Expat Bubble (A Poem)

For Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets Pub, I thought I’d attempt a spoken word poem. I’m not going to torture you with my recorded voice (or display my lack of technical ability) but you have to imagine quite a jaunty, jarring, hectic note to this one.
Get out, get out from the suffocating glass bell, I want to yell,
but we’re protected so safe within, we survey the scene
with composure, without compunction, with complacency…
And do we even have the decency
to try and learn the language? Do we, hell! And when
people say ‘Non’ we puff, ‘Well, well…what a country, what a system, how do they survive?’

But to me, they feel alive.
Oh, sure, they moan and cuss, groan and fuss,
there’s no British exclusivity or prior claim, you know…
But, on the whole, they let us be, in our inane inability
to pronounce ‘pain’ properly.
When we gather with high-pitched gazelle squeals at watering holes,
descend from our Landies to gather our children under squawking wings
from rugby and ballet, theatre and tennis, piano and gym,
pointing their little toes, pouting their objections…
When we sigh how our lives are filled way past the brim
yet each day another piece of meaning drops off into emptiness…
I want to take that first person plural pronoun
and smash it in resounding, resolute, smithereenish crashings.
I want to proclaim no allegiance, no herding, not me,
I’m not one of them!
But my passport tells another story.

Layers in Poetry

She sits in laundry like a queen,

opinion keen on every scene.

Trois petits mois – allez hop, cancer de sein!

The jolt of the lymph node.

Drama teen of bilious skein

unraveled, stitch of strawberry roan

as playful as her foal still unweaned,

eyes aquiver, tears unshed,

jinks unsatiated.

 

Oh, dearie, don’t let the critter

fill you with jitter, nor meander

down the dreary pits.

She knelt down and sewed

a star of hope.

 

Claudia is asking us about multi-layered poetry over at dVerse Poets Pub. How do we build up the colour, texture, meaning of a poem? Poetry is all about allowing multiple truths, multiple meanings to coexist, to shimmer in uncertainty and marvel, but how do we craft that?

baumkuchen 1
German Baumkuchen, the original multilayered poem…

 

Here’s how I set about it in the example above. I started off with a simple word cloud prompt. I borrowed the first line from a previous poem of mine and formed sound associations for the main wordsor syllables in that line ‘sits’, ‘laun-dry’, ‘queen’. I came up with ‘seeds/fits/situation/jinks/snitch/pit/lit/critter’ and ‘dreary/meander/moan/roan/foal’ and ‘ream/seen/beam/skein/weaning/scene’. I picked the words that most appealed to me and continued to build on them with more conceptual associations this time, but I still had no idea what my ‘poem’ would be about. If there even was a poem lurking somewhere in all this.

A few hours later, I was waiting to board my flight at the airport and I heard three ladies behind me talking about a friend of theirs who had recently died of cancer. That planted the real seed of the poem in my mind and I played around with the words that would fit in with that idea. The first draft was quickly written, but it lacked that conversational tone that had sparked my inspiration. So from sound to content to tone, I hope that finally the poem is a little closer to the confusion, uncertainty, wish for hope that is always present around the C word.

It will need a few more iterations and layers before it’s halfway finished, though…

 

Election Day (Poem)

Woke up this morning with this poem almost perfectly clear in my head – including the title. Clearly, the UK elections are getting to me… and my optimism is at an all-time low.

Outside a Polling Station sign, London. General Election day May 6th 2010.

Liar liar

don’t you see

your words rain blows

but mean aught to me.

 

I duck

I dive

through your filthy mind

thrashing legs, crawl to stay alive

 

Expectorate

and profess…

to others your story might still

turn inside out and confess.

 

But every drivel

you let slip out

lacks movement, light and substance,

there’s only shadow in your clout.

I’m linking this to Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets Pub. Come and see what our poets are up to when there are no constraints on their imagination!

Poetic Influences and a Mini Quiz

There’s a wonderful challenge for you over at dVerse Poets Pub, should you choose to accept it. We are being asked to talk about our poetic influences, which poets we most admire and then to write a poem in the style of that poet.

If you’re like me, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. However, there are three styles of poetry I enjoy. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve crystallised each style into a single poet I am particularly fond of. Here are the three, with examples of my own poetry written in their style. See if you can match the poets I’m trying to emulate with the poems below. [I may have mentioned them previously on this blog.] Please guess in the comments below and all will be revealed later. I’ve given some additional visual clues to help.

1) The Anguish of Modern Existence

From free-picture.net
From free-picture.net

Between a June and forgotten September, we once were heroes.

Between the sea and sand, we once knew flight

And heady air of freedom; or all the giddy brightness of the sun.

 

Once there was a glimmer… and then we lost.

Once there was a brief ambition… drowned in polite nonentity of words.

First we had coherence, the fullness, the whole –

But we heeded it not and mocked,

O O O O that whining rag…

Thinking the circle is easily closed once again.

Siamo sempre singulari and we were left with snippets

odd scraps to fight over, amour de mon enfance,

all but forgotten.

 

Once love dwelled in this unreal city.

Now its waxen wings are melted and its feet ground to dust.

 

2) Sensuous Mediterranean:

From Unesco.org
From Unesco.org

Please – just this once – take my hand and lead me to the terrace

to bathe in silken moonrays, drink in the shush of trees,

laugh softly at the mewl of plaintive cats

and trace that whimper within us,

eyes sinking in each other’s.

 

For once switch off reason and indulge in full moon madness,

dance among the giants of Poesy and leave

algorithms, measurements to tremble just a little at fear of your neglect.

 

And if you can’t lead, follow, join me in this folly,

savour every twinkle of fairy-silver dust.

As I ascend, so fly me with eyes open to wonder

and planetary music our only constant guides.

