Sunday, March 10, 2013

      I'm delighted to offer a guest blog by Vivienne Neale, the director of The Writing Retreat and a prolific writer and author. Having earned a Masters degree in Creative Writing,  Neale is well qualified to conduct creative writing tutorials via Skype, as well as actual writing retreats from her base in Portugal.  You can book a tutorial or retreat by emailing can also catch up with Neale's blog at Her poem "Black Saturday" graphically depicts the carnage inflicted on Great Britain during the opening days of World War II.

The Writing Retreat Steps Back in Time

     I had always been fascinated by World War II as a kid. It was not surprising really as there were so many people around me who had direct experience of it. My father was in the navy and I guess he always encouraged me to read as much as I could about that dreadful period.
    The reading I did as an adolescent has haunted me. Poems like "No More Hiroshimas" by James Kirkup, for example, have remained in my mind and if you don’t know the work it is well worth tracking down.
      I started using this conflict in my poetry when I was a teenager and often return to it. The video footage now on YouTube is fascinating but it was a visit to The Museum of London that was the starting point for the poem I share today.
     The Museum is set in Docklands and there are all kinds of exhibits outlining the tremendous damage that happened in the East End of London during the 1940s. I was mesmerized by the interviews of Londoners who had survived the appalling bombing raids that used to happen night after night all along the banks of the Thames. The Luftwaffe was determined to knock out the docks which was Britain’s lifeline in so many ways to the rest of the world.
     Such suffering and death are a million miles away from the environment I inhabit at the writing retreat in Portugal but I just couldn’t forget about what I had seen back in London and it was inevitable I should write this poem.
     I wanted to write something in memoriam. The names of the docks are part of the geography, the sociology, the history and the identity of everyone who lived there and somehow I wanted to bring the experience of that time back to life. I concentrated on the sounds and smells of the docks with its variety of goods all housed in massive warehouses and the desperate scenes firemen found as they arrived to tackle the intense blazes. Imagine dealing with all different types of fires but always very dangerous and volatile.
We owe much to all those who lost their lives and who showed incredible bravery. I just hope I have done them proud.

Black Saturday

Observers had mistaken a 20 mile formation of bombers over the East End Docks, for Allied planes.

In September 1940, the empire’s treasure struck back;
cracked pepper singed the air, fire fighters choked
as spices roasted, igniting in spumes of gritty smoke;
liquid fire poured under warehouse doors, elsewhere
barrels shot white firework flames skywards. Crackling
drowned the hissing hoses and yells of men burning;
the Thames soaked up explosions as timber yards, transit
sheds, rubber, jam and pickle factories took direct hits.

The Isle of Dogs was caramelised; West India Docks roasted
in oils; Millwall’s middle sector, lined by global shipping,
buckled, into a scrap metal flotilla. McDougall’s flour silos,
now exposed, pointed the way for yet more bombing. Black
smog, thick and toxic, spelled: ‘We’ve lost it!’; traitor’s talk.
Night fell but skies were alight, glowing daybreak pink, sunset
red. St Paul’s’ iconic silhouette fragile, as Silvertown, Woolwich
Arsenal, St Katherine’s Dock and Beckton Gasworks, copped it.

Coming Soon

        Be on the lookout for my upcoming Creative Concepts series! Each week I'll publish a different photo accompanied by keywords, direct quotations, suggested first lines, challenges, and many more prompts designed to inspire writing. 
       If  you're a teacher, a student, an established author, or an aspiring writer, you'll find that these photos and prompts will help to stimulate many creative ideas for writing. 
      Of course, you'll be able to download any of the Creative Concepts photos for your personal use, for use in the classroom, or for use at writing seminars. 

More Photos and Creative Prompts

        For more photos and creative prompts that won't be  included in this blog, please visit Reflect and Write contains more than 300 poems and photos; keywords; quotations; either “Inspiration” or “Challenge” prompts; a “Themes to Explore” section; a “Twelve Ways to Inspire Your Students” section; a special “Internet Resources” section, and more. Includes CD with photos and poems from the book. Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photos to Inspire Writing by Hank Kellner and Elizabeth Guy (Prufrock Press, 2013), 153 pages, $24.95.


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