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Old Pond: A Mindful Writing Workshop

For Rewild at the University of Brighton

 

old pond
frog leaping
splash

– Matsuo Bashô

A journey into the poem

Listen to the audio or read the following transcript. Pause for a moment. Close your eyes if you would like to. Take a couple of deep breaths. Become aware of the place that you’re in, the seat you’re sitting in, or the place you’re standing, the space you’re occupying.

Imagine a large old pond – old in the sense it’s been there for a very long time. It’s in the middle of a secluded place in a clearing in a forest. There are several pathways leading up to it. Everything is peaceful. You go along one of the pathways to the old pond. It is surrounded by several kinds of green: young and old trees, plants and tall grasses, as well as golden Japanese rushes. You sit down on a bench or an old tree trunk near the old pond. The pond is actually teaming with life but it’s the middle of a warm day and for the moment, everything is still.

Now ask yourself:

  • what can I see?
  • what can I hear?
  • what can I smell?
  • what can I taste?
  • what can I touch?
  • what do I sense?

Suddenly, as you’re watching, you see – and hear – a frog leaping into the old pond. A splash goes up. The water ripples. The air seems to vibrate. And just as suddenly, the sound dies away, the surface of the pond is still again.

Become aware of the place that you’re in, the seat you’re sitting in, the space you’re occupying. Pause for a moment. Take a couple of deep breaths. Open your eyes if they were closed.

I’ve written about why I’m fascinated with Bashô’s frog poem on the University of Brighton website.

Collecting words

Go outside. Use your notebook to jot down – to collect – words and phrases. At the collection stage, don’t question what you’re writing, simply record the words.

Use the same questions posed during our imagined journey into the poem: what can I see, what can I hear, what can I smell, what can I taste, what can I touch, what do I sense? But you aren’t simply a passive collector of words: you’re writing with self-awareness about you, in the place.

Watch (and listen) for moments of stillness and momentum particularly.

Experimenting with words

Try pairing some of the words and phrases together, simply as an experiment. These phrases don’t have to make sense. It’s probably better if they don’t! You don’t have to ‘try to write a Haiku’ at this point. Simply play a game with the words.

Next, turn your collection of words and phrases into a poem, using the following ideas if you would like to do so.

Stillness interrupted and restored

  • Bashô’s frog poem is simple. Try to use the ordinary and everyday to create your poem.
  • The poem starts and ends with stillness, after the splash dies away. Try to do similar.
  • In the middle, stillness is interrupted by a moment of movement / sound. Try to do similar.
  • The frog poem conjures up the still / interrupted pond and stays in the mind after reading. Try to create an image in the reader’s mind, using more than one of the senses.

I’d love to see the poems you create.

Resources

Workshop participants can download a PDF summary of the research questions, writing process, and resources here.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou

This is written from a transcript of the mindful writing workshop I gave at the Rewild Festival at The University of Brighton on 26th May 2023. I’ve included some photos below of Victoria Gardens and the fountain where we collected words. The sound of the traffic (and my flip-flops!) was recorded live that morning too.

 

 

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