findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Archive for the tag “poetry”

Sunday Showcase: My Not Quite So Abstinent Haul of Books

I refuse to preface each week’s post with ‘I know I said I would buy no more books but…’. No apologies! It’s my money and I’ll spend it all on books and go bankrupt if I want to. (Besides, I know where my boys’ piggy banks are…)

BookhaulSept19

Bought

So yes, I did splurge on the Manchette collection of noir novels (in French). With that and the Simenon romans dur, I do believe I am sorted for reading in French until about 2020.

I also bought the first two BD in the excellent Cellule Poison series by Laurent Astier – set in the Europol centre in Lyon, so pretty much local.

I’m always keen to read more poetry and support poets by buying their books (anybody feeling sorry for authors in general should stop and consider how much money poets make from selling their books). So I bought Maggie Hannan’s debut collection ‘Liar, Jones’ – I have heard good things about her brave, experimental exploration of feminine sensibilities and experience.

Sent for Review

Also shown in the picture: I got sent a book to review by the Oxford University Press: Hester Vaizey’s ‘Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall’. It talks about the changes the fall of the Berlin Wall brought into the lives of eight formerly East German citizens. One of my best friends is a born and bred East Berliner, so I was curious to see how her experience compares to that of Vaizey’s interviewees. Besides, I come from a former Communist state myself and it’s fascinating to see how those vanished (and once much hated) political states are remembered (often nostalgically) 25 years after.

Library

I am so overdue on some of my library books (because more pressing reads get in the way) that I think my membership will be revoked. However, I still managed to sneak out an additional book, namely Joan Smith: What Men Say.  Smith is a writer,journalist and human rights activist. Her Loretta Lawson novels were popular in the early 1990s (when I first moved to Britain) as a crime fiction writer with a feminist bent, but they seem to have fallen into oblivion since. I look forward to reading (or rereading – I can’t remember which of the 5 books I’ve already read) and seeing if I feel the same about them now as an older (but possibly not wiser) feminist.

Addendum

I had just written all of the above, when the postman rang the doorbell and delivered another beautiful round of parcels. Is there anything better than receiving books? It’s like Christmas every week! Here is the additional haul (apologies for the poor lighting conditions):

BookHaul2

Technically speaking, not mine at all! I just ordered them for the children, so it surely doesn’t count. Have you read when you were a child, or are you reading them to your children? Aren’t they brilliant? I sometimes think children’s literature is better than literature for adults.

 

Travel Poetry: The Secret Gardens of Vaulx

20140830_154618An assault on the senses: so much to catch the eye.

We wander in a daze, through minarets of clay,

alabaster arches of thousand one more dreams.

We get lost in mazes, guided only by

children’s laughter and gasps of enchantment.

Round-mopped flowerheads beckon us to stroke them.

Birdsong fills the cool shade under the chestnut tree.

Water in every form bustles, trickles, dribbles, laps –

Each fountain a family member,

each square of cement path a pebble-enscribed love-letter.

20140830_154332It shouldn’t work: it’s madness,

disparate elements reclaimed from Morocco, Java, Spain,

brought together with nothing but bare hands and humour.

It started out as child’s play and became a family’s history,

hands in soil for decades, shared sighs, always a surprise,

glimmer of a pool around the corner, where

copper filigree meets bulbous earthen pumpkins.

Day after day they built one more terrace,

seeded another flowerbed,

unhurried, unforced,

mosaics of azure tinged with moss, gold shredded with scarlet.

 

20140830_154442We walked in smarting with petty quarrels.

Thirst quenched, a little silenced,

we leave here hand in hand.

 

These magnificent gardens that I discovered earlier this year  just outside Annecy in France – a source of inspiration and delight. For Gabriella’s brilliant initial hosting prompt about travel writing over at dVerse Poets Pub.

The Peace Mole: Light Into Darkness

I don’t usually do political poems, but this one came out quite spontaneously from an animal prompt exercise and seems to be very well suited to the topic of ‘Light into Darkness’ over at dVerse Poets Pub today.

 

arkive.org

arkive.org (copyright see above)

Perhaps peace requires blindness:

even for that brief interlude of cease-fire.

Swollen eyes peering

amazed at light,

at the velvet quiet.

Perhaps the mole is right to bury so deeply

small treasures: cleft bones, mossy stones,

carrot ends collected overground.

