Transformation

Maybe the season of party conferences in the UK is making me think of politicians, maybe the training courses I am currently delivering are so closely related to presentation and rhetorical skills. Whatever the reason, my poetry is becoming more political lately.

giving-a-speechHe stretches vowels like rubber,

Ends each phrase with telling whine.

He’s now a child of southern

Comforts, tongue and race.

He talks of market values,

Absorbs, merges and expands

With each anecdote.

The money guzzles through his fingers

Thrown at walls in attempt to stick,

Be memorable, be different.

As army of wealth-merchants have him on drip.

 

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Quick Update

This is just a quick update for those of you who have been anxious about my sartorial choices…

First of all, thank you everyone for your very constructive suggestions.

So what did I opt for in the end? Black leggings, a smart silk tunic in an undefinable colour (not black) and very high heels.

The heels made me tower above everybody, and gave me confidence. So the reading went well (although others were far better, even without such heels).

Afterthought: if you plan to mingle at the post-reading drinks party, a painful hobble to the car park does not make for the most dignified exit.

I’m So Vain, I Probably Think This Is About Me

Tomorrow evening I will be presenting something in front of a roomful of people, most of whom I’ve never met before. ‘So what?’ I hear you say.  ‘That has been your job (in various incarnations) for a while now.’ True enough: I’ve been a teacher, a lecturer, trainer/facilitator and what is laughingly known as a ‘headliner’. I’ve even been an enthusiastic participant in amateur dramatics – as if you can’t tell!

So what is different this time?

Well, this time I won’t be reading somebody else’s words. I won’t be presenting general knowledge or sticking to the tried-and-tested pedagogical methods. This time I will be reading my own contribution to Offshoots 12 , the annual publication of Geneva Writers’ Group. It’s like cutting off small strips of your flesh and presenting them to the audience. I just hope none of them are cannibals.

So, of course, the question now is: what should I wear? In my corporate world, I have a ‘uniform’ – reasonably smart, modestly flattering, yet flexible enough for the temperature variations of training rooms and the mad dashes down airport corridors.

The look I am aiming for: the effortless elegance of Simone de Beauvoir, one of my heroines
The look I am aiming for: the effortless elegance of Simone de Beauvoir, one of my heroines

For poetry, however, something more free-flowing, more creative is required. Shall I go for the romantic look we tend to associate with poets (rightly or wrongly)? I cannot bear trailing scarves or opinion-piece jewellery. It’s not quite warm enough anymore for a strappy summer dress.  The other major staple of my wardrobe (jeans and white shirts) is an over-done look for hip, happening SLAM poets and spoken word ambassadors. Besides, I’m neither hip nor happening (as you can tell from the fact that I am using these words, which are probably a couple of decades out of date).

So what do poets and writers more generally wear to readings? Any suggestions?  Wikihow tells me (seriously, perhaps?) to either dress in existentialist black if I want to seem thoughtful, or in dramatic high boots if I want to be showy. Checking out videos of poetry readings, I notice that many have taken this advice to heart.  Meantime, I’ve found some wise words here, but no matching, colourful clothes in my wardrobe.

Scruffy mad poet look it is, then!

Glass Fishbowl

Construction siteI sit dainty at my table,

Plate and finger poised just so,

When I notice workmen pausing.

From across the mud-drenched garden,

They lift their bottles, put down baguettes,

And contemplate this middle-aged white woman

In a house far too big, eating alone.

Their wave of raw appraisal hits in fluxes,

Till I rush to close the shutters, hide

My morsels in the dark.

 

fishbowlSo the pebbles clatter roundly

To fill the base of your fishbowl,

Stinging scarlet your scales of gold.

Disapproved, disproved, smirked at,

The woman sits and scribbles wildly,

While we pile our judgements up in mounds.

Ragamuffin she seeks flotsam

Debris of a human life

To make up stories

No one wants to read at all.

