poetry space workshop

Welcome to the first of a series of fortnightly writing prompts that I hope will inspire you to write poems.

I will select up to ten submissions for the website from each prompt, however there won’t be any voting this time. Instead if you have enjoyed the poems and want to send in feedback for the poets this is welcome.

Also poems from each workshop will not be archived online and will only stay online for two weeks. This should enable poets to submit resulting poems to magazines and competitions if they wish to at a later date though if in doubt check the rules with editors and competition organisers.

The deadline for sending in poems from workshop one is Saturday 5th November.

Workshop One

For this first prompt I want to take you back to a very early memory. I suggest sitting somewhere quietly  and thinking about yourself at different ages. Maybe your first day at school? Or perhaps first day at nursery? Maybe your first memory is of a little brother or sister in your life. How did that feel?

The memory may be unpleasant, you may remember being hurt. or you may recall hurting someone or something else.

What was the place you lived in like?  Some concrete detail will bring your poem to life.

Here is my own poem on this theme.

Creation Story

In the beginning

there was the cool touch

of a flagstone floor.

Baby soft feet.

And then a big brown bowl

and a swallowing up.

A lap’s crazy heat.

Soft petals. Wet cheek.

Mum dead heading roses.

Susan Jane Sims

This appeared in Obsessed with Pipework magazine in 2009 and in 2010 I published it in my pamphlet collection Irene’s daughter.

The event was falling over a bowl in the kitchen of the old rented cottage in which we lived. In the poem I have chosen to concentrate on the sensations; soft petals, wet cheek in order to paint a vivid picture economically.

Take a look too at My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke.


I have selected just a small sample from the poems that came in from workshop one. I was pleased to hear that so many of you enjoyed this first prompt and I have gained so much from reading all of the poems even if I have not included them below. My comments are below each of them in italics.  If you have further feedback please it in.

Poets featured are Lizzie Ballagher, Alwyn Marriage, Angie Butler, Denim Deka, Shirley Wright, Johanna Boal and Leela Gautam.


Before Words


Before there were words,

Before trees & flowers & birds

Had names

And under morning’s first holy light,

I played below juniper trees

In dry brown dust where no rain fell.


Then scrambled out

To where my mother bent, planting lupins

In the fine damp loam

A rake’s length away:

Lupin leaves studded with rain beads

At their hearts.


I had no words, no names

For the soft rosettes of leaves

Or the junipers’ incense:

Just the wonder of diamonds on greenness,

With trees’ fronds brushing my face—

The heaven of their scent floating around me.


Some say

We have no memory

Until we have vocabulary.

And yet, a mystery:

Before words,

do remember.


 Lizzie Ballagher

I have a baby nephew who is babbling but not yet speaking and it is interesting to contemplate what goes on in a child’s mind before they have words to describe it themselves.  Lizzie, you have evoked the feeling of being small and living in a world without words but one of strong sensations. I love the line, “lupin leaves studded with rain beads”. With, I imagine deliberate use of religious language the scene you depict becomes a garden of Eden with everything being explored for the first time.


Remembering Legs


Dad’s went on for ever,

long and thin, rising like pillars

into the great unknown.

A humble Colossus, he bestrode

the threadbare carpet, swooping down

from time to time to lift me,

show me the universe outside

dusty net curtains.


His trousers were my climbing frame,

a safety blanket, a welcome cuddle

for my toddler cheeks as I breathed

the whiff of sweat mixed with tobacco

and engine oil. Their rough cloth

wiped my snot. They were my strength

as I tottered, the warmth

I clung to when the room felt cold.


Occasional gods, his legs

were weekend visitors, off early,

back late, busy ruling the world

and bringing home small treats on a rusty bike;

a bag of sweets, chocolate

dangled from on high. No matter

how tall I grew, they surpassed me.


Shirley Wright

Shirley, I love the concrete detail in this piece, and the fact that this is a portrait of someone real, whose sweat is “mixed with tobacco and engine oil”, who wears trousers made of “rough cloth” and who has the power and strength to lift you from the floor to window height to see the world outside. The world of the toddler is reimagined wonderfully through the theme of legs. Legs to grab hold of, legs to climb up, legs to wipe a snotty nose on. 


Hollow Echoes


Delving into the darkness

of the past, I walk the path and see

glimmers of moon light through arched windows.

Taking his hand, I follow my father’s

footsteps through hollow echoes of  pews.


Smell musty hymn books,

and candle wax,


Harvest fruit piled in

window sills of cleared cobwebs.


By day, these windows are

full of colour,

and I feel the warmth

of the sunshine

in the rich, story eyes of my childhood.


I hear the keys he made

sing, sending out

powerful notes, deep and rich,

to rock the unbelievers

and lure them to join in, sing, praise and rejoice.


But the moon,

gives me a chill today,

without his hand,

a loneliness and empty sadness,

in the dark, coldness of the night.


And the days, though bright,

will for ever miss his warmth.

