Pen To Print

Thoughtful Tuesdays: Invisible Colours

By Eithne Cullen

We’re venturing into the world of invisible colours this week, thinking about the ways the absence of colour can be applied to our thoughts and senses. Thinking about invisible colours led me to think about creativity. Where there is a space to fill, writers and artists find the most amazing ways of using their time and filling the space!

Here’s a challenge: How would you describe colour to someone who had never seen it before? You could describe red or orange through the warmth and fieriness they present, but how would you lead them to understand the depth and texture of a red flame, an orange’s skin or the way the sky lights up at sunset? Black presents darkness, but someone who is totally blind would find it hard to imagine the subtle changes of shade and shadow. Maybe if we challenged ourselves to try, we’d get a closer understanding of the tint, the shade, the hue.

This piece of stoicism from Marcus Aurelius helps us think about using our skills to concentrate and fill those spaces:

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on
doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine
seriousness…if you do everything as if it were the last thing
you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless,
stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you,
stop being hypocritical, self-centred, irritable. You see how
few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?
If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.”

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One wonderful opportunity I’ve had this summer is taking part in the creative sessions run by ‘Love Letters To The World’ and supported by Pen to Print.

It’s a creative writing class where the ideas, words and phrases we use to write are generated within the group as we write. The immediacy and energy the group creates drives us (me) to create something very quickly. It’s not about writing a particular form of poem or genre of story; it’s about creating a piece of writing. Although Jill Glenn has used the pieces to write poems in specific forms:

A Haiku:

Looking for heart-light
In its bright blaze I find you
Now the dark is done

A Naani (an Indian form consisting of 20-25 syllables across four lines):

The heart is here in peril,
Almost erased… Stop.
It wants little more than your breath
To refresh it.

A Nonet (which has nine lines – the first line has nine syllables, the second eight syllables, the third seven, etc… until line nine finishes with one syllable):

Love made me bolder than a giant,
Brighter and brasher than the sun,
Stronger and sweeter than wine,
Holy as an angel.
Love made me wilder
Than the eagles,
Than the stars.
Love made
Me

© Jill Glenn, 2020

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Because we’re all writing the same things at the same time, when we feedback and share our work, it’s very nurturing and positive; there’s no ‘even better if’ moment. Most of us need that kind of feedback to develop our writing, but here, it’s not part of the two-hour session.

We brainstorm ideas around a keyword: words like hope or here or fair. We can have very fresh ideas, or think of familiar phrases. We add our phrases to some random words, are given instructions and then challenged to write a piece in ten or eleven minutes.

Claire Steele, who facilitates the session, is precise in her instructions: use some random words once or twice, include a particular line like ‘love knows…’ or a line from a song: I’ve had to consider working in ‘No, nay, never…’ and ‘It’s all over now, baby blue…’

Here’s my poem that came from ‘Love knows.’

Love knows…

Love knows the difference between a swallow and a swift.

Love knows why orange and purple clash.

Love knows why a terrible hat is better than a tiara.

Love knows what seven times six makes.

Love knows, you know.

© Eithne Cullen, 2020

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Tavinder New, one of the writers who has been to many of the sessions, shared this piece:

I don’t remember the cake or the anniversary. It’s old age they tell me. I feel grey like I see a ghost standing in the mirror, not the person I used to be. I am inside who I was full of salt but outside I feel rubbish as I lose my keys and rings everywhere. I have a notepad to itemise and a map, but things still turn sour. Perhaps it is the reality of what is but I want to twist and shout on this Monday truth. I remember I used to be a snake, a woman attractive going straight down being able to do everything. I had my afternoon tea on time but now I am a baby crying, a stone on this October month. The evolution of time has hit me. The sirens of my memory no longer work. I feel purple but I still remember my stream of yesterday. How I met you in the loft of West Cafe, then we had that date, now you are gone. I am always down; maybe that’s why I don’t want to remember. It’s not because I can’t but I no longer wish to, as I am fallen without you.

© Tavinder New, 2020

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And here’s a piece from Claire:

We walked along the Folly Wall. I think of it as a metaphor. It points to something else. Astonishment maybe, or longing. The houses around here are a trick of the dark, their windows shuttered against another layer of reality. You asked me, what does love know? And I said it knows how to mask itself. It knows how to makeshift. Love knows why the inhabitants of these houses come in happy and go out sad.

