Wake up and smell the realism… what works and what doesn’t when you launch your self-published book.
void of treasure, dry of sap.
The lotus seed burst not into bloom that year.
Bit by bit they chiselled
away at its proud likeness.
How hurtful, how convenient
when friends hurl friends to oblivion.
in a world of its own hating,
we shivered with the knowing,
we struggled with the touch.
The gush has settled down into a mere trickle
and mud is silting oddly the channels of delight.
We sigh and add more caustic
as inspiration dies.
Reaping bitter crop
Weeding out small fearsomes
Roots exposed on top
Floundering in compost
Sinking in the ground
No active verbs in this one.
Words, ready to pound.
And a quick answer for those who wondered what the poem I posted a week or so ago was about (the one starting ‘First the little slip…‘): it was about Alzheimer’s.
The lovely and inspiring poet Holly Anne inspired me with her clever list poem . I have never been able to make this work in the past, but felt she had laid down a challenge. So here goes…
Socks in the laundry too numerous to mention,
keys and their copies, wallets, post-it notes
and once –mortification! – a book from the library
which I paid thrice over
then found behind the wardrobe.
Shopping lists and pictures, love letters and a cow
(she found her way to church
to moo till kindly neighbours brought her home to Gran).
My heart to a hopeless cause,
sense of humour for weeks at a time.
Prescriptions and receipts – and shouting cannot replace them –
money, houses, contracts, insurance documents.
All good working pens, broken pencil stubs,
my capacity to wonder,
time, when I could have been writing.
my temper, oh, at least once a day!
Three lovers, two friends, a husband.
Jobs – yes, in plural, you heard it right –
business cards and phone numbers of key networking gurus,
the respect of the corporate world.
But the feeling is mutual.
The will to live.
My respect for politicians
blind belief in science or doctors or the bank
sense of worthiness, still searching, still in need of daily airing
when and if and ever found.
The challenge for this poem, should you choose to accept it, is guess the title (or the ‘subject’ of the poem). I know, I know, sometimes a poem isn’t ‘about’ anything, but this particular one was written in response to a very specific fear (some might say I have too many fears in general). A much earlier version of this poem appeared in the online multilingual literary (and arts) magazine http://www.respiro.org/
First the little slip.
Name much praised
remembered slightly aslant
like a jigsaw piece chewed and frayed
not quite fitting in its groove.
Then a petulant rewrite
of yesterday’s events:
a pout of a travesty
bearing no semblance, no cause, no fruit.
Too stubborn to admit all is haze and indifference.
Next, the heartbeat stop before mad scrabble
and dig and delve
to capture that elusive frame
in the broken film of the mind.
Finally, the chasms beckoning:
throw self in?
chuck pretence out?
make way for shadows,
population of yesteryear?
Darker and darker the woodland cover
hunched, stop-cock breathing,
waiting for the elliptical, haphazard flux to cease
the lynx-bared jaw of foaming bite
those fixed clear eyes of poison fire.
Precarious rock after rock
the chamois cleared.
But only just.
its foothold less secure
chasms will close in-
to beckoning pools of blankness.
I blithely said at some point that I would write regularly about the writers who have most inspired me. Well, not only have I not been ‘regular’ about it, but – with some ‘dare you to’ from Marilyn McCottrell over at the very funny and wry Memos from the Middle blog – I will also now break my promise about sticking to the less obvious suspects. Yes, I will brazenly talk about that much-praised, over-analysed book called ‘The Great Gatsby’, a.k.a. ‘The Great American Novel’ by some.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read this and it does seem to get better and better with age. I suspect that my infatuation with it in my youth probably had something to do with the image of Robert Redford at the swimming pool, waiting for Daisy’s phone call, pouting beautifully and moodily in the mid-distance. This was the movie adaptation of it, of course, sumptuously clothed and filmed (quite a bit of it in England, incidentally), but ultimately not considered a triumph by the critics. The upcoming adaptation of it, with Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role… well, I beg to reserve judgement, but suspect he cannot quite replace Redford in my mind.
Yet, no matter how much I love it, I’ve been surprised that it’s considered the ‘Great American novel’, because it seems so far removed from the confidence, language and bluster that much of the American literature has. Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway – there are so many contenders for the title of the Great American Novel, but this one seems atypical. It certainly talks about the dangers and the failure of the American dream, which is perhaps why it has grasped the public’s imagination for so long (and why it is being remade as a film and also currently onstage as a musical these days). The long sentences, the tentative statements, the moral ambiguity make the novel feel European in many ways.
There are some things that struck me instantly when first reading the novel and that have stayed with me since: the description of Daisy’s thrilling ‘money’ voice, the green light at the end of the pier, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes towering on a billboard above the grey badlands. Oh, yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald is clever with his symbolism, foreshadowing of tragedy, the recurrence of the eye image, all of that. I remembered that clearly from my previous readings.
But here are some things that I did not quite remember, or maybe only just now noticed:
1) Although it’s such a short novel, it does not feel rushed. The pace is leisurely, gentlemanly. For heaven’s sake, it does not even plunge straight into the story, but opens instead with a statement by the narrator, Nick Carraway, of just how uncritical and non-judgemental he has taught himself to be (thus breaking all the rules given to fledgling writers). And the novel does not end with Gatsby’s death or pathetic funeral, but with the author painstakingly tying up all the loose ends, while the narrator muses cynically and at length about all of the characters in the drama.
