Books Magazine

The Inspiration of Profession

By Ashleylister @ashleylister

Yesterday as I lugged bags of rubble, old ceramic sinks and decaying skirting boards into the skip, our builder offered me a job. Although it was probably not a serious offer, more a phrase that carries an illocutionary force of praise rather than promise, his idea that I could work for him and write poetry about his work was an arresting one, and one which has inspired the writing exercise described below.There is an amazing poem (one of those poems that makes me coo with admiration every time I read it) called The Boys in the Fish Shop by Kathryn Simmonds, which shows just how successful a poem about a specific profession can be. If you haven’t read the poem before then you can read/listen to it on the Poetry Archive.Profession as Inspiration1)   Firstly, select a profession. I’d suggest choosing either one you know about, or one which you are currently in contact with in your daily life - be that via a shopping trip to the fishmongers (like in Simmonds’ poem), the emergency plumber fixing a leak or the gardener you pass in the park.2)   Secondly, pay attention to the environment. One of the reasons Simmonds’ poem is so successful is because of the detail included about the shop in which the boys work. The environment in which you place your character/characters has the potential to add depth to character, narrative and the overall poem, as well as showing the reader the profession rather than telling, so use it to your advantage.3)   Thirdly, notice interesting or unexpected traits in your character. For example, Simmonds notes the ‘acne like mottled skin of pink fish’ and the ‘hoop of a lure’ of one of the boys and the ‘hands on hips, an elbow on a broom’ of another. From each of these statements we infer something about each of the boys – character description is your opportunity to show something without spelling it out.4)   Lastly, if you are writing the poem in the third, consider including some direct speech from your character. Simmonds uses the familiar address to a customer to bring the reader into this world – that ‘Yes darling’ is so indicative of the environment and class. If you’re not writing your poem in the third person but have chosen the first person, then pay attention to vocabulary use – for your character to be believable then there language usage and tone needs to be believable.
Thank you for reading,

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