DWP: August 18

Today marks 408 years since the Pendle witch trials in Lancashire, in which ten people were hung for witchcraft. During the trials, nine-year-old Jennet Device gave evidence against her own mother, saying that she had seen Elizabeth having conversations with her familiar; a brown dog called Ball. Some of the accused did believe they had powers of witchcraft, and the trials were largely two families accusing each other. The situation was exacerbated by secret and illegal Catholic activity meaning some people couldn’t tell the truth of their whereabouts and were already taking part in banned rites.

Today’s prompt is either to imagine your familiar – whatever creature you feel takes care of your secrets, for good or ill – and write your conversation, a description of it or a spell performed in collaboration with it; or to write directly to one of the Pendle witches and perhaps have a conversation with them across 400 years.

DWP: August 17

Today is Rachel Pollack‘s birthday, so today’s prompt is tarot related. If you don’t have a tarot deck, you can use a playing card deck (have a google -there’s loads of sites explaining it), or you can use any of the free online tarot sources to pull some cards. Draw 3 cards; the first one is the subject of your poem/writing, the second is the spirit or energy of how you’ll write about it and the third gives a tension or conclusion; some kind of relationship to the first card. For example, I just drew the Wheel of Fortune, the Knight of Wands, and Judgement. So I’m writing something about luck, chance or destiny in a way that is energetic and contains adventure. Tension is created by thinking about how actions may be judged, how judgement and choice impacts fortune.

The invitation is very much to see the cards as a starting point and be flexible in your interpretation. You might write about yourself, about a fictional or real other person, about a movement.. Or you can just pull one card and spend some time really looking at the imagery and see what that inspires you to write. Or you can explore any of Rachel Pollack’s graphic novel work and other writing, and start from a line of dialogue or something else that intrigues you.

DWP: August 15

Today I want to celebrate a couple of birthdays – composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, fiddle-player and road-builder Blind Jack Metcalf, and – whilst we don’t know her precise birthday – composer and musician Barbara Strozzi was baptised in August 1619. All these folks had obstacles in their way but carried on and found a way through. I’m thinking about music as a road – my singing teacher refers to the ‘line of song’, meaning the musical sense or journey that one expresses and leans into when singing.

So today’s prompt is to write your way through a journey and think of it like a song (it might actually be a song..). Where you meet resistance in your writing, or in your life, how can you lean into that and make it flow? Write yourself a road or a map, paying particular attention to lyrical and musical qualities in your language. Or use any of these musical/road-building heroes as inspiration or a starting point and write about them, their music or a journey they went on.

DWP: August 14

On August 14 1792, enslaved peoples from plantations in Saint-Domingue , marked the start of the Haitian Revolution with a Vodou ceremony led by mambo Cécile Fatiman and houngan Dutty Boukman at Bois Caïman. The uprising would go on to be the only rebellion by enslaved peoples to result in a state free from slavery.

Today’s prompt is to write yourself a ritual or process for change – it could be very personal or it could be global. It could be a ritual you actually perform or it could be more like a recipe or instructions for someone else, or for your past or future self. Or, you might follow a ritual or process and then write about it afterwards, or you might write about a time of change or events that led to change for you.

My response: I wrote a ritual for fighting back. It felt good.

DWP: August 13

I spent a night in Ashdown Forest, sleeping in a hammock, woken up by owls, foxes, woodpeckers, small unidentified creatures rustling. Over this week, we are passing through the Perseids meteor shower, so there were shooting stars above. It felt precarious, free, uncomfortable and joyful.

Jack Halberstam and Tavia Nyong’o write “New forms of wildness call to us on all sides, whether in the form of odd weather patterns, inventive forms of political activism, new classifications of the body, fluctuating investments in disorder, or a renewed embrace of the ephemeral. But, at the same time, wildness has a history, a past and, potentially, a future… Like another problematical term — queerwildness names, while rendering partially opaque, what hegemonic systems would interdict or push to the margins.” (Halberstam & Nyong’o, South Atlantic Quarterly, 2018).

Today’s prompt is to write your wildness – the raw, bloody, free, visceral, unrepentant, violent, wise, tender, quiet, scared, ferocious heart of yourself. You might do this by writing yourself in an unexpected or precarious situation. You might write a fight. You might write a trap or a hunt or a relationship with someone else wild, or something else very tame. What is on the edge of you? What is it you can only hear in the 4am quiet before dawn?

My response: I wrote about need, how not being needed is a kind of release, and the relationship between need and wilderness.

DWP: August 11

On August 11 1942, actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr and her collaborator, composer George Antheil, received their patent for a Frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system that has since provided the basis for modern technologies in wireless telephones and Wi-Fi. Hedy had fled both her country and her marriage in 1937, escaping from Vienna to Paris, and then on to America. She later said of her husband “He was the absolute monarch in his marriage. … I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own”. I think that moment of receiving a patent (and with it recognition of her own agency and brilliant mind) must have felt like real freedom.