2)I had forgotten just how long and complicated his sentences are, abounding with semi-colons, commas, adjectives, piling of details – accumulation which works wonderfully in the chapter describing Gatsby’s extravagant parties.
‘By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums…. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there, among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and colour under the constantly changing light.’
Occasionally, this can lead to some meandering but intriguing side alleys, which just adds to the unhurried pace of the narration. And yet each details feels perfectly placed and not all superfluous.
3) I had also forgotten that Nick Carraway is such an unreliable narrator, despite his initial exhortation that ‘I’m inclined to reserve all judgements’. I had initially taken his character assessments at face value: ridiculed silly Myrtle, condemned brutish Tom Buchanan, despised shady Wolfsheim, was wary of the golfing Jordan Baker. My perception was coloured first by Gatsby’s naive dream, then by Nick’s cynicism. Now I have begun to distrust Nick’s version of events, his critical and often far too self-righteous tone, his tone of omniscient interpreter of events. I feel more pity and empathy for all of the characters, even Daisy, who ultimately fails not because she is a horrible, weak, selfish and self-centred person (although she is all of that too), but because she is human, not the goddess that Gatsby had built her up to be in his memory.
4) There are layers beneath layers beneath layers in this rich book – which is why I never tire of it. There is no simple answer or explanation or solution. There have been so many interpretations of it: a condemnation of wealth and excesses, the hollowness of materialism and the American Dream built upon it, the impossibility of replicating the past… yes, it is about all of that and more. It triggers something within the readers, puts all sorts of ideas in their heads and feelings in their hearts, which cannot be easily summarised. There is one instance when Nick says ‘Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all’. And supposedly we are looking at this story though a single window, Nick’s window of insight. Yet Fitzgerald has the skill to hint at multiple windows and to reveal the complexity and ambiguity of something far deeper. There is something here we can barely explain but can only feel, like an image half-glimpsed, half-imagined in the moonlight. There is always that hint of something ‘almost remembered’, an ‘elusive rhythm’, which we have to believe in to get through the everyday.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on ‘The Great Gatsby’: did you love it or hate it, especially if you had to read it at school? And do classics get better when you reread them? What have you recently discovered upon rereading an old favourite?
Goodness knows, we could really do with some sunshine – especially as we have our very first Sports Day at a French school this afternoon and it looks like it will be a complete washout!
Thank you to the lovely Joanne Phillips, who has nominated me for the Sunshine Award. If you haven’t yet come across her blog A Writer’s Journey, I do recommend you read it for the down-to-earth, humorous description of writing and publishing. She is currently profreading her first novel ‘Can’t Live Without’, yet somehow still manages to find time to read and respond to blog posts and be really encouraging to newbies.
I’ve also been trying to find out the source for this blog award, but have to admit defeat. Apparently, it is designed to celebrate those bloggers whose positive and creative spirit inspire you. There is also some disagreement on what exactly you need to do in order to be the proud possessor of this badge of distinction on your blogsite, but I will follow Joanne’s guidelines:
- Write five things about yourself
- Include the award’s logo in a post
- Nominate 5 other bloggers
- Link to your nominees
- Link the person who nominated you
Now, confession time:
I hate writing things about myself. I have created a pseudonym for myself so that I don’t have to give too much away about myself. I believe that one’s books or poems or creations or blog posts are revealing enough of my inner life. And the outer one doesn’t really matter that much at all. But I get it, the curiosity to know more about a person we are interacting with, especially at a distance. Or to find out more about what moves an artist, (not that I am putting myself into that category!), what influences they might have had – I’ve devoured even the most prurient stuff about Sylvia Plath. Back when I was a teenager, when I fancied myself like her. Now I just hope that I am NOT like her!
So here are five random and little known facts about me:
Favourite film: Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ (although slightly unnerving that the Far Right in the US also like this film – maybe they think it’s a documentary?)
Favourite book: ‘The Great Gatsby’ or Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’, can never quite limit myself to just one
Most annoying and overused expression: ‘Now that I think about it…’
What makes me angry: Rudeness, although lack of caring under a veneer of politeness is just as bad
Most embarassing childhood outfit: I used to dress up like Madonna in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, cutting the fingers off my gloves and the feet off my tights.
And here are my gorgeous five nominees, who brighten up my day whenever I read their blogs:
Nicky Wells – Romance that Rocks Your World – for being the humorous, energetic, romantic person that she is, which shines through in her books and blog posts
A Year of Reading the World – this is such an inspirational and mammoth project, each new post makes me discover a world of possibility
Holly Anne – HollyAnne Gets Poetic – her poems make me giggle, give me goosebumps or make me think – a winning combination!
Claire – Word by Word – how can I not be inspired by a fellow expat writer based in France? However, she lives in the sunnier south of France, so she can bring some sunshine in my life!
Corey Booth – Clown Ponders – can he really be only 20 years old? He works, he blogs, he writes poetry and he brings web-based poets together with his weekly poetry challenge – he’s an amazing guy – and no, I’m not flattering him because I am taking part in this week’s challenge (he does not have the casting vote anyway).