findingtimetowrite

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Archive for the tag “poetry”

Errant Fathers, Stupid Women

I came across an article on the internet recently which made me very angry. The author was talking about how it’s the women’s fault if they are left holding the baby, that maybe fathers didn’t want them from the start. The tenor of the work can be summarised as follows:

Don’t come to complain to me about how harsh your life is. It’s self-inflicted: you wanted children, so deal with it. I do not blame errant fathers at all. Especially my errant father. He never wanted children. 

This was written in response to that, as well as to the fact that many of my friends have divorced in recent years because of ‘errant husbands’,  and is linked to dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night. It’s also an exercise in the use of myths in poetry, which was my latest module for the poetry course I am doing.

Maria Callas as Medea. indafondazione.org

Maria Callas as Medea. indafondazione.org

Don’t expect us to be grateful, Medea.

Nobody asked for your sacrifice.

Jason would have coped fine without the scattering of body parts.

That’s when he should have realized you’re mental,

only thinking of yourself

under the disguise of undying love.

No wonder he found somebody new,

more easy-going,

without the grandiloquent gestures.

He needed rest after his journey, bless him,

and all you can offer is barbaric revenge…

Agamemnon returned from Troy a hero,

having left me to struggle for so many years

alone yet not free

mourning the daughter he’d sacrificed for his mission, his ego.

It’s all about ego in the end, you see.

His spoils of war in the shape of a nubile wench:

his embarrassed smile barely veiling

the testosterone pride of middle-aged conquest.

‘You’d grown a little stale.

I’d forgotten how to let fun into my life.’

Was I really the only one to see the feet sodden with clay

on this former giant of a man?

How did he turn my children against me,

using absence to tenderise their flesh so willing

to choose his account over mine?

In all discarded, bitter women

there’s a Jocasta lying in wait:

jewellery poised to maim errant fathers,

secretly rooting for the son to take over,

unable to bear mistaken loss.

Lionel Messi and the Cult of Personality

This was written in response to a poetry prompt about how our modern-day mythology is the frenzied celebrity culture. It struck me during the recent football World Cup in Brazil how much we are looking for a single Saviour out there to make us forget all our inadequacies and needs…

 

Defeating armies of unbelievers

His touch on the ball deemed divine

The crowds cheered him into the promised stadium

But miracles failed to show up

On tap

On golden boot

Or on any part of his divine body.

No Messiah after all,

Merely messy.

Passenger

succulentI’m a stranger in my life

mid-screen

ambling inopportune

breaking the cheer of online victories

more treasured in absence

more valued for my silences

in-between words I bite back.

 

Composted worlds I’ve suppressed

the landscapes drip fluid

colours realign

the print-out never quite

what I put in.

 

I’m a stranger to my life.

The path peters out in moss-hung dead ends

Reed in a cluster by a pool

caked to mud.

Weeds have overgrown my roots

also my tongue.

The River

From the BBC website.

From the BBC website.

Now those memories come back to haunt me 
they haunt me like a curse 
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true 
Or is it something worse 
that sends me down to the river 
though I know the river is dry 
That sends me down to the river tonight (Bruce Springsteen) 

 

I said river and I meant river

I walked to the river in my dreams

searched for it when sleeping

when keeping watch

when whistling the night

 

I whistled the river but found no river – I now know

that whether I conjure it or fear it

it’s never outside

when I struggle, when I scream,

that’s when it comes

the river

in narrow trickles down my back – it glistens…

in the river I’ll be taken

in the river I’ll breathe my last

one untamed gulp

Foam

Crushed

 

So what can I do – chewed, spat out

So what can I do – gnawed to flotsam

 

I said river but I meant no river

All I craved was

A lagoon

 

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Two very different books for a change (and a break from my usual crime or other gruelling subjects): memoirs and poetry.

Hilde Spiel was a highly versatile Austrian writer and journalist (from a highly integrated Jewish family), who fled to London in 1936 (after the assassination of her beloved university lecturer Moritz Schlick). Her diary of her trip to Vienna in 1946 as a correspondent for the British Armed Forces was originally written in English but was later edited and published in German as ‘Rückkehr nach Wien (Return to Vienna).

This is a very poignant and thoughtful report of a city changed beyond recognition by bombs and defeat… and yet unchanged in many ways (some good, some bad). [All translations my own.]

I must learn everything anew. The cold mouldy stone smell of Viennese houses… the unrelenting stare of the housekeeper… the suspicious, unfriendly smile that was there before the Nazis and will always be there.

hilde spielSpiel refrains from sentimentality. She is clear-sighted and precise in her description of everyday heroism and cowardice, of opportunism and the complicated relationship between the victorious Allies and the local population. She talks to a Count and Countess, who now live in their crumbling little palace in the Russian Sector. They tell her about the day the Russian army descended upon their property, camped in their garden with fifty horses, shattered all their crystal and raped their female servants. The author understands their feeling of helplessness, but cannot help thinking:

Nevertheless, the two of them have lived for seven years side by side with barbarians. Only… their own barbarians were smooth-tongued, able to converse politely about Goethe and Mozart, with good table manners, agreeable hosts and guests, polished, elegant and thoroughly European. Yet they did far worse things behind prison walls and camp fences than the rape of helpless women. It’s only when the barbarians take on their eastern, unvarnished and shameless form that the Count and Countess realise the degeneration of the present day.

This trip is of course also an opportunity for self-reflection. To what extent can we ever go home to that place where we have been happy in the past, when we have changed and the place too has changed in a different way? Who wins in the battle between heart and mind? How much of our true selves do we have to hide or abandon when we become immigrants and have to abide by the rules and cultural mores of our adopted country?

 

I fear that my centre of gravity is somewhere above the skies of Europe, drifting in a cloud above England, Austria, Italy, France, simultaneously attracted and repelled, never really coming down in any of these places… I will have to test again and again where my true home is.

returnViennaSpiel once said that she could never have worked without England, but she couldn’t live without Vienna. Yet, even as she enjoys a few musical performances at the temporarily re-housed Vienna Opera, she wonders:

Is there anything in this city still alive and contemporary, something I can admire unreservedly, that is not soaked up in the past like a sponge …?

Bonus tidbit of information that I discovered while reading the book is that Hilde Spiel spent the first ten years of her childhood on the street next to the one where I spent mine and had a similar near-Catholic experience in the very same little parish church (which is featured on the cover of the English language edition of her book).

For an additional book review and information on how to get hold of this fascinating book, see here.

 

 

sonnetsThe second book is a collection of 101 Sonnets published by Faber and Faber.  Poet, writer and musician Don Paterson curates this eclectic collection of one of the best-loved and most popular verse forms in the Western world, often with witty asides about each poem. For instance, about Elizabeth Daryush’s Still Life:

The best breakfast every described, though the end of the poem you want to go at it with a cricket bat. It’s hard to know exactly where the poet stand on all this, but we can perhaps sense her disapproval in the pampered insularity of the scene. I hope.

I had no idea there were so much breadth and variety of modern sonnets, from Seamus Heaney’s beautifully controlled ‘The Skylight’ to Elizabeth Bishop’s unconventional two-stress lines to Douglas Dunn’s blissful description of a summer of ‘Modern Love’. A volume to treasure and dip into, again and again. (And yes, that explains my own two recent sonnet attempts.)

NW3 – A Sonnet to a Postcode

keats_free

Keats’ house, Hampstead.

For a brief while during my student days in London I lived at a very desirable address in NW3 – on the Hampstead/Belsize Park borders. Not far from Keats’ beautiful home. Of course my accommodation was a typical student hole with shared facilities, but for a while there I felt I could soar. Here’s another sonnet – I told you I’ve been working hard on poetic form – but some rules are made to be broken…

You called it precarious and spindly, so I stopped

inviting you up dusty stairs,

my isolated bubble-nest at the top

of the world. Forget shared kitchen, bathtub hairs.

Across the hall Ariel made yoghurts live,

while Tosh wrote cleaning rota lists.

