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In touch with your senses

Linda France continues our summer series of creative writing challenges

We generally think of perception, what we make of the world around us, as being a function of the mind, but it is helpful to remember it is rooted in our physical experience, our bodies, in the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

You could say that the response of the mind and the heart, thought and feeling is our sixth sense, no more or less important than the other senses. It is through our senses that we experience pleasure, always a good thing to concentrate on when being creative because when we are relaxed and gently stimulated, the imagination flows more freely, making unexpected connections and fresh discoveries.

This exercise unlocks the worlds of experience and language contained in them. You will need a selection of pictures - postcards or pictures cut from magazines. This is a useful resource that you can use again and again, so it's worth collecting a file of them. Choose a picture you are instinctively drawn to and look at it for a while, taking it in.

Now you are going to write a six-line poem in response to the picture, and a series of questions. Your task isn't to describe the picture, but to bring a new angle on it, invent a surprising narrative, evoke a mood.

* What can you see? What colours, shapes, details?

* What sounds might there be in the world of your picture? Are there obvious ones and less obvious ones?

* What are the textures in the picture? If you could reach out and touch one thing, what would it feel like?

* Are there any suggestions of taste? Literal or metaphorical?

* Is there a hint of anything in the air? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

* What do you think andor feel looking at this picture?

Each sense response needs to be contained in a single line. This will result in a rich but economical evocation of the spirit of the picture as you see it. Keeping it simple like this is good for concentration and confidence. Children love this exercise.

In the classroom, you can also use it to make communal poems, each student writing a line and then passing the picture and the poem on. This takes away the pressure to produce a great poem all on their own. It is also fun and raises the interesting question of who a poem belongs to.

However you do it, cultivating an awareness of the senses is powerful stuff. It wakes up the body and the mind and fires the imagination.

Linda France is a freelance writer and poet. She teaches at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Her latest collection of poetry is The Simultaneous Dress (Bloodaxe Books 2002). Next week: Paul Summers's camera work

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