Exoskeletonism: Writing Poetry about the Films of Akira Kurosawa

By | 1 May 2021

The Table

So, I’d tell them to think of their last assignment or chapter as an object, let’s say a table (many writing teachers will be finding this concept familiar).

Ok, you built a table and it wasn’t a very good table, then you got a bad mark, and the teacher referred you to me … Let’s help you learn some things to make a better table next time.

Then, I’d request that students just write something that we would then scope down and fix later. Even though they were not creative writers, they suffered from this same conflation of the self into the writing that creative writers do; they suffered and felt shame, the same as we do.

Bring me a pile of timber, I’d say, and I’ll talk to you about how to make the basics of a table. You can decorate it however you want, but I’ll let you know the basics of what it needs to not be an absolute piece of shit.

Through establishing this with my students repeatedly, the way I teach started getting into my own brain, and it became clear that it would be hypocritical not to use this approach myself. I’d always been completely incapable of doing this during my own studies, even right up to completing my PhD in Creative Writing. But it was the PhD that got me writing notes while watching films. It was then that I began close-reading images and scenes and noticing things or asking questions to an extent that I would never do consciously when normally watching a film. Then I would look at the notes, choose an image or an idea, or a way I had automatically described something, and go towards making poems from the chosen idea and images.

But when I had to write from myself, instead of as an ekphrastic act, the freedom to do so came from the practicality of working in the business school, and from the basics of building a table. A communicative object, separate from your stream of thoughts, from the original moment. A new thing. A constructed thing. This new thing also helps the writer to remain separate from any prematurely-deployed judgements of what the final form might be, where perhaps you try to build a table before you’ve got anything like glue or screws to put it together. That can be bad too.

So, I began to write a lot. Having started to recognise that I had loads of timber and relatively few tables, I then started to look back on my writing with more of a searching eye. I started to look through, say, a pile of writing which I was sure was just diary notes (as opposed to recognised poetry drafts I had put aside for editing), and there were always poems in there, arguably complete poems – the beginnings of respectable tables which, like dreams, I had completely forgotten but could recall vividly when I pulled one piece from the pile. In the piles of raw material, often, quite table-like shapes already exist. This is my chance to choose to construct them, to finish them. To resolve the metaphors. To move onto new images. But just like with the bandit waking in the lonely oil of the celluloid, some images seem to want me to continue to interrogate them. For example, the image of the exoskeleton, which would start to appear in additional places to where it began. The image derived from one film began to describe phenomena in other films. The poem may have resolved an image in one aspect, perhaps, but not in its definitive aspect – defining why it had stayed with me, and why it continued to come up in my daily writing.

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