So today’s prompt is to write about a moment when you escaped, felt release, or finally realised you had broken free – but framed through an object or seemingly-unrelated event. Or, write about the things you need or wish you could invent – a fantasy list of what you’d like to give the world, or yourself, or a specific someone else. This could be a list of many things, or one specific thing. Don’t let boring old reality get in the way of what your inventions could be or do..

My response: I wrote about a fantasy invention for when I really need some peace.

DWP: August 10

Yesterday was Tove Jansson’s birthday, so today’s prompt celebrates her life and love. Jansson based many of her Moomin characters on real people: Too-ticky is inspired by her long-term girlfriend, Snufkin is based on an ex-boyfriend, and an early drawing of what became Moomintroll started as an insulting portrayal of Kant. I’ve also been re-reading Griffyn Gilligan’s beautiful project Imaginary Animal Adoption Planet so this is also inspired by his work.

Today’s prompt is to doodle an imaginary animal/creature/character and write an accompanying piece about how this creature inhabits the world. Start doodling without planning it – take your pen for a walk and don’t try to draw anything – just see what marks emerge. Any kind of squiggley blob at all is absolutely right – just give it some eyes and it’ll come to life. You might also be inspired like Tove to think about someone you love (or loathe) while you doodle and see if something of them appears in the creature. Then imagine it in the world and write about that. You could try writing as the creature, or observing the creature, but some idea of sensory experience and allowing some of its inner motivation to emerge will help (Griffyn is great for this).

My response – I drew a little snarky fuzz-ball and it turned out to be my overheated, too humid, middle-class irritation about loud teenage boys. I enjoyed giving it a face and then giving it permission to naff off.

DWP: August 9

One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Opacity-Minority-Improvisation, by Anna T. The book is looking at queer slangs from around the world, like Polari, and how they construct a kind of linguistic closet for the users. The author often writes in Greek without translating, and leaves gaps in the text when there is no translation, no appropriate word or the gap is simply the most eloquent way to express absence or loss or the unknown. It’s a really playful, enjoyable text to read. So today’s prompt is to start with your DMs, posts/social streams, whatsapp messages etc, and/or news articles or any other content you have a response to, or want to reply to, and construct a found piece out of that: play with blanking out words, abbreviating, translating into/out of slang, or emojis, or other languages you might speak. What can and can’t be said? What secrets can you dig out of the texts? What secrets can you hide in them?

My response: I used a D*ily M*il article about the residents of Richmond employing private security patrols to stop “yobs”. I put it through Google Translate a few times, via the languages of several of the countries covered by Anna T’s book, and a couple of UK languages. It came out much more profound than it went in, so with a bit of editing, cutting and judicious punctuation I have a mystic but rather pertinent piece about police violence. It starts “I turned to walk to the ways / of the inhabitants of Emergency”

DWP: August 8

I’ve been reading about lots of AFAB warrior queens (having long had an obsession with female pirates), so today’s prompt is inspired by Queen Amina and others. Amina was a Hausa warrior queen in the city state of Zazzau, now north-west Nigeria. You might also like to check out Gráinne Ní Mháille, Sayyida al Hurra, Boudicca, Cheng Shi/ i Sao and Rani Lakshmibai. I was particularly struck by Amina’s first announcement as ruler; a call for her people to “resharpen their weapons.” Amina is still celebrated in song.

So the prompt is: write about what you are resharpening your weapons for – what’s your protest, anger or power centred around? Or, where in your life would you like a sharper blade – a more incisive or precise understanding? Or, write a ballad for the warrior/pirate queen of your choice, or imagine/celebrate yourself as a warrior and commemorate your own feats and battles.

My response: I wrote a protest in the form of instructions for sharpening a blade – what to sharpen it on and what to do with it once resharpened.

DWP: August 7

I just read Kae Tempest’s beautiful announcement about their name change and gender identity. In the post, Kae talks about their new name being a name for Jay birds – I’m copying this directly cos it’s so nice: “It’s pronounced like the letter K. It’s an old English word that means jay bird. Jays are associated with communication, curiosity, adaptation to new situations and COURAGE which is the name of the game at the moment. It can also mean jackdaw which is the bird that symbolises death and rebirth. Ovid said the jackdaw brought the rain. Which I love. It has its roots in the Latin word for rejoice, be glad and take pleasure.” (From their Facebook page).

So today’s prompt is to write something about your true name – the secret name (or names) that maybe you don’t even know what it is yet. Or to write about a bird that represent or displays qualities that interest you (love or hate!). Or to look up the root of a name and see where that takes you (try https://www.etymonline.com/)

My response: I wrote a kind of spell for how to find your true name. I might try it out..