I enjoyed reading all of these. Thanks to Nic May, Laura Dron and others.
I enjoyed reading all of these. Thanks to Nic May, Laura Dron and others.
I follow and am ‘friends’ with a lot of writers, and others, on facebook and twitter. I often stumble across links that they post and I think are interesting or uplifting in some way. Sometimes I’m directed to links on the various poetry courses I take. So I’ve decided to put them on this blog every Sunday that I can, in hopes that you too find them useful or uplifting or sometimes even both.
I hope you enjoy them.
I’ve written about fear before I think, even if only on twitter.
Fear drives me to the kettle n hundred times a day.
Fear leads me to write poetry instead of my novel. That’s quite a productive use of fear. But it doesn’t get my novel written.
I read a piece by AL Kennedy the other day about how she decided early on to write as well as she could, to give it everything.
The thought of this makes me feel a bit sick (and in fairness to me seems nearly to have killed AL Kennedy).
When I run I constantly worry about trying my hardest and having nothing left, burning out, being unable to continue. I need to keep a little something in reserve for my own security, for peace of mind.
Of course I worry then that the little piece that I leave in reserve is the best bit, the bit that will make the difference between being placed and being an also-ran, between people wanting to read my work and them not wanting to read my work.
Not that I worry that much about people wanting to read my work. I do have a sense of how a reader might respond to what I write. I try not to bore myself or the imaginary (implied?) reader who is reading over my shoulder. But really I want to write something which I think coheres, which hangs together in a satisfying way. It’s quite a modest ambition, but still looks like Everest from where I’m sitting.
On the other hand, I sometimes wonder whether it is fear that keeps me moving at snail’s pace. Maybe I’m just a snail.
I tried to write part of my novel quickly to a deadline which Christmas threatened to eat the other day and it wasn’t good. Full of errors and things that I didn’t really feel.
Perhaps my work has to be mulched and bedded down a bit on a few dozen furrowed-brow walks when I think to myself I must get on with my novel and I wonder how the protagonist will deal with X or Y.
And I do really like tea.
When you see me advertising my first collection of poetry, you’ll know the fear has won.
[A note on social media. One depressing thing. People are using the 'like' function on WordPress blogs to promote their businesses. So now when I see that someone has 'liked' my post I don't know whether they do in fact like it or whether they just want me to buy one of their pictures or whatever. The 'liking' and commenting has always had a quasi-reciprocal string attached to it. But it used to be just other bloggers trying to raise their profiles by commenting or 'liking', which was sort of innocent as there was only the most indirect or gentle financial link (authors hoping to turn clickers into book-buyers mainly).
One fantastic thing. I've started following the poet @George_Szirtes on twitter and he is producing a series of intensely enjoyable and literary tweets about the Doctor and Langoustine. It's a fantastic use of the medium as it's non-narrative. Narrative suffers in the maelstrom which is twitter because you won't generally see every tweet from any particular author. Szirtes seems to understand this and it doesn't matter if you miss one or ten or twenty of the tweets but they are somehow cumulative, so the more you read the more enjoyable they become. In my view it's the first self-consciously literary use of twitter that exploits the medium in an intelligent and sophisticated way.]
I have seen him read before and he reads beautifully. He also shared some of what he’s learnt about poetry, about his approach to poetry, which I found invaluably encouraging.
His subject, he told us after the reading, is what it means to be a sentient being in time. Luckily for him, he said, this means he feels a greater sense of urgency about writing as he gets older. He’s in his sixties now and wonders how many more springs he will see.
He read movingly about the death of his mother in a lengthy poem about the horse that threw her and caused her death. Some great images of how neglected the horse became, her hooves unshod and taking on the appearance of corrugated cardboard, in contrast to the meticulous grooming to which she was subject during her rider’s life.
It was an interesting and unobvious way into the subject of such a major loss. I’ve taken away a lot to think about. How does the neglect of a horse which accidentally killed his mother relate to his feelings about the loss? Is he expressing his guilt about surviving and enjoying his life, about not remembering her enough? I think so.
How complicated that the last remnant of his mother on the planet seems, or seemed, to have become the four-legged creature which killed her.
He read about his father, a man he seemed to disdain as the kind of Englishman who, when presented with a free few hours, will always suggest going out to kill something; a man who boasted of having read half a book in his whole life. But his poem about his father cutting the lawn and playing cricket with him and his brother, made it clear that his feelings for his father weren’t only critical.
He read about his wife, although, perhaps because she is not dead, this was the least revealing poem. That poem it seemed to me was more about recognising that life, in the trite saying, is not a rehearsal. If you want to go to Holy Island, then now is a better time than the uncertainty of next year.
He talked a bit about being Poet Laureate and how for the ten years he filled the post he was unable to write poetry and thought his poems were gone for good, another loss he grieved. But he said that a few weeks after he stepped down he became aware of a buzzing in his head, like planes waiting to land at Heathrow. He then wrote prolifically for a while. His pace has now slowed to pre-Laureateship levels.
I didn’t quite have the confidence to ask him any questions. I would have asked him about sonics. I would have asked him about the sound of his poetry and how important that is to him. I would have asked him about decorum in poetry. I would have asked him how to know the difference between learning the craft of writing poetry and trying to squish a square peg into a round hole.