Inspired by the workmen, crane and building site just opposite my living room and study. Noise, dust and curious eyes have accompanied me for a few weeks now… I am almost hoping for REALLY bad weather, so that they have to stop work. [The last 3 days of pouring rain were not enough to dampen their enthusiasm.] They are not there now, it’s the sacred French lunch break.

 

 

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

Our heads contain worlds. Or is it just the one over and over?

People pop out to smoke cigarettes,

simper, gossip, fuck and pray.

Maggotty ideas fester – let them die –

voices assault us daily.

What is real I cannot say.

He’s tried to flirt with the mainstream.

His world always out of kilter

at an angle only he can measure,

drumming beats no one will follow.

There is no shared vision,

yet we wish horses of belonging for us beggars.

Come inside, ladies and gents!

If only you’d discover that underneath I’m much like you,

a gentler man of erudite barbs.

One read and you’ll be captivated.

I know I’ve worked so hard for this:

how can I share that knowledge, that wonder with you?

 

How do you keep your balance as a creative person?  That is the question that Joe Hesch would like us to consider at Open Link Night on dVerse Poets. Always a sore point with me…

Running Home

P1010699The mountains are closing in today.

On a clear day, just after a drop in temperature, they open up as endless as your life seems in childhood. On a day like this, when clouds display a full arsenal of grays, when rain is announced every few minutes, the mountains seem closer.  Too close.  They press against you, crush you, lock you in. You begin to understand the danger of the Alps. Ominous is a word created for that brief silence before the storm breaks.

So you start running. Mud, pebbles, asphalt: the terrain varies and so do your steps. What you cannot get used to is the running between borders.  After a lifetime of being punished for your nationality, of not being allowed in or out of countries, it is such a thrill to be able to weave your way in and out of France and Switzerland. A grey, moss-covered border stone dating from the 1870s is your only witness.

You moved to the area unwillingly the first time round. You had to give up a good job, family and friends, a good-sized house in the process of being slowly renovated, the language of your comfort. The children were fully dependent on you that first time, each day was a struggle with unfamiliarity. You couldn’t wait to get back ‘home’.

MountainsBut home had moved on, as had you. You found yourself struggling to fit in. You were still the alien, perhaps even more so with your new-found love for croissants and small coffees. You missed the extreme landscapes, the seasons. You remembered breathing in air so fresh that it rushed straight to your lungs in unadulterated delight.

Life has a way of playing with your emotions. Just when you are settled in again, when you have arranged your memories in a neatly labelled box to be put up in the attic, it is time to resurrect them.  You are going back to the space on the border for a second time. But this time it’s all different again. The children are older, your French is better. You continue working, but you are determined to make each minute in this wonderful location count. You are not going to leave this area again, regretting all that you didn’t do and see.

Home is a word you have bandied about far too often in your existence. You’ve believed you were at home in many places, with many people, but have you ever fully understood it? 

GrapesCould this be home now? You hardly dare to hope.

Yet there is a lilt in your peasant soul as you run through the fields, worrying about the harvest. 

The peaks and valleys, now green and pleasant, now eerily bare, mirror your own innerscapes. You surprise yourself with the sudden onset of storms, but you recognise a twin spirit.

If you weren’t so marked by years of taunting, you might almost think you are communing with nature.

Whether this is home or not, this is the best of you. Use this time wisely. Write it all down.

Billie Holiday Jazz Blues

Billie Holiday, 23 March 1949
Billie Holiday, 23 March 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lady sings the blues.  Her haunting voice and heart-breaking rendition of love-songs (and abuse songs) have marked me for life.  This is for that marvellous combination of jazz and poetry proposed by us tonight at dVerse Poets Pub.

Come in, sit down,

Your head just so

In weary pose.

Abstract yourself –

If you can –

From war-mongering news.

Turn your eyes away,

Shutter your mind.

And see me only

For I only have eyes for you.

May your questions fall shallow.

Pebbles barely breaking

The surface of our contentment.

Love we dare not probe

Nor look too far ahead.

For tonight is all we are given

and twinkly eyes all that are left.

We cannot search

To understand

Why I am yours and yours alone.