Natalie Crick: Workshopping


Image for 30th October Post




          I am a big fan of writing workshops. Writing amongst other creative people with similar interests to mine is rewarding and different because writing is mostly a solitary activity for me. Engaging in workshop exercises, I am compelled to fill my empty white pages. These are designated moments to write and I make time for it to happen. Who knows who I might meet at a workshop? The reading materials provided in workshops are often a treat. A booklet of poems to devour later in bed, or the next morning with my breakfast.  I discover more authors and writing styles that I had never encountered until now. If particularly enchanted, I may even decide to mimic their magic, steal something I want for my own.

One of the reasons I enjoy workshops is because of the opportunity to get feedback on my poetry. The views of others in the group can steer me to identify strengths and weaknesses in my writing. Feedback I get from a workshop has influenced subsequent drafts of different pieces. And I think the feedback I have encountered so far is always constructive. Hearing that someone enjoys my work is lovely, but I want to know why they enjoyed it. And I want to know even more what they didn’t enjoy it; why ask for feedback on something that you think is perfect.

Last Saturday, I participated in a ‘Creative Saturdays’ workshop, organised by the NCLA in Newcastle University. Saturday’s workshop was ran by Gillian Allnutt; Folia/Folio. Gillian has published nine collections of poetry including wake (Bloodaxe, 2018). She gained The Queen’s Gold Medal of Poetry 2016. She currently holds a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at the University of York.

Gillian Allnutt’s workshop is an example of a workshop I enjoyed for a host of reasons. I sat in a room in the company of others with an enthusiasm for poetry and had lots of fun. I stepped out of my comfort zone, even singing a traditional verse in a dramatic performance with a partner. The workshop inspired new drafts of pieces and I gained appreciated feedback from the rest of the group to improve them. We sat in spellbound silence and listened to beautiful music to gratify our heads with memories and words. It was delightful to hear the often unexpected ideas from others; clearly we had all been inspired by the workshop activities in different ways.

In Gillian’s workshop we considered theme and variation in poetry and experimented with refrain and repetition in our work. We studied ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens, reading the poem in a round, together as a group and discussing our most favourite moments in the verse. We wrote our own takes; ‘7 ways of meeting X’. X could be a deceased grandmother, an evil ex-boyfriend or even an imaginary someone, an X. X turned into many somethings. I left the workshop with a notebook of ideas for potential Xs, new poems quietly waiting to be written.


Young Bean Farmer
Young Bean Farmer by Peter Doig, 1991


Lately I have enjoyed writing about uncared-for, neglected spaces. Before beginning to write ‘Farm Boy, I was struck by a line from one of Pablo Neruda’s poems, ‘Sonnet XCIV’: ‘Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air’.

I find Neruda’s quote about absence melancholic but also quite beautiful and dreamlike; for me it evokes images of ghosts drifting through the absent space. The house Neruda describes is bereft of human life and structure.

I often use artwork as a stimulus to help me think of new ideas for poems. My favourite Peter Doig painting is Young Bean Farmer, a piece which motivated the composition of ‘Farm Boy’. In Young Bean Farmer, a sinister solitary blurred figure is shown running from a farmhouse across vast farm fields painted in wild yellows and reds.

Inspired by Peter Doig’s artwork, I began to research abandoned farmhouses in more detail and accumulated artwork, written notes, books and assorted research materials to inspire me to write. I found that abandoned houses are very common everywhere, particularly in the American landscape. One infamous occurrence of significant abandonment of houses in rural areas, mainly due to the growth of corporate agriculture, occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

My research led to a series of new drafts of poems like ‘Farm Boy’ about ‘place’. I found that my new poems inhabited dry, desolate farmland and deserted farm buildings to compliment gloomy and often unsettling themes and a sad, slow overall tone. To slow down the pace in ‘Farm Boy’ I wrote short, repetitively blunt lines (their houses / and their fields, / their children / all burnt’, which I hope has created a sense of entrapment and horror.