Anything to remind him of better days.

He will build new tunnels

when the first collapse.

He can feel the silt build up in daily doses.

His cartoon-pencil nose-tip amuses and disarms.

But even the harmless,

shy of cunning,

cannot survive – again, once more –

the promise of peace talks.

Yet they must

believe and dig,

again and once more.

 

Observing the Details

For dVerse Poets today we have the delightful opportunity to share the watercolour sketches of one of the founding members, Claudia Schönfeld, and use them as an inspiration for our poetry. I can really relate to what Claudia has to say about slowing down and really observing things carefully:

I tend to be unfocused and unconcentrated at times and I’m not very good with details. Sometimes I just don’t see the things around me. Sketching (and also poetry) forces me to focus and really look at things.

Sketch by Claudia Schoenfeld.

Sketch by Claudia Schoenfeld.

So, I’ve used Claudia’s sketch of her favourite bag as a reminder to myself to really notice the details. And to do a better job of describing them in my poetry. Except that I chose to describe a pair of scissors below rather than a bag.

Scissors

 

Despite my name I seldom rustle

nor susurrate with soothing ease…

Instead I syncopate with my right arm,

terminate with my stronger left.

You think me lop-sided, a cripple, but

I’m the master of Swiss efficiency.

No rust, no weakness,

I’m black and grey,

Grown-up and perfectly sober.

Yet in the pivot point I turn crimson,

a drop of blood

in a lifetime of running with scissors.

I cut and clip,

core of action

Hair, ties, rope – it’s all the same to me,

Trenchant with wire, swift with threads.

Do I repel you with my sharpness?

When I come out, there’s no going back,

quick-fire clack of job well done.

Just one flaw:

gratuitous green plastic handle

touched by so many children that I now

give off marshmallow sweetness.

For more colourful sketches and witty poems, please go and visit the Pub. It’s a wonderful respite in the middle of your week!

One of My Favourite Poems (with Translation)

I was tending the bar at dVerse Poets Pub yesterday and gave a poetry prompt which had most participants puzzled, bemused, scratching their heads… or labelling me crazy. I asked for a homophonic translation of a Romanian poem, which means a translation based on sound and random similarity of word patterns. It was really interesting to see all the different interpretations of the same poem. As one comment said, it was the Rohrschach of poetry – in that same inkblot of a poem we each saw our own obsessions, thoughts, fears, hopes and personalities.

The poem itself, however, is one of my favourite poems in any language. It is by Romanian poet (also playwright, philosopher, essayist) Lucian Blaga and it’s a lyrical love poem tinged with melancholy. I remember reciting it with my high-school sweetheart as we walked under the linden trees lining the boulevards leading from our school to the park. ‘Florarul’ (the flowering one) is the old folk name for the month of May.

 

Risipei se dedă Florarul

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-aceasta întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

De pe stamine de alun,
din plopii albi, se cerne jarul.
Orice-nceput se vrea fecund,
risipei se deda Florarul.

Polenul cade peste noi,
în preajmă galbene troiene
alcătuieste-n aur fin.
Pe umeri cade-ne şi-n gene.

Ne cade-n gură când vorbim,
şi-n ochi, când nu găsim cuvântul.
Si nu ştim ce păreri de rău
ne tulbură, pieziş, avântul.

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-această întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

Visând, întrezărim prin doruri -
latente-n pulberi aurii –
păduri ce ar putea sa fie
şi niciodată nu vor fi.

It’s been set to music several times, here is one version of it by Nicu Alifantis in concert:

And here is the translation, courtesy of Cristina at the blog Fantasy Pieces (with some of my own tweaks). She also provides a bit of commentary on this poem.

May Gives Itself with Sweet Abandon

 

We’ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated,
Your burning temple next to mine.

From hazel stamens, cinders fall
White as the poplars that they land on,
Beginnings yearning to be fertile,
May gives itself with sweet abandon.

The pollen falls on both of us,
Small mountains made of golden ashes
It forms around us, and it falls
On our shoulders and our lashes.

It falls into our mouths when speaking,
On eyes, when we are mute with wonder
And there’s regret, but we don’t know
Why it would tear us both asunder.

We’ ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated
Your burning temple next to mine.

