Take note of what you hear

27th August 2004 at 01:00
Gillian Allnutt concludes our summer creative writing series with a project for the future

Get yourself a notebook: beg, borrow - or even buy one. It should make you want to write in it but not be so nice that you're terrified to spoil it.

Above all, it should be thick: you're going to write in it for 10 minutes every day, possibly for the rest of your life. Here is the first of many things you might put down in it.

Find a place somewhere where you can shut your eyes, and listen. Stay there for five minutes. (If you're doing this on your own, you'll have to check your watch.) Then write down what you have heard. The place can be outdoors or indoors. I've tried it standing in my garden on a winter evening, say, and lying in the bath on a Sunday morning.

The most difficult places have been a shingle beach at high tide and a footbridge over the motorway in Newcastle, because in both it was difficult to distinguish individual sounds.

Write a list of what you hear. Be precise: not "a door" but "a van door" or "a front door slammed shut". Write until you've remembered just about everything.

You could do this every day for a week, picking a new place each time. If you leave it at listening and writing - and that will be your 10 minutes - you'll probably find that it slows you down and stills and focuses you.

That's good for writing a poem; it may be good for living too.

When I first did this, I gained one or two profound insights about life and how to live it, for which I am still grateful.

If you want to work towards poetry, you could set yourself a number, for example three or seven or 10. Choose, say, three items from your list and put them in the right order to make (something like) a three-line poem. You could allow yourself to tinker with the wording of each item or not. You could put in punctuation or not. You could even give it a title.

Try different things with different lists. If you do this with a group or class, get them to spread out but remain within calling distance. You may lose a few, but that way one giggle won't wreck the whole thing. You'll know what's possible with your own pupils and the place where you are.

It can be interesting for a group or class to share lists. Sometimes it turns out that everyone is puzzled by a particular sound. Sometimes there'll be someone who can tell one birdsong from another. And you'll all discover what you didn't hear, or didn't remember to write down.

Gillian Allnutt is a writer and teacher. She does creative writing in schools and with teachers and other adults. Her sixth collection of poetry, Sojourner, was published by Bloodaxe Books (www.bloodaxebooks.com) in May

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