Often in my poetry, objects take on human features to replace the voices of people who are absent. Ironically, the more such bodiless voices are heard, the more their absences are acknowledged. In ‘Farm Boy’ my ‘young moon’ grows a mouth; my moon is subsequently described to be ‘eating my throat’.


You can read my poem, ‘Farm Boy’, in Issue 3 of Marble Poetry.


This essay was previously published at Marble Poetry’s website

The Return of the Lost Daughter: How to Write a Novel

man sitting on handrails
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

By Natalie Nera

Writing is hard but persevering with writing is even harder. You run out of steam. You do not know what to write. You are not sure if what you have written is any good. All of my “writing” friends go through the same grueling process over and over again, we all have been there. We may not achieve the literary heights but that is not the point. The river of literature keeps flowing and is very broad. We can all fit in.

So if you are considering to write your first novel, here are my tips on how to deal with the challenge:

  1. Make a plan. Like with any piece of writing, it is important to understand what you are writing about, what your characters are like, their motivations and why or why now? There are plenty of questionnaires you can download from the Internet, or make your own. This work is important. It does not matter if it takes you a week or six months. It does not matter if you keep it all in your head, or write it down, or what system you use. Mind maps? Lists? Flashcards? It is up to you but you must do it. If you don’t understand what you are writing about, what chance will your readers have?
  2. Scared of the length? Everybody is daunted by the word count of a novel. Fifty or preferably eighty thousand words, possibly even more. If you have a plan, you should not be scared. It sometimes helps to segment your task. For example, if you think of your novel as twenty stories, then it becomes doable.
  3. Author’s block. Everyone hits the wall now and again. Some days everyone feels that there is nothing heavier than your pen. Write through it. Sit down with a piece of paper and write anything, even unrelated to your mammoth task of completing a novel. Describe last night, your journey to the shop and back. Don’t edit, just keep writing and then see what happens.
  4. Writing buddies. Everybody should have their writing buddies. Friends who do the same thing as you and who will understand when you are stuck when things don’t go your way when you get rejections when your self-confidence tumbles.
  5. Peer review. This sounds like what scientists do before they publish their latest discovery but we authors need it, too. Someone who can read your manuscript and give you honest feedback, which will make your writing ultimately better. No one is the best adviser to oneself. You need another pair of eyes, a fresh perspective.
  6. So you finished your manuscript? Congratulations. Now, you have to edit it, re-draft it. Perhaps even start again. If it becomes published, even better, but do not expect miracles. For most authors, first-time novels do not hail big success. Still, this is a great reason to celebrate. You have learned a lot about the craft of writing, the whole process and become a better writer.

If you are still up to the task, not put –off by the long, lonely hours, constant redrafting, constant setbacks, rejections, and low pay, then you have become a part of the family of masochists obsessed with words and stories.  Welcome!

NATALIE CRICK: Memories and Fragments

Heather Benning, The Dollhouse
The Dollhouse by Heather Benning, 2014


Rachel Richardson says: ‘A reader’s interaction with a poem is largely created through the collection of images that animate the language and make us feel we have just participated in an experience’. I find that memories in language create the strongest sensory experience for myself as a reader and writer.[1]


In April 2019 I take part in a week long Spring School poetry course at Newcastle University. Wednesday’s tutor, Tara Bergin, tasks us to observe something during our lunch break and write about what we can see. I observe a tall glass of lemonade. The liquid is clear, with bubbles collecting at the brim. A thin curl of lemon floats on the surface like a half-smile. My notes bleed into a first draft. I do not restrict myself to the lemonade I can see, the soft fizz I can hear, the sharp citrus scent, instead I allow the sensory input to trigger other images, stories and most importantly memories to give the poem emotional weight.


Robert Pinsky’s poem ‘Shirt’ seems to follow the same process. Pinsky observes the object; ‘the shirt with nearly invisible stitches along the collar’. The examination becomes a manifestation, ‘the presser, the cutter, the wiring, the mangle’. By the end of the poem, the shirt lives and endures a journey: ‘He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared / and fluttered up from his shirt as he came down’.[2]



The imagist movement called for a return to restrained and precise use of the image.

