Joan Stansbury, our poet-in-residence, recorded her responses to Macbeth in her fabulous 5-part Poem – Epilogue – which we published in the lead-up to Christmas.

Her unique and inventive response prompted up to ask how she went about creating her beautiful poems, a discipline that intrigues and fascinates us as theatre-makers…. Below is her thoughtful response.


Baz asked me how I write poems. The seed can be an image (most often a metaphor), or a few words that sound interesting, or, best of all, a combination of both. How to find them? 


I make a brief note, ideally within twenty-four hours of an experience, of one or two striking sounds/sights/smells/tastes/tactile responses. For example, I immediately saw St Andrew Holborn crypt as being like rows of barrels or of rounded pregnant bellies. “Barrel” and “belly” also alliterate. Together they triggered the first five lines of the opening poem in the sequence.

(I also recorded the colours and shapes of bricks and stones, the dust, and the sharp taste and skin-prickle of air that indicated a freshwater spring close by. These fragments were eventually discarded; however, as they are still in my notebook, they may be useful one day.)


Wordsworth needed tranquillity to recollect and portray emotion. I can’t write about grief until long after the event. Although I can examine good feelings after a shorter interval, I do still need a cooling off period. The critic’s emotional response was therefore the last poem to be written.


The time between enjoying the play and writing the poems was spent reading and thinking. I learnt  fascinating facts about Holborn and the church, but these were not poetically very productive. I looked in archaeological papers to see whether my suspicions that some of the stones looked Roman could be true. I checked the record for winter-roosting wrens: I knew it was sixty-something, but not the precise figure (which luckily turned out to be a word good for rhyming).

I jotted down the themes of the play that had excited Baz as being relevant today: tyranny; good government; systems of justice; loyalties; spying. I noted their passion for teamwork; the sharing out of juicy bits among the actors, ignoring gender; their desire to train like athletes; their sense that the crypt was a perfect setting for the play.


Then I set my snooze alarm and allowed my brain some undirected dream time.


After a week I felt ready to write. As there was so much material, I decided that a bundle of poems in different voices could encompass more of it, so I aimed for five voices to mirror the acting team. 

I intended a tidy sonnet for the historian, but had to bust it because I couldn’t resist dropping in “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”. The birds demanded the dipping flight of short regular lines. I remembered that in school reports PE teachers concentrate on tasks rather than personalities, rarely writing in full sentences. The flip fashion writer is there partly for light relief (for me and, I hope, for the listener or reader). The critic is so much under the influence of the play that he speaks in blank verse, but, as frequently happens in Shakespeare, begins and ends his scene in rhyme.  


For several days I revised relentlessly, much of which was extensive pruning. (If I don’t have a deadline, I revise on and off for a year or two.)



  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: