Ted McCarthy had that quiet, patrician air, you know that you often saw of men of a certain vintage in those black-and-white movies of yesteryear. I guess it originated from his many years of teaching, that quiet and unassuming persona, that belied both the strength and intelligence of the character. You had the sense that he favoured the craft of poetry, the work that you have to do, to make the more ephemeral and somewhat magical ‘art happen’. He showed how seemingly random stimuli can be the genesis of many a poem, but that the poet has to be both open and available to it; when the muse comes knocking on the door as a poet, you have to let her in, that is a given, but you have to make her welcome or she may not come to your door at all.
He took us through a series of exercies that were pursuant to the cause of the craft of the poetry, I was particularly fascinated how you can take a series of ideas and draw a sketch in prose, before beginning the business of crafting a poem. I am lucky in that most of my work comes readily, almost fully formed, line after line; but even for myself, there are times when everything is all jumbled up like a bowl of spaghetti, thus setting the tangled words down in prose, you may begin to see where and how a poem may be crafted.
Ted also stressed the importance of reading widely and not just the verbal arts but also music, painting, television and film, sculpture – even material that you may not be primarily attracted to, in this way you may gain greater perspectives on you own style and your own way of writing.
There was a further exercise in which by taking a structure,arrived atby a random process, of adopting the word-count of an existing work, this then gives you a frame in which you may paint your own masterpiece; he emphasised that this may be unlikelyto arrive at a finished piece, but it may be a progenitor of one.
I think you can take from Ted’s workshop the importance of working without inhibition, but working on the craft all the same; also freeing yourself from the usual writers’ inhibitions caused by unnecessary fears of failure – he quoted Beckett’s line of ‘failing better’ to this end. We all need to ‘fail better’.
John Llewellyn James