According to Ezra Pound, image is ‘that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time’.[3] I wonder if my poems are fragments of real stories. If so, can nostalgia be strange and disturbing? Reflective nostalgia, defined by Svetlana Boym, ‘meditates on the passage of time and layers of fragments of memory’.[4]


I find a beautiful example of a memory explored in fragments; flickers and flames of a burning dollshouse. ‘The drone builds’ and still it burns.[5] Fragments overlap in a short film Heather and Chad Benning made about the burning; The Dollhouse.


There is a cold crusted winter field. I can see the house; walls growing decay, lace- curtains and a girl’s portrait swirling with red fire. And the same girl’s voice drifting in the lofts where ash dusts the pillows.


Pound describes the excavation of the desired object in a poem as discovering its ‘luminous details’. The details in The Dollhouse are luminous; I can see them and they are on fire.[6] I search for luminous details in my own poems and cup them in my hands in case they melt. When almost gone, I paint over signs of decay to restore the image, to redraft.


[1] Rachel Richardson, ‘Learning Image and Description’ in Poetry Foundation (March 27th 2015)

[2] Robert Pinsky, ‘Shirt’ in The Want Bone (New York: Ecco Press, 1980), p. 53

[3] Ezra Pound, ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’ in Poetry, (March 1913), 200

  [4] Svetlana Boym, ‘Nostalgia and its Discontents’ in The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic, 2001). p. 22

[5] Sheri Benning, ‘Dollhouse on Fire’ in PN Review, 45.4 (March – April 2019), 62-67

[6] Pound, ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’, 200


The Return of the Lost Daughter: Inner Spaces

Natalie Nera

52-07 FB RGBcropped
Francis Bacon: Study for a Head, 1952, Google Images

This creative essay was inspired by Hatton Gallery in Newcastle and published in Jun 2019 in Bridges online.


You sit. You look. It is a quiet place. It is not your place. Screaming faces in the paintings on the walls replicate the scream you hear inside you, the rage that runs through you every time someone suggests that being a writer is your own selfishness, self-indulgence, that equates to being a bad mother and a wife. I know that is not what Francis Bacon meant when he created his images but that is how I feel.

Homer was a poet and a story-teller. For it, he was worshipped as a deity, so were his successors. Across centuries, folk story-tellers meant that the memory of the peoples remained preserved.

Stories, words are so much more than self-indulgence, they are the beginning and the end of everything, the ideas we need to formulate in our heads, news on TV, soap operas, articles that we read and make us go ‘Agh!’, or ‘Oh, no!’; adverts that sell products through a story, sometimes only loosely associated with the subject, but it makes us salivate, makes us want more. Who can resist a bank card that can ensure your family’s happiness? How can a woman say ‘no’ to a lipstick that makes her as beautiful as Aphrodite?

Imagine if the world as we know it, finished today. What would you do? What would become of all the ‘useful’ IT managers and business graduates, overpaid high-fliers with vague job descriptions? You would make a fire, you would build a shelter, you would prepare your meal and then lie down in the darkness, listening to rain drumming on the roof of leaves and twigs. You need stories. You also need music, dance around the campfire. You need to laugh, you need to find a cave to paint a picture. There would be no need for shareholders, capital gains or bonuses. It is who we are, it is our soul, the essence of our existence? For if you forbid people from telling stories, they lose their sanity. They lose their history if their stories are not passed on. And with it, their ability to comprehend the world they live in wanes. The meaning of our being will be gone.

One can only take a look at the people who suffer from mental health issues, people traumatised by war experiences, and how they respond, how they get better through taking up a ballet class or life painting class, through being encouraged to write a journal, think of a verse that expresses their pain. Shrouded in mystery of who we are as entities, as animals, what is our brain, why does it need to be creative, why does it suffer when it is not? The healing begins.

