Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Covid-19 Creative Tool-kit

We're all going to run out of box-sets, so please send your suggestions for this creative tool-kit, in particular, let’s share ways of being creative for those who find themselves in isolation. 

These are suggestions I've received, borrowed, or stolen, adding in a few of my own. 

I won't be crediting authors for these. You are welcome to share them on any platform as long as you make it clear they were contributed by many different people. I add new ones regularly.

1. make all kinds of Balcony Music

prepare a playlist to get you through the crisis

2. write a daily short poem as a diary of the changed world; gradually the narrative arc of your dailies will record how you adjusted to the new reality.

Compose a year renga, a linked poem, using the traditional Japanese renga form

3. re-write your favourite song or ballad as a newspaper headline

Willie's Rare



4. turn your creative energies to growing food.

if everyone plants a wee bit extra for those in need it gives us back some sense of control over our lives

5. make poems for walking sticks: they measure how far we need to stay apart, in order to be together.

6. on your last walk, or your next walk, look carefully at a view and try to remember it in as much detail as you can, in case you have to isolate.

7. make sure and get some sun on your face everyday; choose a comfy chair that you can move and have it follow the arc of the sun through the window for as long as possible.

write a simple one-line text describing how you feel or what you are doing when the sun rises.

I see the sun rise
listening to Schubert

I see the sun rise
on Blue Tuesday

8. we may need new ways to 
memorialise – for friends who we are concerned about, or loved ones we lose. One way to remember is to use a paper wish.

9. if you are stuck in bed then you can imagine you are visiting The Land of Counterpane; those folded knees make a ridge and valley. With the right blanket or cover, you can imagine you are in the Highlands or on the Downs.

10. make believe and see more in household objects: this film features close-up views of a chest of drawers turned into the four Galilean Moons of Jupiter. (You can download the digital file free).

11. adopt Joe Brainard’s I remember and visualise your favourite walks in detail. Now write them down.

I remember how she walked like a cat trying to avoid a clothes-peg

I remember how as a child I was able to walk at all times, day or night

I remember when deer used to live in the woods

I remember walking where you knew everyone you met

I remember the dragonfly that followed my right knee for an hour

12. at home, in the garden, or on your next walk, stamp or draw a compass rose, then note what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch at each of its points.

13. if you're stuck inside, use the compass rose and assign a memory to each of its points.

14. if you have rocks at home (and who doesn't?) look at them through a loupe or magnifying glass. explore those landscapes. they may be seascapes. 

15. find field notes from past walks and use field guides to relive them–the plants, the birds, the rocks. Maps, too, of course, for walks past and future.

16. spring is coming, so take note each day of the changes you see in the garden or from your window. light? leaves? birds? insects? the sky? sounds?

17. if you have a treadmill, hang a photo in front of it of someplace you love to walk, and relive those walks while walking now. you can change the photo every day.

18. speak to a poet, some of them have self-isolated for half of their lives.

read a good book about Chinese hermits: for example, Road to Heaven by Bill Porter

19. walk in a garden at dawn when no-one else is there.

20. did you find yourself thinking of an old love? when we feel vulnerable we can't help fantasising care, sometimes from the people least likely to offer it. Take a tip: don't write them, instead write a love poem.

21. draw your own imagined flowers, then invent names for them.

Binaryweed, Spickle, Corollary, Falsify, Juke-roots, Tiggygrass,  So-so Grass, Stood-idly-by, Pica

22. collect a book of questions – your own, from friends, from the radio, from old newspapers. Write a book of answers.

what is the moon?
the moon is a coin which slots into the hill

what is illness?
illness is strangeness felt inside us

23. let's agree. Write a let's agree list, inspired by Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Express.

Let’s agree to open up the window and let out the damp   

Let’s agree that love is not a judge: to love is to engage

Let’s agree the swing will bring your smile in and out of focus  

Let’s agree that happiness is slimming   

Let’s agree: eggs on the table   
Let’s agree that soap can’t work when it’s dry,
   soup’s no good when it’s cold

24. invent your own version of rock-paper-scissors. This is ours, played gazing up at snowy peaks, paper-cloud-mountain:


25. re-name the days of the week:


26. invent a new calendar



27. devise a new compass:


28. make imagined walks using field recordings and place-names. This is a pair of audio walks released especially for those in self isolation by Chris Watson, featuring a walk in summer in a Caledonian Pinewood, and in Spring in the Floe Country. They are free to listen to.

