poetry space workshop five

I have a wonderful dictionary of proverbs on my study bookshelf and its green cover caught my attention as I looked around for inspiration for what to give you for this next writing workshop. I am also coughing this morning . I am on the tail end of a cold I just can’t get rid of and having just flicked through the book the one that stands out for me is Feed a cold and starve a fever. Reading the notes I am informed that this one dates from the nineteenth century and originally the wording was feed a cold and starve a fever.

How the proverbs came about is fascinating in itself and as the authors Linda and Roger Flavell say “they mainly come from worlds far removed from our contemporary civilisation”.

I have picked out a few proverbs for you to ponder and I have deliberately chosen quite provocative ones.



You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Revenge is sweet

Blood is thicker than water

Walls have ears

Fine words butter no parsnips

Experience is the teacher of fools

Even a worm will turn

There are more ways to kill a cat than by choking it with cream


Take one and write down any thoughts that come into your head. You might find an immediate scenario comes into your head or a particular person might come to mind.  You might want to look up the proverb and find out a bit about its history.

Try a poem based on your notes and thoughts.



Even a Worm

“she asks

why are you so mean?


dear reader,

do you know something?

those who keep asking the same question

really don’t want to hear the answer.” – Charles Bukowski  from Unemployed


I told you

That I had meant it as a joke


That you needed

To ‘lighten up’.


In truth

I wanted an argument:


A sign

(of life)



When the coffee is left

Too long in the tin,

It clings together



one thing.


Next week

I’ll tell you

To “turn your shit music down”,


Because it’s giving me

A headache.


And it still won’t be enough.


But then,

maybe one day,


It will


Isobel Davis


I love this Isobel and the quotation from Charles Bukowski. This poem gives a real sense of a relationship going stale but continuing out of habit. The coffee metaphor is very apt.

The only thing you might consider with this piece is to leave out the last three lines for a stronger finish.


Even a worm will turn

Below everything, mulching the world,

Always turning, blind, dead mould

To fecundity, introducing air.


No tongue to speak of, wormtongue

Though, worming its way. Spare,

Small, shy, undulating,

Unnoticed, revolting,


Easy to harm,

Threatened by cultivation,

Evil innocence, spiralling, No nose,


But nosing: no eye but eyeing, no ear

but hearing – all nose, all eye, all ear.


Split by spade or spoken

Of hushly or sung,

‘The wormwood and the gall’.


No world, no soil, nothing grows

Without the worm.


Without the worm we fall

But learn, spoiling world, learn,

Even a worm will turn.


Michael Docker

It seems that the proverb Even a worm will turn struck a chord and Michael’s poem too uses this as his starting point for a great piece of work. The underground world of the worm is defly explored and the writing is lively. However this poem becomes a vehicle for voicing concerns about the loss of natural resources as humankind destroys the planet. I love the dark note at the end, the bringing in of the proverb as a warning to us all.


Look before you leap

They said what they said,
not knowing ,if what they said was
wrong or right. Not knowing
how far and deep the leap would take us.
We looked ,
we saw just what they wanted us to see.
We heard what they told us,
Just what they wanted us to hear.
Do not fear one said,
Look this is solid ground.
We’ve stood on it for so long,
We can run, jump,dance,
We can do whatever we want
not just by chance.
We hold the key,
We can lock the door,
open it ,close it,open it again,
It’s a leap of faith we need to take.
Our future’s at stake.
Together we are strong.
Some believe; more didn’t.
The others painted pictures,
Invaders and masqueraders,
Mounting numbers,
They said, let’s go,
the drop is but a mere stop,
not a fall at all.
The gold lies there,
No mistake,
Be bold, its ours to take.
We’ll be lifted up, hoisted,
Be tall; we are tall,
Together ,we seem small.
Leap forward,  leave be free.
Blinded,  we didn’t see,
we leapt into the dark.
Now in the dark,
we scramble, search for light,
the fight is on,
This hole is deep,
Must we creep to find the gold?
Where’s the switch?
Let’s find the switch and turn it on.
so we can look, see and know
everything, before we go.

Leela Gautam


The tenses are a little mixed Leela and I know you did not feel totally satisfied with this piece. It does have potential however. It feels Big Brotherish, sinister, the feeling of being controlled by outside forces. In fact there is so much here, faith and blind faith, progress and enlightenment, the scramble for material goods, the never ending quest to find meaning.


Cast Your Bread

Shipping grain by sea, casting his bread upon the waters—

That was a bad move, a sad move for kind Antonio

Languishing in Venice at Shylock’s beck & call.

Antonio’s boat went down!

Yet something still came back to him:

The thankful hearts of Jessica & Lorenzo—

A  different kind of loaf, the bread & bed of marriage.

‘Twas one the pair would feast upon in joy for all their days,

Even when the play was done & all the players sailed for home.


Jump, leap from the highest diving board

And feel the rush & press of water on your arms & legs,

The whoosh & fizz of bubbles past your ears.

Then pop up like a champagne cork unbottled,

Laughing, in the air again,

To clapping, cheers from poolside seats.


Fly, go free, my children, from the nest.

How else will all the wondering world

Meet & come to love you?

You have grown wings.

You will return like swallows

Now & then, I know.


Drop me a letter in the mail & after many days

I shall write back to you. Or I might wing you a text,

An email, a message on a flying cyber platform faster even

Than the trains on Platform 9 ¾ …

And all because I love you so.

Sealed with a kiss, a kiss.


Dial up & ask for the answer you have always wanted—

That question not quite tripping off your tongue so many years,

The one you swallowed since you were too shy to ask.

Yes, ask it now.

For ever has your friend been hoping to tell you truth:

Forgiveness you longed to know.


Strike pen to paper, fingers to keyboards.

Stop running at the mouth.

Let’s write instead not words of water

But the fires that burn in our bones, our very marrows.

Meanwhile, I cast my own bread on the waters,

The bitter & the sweet. And tomorrow

After many morrows it will be time for you

To send it back to me: toasted,

Golden & buttered on both sides.


© Lizzie Ballagher


Lizzie, I like how each stanza is inspired by a well known phrase or saying and you bring us from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice  to modern times with a neat circularity: beginning and ending with the casting of bread on the waters, itself a biblical phrase Cast your bread upon the waters; for you shall find it after many days. I am not familiar enough with the bible to know where it is from but Google helped out. It is from Ecclesiastes 11:1.