Just be the limbs atingle

Just feel the drip of sweat between us

Oh sweetness

of stolen blue moon incantation.

 

3) The world in a raindrop:

From Gardenhistorymatters.com
From Gardenhistorymatters.com

Our first drink at the corner pub.

I sit on my hands

to keep them from stroking your cheeks.

 

After two nights of febrile wakefulness,

wrapped in the smell of the other:

are you sure you meant to say that?

 

Chopping up the onions

I can still pretend the tears

have nothing to do with anything.

 

Two weeks of sun in the mountains

but mud is on the forest floor

and not a glimpse of daffodils.

Reading/Writing Summary for April

I could almost claim 14 books for April – except that one of them has been so massive that I am still reading it, and will be reading it for many months to come! That is, of course, Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji), which I’m reading along with brave Akylina.

greatwarOf the remaining thirteen, I had another epic doorstop of a book: The Great War by Aleksandar Gatalica. You will find the full review on Necessary Fiction website shortly. This website, incidentally, is well worth a look for its thoughtful reviews of lesser-known authors and short story collections, its research and translation notes, and writer-in-residence feature. For now, let me just say this book is an ambitious, sprawling, almost encylopedic collection of stories and characters, from all the different sides fighting the First World War. Touching, humorous and ever so slightly surreal.

Six books were in my preferred genre, crime fiction. If you’ve missed any of the reviews, they are linked below (all except Cry Wolf, which I was not sufficiently enthusiastic about).

Attica Locke: Pleasantville

Rebecca Whitney: The Liar’s Chair

Michael Gregorio: Cry Wolf (Ndrangheta clans penetrating the peaceful areas of Umbria in Italy)

Karin Alvtegen: Betrayal

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44

Sarah Hilary: No Other Darkness

Child44My Crime Fiction Pick of the Month, as hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, is very, very tough, as Child 44, No Other Darkness and Pleasantville are all jostling for position. So this time I think I’ll go for the one that kept me awake all night to finish it, which was Child 44. I saw the film as well this weekend, which simplifies some of the story lines and emphasises perhaps different aspects than I would have (if I’d written the screenplay – the author was not involved in it either). But I enjoyed it, and the actors were really impressive. If you want to see an interesting discussion of book vs. film adaptations, check out Margot’s latest blog post.

Meanwhile, Pleasantville fulfills my North American requirement for the Global Reading Challenge – I don’t often get to read something set in Houston, Texas.

A lot of online poetry this month (after all, it is National Poetry Month for the Americans) and I’ve also started a poetry course organised by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But, surprisingly, I haven’t read any poetry collection.

However, I did read a non-fiction book, the funny yet thoughtful essay collection with the irresistible title 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write.

Three of the books I read this month fit into the historical fiction category, but the one I want to highlight is Fire Flowers by Ben Byrne, which gives such a poignant description of post-war Japan, something few of us know about.

Alongside the two translated books (from Swedish and classical Japanese), I also read four books in French (well above my monthly target of 1-2). These were Yasmina Khadra’s L’attentat, Philippe Besson’s La maison atlantique and Virginie Despentes’ Teen Spirit (which I’ve reviewed all together here). I also read Metin Arditi’s rather chilling description of a Swiss boarding-school for boys Loin des bras.

So, all in all, a good month of reading. Although some books felt a bit average, there were quite a few that impressed me. At least I no longer feel obliged to write lengthy book reviews about those I didn’t quite gel with (or even finish them). And I’m pleased that I am spending some time in Genji’s company again. It helps to slow down my world and see things from a very different angle.

In terms of writing, I’ve been less successful. School holidays and business travel have wreaked their usual havoc. I have, however, solved outstanding plot holes and know very clearly where everything is heading now. I have the post-it note wall to prove it! Although I’m still open to allowing my characters to surprise me a little…

WIP

So, how has your April been in terms of reading and writing? Any must-read books (dare I ask that question, dare I be tempted)? Anything you felt was overrated or overhyped? Let me know below!

 

 

 

 

Mixed Metaphors, Clichés and Proverbs

Warning

 

A leopard cannot change while the sun shines

/it is clear/

all that glitters in its spots will cross the bridge

before the swine//

so desist from putting your cart ahead to skin a cat!

 

There’s more than one way to lose one’s best friend,

/believe me/

don’t cast your pearls far from the tree.

Heed my advice//               good things come to those

who hang him.

Make your hay and spare my rod.

One man’s meat is not gold and an apple

never falls

to catch the worm.

If one man’s dog is another man’s poison, why does the early bird not bite

the hand

that waits?

/and is not heard/

 

This is in partial (and inadequate) response to a prompt by Bjorn over at dVerse Poets. He invites us to mix our metaphors, but I’ve chosen some proverbs and sayings, which produced some unusual insights when jiggled and matched anew. The formatting isn’t quite right – it just doesn’t work on the screen/online as it does on my notebook. Here’s to the superior power of the printed page!

 

So Old and Yet So New (Poetry)

This is some poetry inspired by my current re-reading of The Tale of Genji.

From ink-treasures.com
From ink-treasures.com

The brush at rest, she sweetly shed
her kanji burden in black rain.
Told it slant, but all refrain
from advice or like
on poetry’s thin frame.
Safflower and cicada shells linger on pages
but nothing compares
to the shy violet blush of
crocus beneath dried leaves.
How could I forget
the persistent folly of men
and how quickly sleeves are

dampened by the morning dew?

 

And, in the spirit of Royall Tyler’s multiple footnotes: kanji are the Chinese characters or ideograms used in Japanese (alongside the syllabic hiragana and katakana), safflower and cicada shells are nicknames used for certain ladies to whom Genji has shown some affection, while the wet sleeves are a recurring motif in all of Classical Japanese and Chinese literature and represent mourning, regret, suffering.