I’ve Lost My Poetry Book

I’ve lost my poetry notebook.

That slender scribbler with blue and white boats on the cover

fitting instantly in pockets

unobtrusive on nighttables

familiar with coffee shops and handbags, desks and grassy mound,

alert and keen

it waited for flighty inspiration.

I’ve lost the mad jottings,

the crossing out, the changes,

synonyms in endless lists,

invented words mocked by their conservative neighbours.

 

I’ve lost my mind

my moment of respite

my calm in eye of storm

the grips that hold me onto life.

 

And in the world I know

nothing is ever fully replaceable.

Poems That Mean the World to Me

There are two poems that I would keep under my pillow if I were in the habit of doing that.  As it is, I have them pinned to the noticeboard in my study and below are my favourite fragments from them.  They seem to speak my words, my thoughts, my heart (but so much better than I ever could).  The first one I discovered a long time ago, as a teenager; the second one I came across only a few months ago, but it sparked my creative renaissance. The sentiments seem to lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, we all have contradictions within ourselves, don’t we?

You said: ‘I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,

find another city better than this one’.

[…]

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.

This city will always pursue you.

You’ll walk the same streets, grow old

int he same neighbourhoods, turn grey in these same houses.

You’ll always end up in this city.  Don’t hope for things elsewhere:

there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.

Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,

you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

(C.P. Cavafy)

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
If they say we should get together.
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them any more.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

(Naomi Shihab Nye)

 

Fragment from the First Draft

This is taking me waaaay out of my comfort zone, sharing a small fragment (something more than seven lines) from the first draft of my novel. The usual disclaimers (rough, unedited, only a snippet etc.) apply. The only reason I am considering it is because some of you, dear readers, kindly asked to see some of it, and because it is part of the 15 day writing challenge devised by Jeff Goins.

By way of background to the story: it is a crime novel which takes place in Romania in 1995.  This woman is a secondary character, the wife of the policeman who is helping my hero (who is English) and heroine (Romanian) in their crime-solving mission.  Gina plays a small but crucial part in destroying the evidence.  The fragment below describes her motivation for it to a certain extent.  Any comments or suggestions would be much appreciated.  Don’t be afraid to be cruel in order to be kind!

To her surprise, Gina had not found married life and parenthood as rewarding as she had been led to believe.  She had been herded by her mother into the expectation that motherhood would confer new meaning to her life.  But now she often found herself wondering: ‘Is this all?  Is that all I have to look forward to in life from now to evermore?’  Oh, she loved the little blighter well enough, but she had to admit that she often did not like him much.  He was selfish, prone to tantrums, overly spoilt by his dad and grandparents, and he took all of that out on her.  As if she didn’t have enough troubles of her own!

All she had ever learnt about bookkeeping was out of date in the new market economy and had to be relearnt.  There were other, younger accountants snapping at her heels, with their new-fangled degrees from private universities (luckily, still not officially recognised) and their mastery of foreign languages.  She had been told she should learn some English or French too, that it would help further her career. What if their enterprise is privatised and sold off to foreigners: then where would she be, out on the streets?  Whereas if she could chat with her would-be bosses in their own language, that might make a difference.

But when was she supposed to have the time to learn a foreign language?  With the child still not sleeping through the night and Dinu often away on night-shift, or else dead to the world when he did get to sleep at home.  She also had her mother-in-law to look after, who was not necessarily getting more decrepit every week, but certainly more demanding.  Plus trying to maintain the fruit and vegetables weed-free and unbitten by pests on their small plot of land.  She had been told that keeping a few chicken would be no trouble, and that having freshly laid eggs would be such a bonus to her son’s health.  So now she had to feed and clean after those stinky, cackling nuisances.

And, to top it all, Dinu had now taken it into his head to build a house behind his parents’ old one.  True, their current house was small, dark and old-fashioned, with only an electric plate in the kitchen. The running water was barely running, since the pipes had burst last winter.  But now they had a building site to contend with as well.  Dirt everywhere and drudgery from morning till bedtime!  If Dinu ever took it into his dim little brain to mention having another child again, she would punch him right between his eyes!