We walked along Folly Wall hoping to discover something magnificent about love.

Was it that the time of possibility passed? I promised to be steadfast and thought this spelled out our future. I thought we would have the grace to stay the distance. Was that no more or less of a lie than to promise to stay true?

It’s hard to tell, yet each small thing has its layer of distinction: a butterfly, arithmetic, a white crow. Another word from you. What initiated the chain of events that turned beauty into something to be berated? A mistake and then another mistake and then another. Did we imagine there would always be more room, for forgiveness?

There is a line drawn from East to West. When we cross it, I want to be talking to you about love, I want to be laughing at all the mistakes we made, one after another. I want love to blossom again between us like buds on an unnameable tree. Let there be fishbone, man bone, salt and weed.

You said take my hand and let us walk along Folly Wall with its texture of the real, with all the love letters tied to the branches, and the gateposts of the houses. You took me on the treasure hunt of love to find the pot of gold, whispering to me, ‘we’ll get by, we always have’.

And I caught my foot in the hem of devotion and disgraced myself there. Did we think there would always be more room?

We walked along Folly Wall, hoping to find among the metaphors, something magnificent about love, and we found each other.

© Claire Steele, 2020

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An added challenge also comes in a very specific Barking and Dagenham reference, in that we’re asked to include place names. Sometimes they might evoke ships and sailing, as they did one week when one participant had ships and sailors going down Whalebone Lane. When Claire included ‘Cathedral Of Sewage’ locals might work out it’s about ‘The Great Stink’ but I wonder what a participant who joined from Brazil made of that one!

This came from a session where street names were included:

On Priory Road, fat rain falls as the barometer swings round to changeable. I trace the halo of copper round the edge of the glass. It’s raining cats and dogs I see, but that is not as bad as hailing taxi’s. I’ll need a penguin suit as cold zooms in like a rocket. The weather is like a playful jigsaw of top hats and toilet boxes with a piece missing. Then, at last, the beautiful sun makes the rainbow look as if it will explode. After the thunder and lightning which was very, very frightening, the air feels fresh and wind scuds the candyfloss clouds shaped like woolly sheep, over the sea to Skye. The weather breaks, the rhyme and reason for no other reason than to wither the winter and cover the earth in a cloth of spring. Cosseted until it burst forth with the colours of the exploded rainbow and the tide ebbs and flows onto River Road.

 © Mary Walsh, 2020

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Another lockdown idea was to put the poems into the community by writing them on cards/labels and sharing them by hanging them in parks and spaces where people were taking their exercise. Finding the poems brought some good reactions from people who were cheered and excited to find them.  Of course, the labels included ‘Love Letters To The World’ and Pen to Print, so people knew where they had come from.

You’ll find lots of our writing on the ‘‘Love Letters To The World Facebook’ page.

While the programme has been running, Claire has posted a daily prompt and image. Pen to Printer Mary Walsh has written a poem every day based on the prompt. Here’s one she shared on the page:

Prompt: Here is my ticking heart, over and over again, I can’t stop it: love letters to the world writing prompt: write a love poem which repeats the first line three times

Here is my ticking heart. Made of cogs and springs. Keeping time, counting the minutes, hours, days that you have loved me. Here is my ticking heart beating with a rhythm that resounds and fills my soul as a pendulum swaying with love me, love me not. Here is my ticking heart, quietly counting the beats of my heart, the filling of my soul the tranquil places in my mind with the thought of love and you.

© Mary Walsh 2020

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To celebrate working with Pen to Print this summer, the people behind the project made a film giving an insight into our sessions and the work we have been producing. You can see the film here:

We’ll be looking at the theme of music in the next Write On! Extra week. This is a subject that everyone has an opinion about. Send your pieces in and we’ll share your views and ideas Email: pentoprint@lbbd.gov.uk Website: pentoprint.org. And don’t forget there’s still time to get your stories, plays and poems into our competitions!

I’ll finish with another little one from me, a reminder of those colours and invisible colours that paint the world for us in real life and in our imaginations.

Colouring The Sky

a bright copper halo
the sun over the
candyfloss cloth of the sky
we have no place to go
save our
imaginations

© Eithne Cullen 2020

Where there is a space to fill, writers and artists find the most amazing ways of using their time and filling the space.