Recently, I have watched one of the TEDx talks on YouTube. Sir Ken Robinson asked if schools kill creativity. I was shocked but not entirely surprised to hear that a five-year-old is forty-nine times more creative than an eighteen-year-old. So the question is not how do we learn creativity but how do we stop unlearning it? Based on this evidence, it appears that we are already born with creative brains but the educational system perceives it as threatening, squeezes it out of us, sidelines creativity in favour of memorizing timetables. You draw a person in uneven lines, the grass is purple and the sun green. You are told that this is not how the world looks like. You feel guilty and ashamed of not conforming to the idea of the world.  This explains why a six-year-old will start telling their parents why they cannot draw any more although they were perfectly able to express themselves in that way only several months previously. Eliminating the creative self thus equals an institutionalised act of self-harm.

Creating is breathing, it is being but when practiced well, it also becomes a craft. We are craftspeople. The technical skill behind any successful creative act cannot be underestimated. It is not an easy job for it takes daily practice to master.

We accept that it takes many years of training for a gifted athlete to win Wimbledon; we accept that a bright person has to study and work hard to become a heart surgeon, so why is it so difficult to accept that the same is true for poets, writers, painters or other artists? Why do we think that there is some magical device, like a sort of Nuremberg Funnel that enables art to happen? You somehow conjure the results out of thin air, without any effort or time?

Maybe we can blame the Byrons, Baudelairs, and Rimbauds of this world, absinthe drinking van Gogh and Manet, the pop stars in the infamous 27 Club, meteorites with wild ways and insane talent that shone briefly before crash-landing with fatal consequences. We can blame even the likes of Katie Price who is credited for writing several books although it is known that her ghostwriter pens the stories, she lands the brand name of a TV personality to shift the copies.

Creative people need to spend hours and days in solitude, working on their pieces, chiselling every word, every stroke of their brush. But that’s not what general public sees, or perhaps even wants. They notice a self-promoting media star who spends days fashion shopping and self-pampering whilst somehow also remotely and telepathically creating all these bestselling books. How difficult can writing be, right? Because anyone can write. If it so easy, why should anyone be paid for it?

The myth of an artist. No one wants to hear of a married woman with a house, a husband and two children, who does not drink, does not smoke and does not take drugs, who is, in fact very boring and ordinary, who however sits at her desk, works relentlessly on her stories, in constant search for the right words and expressions. She gets up at five in the morning to iron her kids’ school uniforms and her husband’s shirt. She makes porridge. She makes sandwiches for lunch. She puts a washing machine on. She hoovers. After the school run, she sits and writes until it is time to think of cooking the evening meal and pick up the kids again. By eight the kids are in bed. By eight-thirty she is falling asleep on the sofa. She has not stopped for thirteen hours. She is not glamorous. Or beautiful. Or seductive. Or hedonistic. She lives in her head, with her stories, obsessing about getting the words right. But that is not the portrait of an artist the public want to see.

Why do you need to be attracted to the perceived personality of an artist? Shouldn’t the artist’s work be enough? Surely, if I thought I am such an interesting person, I would have written an autobiography. Instead, I collect stories of other people, like a magpie, picking the best and most shining jewels I can see. I display them but I am not one of them. I am the greedy bird, I am the observer in the corner.

I retreat in my inner space, scream inside my head and splay myself across the pages. Is this self-indulgent? Why do people have the need to judge it, label it, dismiss it, put me down for who I am? Why do they take the time and energy to make me feel guilty? Would my story-telling be justified if I also worked in the local Co-op or cleaned toilets for living? Would I be seen as more deserving, a martyr of art, whose self-sacrifice has earned her the right to write? What do they know about the life I have lived, things I have done, jobs I have held? Time to accept that is who I am. And time for the others to accept me for who I am.





Painting 1946, Francis Bacon


  1. Francis Bacon said: ‘all painting is an accident. But it’s also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve.’[1] My accident is using too many strong images in a draft. I remind myself that nothing is ever wasted.