Her only pleasure was spending her money on foreign chocolate.  When she got her salary (in ever-increasing mounds of cash, which were actually worth very little in the current inflation), she would stop at a kiosk on the high street on the way back from work.  She would buy pretty much the entire stock and hide it at the back of her wardrobe, trying to resist the temptation to have more than one entire tablet a day.  She was beyond caring what her body might look like if she gained too much weight.  She had no feeling of guilt at spending so much money on chocolate that she never shared with anyone else.  After all, her husband was willing to spend every last leu of his on that child: it had to be all foreign nappies and toys for him, oh, yes!  But he didn’t want to spend anything at all on her, his wife.

And now he was getting far too involved in this stupid case, all because a posh bird from Bucharest had batted her eyelashes at him.  Well, she would teach him what Gina was capable of, that she would!

The men had been nicely suited, with those fashionable pastel-coloured broad ties that she wished her husband could wear instead of that sweaty police uniform.  They had descended as a synchronised pair from their Dacia with tinted windows.  They had been well-spoken, polite, not at all like the security forces of the olden days.  Yet she had no doubt that was what they were.  Any Romanian worth his or her salt could sniff out these people a mile off, no matter how many manners they might have acquired in the meantime.

They had expressed their concern at Dinu’s over-involvement in this case, which she fully agreed with.  In fact, she hadn’t quite realised quite how many extra enquiries he had made in Pitesti and Bucharest on behalf of the posh bird until these gentlemen made her aware of them.  They asked her if he kept any paperwork at home (she didn’t think so), if he had confided in her any details of the case. He hadn’t and she wasn’t interested anyway, as if she did not have enough worries of her own.

Upon hearing that, they expressed their sympathy. Delighted that someone was finally listening to her, she poured out much more of her daily anxieties than she had intended, even more than she had shared with her girlfriends.  Not that she had many of them here, in this godforsaken little town.  And the men had nodded and taken her seriously, instead of trying to laugh off her concerns.  They had promised… well, she wasn’t quite sure what, but it sounded a relief, a solution to her problems.  Nor was she quite sure if they actually promised anything.  But, at any rate, they painted a picture of future possibilities.  Lifetime employment for herself, a promotion for her husband, most likely a move to a more happening part of the country, a big city.   Where her son could grow up in a civilised fashion, away from the dirt of the crumbling old house and animal shit. An escape from the clutches of her mother-in-law and the building site.  A chance to put herself first, instead of slaving away for others.  A chance to make that life for herself that she had hoped for, but which had somehow passed her by.  Until now.

And all they asked in return was to find out where he kept his notes and evidence from the case, and to hand it over to them, or, failing that, to destroy them.  Sink this nasty little story, which had nothing to do with them.

What could be simpler, more natural?  If (or rather, when) Dinu found out, he would be furious at first, but surely it was time he realised he was not Colombo or whichever of those American detectives were his heroes.  He would thank her once he realised how much they could gain from simply letting things rest.  Leave things be.  It wasn’t like they were hiding something, it was more about not wanting to dig any deeper and uncover unpleasantness.

So, if her husband wasn’t exactly forthcoming with the details, then she would have to snuffle  them out herself.  But she would have to be clever and resourceful, for there was no way that she could access any of his documents at work.   That much was clear. Although she had little respect for the coffee-swilling, nail-painting and endlessly chatting ladies at the police station, she was sure that they had enough basic police training to know not to share any documents with outsiders.  Even outsiders who were married to a police officer.

So what other solution was there?  She would have to convince Dinu to bring his paperwork home.

Wisdom Verses

I have always been drawn to Buddhism, not just because of its philosophical content, but because of the poetry of its teachings.  I recently found a booklet of quotes I copied down fron the Dhammapada (one of the main texts of the Buddha’s teachings in Theravada Buddhism).  Back in my student days.  See if you don’t agree with me about the simplicity and power of  the language, almost haiku-like.

In this world,

hate never yet dispelled hate.

Only love dispels hate.

 

Mistaking the false for the true,

and the true for the false,

you overlook the heart

and fill yourself with desire.

 

Wakefulness is the way to life.  How wonderful it is to watch, how foolish to sleep!

 

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

 

Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.

Better to live one day wondering

how all things arise and pass away.

Better to live one hour seeing

the one life beyond the way.

Better to live one moment

in the moment.

 

It is hard to live in the world.

And hard to live out of it.

It is hard to be one among many.