I draped white billows over furniture

mouldy, mismatched and grim. I felt the bliss

of my first double bed.  Alone.

This attic is forever summer, on the brink

of endless choice, dreams all my own.

A room of pleasing no one but myself and Keats,

the desk where I write Chapter One again,

again, ‘cos time is endless and I’m at peace…

Once in my life I had a posh abode:

an empty shell in the correct postcode.

 

Absurdist Poetry for a Summer Day

How to cheer yourself up on a day when you are listless, fluey and bed-ridden? Especially when it is lovely and sunny outside and you can’t take advantage of it? Why, with a cat picture and some absurdist poetry, of course…

What My Cat Thinks

P1020292

Birds of a feather flock on the lawn for my benefit.

The early bird catches my eye but it takes two to tango.

I personally always look before I leap,

But I don’t look them in the mouth.

Given the choice, I prefer chicken before the eggs, even if they’re all in one basket.

Count the chicks? Not likely – any number will do.

Summer Break – and My First Sonnet

It’s a very special Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets today – the last one before the summer holidays. So join us there for some fireworks, summer fun and lots of good poetry! Which my example below is probably not, but it’s my first attempt at a sonnet. [I don't usually do formal poetic forms.]

BigCatLittleCat

From the Big Cat Small Cat advert by Whiskas.

You tell me love’s for fools and nuts, so crazy,

You say that you could teach me, given time,

Your memory of summers glimmer hazy:

‘Since when is being vague and rushed a crime?’

You seep through cracks with treacled words and varnish,

You temper barbs with little bits of verse.

Not sure. Is it my thoughts you seek to tarnish?

Or do you think your wounds are much, much worse?

Just like a pensioned horse, when this is over,

I want to pick a shady field to hide,

Be put to graze in four-leaved clover,

Lay saddle, bridle to distant side.

And, from your perch of plenty, safety, height,

You’ll watch my frolics, joy and sunshine bright.

 

 

Friday Fun: Dadaist Poetry

Over at dVerse Poets Pub, Victoria gives us a superb introduction to Dadaist art and poetry and invites us to play along. I once planned to collaborate on a screenplay about Tristan Tzara and the Dadaists, so it’s a subject dear to my heart (even though I don’t like all of their ‘artefacts’).  There is much to admire about this ‘anti-art’, anti-establishment movement, because it’s not just nihilistic disillusionment but very active, vital and collaborative. I leave with this quote by Tristan Tzara:

Dada never preached, having no theory to defend. It showed truths in action… I speak only of myself since I do not wish to convince, I have on right to drag others into my river… everybody practises his art in his own way.

 

SummertimeSummer Holiday Beach Fun – Dada-Style

Acrid child or burning bodies

clunk-pok rackets stilt conversations

fine falling in fishy-grained hesitance

glistening in half-heard hum

I’m knocked of my over off perch

lukewarm lapping

seaweed sound

tangle of waves with wooden wailing

What Smashes Me Will Make Me Strong

Tonight I’m hosting the wonderfully talented poets over at the dVerse Pub. No big-screen sporting events there, but instead a drink, a shared joke, mutual support and a poetic prompt. This week I’m asking everyone to write about what shatters their world to pieces, or else what helps them to rebuild their fragmented world. Here is my response, a simple list poem.

Sculpture made from Sheffield cutlery.

Sculpture made from Sheffield cutlery.

It’s the little, the minuscule, the itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny

they always catch me out.

For the big disasters I can prepare, shut up my stall,

batten those flimsy hatches, but what defence do I have against

the thoughtless word in the midst of safe harbours?

Everyday forgetfulness,

the cups of tea never offered, iced cocktails never mixed,

the thoughts unshared or opinions unasked.

Banter with a core of heartless

mission with a sense of flight

running on lonely past a destination so wrong.

 

What patches me together? Small things as well.

Playing with words is helpful,

a smile sometimes more.

Smell of rain, the first bird in the morning.

Often the silence, a lull in wild thoughts.

And… always… amnesia of things past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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