  1. I am moved by strangeness and deviance with a common thread of extreme emotion. The complexities of human behaviour; vulnerability to violence. I ask myself: What’s the most important thing for you in a poem? My response is: I want to be moved by a poem.


  1. Writing poetry is a personal process. An alchemy of production. I extract my ideas for poems from a vast number of raw materials (art, music, films, novels) and stitch them together to create new bodies.


  1. Colour seems to pervade my drafts literally and metaphorically. I understand I have been enacting colour to shape a reader’s experience aesthetically and emotionally.


  1. There are particular images and ideas that I want to interrogate before preparing to write. I usually begin writing a poem by jotting down one powerful phrase in a notebook. This could be a first line, concluding line, or the beat from a poem’s heart.


  1. In early drafts I try to place prominence on softness and silences. These disarmingly careful moments spatter my drafts: my objective is to create a disturbance of distinction. My drafts play with repetition for claustrophobic effect.


  1. At times, my poem- patients are reduced to automata – mechanical matter. I cut off limbs and transfuse blood from what has previously been the life of the poem. As my drafts develop, I become compelled by how words function and how they can operate in shocking and strange ways; an explicit preoccupation in my poetry. My actors assert themselves, demand a life force.


  1. By the end of my drafting there are still lines to be written. My poems pulse.




[1] Francis Bacon, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1962-1979, ed. by Francis Bacon and David Sylvester (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), p. 16-17


The Return of the Lost Daughter: Creative Writing Degrees – Are They Worth It?

By Natalie Nera

Natalie Crick Image Blog Article 2nd October 2019
In my dreams. In fact, I have no desk or chair at the moment.


It is a self-indulgent degree. Why don’t you study something proper? Like engineering or business administration? You are just a selfish person who has inflicted a great injustice upon your children and husband, your vanity project of getting a useless degree. You are a bad mother. You are a bad wife.

This is just an example of an array of abuse I have had to endure during my two years at Newcastle University. Please don’t misunderstand – no one at the university did this to me, it was certain people on the outside who did that, judging, pushing, pulling, dismissing, but ironically none of my critics offered any free childminding.

I must admit it got to me. After the first semester, I had, what I now recognise as a nervous breakdown. I was completely blocked, in tears every day, suffering from an imposter syndrome (which never quite goes away, as I am assured by much more accomplished, lauded, and award-winning authors). I very nearly gave up. For how can I justify my not cooking evening meals twice a week for three months when I don’t even get a distinction?

No, I was not considered the next best thing by my tutors and did not get any distinction mark until my dissertation. But I did my best, getting up at three or four in the morning, working flat out on my “university” days, making sure that the impact on my family life is minimal but still, the comments you have to put up with while you can’t wave your Pulitzer Prize to make them go away do get to you.

That said, my course, now hailed as the fifth-best in Britain in the Times newspaper, is the best thing I have ever done. I loved every minute of it, every session, every task I had to do. Even the modules that were not my cup of tea, taught me a lot about writing and about my own creative potential. Before you sneer and dismiss it as a soft option degree, perhaps you should try it, go and read one thick book a week for each module to try and keep up with the demand. Try to produce a masterpiece for each module accompanied by an essay each semester – 8,000 words if you study part-time, 12,000 on a full-time course. And then, having done all of this, you have to produce 15,000 words in about six weeks, if possible to a publishable standard.

Ask the dropouts or those who transferred to other universities and found the demands are not as high. Ask all of those students who ‘merely’ passed sweating blood. Of course, you can measure maths better than creativity but is it easier? No.

And then I look at some of my colleagues who as ‘students only’ produce award-winning poetry, get published in prestigious magazines all around the world. This is what a  high-value and high-quality course offers – an environment where you can develop your skill, find your niche, find your inspiration and like-minded friends for life, with the same passion for writing.