In dreams, through longings, we can see—
All latent in the dust of gold
Those forests that perhaps could be—
But that will never, ever grow.

So that’s the literal translation… But, to be honest, I liked some of the free associations and unknowing translations even more!

Reading with a Theme: Thorny Marriages

A while ago I happened to read a whole series of books about mothers. Since my return from holiday I seem to have been on a roll with books about marriages – I was going to say ‘difficult marriages’, but at least one of them is about a happy marriage… interrupted by death. Incidentally, it also seems to have been a bit of a catch-up with North American writers, as Anne Carson, Louise Penny and Maxime-Olivier Moutier are all Canadians, while two of the remaining authors are American.

Joan Didion and her family in Malibu in 1976. From back cover of the book.

Joan Didion and her family in Malibu in 1976. From back cover of the book.

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The portrait of a 40 year marriage of true minds. Didion’s husband died of a heart-attack in 2003, and this is the searing memoir of her befuddlement, grief, sense of guilt and sheer madness of the year following her sudden loss. (At the same time, her daughter was in and out of hospital, in and out of a coma, so it was probably the hardest year of the writer’s life.) This may not be her most polished work stylistically, but it has a rawness and honesty about it which is very moving.

I’m not sure why this has been branded as pretentious or whining or self-pitying rants of a rich bitch. It shows how grief can drive us all mad, whether privileged or not, whether calm and collected or dramatic and hysterical. The author has also been accused of coldness, because she tries to present things in a detached way. This feels to me more like a deliberate strategy to remain calm, to try and understand, to analyse oneself. The polar vortex of memory that she tries to avoid by not going to places that were familiar to them: how can that be described as cold and unfeeling?

Anne Carson: The Beauty of the Husband

beautyhusband

By contrast, Carson’s collection of poems all add up to an essay on beauty and truth, our search for perfection but our paradoxical human ability to put up with imperfection for a very long time. All in all, it presents the picture of a toxic marriage, a destructive relationship captured with true poetic flourish. Based on Keat’s assertion that beauty is truth, the poet then shows us just why the husband was anything but truthful, no matter how beautiful he was (and remained) in the eyes of the wronged wife.

 

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home

LongWayHome

I’m already a confirmed Louise Penny fan, but this 10th book in the Armand Gamache/ Three Pines series is less crime fiction and more the story of a Quest: for a missing husband, for inspiration, for one’s true self, for the Holy Grail almost. I wrote a full review of it for Crime Fiction Lover, but from the perspective of marriage, it is the sad story of the dissolution of a loving long-term partnership when the insidious three-headed serpent of jealousy, envy and inadequacy makes its appearance. Clara and Peter Morrow are both artists, who met in college. Peter has always been the more successful artist with his carefully controlled, intricate paintings, while Clara was the wild and messy experimentalist. But when Clara’s star begins to rise, Peter finds it impossible to rejoice for her, as he becomes aware of his own artistic stagnation.

 

louise douglas your beautiful liesLouise Douglas: Your Beautiful Lies

Set against the backdrop of the miners’ strikes in Yorkshire in the 1980s, this is the story of Annie, a woman who is feeling trapped in a very correct but rather dry marriage of convenience, which has provided her with a comfortable lifestyle but has also isolated her from the rest of the community. When her old boyfriend (who had been convicted of manslaughter) is released from prison and shows up on her doorstep, trying to protest his innocence, she is at first reluctant to engage with him. But then she unravels rather spectacularly and becomes very reckless indeed… This book has an old-fashioned feel about it, as if it were set in the 1950s rather than the 1980s, and I struggled to empathise with Annie.

And, just in case you thought that only women can write about marriage, here is the most depressing one of all, written by a man but from a woman’s perspective.

scelleplombeMaxime-Olivier Moutier: Scellé plombé

The title roughly translates as ‘sealed with lead’, which was apparently an old method for food preservation – until the poisonous qualities of lead were discovered. This hints at the poisonous conjugal relationship and what an odd, unsettling story it is. The husband is struck by lightning on a golf course and is buried by his wife and children in secret.  Told entirely from the point of view of the wife, but addressed to her husband in a tone designed to humiliate and provoke, we then discover the story of their marriage, the rising ennui, the many daily cruelties and sarcasms, the lack of communication, the secret lives each partner found refuge in. A chilling disregard for the children emerges from this novel: it appears it’s not the marriage, but the hearts themselves which have turned to lead.