 

Learning From the Younger Generation

I used to think that reading the classics or the best of contemporary fiction kept me humble.  Then I had to acknowledge that so many bloggers, whom I now follow with awe and joy, write with such zest and originality, and are so generous in sharing their poems, short stories and even chapters, that I felt a little lacklustre in comparison.  But now I have found a whole new source of modesty-inducing inspiration: the younger generation.  And I mean the much younger generation, like my 9 year old son.

First of the Series

He is a voracious reader.  His huge regret is that he will soon finish his last Harry Potter book, but his consolation is that he still has five Alex Rider books to go.  He used to be less than eager to do his English homework (he always preferred Maths and science, and he complained that writing with his pen gave him blisters). However, over the past few weeks, he has starting writing stories and even books of his own.  For the time being, he is reluctant to share his masterpiece with us, although he will happily tell us the overarching themes and storyline.    His writing style and choice of subjects may be completely alien to me, but I do wish I could emulate some of his energy and drive.

So here are the lessons I am learning from him:

1) Boundless ambition:  There are no self-imposed limits here; he truly believes he can achieve anything.  He already plans to write 4 books in his Insect Wars series, but he also wants to write and illustrate his own comic book series (BD are big business and extremely popular here in France). A factual book or two may also be on the cards, as are shorter stories appearing as separate books for those just learning to read.

2) Versatility: He is not allowing himself to be bogged down by genres.  He writes what he pleases and what he himself likes to read.   There are adventure stories about animals, but also some science fiction, humorous stories, and comic books about anthropomorphic root vegetables and many different countries.  There is no limit to his imagination and he does not try to second-guess his audience’s preferences too much.

3) Discipline: He worries about whether he will have the time to accomplish all of this over the summer holidays (and these final weeks of school), so he uses every spare minute to disappear upstairs and start scribbling away. First thing in the morning, or after brushing his teeth, or last thing at night before bedtime.  He writes every day – and no, he does not complain it’s a chore!  Although his younger brother sometimes complains that they no longer get to play together…

4) Reading but no other distractions: He continues reading books in all genres, more or less appropriate to his age, but he does not copy them slavishly.  Needless to say, he does not waste time online checking emails, Tweeting or Facebooking.  He probably would play the occasional computer game, but fortunately he forgets, having too many other interesting things going on in his life.

5) Marketing strategy: He already knows what is going to happen once he finishes all these books.  He has a target audience (his family and his English-speaking friends), a distribution channel (photocopies and a lending library scheme too), a price point (5o centimes each, if the Euro survives the summer).

What is most interesting, however, is that he has no ambitions to become a full-time writer when he grows up.  Oh, no!  Becoming a zoologist and wildlife documentary maker is much more exciting!  But he does want to keep on writing books as a hobby, because he enjoys telling stories.

What did I tell you – truly humbling!

So, in an effort to catch up with the younger generation, I have joined this two-week writing challenge with Jeff Goins (see below).

Instead

The pink whistle wearing thin, they settled on the mauve.

When boxes threatened  overload, they cut out carton flags.

Ideas tumbling in hazen rivulets were picked off, one by one,

With shotgun polished, wit so sharpened.

 

May the treasure hunt of the mind commence!

 

Still, the crack at the very centre, silent foe, widened each day,

Till they no longer could bear to step forward

And peer at the abyss one wrong word away.

Blocked

Word by word they sucked it

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.

 

Clenched, jaw-like,

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.

Constant Gardener

Sowing such thin layers

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.

Mal-Entendu

OK, last poem for a while, I promise.  I will be back with some prose and some reviews or discussions of writerly influences next week. 

Almost immediately after I write that, I ask myself: why do I feel apologetic about writing ‘only’ poems?  I am not implying that writing poems is the easy or lesser option.  Just that, in my case, it is very often compensation activity for not finishing that b***** novel.  Come on, lass, only 2 chapters to go (or so I believe). 

Anyway, this poem is about the challenges of a normally chatty, even glib person becoming tongue-tied in a new country with a language she only half-speaks.  Yep, this time it is personal!

One might say the magic faraway tree

is walking away and not toward me,

Always almost, but never quite there.

Haunted by failure, aware of the dangers,

I navigate, anxious, between the extremes.

All blandness in word choice,

accents raining in all directions,

avoiding the telephone for fear of rapid riposte.

My jokes are more plodding,

some meaning eludes me.

I snigger along even when I am lost.

Distracted by how I pronounce the word ‘pain’,

the baker hands me the wrong kind of bread.

I think I’ll stick to baguette in future.