A young man asked him how poets can ever know when a poem is finished. He said he thought that when a poem appears in a journal is one marker but that death marks the final edit.
He discussed his process too. He writes first thing in the morning, from about five thirty, when he is still half asleep, and, if I’ve understood him correctly, less likely to censor himself. This is a piece of advice I’ve seen before and have occasionally followed with some personally satisfying results.
For me the most important and exciting thing he said was something that he has apparently said before. He said he wanted his words to be clear, to look like a glass of water, which would only on being drunk reveal itself as full of gin.
This is exactly my ambition for my poetry.
It’s good to know that it’s an ambition that’s recognised as worthy, that I am following in credible, if large, footsteps. Doesn’t make it any easier though.
When I left Sir Andrew and the young man who asked about when a poem is finished were talking. I walked off into the night thinking that it was good someone was encouraging that young man especially when women are currently so dominant in the form.
But I still wondered nervously if his kind of poetry is a boys’ club.
Find Oxford University Poetry Society on facebook too. Before the reading they described themselves as ‘inclusive’ and they seem a friendly bunch.
I REMEMBER my brother as a seven-year-old leaning over our garden fence and shouting ‘Bum, bum, willy, willy’ at the new neighbours. From the lofty heights of my eight years I explained that this was just a ‘phrase’ he was going through.
We carry on going through phrases all of our lives it seems to me. ‘We’ as a society, I mean.
You wake up one morning and everyone’s on it or across it. I mean, what’s that about? Or every mother in the playground suddenly announces she doesn’t do maths, cooking or even, in one case, people.
OMG is probably the most ubiquitous. This seems to have transcended its origins (Was it that episode in Friends where Chandler’s girlfriend says it all the time?) and become normalised. It’s even got the coolio twist of zOMG which is based on a common typo, demonstrating the impact of texting and tweeting.
If I’d been paying attention I could probably trace where more of them came from. Often it’s popular TV shows and films.
In the US they try to ban some of the worst. This year they’re banishing fiscal cliff and spoiler alert among others. I can’t seem to find any comparable UK lists.
That doesn’t mean they don’t exist of course. Every student of poetry soon learns that it’s much worse than swearing to use the words shard, gossamer, rainbow or dream, and that the moon must be handled with care, while abstract concepts anger, love, grief etc must be shown, or described in concrete terms, rather than named.
In prose adverbs can be used only very, very sparingly. You shouldn’t use passive verbs either.
As the US list is published in the name of the Queen’s English, this looks like a case of our friends across the pond trying to be more English than we are. Or maybe it’s irony. (Contrary to popular wisdom, all my American friends do irony.)
I love the way language changes and grows. I have no truck with pedants who, just because they have learned about split infinitives and gerunds, want to inflict them willy-nilly on the rest of us. This is simply the elite keeping watch at their gates and in a very boring way. There’s no excuse for it in conversation and even in print it’s of limited guidance.
I particularly enjoy the way America often throws up vigorous new phrases which make me see the world in a slightly different way. I consistently find American neologisms very useful.
One friend from Los Angeles used to dismiss people she disliked with ‘she’s not on my grid’. Don’t you just know what that means without having it explained? It’s so expressive.. There’s no bitchiness there. It’s just they had no co-ordinates in common.
The same friend, when I complained about another mother whose bragging about her children left me feeling inadequate and furious, explained, ‘She’s just your toxic baby-friend.’
So that was alright then.
But when everyone’s saying the same thing something else is going on. It’s not just the joy of language. It’s people wanting in on something. Something they feel is cool or powerful.
Guard was the first word I can remember taking the playground of my own childhood by storm. Suddenly everyone was saying it. Oh guard!
We didn’t have a telly so I wasn’t exposed to Starsky and Hutch or The Dukes of Hazard or whatever it was that everyone was watching and aping. It took me a long time to work out that this was a US pronunciation of ‘God’.
Our appropriation of Americanisms persists despite the irritating anti-American shtick that I meet occasionally. (Could everyone in Britain just grow up about this? They won their independence, they’re bigger, more powerful and richer than we are. Suck it up. You’re making yourselves look like poor losers. And I’m not even mentioning the wars.)
Guard was quickly superceded by wicked, probably the first case in my lifetime that I noticed the language of gangs, or the street more broadly, being taken up. Because it’s really cool to have guns and drugs, yeah? And today we have sick or at least we do here in the provinces. In London it’s probably something else by now and Manhattan will have moved on even earlier.
People don’t just choose their vocabulary to look cool, obvs (how cool is that though? ‘Obvs’?). I can remember one excruciating moment at a dinner party where I was chatting to the host about this sort of stuff and talking about how the word scary was suddenly everywhere (this was back in the day).
I suggested that this was because people wanted to create an impression of themselves as artlessly child-like and sweet and that as such it was an unbearable affectation. As I finished the sentence further down the table the hostess used the word in a conversation she was having with another guest. ‘More wine?’ said the host. zOMG.
Why didn’t I just stick to ‘bum bum willy willy’? No one wants to fall out with the man. Or his wife.