 

Finally, I almost hesitate to include Ann Patchett’s ‘This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ in this post, not because of the word ‘happy’ in the title, but because this collection of essays is about so much more than marriage: it is about creativity, travelling, a beloved dog, a burgeoning interest in opera music, family, friendships and, above all, writing. It also talks about the author’s first marriage and divorce, which led to many years of avoiding commitment to her second husband. In her characteristic clear-eyed, fluid style, she describes the compassion and understanding that she developed for all women who suffered in their marriages, whether they were able to get away from them or not.

My mother had divorced my father when I was four. Two years later she remarried. My mother and stepfather spent the next twenty years trying to decide whether or not they should stay together. While growing up I had never faulted her for the divorce, but I hated what I thought was her weakness. My mother didn’t want to be wrong a second time. She wanted to believe in a person’s ability to change, and so she went back and back, every resolution broken by some long talk they had that made things suddenly clear for a while. I wanted her to make her decision and stick to it. In or out, I ultimately didn’t care, just make up your mind. But the mind isn’t so easily made up. My mother used to say the more lost you are, the later it got, the more you had invested in not being lost. That’s why people who are lost so often keep heading in the same direction. It took my own divorce to really understand… I understood how we long to believe in goodness, especially in the person we promised to love and honor. It isn’t just about them, it is how we want to see ourselves…

 

Poem Inspired by Photography: Butterfly Skims

Over at the dVerse Poets Pub, Grace invites us to succumb to the whimsical charm of Joel Robison’s photography and write a poem either inspired by his imagery or else to create a world which doesn’t quite play by the rules we know. I think my Poetic Muse would agree whole-heartedly with that! Thank you very much, Joel, for letting us use your images for our poetry and be sure to visit Joel’s blog and gallery for lots more inspiration.

It should have been something more substantial

but no, my Muse chose butterfly wings for itself!

It alights for a flicker of eyelids,

then skims across ponds encircled in rushes.

It sets each flower afire with its quiver.

All eyes follow in strange enchantment:

A shimmering trance of something not quite glimpsed.

Far too short it tarries with me.

Presto, presto, at times some allegretto,

it flashes its mottled colour onto the next bloom.

Will there be butterflies next season?

I’m growing old and my trousers are still unrolled,

as I set out with fine mesh netting

to capture, to sample, to add to my butterfly collection.

 

Maintaining the Holiday Mood with Jabberwocky

So whaddya gonna do to prevent the post-holiday slump? Book the next holiday, of course! (Paris for a week in October). And write some nonsense verse based on the language of Lewis Carroll. The Alice books have long been one of my favourite reads, both in childhood and now. This is the voice of the mimsy borogoves (illustrated below as the ones with long pelican legs and weepy hairbrush faces).

From Wikipedia, John Tenniel illustration.

From Wikipedia, John Tenniel illustration.

Jibberjabberwocky or the Mimsy Borogoves

 

 Minging flimsy zzzizzy whimsy bizzz

 

Fair few feathers falling out

 

Awww why whiney whingy where oh when?

 

Whimper me softly

 

Ayyyy a naminin moo moo mincy nin moan

 

Rustle the muscle and bustle

 

Shush mushing weep seep trickle deep

 

Come all alone to the great groan

 

Update on 18th September, 2014: I’m connecting this to Tony Maude’s wonderful prompt of nonsense verse at dVerse Poets, although it is not strictly a rhymed and metered piece.

 

Summer, Sea, Sun and … So Long!

I’m off on holiday and hope to get lots of lovely sunshine and beach reading, as well as meet some dear friends that I don’t get to see nearly as much as I would like!

While I’m away, be as good as you can, as bad as you need to, as bold as you want, and read and write with va-va-voom!

Here are a few summer-inspired goodies to tide you through until we meet again…

Summer Idyll – a poem

Escapist Holiday Pictures 

What we all dream of: a writers’ retreat in beautiful landscape

Quintessential summer song: Kokomo by The Beach Boys. Never mind that it’s associated with the rather silly film ‘Cocktail’ (and that some of us don’t like Tom Cruise anymore)…  when my boys sing it to me: ‘Come on, pretty Mama…’, believe me: it doesn’t get much better than that!

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.

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