I’ve been thinking about Balloch, a town I was supposed to visit for my work with Paths for All and now cannot. The name comes from the Gaelic, bealach, a way of pass. In gathering I wrote: "the bealach is a point for the drover or walker to aim for and navigate with care, and the term is like a thread stretching out from the knot of a narrow pass." In other words, it’s the squeezed point that you go through by, a narrowing that comes to refer to the whole path. We’ve entered the bealach of Coronavirus. As a start, I wonder if the local walkers people have an idea where the path and pass that Balloch refers to is located? Perhaps the route of the Old Military Road? Does it go between hills? Over Balloch is a name that might suggest the pass is below there? 

In different ways I am going to suggest we could use place-names to remain connected to the landscape

29. play the game of finding:


finding a haircut
that suits you
or a wig

finding something
to wear
that goes

finding a view
that you can cling to
then opening the window

finding a name
that fits
and one for your pal

30. for the hoarders, construct an indoor labyrinth using all the loo rolls and packets of pasta you have in the larder, the cupboard, and the garage, then get lost in it.

31. curate your own virtual museum, or have a look back through Tom Lubbocks's identify the painting archive, (no, we didn't get many of them either).

32. open a window. Listen. Map different sounds (on paper, you in the centre), where they come from. Filter, follow ... try at different times of day/night.

33. choose a creative podcast to listen to, my favourite is PennSounds discussions of a wide range of poems – I enjoy it for the conversation, moderated by the wonderful Al Filreis, as much as the poetry.

34. play a round of my unusual poetry game, not/but, borrowed from Stevie Smith’s “not waving but drowning”. The rules, such as they are: each person adds to the last persons line, so, I said “not shoes but steps”, and my friend Pravdo says “not steps but snow”, and so on. The game ends when you want it to, when one player concedes, when a line cannot be topped, or when you are bored.

not shoes but steps
not steps but snow
not snow but salt
not salt but crystal
not crystal but liquid
not liquid but air
not air but wind
not wind but kites
not kites but stones
not stones but splashes
not splashes but rings
not rings but stars
not stars but diodes
not diodes

35. try to remember the names of all the characters you can in Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy – works just as well with Proust and Dickens

36. wild things have their own sequence. Imagine a walk you are fond of. Now try to remember the succession of flora, from the first blossom, primroses, and wild garlic, all the way through the flowers and fruits, to end with hazelnuts. Think of it as a seasonal clock. Imagine the succession of colours as seasons.

without counting, note everything wild you can see from your window; now note the relationships between these wild elements

remember, long periods of unemployment are natural in the wild; is it any comfort to ask yourself, what would a dandelion do?

37. small gains: for the sound recordist this is a wonderful opportunity to spend some time in the country knowing there will be little or no aircraft and traffic noise

38. if you are very peelie-wallie switch to auto-dictate software and you can use your laptop to produce some amusing mis-hearing poems.

chronically ill and housebound
chronically ill and postponed

bed bound
dead band

the invalid
the envelope

39. Look at the view from a window, in a garden, in the park.
Notice something close to you – something in the middle distance – something far away.

Write a phrase or sentence about each of them.

Repeat this looking in the opposite direction.

You can repeat this in the same place at different times of day, or at the same time each day; or you can do it in different places.

40. Read the poem 'Beachcomber' by George Mackay Brown. Write a sentence about something you come across each day, inside or outside. 

It might be something familiar, or something new to you. 

It might be an object, something someone says, something you read, something you see on a screen.

41. Write your own version of a classic haiku. Here are three by the Japanese poet Buson (translated by Merwin & Lento).

I had planned to go out
but I stayed home
with the plum flowers

I had planned to go out 
but I …
with …

Sitting in a tower
I hear frogs
far away in the night

Sitting in …
I hear …

These two plum trees
I love the way
one blooms early and one late

These two …
I love the way
one … and one …

42. classics of stay at home writing include Tibor Fischer’s Voyage to The End of The Room and William Soutar’s Diaries of a Dying ManYou can read all of Bernadette Mayer’s classic Studying Hunger hereShe tracks her mind for a month. There are some other examples listed here.

43. creative cooking: isn't it time to start planning that red deer cull and preparing some recipes for People's Venison? 

