This is shaping up to be a lovely week full of my favourite things: World Ballet Day, World Teachers’ Day and now National Poetry Day here in the UK. Here are a few favourite fragments of poems to celebrate.
I cannot dance upon my Toes—
No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,
That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe— (Emily Dickinson)
…such things are said to be
Good for you, and you will have to learn them
In order to become one of the grown-ups
Who sees invisible things neither steadily nor whole,
But keeps gravely the grand confusion of the world
Under his hat, which is where it belongs,
And teaches small children to do this in their turn. (Howard Nemerov)
Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful to those teachers who shaped me into what I am today (caveat: all mistakes my own, etc. etc.)
About poetry – well, I can’t stop thinking about this poem today, by Robert Bly:
Oh, on an early morning I think I shall live forever!
I am wrapped in my joyful flesh,
As the grass is wrapped in its clouds of green.
Rising from a bed, where I dreamt
Of long rides past castles and hot coals,
The sun lies happily on my knees;
I have suffered and survived the night,
Bathed in dark water, like any blade of grass.
The strong leaves of the box-elder tree,
Plunging in the wind, call us to disappear
Into the wilds of the universe,
Where we shall sit at the foot of a plant,
And live forever, like dust.
Finally, I leave you with this amazing line from Mahmoud Darwish:
You are reluctant to emerge from the metaphor in case you fall into the well of loneliness.
Reading the article by Michael Mohammed Ahmad about the universality of bad writing and bad attitudes towards receiving feedback was an experience which had me laughing and wincing in recognition. It’s a harsh article, but perhaps a very necessary one. I’ve read (and written) an excess of lines which are too pretty, too laboured, trying just a little too hard to RAM the point down the readers’ throat, and I couldn’t agree more with his recommendation ‘to write something honest, specific, tangible, to use original metaphors and symbols that I could see in my mind’s eye, and to write something that was not a rehash of what they had been conditioned to believe a poem should be’.
My particular problem in poetry is that I go too unfiltered and raw, trying to fit in all the ideas and metaphors, all the images and juxtapositions which occur to me. It’s almost like I scribble down from dictation. Which is fine for a first draft, but a poem requires far, far more subtlety and editing!
So I thought it might be fun to share with you the journey of a poem. Here is the ‘raw material’ for a poem which I jotted down following a pique of anger at the weekend. I will be working on it over the next few weeks and provide regular updates, the reasons behind the changes I make, links to poets who’ve done it better than myself etc. I hope it’s a fun way of approaching poetry for those of you who don’t read it so much for enjoyment or find it too ‘ivory tower.’ For the time being, since it’s just an info dump, I’ve not used any punctuation. It’s the way I always start a poem – making a note of certain ideas or feelings before I forget.
Outwit with passwords
you do me
fat on apps, accounts and Facebook foxiness
Outrun in the gym
to keep yourself trim
belly suck and crow superior
Outcry me with your pulled muscles
nestle in your tea-based need
triumphant in your bedrest
you ignore panda-eyed flu ghosts around you
Outmother me, won’t you,
all laughter and scientific depth
masking the many hours of boredom
which you refused to partake
the allure of long-distance parenting
Swiss chocolate vs. squished pies
drowned in custard
My days of basking in ample shelf space may be over. I still have to venture into the dark recesses of my loft, but I nevertheless managed to fill in all available gaps buying books as if there were no tomorrow. Att the same time, my boys and I are such a constant fixture at our local library that we think they might start dusting us down together with the furniture.
Since moving back to Britain, I’ve bought 20 books (and I’m not counting the review copies I’ve received). That’s nearly 3 per week on average, but actually works up to more than that, as the first three weeks I was out of action, still travelling and nowhere near a bookshop. So it’s really 20 books in 4 weeks, which (with the most fancy mathematical footwork in the world) still comes to 5 a week. Madness, I tell ye, madness! (But probably to the delight of booksellers in London).
Initially, I thought there were just 14, most of which I bought in Waterstones Piccadilly when I attended a few events there. These include: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; The Outrun by Amy Liptrot; How to be Brave by Louise Beech; Breach (Refugee Tales) by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (Peirene Press), because they are all heart-wrenching and therefore very much suited to my current state of mind. Poetry, of course, because that is not so easy to find abroad: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive anthology; the winner of the Forward Prize 2016 Vahni Capildeo and the Best First Collection winner Tiphanie Yanique (not so much because they are winners, but because they write about gender and expatriation, two subjects so dear to my heart); and the enigmatic Rosemary Tonks. Finally, to round off my bookshop extravaganza, I also bought Teffi’s Subtly Worded, after so many of my favourite bloggers recommended Teffi.
