Last month I began a series of letters called Inspired By Herbs. It includes a featured herb, and a related poetry prompt. Here is an extract from the first, inspired by chickweed:
from the chickweed newsletter about the herb
Latin name stellaria media. Other English names bird’s eye, chickensmeat, cluckenweed, mischievous jack, skirt buttons, tongue grass, murren
Scottish names chickenweed, arva/arvi chickenwir in Shetland
Gaelic fliodh/fliogh (affliction)
Until last year, I hardly noticed chickweed in my garden or on the roadside. It needs rich moist soil, and warmth, so it doesn’t thrive where it gets walked on or mowed, and I simply hauled it out along with the hairy bittercress and wild forget-me-not which are the prevailing weeds in my garden. And then I discovered all the things I could do with it, started to look for it, and discovered it everywhere – in the greenhouse, under the rose bush, growing out of gutters and between cracks in the pavement.
This is not simply the familiar ‘write what you know’. Writing about herbs poems is plagued with people regurgitating ‘what they know’ in a way that is evocative and emotional, – you can see words like ‘calm’, ‘pleasant’, ‘soothing’, ‘sleep’, even in the herbals I’ve quoted. And it can lead to flabby and sentimental writing that has nothing to do with either the herb or the writer but simply reflects the way they want to feel.from the chickweed letter, about the writing
I’m going to suggest you start your poetry with writing what you can learn by close observation, disregarding prior knowledge and familiar associations.
Writing is not compulsory! But some of you have, and one person even sent me her poem, which was lovely. The next letter goes out on the 21st April, and is about woodruff. It isn’t too late to sign up – the form is on the contact page, and as it is hosted by mailchimp, it is easy to unsubscribe if it isn’t what you’re looking for!