Writers’ Workshop – Melanie Kerr

Melanie Kerr, retired after thirty seven years as a teacher and decided she wanted to do something for herself.

‘I decided to complete a part time degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Creative Writing. Finally doing something for me, just for me.’

She found the first year relatively easy with her experience of creative writing courses, but this year, the classes have challenged her and made her think in different ways. The modules on Heroic literature and Publishing have stretched her academically and developed new skills.

‘I can’t believe how much I’ve enjoyed creating my own website and writing for the blog,’ she adds. Equally, she has enjoyed immersing herself in Greek literature with the Iliad by Homer.

Mel has dabbled in creative writing for many years after she went to sign up for an evening course to become a counsellor, and inexplicably came away enrolled on a creative writing course. But as she tells the podcast, Sue and Johnny – Everything and Anything, she had found her ‘sweet spot’. She loved it, took more courses, and joined an online writers group. But it was poetry that held her attention.

‘You asked me to pick my favourite poets and poems and I just couldn’t decide,’ she says, and pauses, ‘but if I had to pick one poet, it would be Roger McGough.

Mel sees parallels in his poems with her life.

‘He writes of control, of trying to escape, to be free. These were issues in my life.’

She performed her favourite poem on the podcast.

Bees Cannot Fly – Roger McGough

Bees cannot fly, scientists have proved it.
It is all to do with wingspan and body weight.
Aerodynamically incapable of sustained flight,
Bees simply cannot fly. And yet they do.

There’s one there, unaware of its dodgy ratios,
A noisy bubble, a helium-filled steamroller.
Fat and proud of it, buzzing around the garden
As if it were the last day of the spring sales.

Trying on all the brightest flowers, squeezing itself
Into frilly numbers three sizes too small.
Bees can fly, there’s no need to prove it. And sting.
When stung, do scientists really believe it?

Mel explains that when she was ten, she read a poem by McGough about milkshakes.

‘I had to get a badge in the Brownies, so I performed an Irish jig and read this poem.’ she says. Her other favourite poet is the American Billy Collins

Forgetfulness – Billy Collin’s

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Mel’s deep faith influences her writing, and she has been prolific. She has self published two anthologies.

‘I suppose, I self published because I didn’t have the confidence to go to a traditional publisher. But the course seems to have given her confidence as she is now actively searching for publishers focused on religious books. It’s a huge market and her brand of devotional and challenging poetry is likely to sell well.

Since 2016, Mel has tried to write a poem every day during Lent, and during her interview on the podcast, she read out a poem drafted a few days before.

Meeting MeMelanie Kerr
I bumped into myself today
I am looking well
A little bit of extra weight perhaps
I noticed I’d had a recent haircut
It is very neat
Was I not going to go for something
More uncontrolled?
I am a creature of habit.
Wasn’t it my birthday last week?
I don’t ask myself for numbers
I told myself about the coffee meetup with friends
I surprise myself sometimes at
How sociable I can be.
Carrot cake? It’s always carrot cake
And a pot of tea
I asked myself how my university course was going
Creative Writing, yes?
I confessed to myself that it was getting tough
Have I read the Illad, I asked myself
No, I replied.
We did not talk about school and what
I learned and didn’t learn
Because of the class I was in.
It is on Spotify, if I want to listen to it.
And the knitting? I asked
I told myself about the Tunisian crocheting hooks
I am keen to start playing with them
But there are other project to finish first
Ah, I said
I never was one for completing things, was I?
I laughed with myself about the half-knitted baby cardigan.
I glanced at my watch
The number 5 bus was due
I hugged myself and said I must dash
Don’t be a stranger, I said
As I turned away

Mel explains that her first collection of poetry was inspired by a trip to Homebase. She was fascinated by the Dulux chart of paint colours.

‘It was not just brown or red but briefcase brown or roasted coffee. And that just fascinated me, so I wrote this poem.’

One Thousand Dulux Shades of Life Melanie Kerr
found fossil skies and dove slate clouds
warm pewter rain and urban chic pavements
my life has dulled to 32 dulux shades of grey

muted mocha office and roasted coffee briefcase
dusted damson suit and muddy puddle deadlines
Joyless I work in 97 dulux shades of brown

lemon drizzle smile and sunny day laughter
soft vanilla calm and wild primrose passion
I miss her in 67 dulux shades of yellow

volcanic splash anger and red stallion rage
ruby fountain sorrow and rose trellis tears
grief poured out in 164 dulux shades of red

woodland fern stillness and forest falls peace
spring meadow serenity and minted glory promise
God comforts me in 76 dulux shades of green

fragrant cloud prayer and velvet ribbon praise
lilac spring dance and cotton breeze joy
gentle restoration in 76 dulux shades of violet

harvest fruit healing and earth glaze complete
honey beam satisfied and golden rambler awake
tossed high, I soar in 65 dulux shades of gold

And her ambitions? She isn’t searching for a job, the degree is for pure enjoyment. She tells Sue and Johnny – Everything and Anything, ‘after eight years on the part time course, I will be seventy when I graduate, but I’m loving the learning, which is what I wanted.’

The second instalment of Melanie Kerr’s discussion will air next week, where she chats about her favourite authors and her writing process and method. Mel’s blog can found here.