So is it worth it? Some would claim it is not. I would say it depends on why you are there. If you are already an established author/poet, this is not necessary. If you study it to get ‘an easy ride’, you will feel disappointed and probably crash out. If you expect that you get to be held by hand without pro-actively creating opportunities to write as much as possible, to work on your craft, chisel it, hone it, then you will also be disappointed.

I set out to do my degree to follow my life-long passion with a question of whether I could do it in English, not my mother tongue. I also wanted to improve my written English enough to be able to translate literary texts competently. And I have achieved both, battling through various unpredictable life events, each of them could have meant the end of my degree. Following them plus some unfortunate political developments, this summer we moved the house and countries while I was working on my portfolio.

For me personally, it is a resounding yes, the degree is worth it. Every second of it, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  I am envious of those who are about to start. I would like to be the fly on the wall, at least to listen to the stimulating discussions about literary works. But should YOU do it? I have no idea. The question is WHY you want to study it.

A dentist of mine, many years ago, told me his story why he became a mature student to pursue a career in dentistry. I could not protest much because at that very moment my mouth was open so wide that my jaws were practically dislocated and my tongue went completely numb. But his words stuck in my mind: “What would you want to do if someone gave you a million pounds? Now, you have your answer. What are you waiting for? Go and do it.”



Natalie Crick Image Blog Article 2nd October 2019.png
Photo by Natalie Crick


I wrote ‘Water Baby’ to be a soul-bearing message in the aftermath of death, reflecting themes of loss, loneliness and secrets in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem ‘I Am Too Alone In The World, And Not Alone Enough’. When re-drafting the poem I moved away from Rilke’s poem to some extent and, like Robert Bly’s translations, drew out the meaning to create my own interpretation.


Throughout the poem, I try to evoke an authentic voice of a grieving mother, whilst reflecting upon several techniques used by Rilke. Rilke repeats: ‘I want’ several times to voice the narrators’ own needs and desires. [1] Mirroring Rilke’s speaker, I used repetition too, but in a more desperate plea to reconnect with a dead child: ‘I want to feel / the warm milk of your smile’; a plea intensified through use of sensory language.


In writing this prayer-like poem, I read Rupi Kaur’s poetry. Though Kaur’s own plea of ‘I need you to / run your fingers / through my hair / and speak softly’ is in a different, more erotic context, I feel her words are resonant and they inspired me to write with emotional fervour.[2]


James Wright personifies the sea in ‘At The Slackening of the Tide’, when the speaker hears ‘the sea far off / Washing its hands’,[3] influencing my decision to personify the sea in ‘Water Baby’; the ocean is given ‘clamouring jaws’ and a ‘mouth’. I found Wright’s image of a dead child ‘floating in the oil’[4] very moving and the ocean in my poem was soon ‘awash with children’, symbolising the enormity of losing a child.



In writing the first stanza, I was intrigued by Jane Duran’s poem ‘Miscarriage’ and her description of the womb’s ‘particles of silk / wasted, perish’[5] and so I wrote about similar images of frailty, such as ‘lips hushed, lilac chilled’ to portray the physical fragility of the child in ‘Water Baby’.


[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, I Am Too Alone In The World, And Not Alone Enough’ in Selected Poems, trans. by Robert Bly (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), p. 25

[2] Rupi Kaur, ‘The Loving’ in Milk and Honey (Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015), p. 72

[3] James Wright, ‘At The Slackening of the Tide’ in Collected Poems, ed. by Anne Wright and Robert Bly (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), p. 63

[4] Wright, ‘At The Slackening of the Tide’ in Collected Poems, p. 62

[5] Jane Duran, ‘Miscarriage’ in The Poetry Cure, ed. by Julia Darling and Cynthia Fuller (Newcastle: Bloodaxe, 2005), p. 88


 Later today (Wednesday 2nd October!)  ‘Water Baby’ will be published on Porridge Magazine’s online platform. You will be able to read ‘Water Baby’ alongside another of Natalie’s poems, ‘Farm Talk’, on the Porridge Magazine website at