And the music holds no meaning,

just a hollow echo,

of a life without his sharing love.


Angie Butler

 This is another evocative poem of a father remembered through colour, smells, sights, sounds. There is a sense of pride here and and overwhelming sense of loss. With perfect synchonicity the hollowness of the building becomes the hollowness of a life without this man. 




It’s difficult now to understand

which rules we happily broke as children

and which were sacrosanct;


or why it was taken for granted in our family

that a semi-biblical proscription against shopping

on the sabbath was one we should never break.


On a visit to farm friends one Sunday afternoon

we children set off across the fields in innocence,

– patted ponies, jumped across a stream


and practiced the occasional vault across

a five barred gate, – then having crawled through

a tangle of hedges slipped unseen into a sweet shop.


Our friends thought nothing of it, couldn’t

understand my nervousness or the thrill

of such a serious misdemeanor.


My pocket money paid for seven straps

and coils of liquorice, long as a lie

or convoluted as an alibi.


This was my earliest visit to the tree

of the knowledge of good and evil

and the first fruits made me wary


of the eyes of passing strangers

that might become the eyes of neighbours

who would know, even if they never told.


The liquorice was chewed and swallowed

quickly as we crossed the fields again:

it tasted dark and black and sweet as sin


in the way that nothing ever has since then,

so that years later, a slight murmur of guilt

still trembles at my enjoyment of the taste.


Alwyn Marriage

As children we are often stuffed full with rules and it can feel very daring to break them. Both the excitement (the liqourice  was “dark and black and sweet as sin”) and the guilt (“seven straps/and coils of liquorice, long as a lie/or convoluted as an alibi”are explored in this poem. I almost felt that I was tasting this candy as I devoured the poem.

On a train

I was two ,almost three,
On that train going somewhere.
Mother with baby,
Me on daddy’s knee,
looking down,down,
I see tiny houses
As fields flash by.
Tiny people,walking ,waving;
Animals so tiny ,I could hold them.
I cry,
Daddy,daddy,I want one for me,
“What?”he asks,
He’s reading,
He looks,too late he doesn’t see,
Oh no,the train’s moved on,
It’s gone!
But it stays in my dreams forever.
I grow,I read Tales from Gulliver,
Of Lilliput men and women,
I know they are real,
I’m a believer,
I saw them from that train then,
When I was
two,almost three.

Leela Gautam

The view from a train window must seem like another world to a small child, especially as it appears and disappears as the train moves. I really like how you have captured this Leela and refected on it now as an adult. This feels like an important memory for you, one that helped you to believe in a world beyond yourself, a world of fantasy, of stories and fairy tales. There is a tinge of sadness here too, of the child wanting to share a moment and the father missing it.


 A Day Out In The 70s


The Perspex bus shelter doesn’t gleam like glass, it’s grubby

fits in with the orange bus screeching brakes pulled up

puddles from the April showers splashed about its wheels:

It’s taking us to meat street market – where animals are slaughtered.

We are buying lacy material for the Holy Communion,

to be brides of Christ, feasting on bread and wine (but I would

prefer a feast of chips, sausages and cream cakes)

whilst wearing white and blue – an act of defiance, from mum!

Will the congregation see the daisy edging on my little white veil?


Some seats upstairs torn, yellow sponge exposed, the same

yellow in the Rupert Bear annual a boy from my class is reading.

The driver is turning corners at such speed, maybe he watches Formula 1

crashing us into windows, the stand-up poles, and how my sister

giggled, sliding on the bends to shove me into those corners.

A bus ride with mountains in the distance, fields, smell the petrol fumes,

see a rope swing hanging from a lamppost, a football match in the park,

houses on top of each other, dogs fighting, phone boxes, pavements,

hills with children playing on bikes – look no hands on the handle bars.


Johanna Boal

You give a wonderful glimpse of family life here Johanna. Lots of detail on this very important bus ride to buy lacy material for a holy communion veil. I am left wondering why your mum (Or the narrator’s mum) is feeling defiant. Does she not want her daughter to be confirmed as a catholic? This is an interesting poem, covering a lot of ground.


Morning Routine


Rays of the rising sun

Falling into her hair bun,

I see mother by the tube-well

And wash dirt as the utensils tell.


Monkeys scampering in the tin -roofed house

From the deep morning sleep, I am roused,

Cajoled by the sun to wake up

Wash, brush and take the milk cup

Night-flowering jasmines in the green meadow

I look at them from the kitchen window.


To school, shoulder with its magnet escort, the ‘bag’

Footsteps ready to trot like a tail’s wag

Mother’s humble lessons to be polite

I understand to remain bright.


Roots of the childhood heart

Play its part

Empty wind swaying across it

Boredoms, sulks get frivolous hit.


-Denim Deka

This is a portrait of a mother seen through the eyes of the child. As I read this I could feel the heavy weight of duty being placed upon the child. Some beautiful detail sets the scene, “mother by the tube-well”, the “Night-flowering jasmines in the green meadow”.