Sunday 5 May 2024

 Afterpoems (and more)

A couple of weekends ago as part of a wonderful conference - 18th Annual Keele Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference (Research and Practice): 'What's Love Got to Do With It?' 20th & 21st April, 2024 - I attended a creative writing workshop. As a facilitator of such workshops myself it’s always great to be on the ‘other side’: to get some new ideas, to work with interesting like-minded others, to write….  As part of the workshop we read some poetry and one of the tasks set was to write an afterpoem (or story) in response to one of the pieces we had read. An afterpoem is a poem inspired by, in response to, as a homage to the original work. An afterpoem engages in some way (which may include building themes, contraction, following the style of and more) with the original poem and its author.

One of the poems we read in the workshop was Soup by Casey Bailey, the Birmingham Poet Laureate 2020-2022 (see and hear more here Here is it:


Today, you ate tomato soup like it was the first meal that you had eaten in days. You had half a cheese sandwich for lunch at one thirty. There is soup on the table and bread in your hair, you look like Mowgli from The Jungle Book, if Mowgli had eaten soup, and you smile as the yoghurt is placed in front of you. You look at yoghurt how I looked at your mother the day I met her, how I looked at your mother at four o’clock this morning as she sighed in her sleep, dreaming of you and your ways. You look at yoghurt how I looked at your mother when I found her in the art room, painting, at college. Her paintbrush darting like sparrows on autumn mornings, leaving crimsons and caramels in their wake. I knew then that she would spend her life both being and making beauty. She feeds you yoghurt. I take the wipes out. There is soup all over the floor. (Casey Bailey (2021) Please Do Not Touch Portishead: Burning Eye Books) 

I loved Soup when I first read it. I love it still. I’ve bought Please Do Not Touch (which includes Soup) to read more by its author. My afterpoem, written mostly in the workshop and then finished in the early hours of the next morning is called Tea


You loved tea and drank it continuously. Not just any tea though, it had to be Darjeeling with full fat milk. ‘Weak as piss’, some would mock. You’d shrug and put the kettle on to boil once more. One of the gifts you left me with is to be less worried about what critical others think and say; to be more confident in my own choices and to recognise the value in what I have to offer the world. Although a coffee drinker before I met you, and still mostly one today, I’d join you in a cuppa, feeling a small connection with you – whether together or apart – when enjoying the hot, but not so milky, mug-full. I still think of  you every time I reach for a teabag rather than the coffee pot. Together we faced some challenging times and it hurts me that you didn’t always value yourself enough, didn’t value yourself as much as you valued me. I remember your smile, your lovely long body, your beautiful voice, your political conviction and your love of books. I remember how you always made me feel centre stage. I’m thinking now of when following an early date at a night club with a group of friends one told me afterwards that as you watched me on the dance floor you turned to her and said ‘She’s wonderful, isn’t she?’ I’m remembering too the mess you'd create, and leave, in the kitchen whenever you made a drink or prepared a meal. 

Those who know me well will immediately realise that this is written for John (1948-2010).

I week later I am running my own creative writing workshop as part of the second annual Reengaging the Body Symposia Symposia/Workshop: Reengaging the body – at beautiful Dartington Hall in Devon. For one of the exercises I first explain the afterpoem concept and suggest that participants might like to write an afterpoem, afterstory, aftersong (etc.). I’d read Tea the night before at our open mike event so everyone already had an example of such work. In my session I provide a section of a novel as one possible prompt for an afterpiece.

Jennie, written by Paul Gallico and published in 1950, tells the story of Peter, an eight year old boy, who when knocked down by a car wakes to find that he is a cat. (Interestingly I am not the first to speak of other than human bodies during our weekend).  Jennie befriends Peter and teaches him how to be, and how to survive in the world as, a cat. In the extract I share in Dartington Jennie is explaining how and why cats wash. Here’s just a little of her lesson:

If you have committed any kind of an error and anyone scolds you – wash,” she was saying. “If you slip and fall off something and somebody laughs at you – wash. If you are getting the worst of an argument and want to break off hostilities until you have composed yourself, start washing. Remember, every cat respects another cat at her toilet. That’s our first rule of social deportment, and you must also observe it. Whatever the situation, whatever difficulty you may be in you can’t go wrong if you wash. If you come into a room full of people you do not know, and who are confusing to you, sit right down in the midst of them and start washing. They’ll end up by quieting down and watching you. Some noise frightens you into a jump, and somebody you know saw you were frightened – begin washing immediately. If somebody calls you and you don’t care to come and still you don’t wish to make it a direct insult – wash. …..

I give participants the choice of responding to a favourite poem or story that in some way engages with body(ies), that I’d asked them to source the previous evening, or to respond to the passage from Jennie. This leads to some truly wonderful pieces.

Once home I decide to write about my (to date) afterpoem experiences. Wanting to publish Soup in full I contact Casey Bailey via his webpage. Replying almost immediately he kindly granted me permission, saying how pleased he was that his work had inspired me. Thank You Casey.

Never be afraid to contact an artist you admire.