challenge, Chloe Smith, a 2015 Foyle Young Poet, asks you to focus on specific moments to create vivid, unforgettable poems.
One of my favourite things about poetry is how it can sometimes allow its reader a window into a moment of someone’s life, or even an entirely different moment in time, all while letting the reader experience moments that they may never come across in their own lives.
One particular ‘moment’ in poetry that is a favourite of mine is in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’, when a mother first sees her new-born child. With its hesitant pace and honest language, the poem conveys the vulnerable moment so well that it’s as if you’re standing there with the mother as she looks at her child. That’s my personal favourite – and I’m sure that you have your own chosen moment (or moments) in poetry that are just as moving, vivid, and unforgettable.
My challenge to you is to write a poem set during, and describing, one specific moment in time. You could write a poem describing one of your birthdays, your first day of school, or when you saw your baby sibling for the first time – the opportunities are endless! Or you could write about an imaginary moment, or one that you haven’t experienced personally, but know (or can imagine) someone else who has. It can be from any moment in time, in any situation, as long as the poem is set describes one singular moment in detail.
They can be ordinary, mundane moments that everyone might have experienced in their lives – going to the dentist, making a cup of tea – or something unique and exciting, perhaps something that only one person has ever experienced. Your moment could be funny, sad, nostalgic or full of wonder – but it has to make the reader feel that they are there in that moment, as intensely as I feel I’m standing there in Sylvia Plath’s poem!
Pick some of the few experiences that you’ve had in your life – everyday or extraordinary – and think about the emotions they might still evoke in you, even if it’s years later. Try and inject those same emotion into your poetry; this will help to make that moment, even if the reader has never experienced it, seem familiar and relatable. Your reader will be able understand and connect with the emotions that you felt, and with your work itself.
How to do it
First, you need to find the moment that you’d like to write your poem about. Find a quiet space to sit down and think about this. There might be a moment that come to mind immediately, or you might spend some time considering which moment it is you really want to write about – and don’t be afraid of picking a moment that might seem to be a bit humdrum at first glance. Remember, sensational poems can be written about everyday subjects – from applying mascara to making a pot of tomato sauce .
Once you have your moment, try and scribble down a list of the immediate images, emotions and ideas associated with it – don’t worry about editing it or what your poem reads like at the moment, that can all be tweaked and altered later. But if you get down the ideas and that come to mind right away, then the poem may well flow a lot better than if you sit and think through things too much.
Here are two more top tips for generating ideas for your ‘moment’ poem:
- Look through some old photographs (they don’t have to be of you) – what precise moments did they capture? Choose one photo and write a list of absolutely everything and everyone you can see in it, being as detailed as you can.
- Who is in the photo? You could try and write your poem from the perspective of anyone in the photo – person, animal or object. You could even write a poem from multiple perspectives, using alternating lines to describe the particular moment from various points of view.
Here’s my example of a ‘moment’ that I wrote about following the guidelines above – I used the moment of seeing my baby brother for the first time:
‘I saw your eyes, bright green and striking, contrasting the white room,
I felt my heart thud, looking at you,
Looking at me. Your small, shining eyes,
Boom. Boom –
You smiled up at this strange world, unassuming. My heart skipped, stopping.
So full of love for you.
Even then. ’
This example might not be perfect, but it’s a start! After you have written your ideas down and have the basic ‘shape’ of a poem, you can spend some time honing and editing your poem, until you feel that it perfectly captures your chosen moment. Then you can submit your work – I can’t wait to read all your poem and be immersed in the moment!
This challenge is now closed – huge thanks to all who entered. Check back soon to find out the winners!
Chloe Smith is a UK-based disabled writer and poet, and a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year. If she isn’t writing something, she’s either reading, or working through an idea for a new poem or story, even if she doesn’t know that at the time. She hopes to study English and Creative Writing at university next year, if her A-level results day goes well.