I’ve always been a Jean Rhys fan and own most of her books in slim Penguin editions from the 1980s, But one can never have too much of a good thing, so, following the #ReadingRhys week, I’ve bought a collected edition of her early novels (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight), her letters and a biography by Lilian Pizzichini.
Then there are the random books I bought off Amazon (I try to limit my purchases there, but occasionally get distracted): a collected edition of some of Margaret Millar’s best novels; Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth, because I love Japan, its food and travelogues in general; Get Published in Literary Magazines by Alison K. Williams because… well, I keep on trying.
Finally, there are the ebooks, which I barely even count anymore, as they are not so ‘visible’. I’ve downloaded two Tana French books (because I’ve only read two of hers and want to try more). I couldn’t resist the offerings of two of my online friends: an escapist love story set in Provence by Patricia Sands and pre-ordering Margot Kinberg’s latest murder mystery.
Let’s not forget the ARCs I’ve received, and my book haul is even greater than the one in Lyon earlier this year. I’m behind with reviewing the atmospheric The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo, so I hope Harper Collins are patient. Thank you to Orenda Books, who sent me Louise Beech’s The Mountain in My Shoe, Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie and Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger), which all look very promising indeed. And, after quite a deep chat with Zygmunt Miłoszewski earlier this week, I can’t wait to read his book Rage, so thank you Midas PR for providing me with a copy of that!
As Stav Sherez was saying last night at Crime in the Court: Twitter is an expensive habit, as it’s full of book recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. (Yes, I still blame him and Eva Dolan for half of my noirish purchases.)
I dread to add up the exact amount I spent, but if we calculate an (underestimated) average of £5 per book, you realise the full extent of my folly! It takes no great psychologist to realise that there is something deeper at work here beneath my simple and pleasurable book addiction.
This poem was inspired by a night of blues at the fabulous Fetes des Fourvieres at the Roman Amphitheatre in Lyon. So it’s dedicated to Emma, reader, blogger and friend, who encouraged me to spend that glorious summer evening there with her.
Over You Blues
I’m gonna leave this town and take my mailbox too.
I’m gonna leave this goddam town and take my mailbox too.
So when I leave this fake old town what are you gonna do?
With my mailbox all mine no more of your excuses will do.
When my mailbox is all mine your wrong address excuses won’t do.
I’ll keep my mailbox all to myself no more excuses from you!
I’m so over you now even though you done me wrong.
I’m over and out with you now ‘cos you done me so wrong
I’m so over you now… Don’t know why I’m writing this song!
There is still plenty of unfinished business on the French side of my administrative papers, so I amused myself with some ‘literal’ translations of their menacing letters. Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf and wakes up at night panicking about fines and other punishments? Not me, not me!
Apple of the Côte, apples of all orchards unite!
Pursue this chance
limit the number of dates you go out on
keep your bearing regal
and return your ransom
in the envelope joined to the hip of this letter.
You major retard.
Even I can’t keep the imperatives and bad language out.
I’ve become a much less frequent visitor to the dVerse Poets Pub in the last few months, but it’s still the friendliest, most fun poetic community that I’ve come across. They are celebrating five years of poems, discussions, shared thoughts and laughter, so join us there , find out what Brian Miller (one of the founders of dVerse) has been up to recently, and take part in the first challenge of the week: a quadrille about ‘Journeys’.
A quadrille is a poem of 44 words exactly. Here is my attempt.
The journey’s start
your journey’s end
Ouroboros alone knows
when we are done exploring in porous dinghies
or flour containers
in baroque façade deceptions
carton jungle of dead ends
where our feet move on and on for miles
yet our hearts not one iota
I don’t usually celebrate my publications on my blog [And why exactly don’t I? That is a subject for another day.], but I do want to share this one with you. I am very pleased that Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine has just published one of the poems which has meant the most to me, Twenty Years After.
This is a poem I wrote three years ago in a sudden fit of inspiration on a business trip to London. The first draft of it is here. It’s about the person I fell in love with during my first year as a student in the UK, someone who broke my heart. I’d forgotten or buried the memory for many years, and have never seen that person again, but revisiting the Barbican brought it all back. On a frozen winter day, we’d practised our ballroom dancing on its empty terraces, just before going to a theatre performance. As the snowflakes started to fall around us, I thought I’d met the love of my life. Now, older and wiser, I know that life is constant flow. And so is love.
I’m really pleased it’s this particular magazine, which I’ve been reading online for a few years now, because I really admire its mission of interculturalism, more important than ever in today’s world. So, if you want to hear some international voices, all united by a love of the English language, do join me there.