44. remember what Maggie Kewick Jencks said:

those who shared their
fears with others
lived longer lives

try to be moss for a few hours; lie still like a patch of lichen; collapse, like a recumbent stone; become a radio station beaming out your own content

if you are stuck indoors with kids start them working on a manifesto for the new world order. These examples are from a manifesto the artist Ruth Ewan composed with in collaboration with students at The Meadows Primary School.

we will share the mansions of the future

a friend of mine will, in time, become my sister

we may live twice

we will use common sense

it will rain, because the grass needs to grow, but only in the evening

rather than lawnmowers there will be goats to eat the grass, so that electricity is not wasted

there will be no crime, but people will still make some mistakes, in order that they can learn from them

every job will receive the same reward, to ensure that no-one is richer than anyone else

every 20 years a new ruler will be elected, but to be king or queen you must first tame a sea creature

47. Olivia Laing says this. This is a PEN reading list. And these are the wonderful Bagley Wright Lectures on poetry, in particular, this audio lecture by Joshua Beckman on the poem as a walk.

48. say to yourself: 
even without being on the mountain I can belong in the mountains.

49. when I was first ill often the only thing that I could read were haiku, because the lines were so short and the images so clear. One of the haiku poets I love is Shiki. He lived for many years with tuberculosis and wrote poems looking out of the window from his bed. Here are a few versions of Shiki. You can find more haiku here.

my drawing’s done
but I’m too knackered
to nap

chestnuts & rice
this invalid
has an appetite

the thing I fear
is this the last year
I’ll eat persimmons?

my sickbed
is aligned
with the begonias

50. get yourself a walking stick and paint a poem on it: 

this close, this far apart

51. there are many new online reading groups springing up; this is Robert Macfarlane, on Nan Shepherd.

52. if you are having a hard time concentrating on what you are reading, think of a friend who might appreciate it and see if they would like to listen. The projecting that goes on while trying to be heard through the phone has been helping me better hear things myself.

53. if you have a sentence running through your head or one you hear or one you read that keeps sticking around, see the different things its words can do. When the poet Louis Zukofsky was asked about making a poem this way he said, “If you pray these days, it’s something like a prayer.”

If you pray these days, it’s something like a prayer.
If these days you pray, it’s something like a prayer.
You pray these days, if it’s something like a prayer.
If it’s a prayer like these days, you pray something.
Pray a something prayer, if it’s like you these days.
These days it’s like something, if you pray a prayer.
These days it’s like a prayer, if you pray something.
If you pray these days a prayer, like it’s something.
A something if you pray these days, it’s like prayer.
A you prayer like these days, if it’s something pray.
These days, if it’s a pray something prayer like you.
If you like these days pray a prayer, it’s something.
These days pray something, it’s a prayer if you like.
If it’s something like you, pray a prayer these days.
These days if you like pray a prayer, it’s something.
It’s something like, if you pray a prayer these days.
It’s something if you like these days, pray a prayer.
Pray a something prayer, if it’s like you these days.
These days pray, it’s a prayer if you like something.
It’s a prayer, if like something these days you pray.
These days you pray a prayer, it’s something like if.

54. we advise: consult the barometer more often than the clock.

55. nature moves in as we move out: imagine Yorkshire Sculpture Park empty of people but filled to the brim with birdsong.

56. take a video walk
 to Mither Tap, on Bennachie. This is the first of ‘A Breath o’ Bennachie’ project which aims to bring the space and freedom of the hill to people staying at home during the Covid-19 crisis. The film is here.  It was made by the Baillies of Bennachie.

57. some are inspired to begin gardening; there's lots of advice to hand, but this is one option, from Deveron Projects.

58. there are now lots of online reading groups; these are links and resources provided by Scottish Book Trust, including their Bookbug for kids.

59. Here are some of the gentles exercises, for those recuperating, composed by Rachel Smith.

60. this next one is for you to add ...

image: Pravdoliub Ivanov

These suggestions come from many sources and many contributors. You are free to share them.


  1. Open a window. Listen. Map different sounds (on paper, you in the centre), where they come from. Filter, follow...try at different times of day/night.

  2. This is great - I love these suggestions. I work in Arts & health & I'm looking for ways to engage people in hospitals - which we usually do in a direct, participatory way with a whole range of artists - to be creative, to explore, to look and observe - pulling together our own creativity packs for patients across the Lothians and this is really useful ...Thank you !

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  4. This is brilliant, I'm always looking for creative prompts both for myself and with the people i work with. Thanks.