Quick on the Draw

If we must label it a party trick, one of mine is to write a short poem about a given subject in a short space of time, typically under five minutes.

This comes into its own at poetry shows with multiple performers, where I’ve been later in the bill. I’d pen a poem for each act while they’re still on stage and read mine at the end. I’ve occasionally been asked how it’s possible to write in such a short space of time, and the answer is simple: shortcuts.

The format I use is the four-line clerihew, and the first line is always the subject, so that’s 75% of it already written. The next line rhymes with the first, and then a different rhyme appears in the other two lines. Ridiculousness is encouraged with this style, making it ideal for a quick-and-dirty verse.

But much as people are impressed by my speedy poetry abilities, I’m similarly impressed by those who can churn out a drawing within the same time.

A few weeks ago, I found myself at a life-drawing class running by a pal. These sessions typically begin with a session of two- to five-minute poses to allow the artists to warm up, but I really struggle with these. By the time I’ve laid out the frame of the pose, there’s no time left to add in the details.

I’ve asked a couple of folk for advice about how to handle this, and there are some shortcuts, just as there are with clerihews: only draw part of the pose, construct the image in an abstract way, stick to the same colour of pen or pencil, &c.

The key to mastery, however, is to keep tackling these short poses. There was a time when I couldn’t write verse, never mind in such a short time, but I stuck at it and I’m sure I can stick at the life drawing.