Making Poetry When You Havent a Clue


I’m sorry to leave you with so little today, but I’m about to leave the frozen north and I have very little time to write.

I want to you know that I haven’t a clue how to write poetry, but I do know that a certain ambiguity and wonderful words are part of it. This week I created another altered book page, and I “Austin Kleon’d” it. Austin Kleon is a young writer who, among other things, writes poetry by redacting newspaper or magazine articles. Look him up. He’s a very wise young man.

Lord Johnnie, the adventure novel I’m altering was published in 1949. The language is florid in comparison to our current tastes, and somehow I ended up with this rather dark bit of writing. Since the images I’ve made have taken on a dark tone, I decided to go with it.

The Effort

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Last week I talked about looking, seeing and inspiration. I offered you a video on the art of Anne Bachelier. If you watched the video, you’ll hear her talk about her interest in illuminated manuscripts and she shows us a book that she has ‘illuminated’.

I find all her art fascinating. Her facility with oil paint is astonishing, but the part that inspired me most were the grittier works in the book she made.

I don’t know what sort of book Anne used. But my instinct was take an old book from my book shelves. My husband’s Grandfather used to buy boxes  of stuff at farm auctions that held all the things the auctioneer expected no one wanted. Often these boxes held books and the books were passed on to us. We both have a hard time throwing out books.

Lord Johnnie by Leslie T. White was published in 1949. The paper is pulp and fairly thin. I have no idea what the story is about. The cover has an embossed sword on it. Here’s a bit from its pages:

“I fear, sir, there is some mistake,” she said fridgidly. “I recall no cousin who–“

Abruptly her yes widened. She opened her mouth to scream, then stifled the outburst with her fan.

“Control yourself, madame! warned Johnnie. “A scene will be fatal!”

I’ve since found that painting in already published books is not my own invention. It’s a thing. If you Google Altered Books you’ll find images and how tos.

I learned some excellent things in creating art in someone else’s book.

  1. Because the paper isn’t pristine, it’s easier to make your first marks and be less precious about the drawing.
  2. Because text covers much of the page, you end up using the whole page for your composition.
  3. Though I haven’t read any more of the story in than what you see above, I found my images seemed to imply a narrative.

I suppose, if I had planned better, I could have chosen a theme and made the narrative clearer. I’m glad I didn’t, because as you can see from the work on this blog I liked to change things up.

The mediums I used were Golden Heavy Body Gel (as my glue), Golden Acrylic Gesso, various inks, pencil crayon, tissue paper and other collage elements, and gel pens. The figure with the wings was drawn digitally, printed and painted with coloured pencil and watercolour.

I needed a poem about ravens, and couldn’t find one that felt right, so I wrote my own.



hunched in our tattered funeral array, we watch.


the itch in her wings will lift her up.


scuttles her prey.



Androgeny, 2016, ink and collage on paper

At six this morning, I was lying in bed wondering what ink drawing I could make to illustrate #1 on the Inktober calendar: Poisonous. In a couple of drowse cycles I had it. I’d draw a tarantula. Right, and baby sitting next to a tarantula, and the baby is holding a baby bottle with a skull and cross bones on it.

And that is how too many projects are born.

Inktober, now in its 9th year, was a projected dreamt up by artist Jake Paker. The idea is to make an illustration that tells a story for prompt-word assigned to each day in October. It’s fun. Many artist do this each year. You make your drawing and post it to social media. I love social media in October. (And no, I don’t love it all the time.)

After giving it further thought, I’ve decided not to do Inktober this year. I really should, it would be such good practice for my visual storytelling, but the proliferation of projects can derail progress in your creative work like nothing else. I currently have 5+ things that I am serious about and want to complete. I am fortunate not to have to fit in a day job, but even without it, 5 things, and a family leaves something short-changed all the time. You never reach a momentum on anything.

Believe it or not, I didn’t realize that I was doing this project pile-up thing. I didn’t realize it until I read Jessica Abel’s Growing Gills early this year. Jessica’s book is about finding creative focus in your life. One of her best pieces of advice is to lose all those projects you collect and that drive you crazy with their demands. Focus on one project at a time. ONE. One ’til done.

That seems impossible to me. I write fiction and make visual art. So at the very least I always have two creative projects going. Add family life, and life in general, and I’m plenty busy.

However, if you find yourself with an itch to draw and your projects are finished, sign up for Inktober. I’m looking forward to seeing your work on social media.

P.S. Jake Parker, Lee White and Will Terry host a podcast called 3 Point Perspective. Listen, you’ll learn a lot about the business and art of illustration.