If the sky was perfect
inside the house finch
he would not
beat the red thoughts
around his feathered crown,
nor collapse his brown-grey wings.


This poem, like a few others written during this month, was inspired by a writing prompt provided by Poem A Day October. The prompt provided an online random image generator and suggested choosing a visual. It was a toss up between a pair of wizened hands and this handsome house finch. The finch came with a poem, which isn’t surprising as I have used bird motifs in my writing before. See
Sky and Hope have disappeared,
Nearing the End and
Recycled

I have written drafts in response to all the Poem A Day October’s recommendations. However, not all these attempts have passed the benchmark I set for work worthy of public reading.

Contrary to what some may believe, I do not post any old bunch of lines. Not all the words I have thrown together do I declare poetry. While I do ease up a little on my personal standards (otherwise 80% of the writing on this blog would not be online), I also set high ideals for my writing. For example, I wish my work was more literary. I wish its craft was more dazzling. (Sadly, my attempted poem in iambic pentameter terza rima resulted in a mess of scribbles.) If my poetry was more politically engaged or socially critical, perhaps it might also be more useful to the world.

As a perfectionist who also happens to work as an artist, I spend a long time judging my work as inadequate. The fear that the public and critics will spotlight flaws compounds my panic. (An early poem, “To whom it may concern”, explores this.) Such fear is debilitating. While housebound creativity satisfied me somewhat, it did not wing in the world. How would anything take flight? After years of filling up notebooks I decided that it was time for creation to be shared.

This is why I share my poetry online.

Here are the other poems inspired by Poem A Day October prompts:

Highest Priority
Transition/ Disclosed
Postmarked from a Café
Headlines
A cooking attempt for colleagues
You cooking me


Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012, which includes “To whom it may concern”

Screenshot 2014-10-21 15.03.53

The South African edition of Shining in Brightness is at the printers!

Pictured above is the cover proof that came in last week. Note the genuine ISBN barcode. This makes it a Real Book and by law a dozen copies will find their way to legal deposit libraries across South Africa. The artwork is once again Nicola Slattery’s illustration, because the etching “Flying High” now simply belongs with the collection of poems. (I also happen to own an original of print.) I explain the work’s significance here.

Shining in Brightness presents twenty poems about loss, love and growing up in quiet suburbia. These poems chronicle a young woman’s journey from 18 to early adulthood. After leaving the leafy Cape Town suburb of her childhood, the poet-wanderer travels to California, Brazil, Cambridge, Poland and the Eastern Cape before alighting in North London. Two accompanying essays provide insights on both the poems and the writer’s process.

You can preview Shinning in Brightness at my Blurb Bookstore. The  UK edition of the title came out in February 2013. Since then I have been searching for a print-on-demand service to offer the work at an affordable price to readers in South Africa, the country in which I grew up. I am thrilled to have found a suitable service. Stay posted for details of the book’s online listing at MegaBooks.co.za.

Sign up to the blog (see subscription box, bottom right) or follow me on Twitter as @BeadedQuill
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Currently I have three titles available through Blurb. You’re invited to preview each of them at my online Bookstore:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Medieval illustration of man reading via XX. With appreciation.

Medieval illustration of man reading via www.mrmediatraining.com. With appreciation.

The speaker of “An address from a lectern” is, in my writer-narrator’s mind, a young woman from the Eastern Cape. From the poem itself, I guess it would be difficult to deduce as much – and that she is presenting to an audience in London.

I wished to find a woman speaking from a lectern as the accompanying illustration. Neither my wikimedia commons search with such key words, nor even ‘woman giving speech’, delivered much. I shall let you draw conclusions, if there are any to be drawn about a lack of images of women giving speeches at lecterns.

Follow my occasional feminist observations and posts about life on Twitter (@BeadedQuill)
or Facebook.
Preview my trio of current titles here.

Alfred Stevens Le Bain

Alfred Stevens, “Le Bain” (1867) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the facecloth
parcel up the little cry. Let it
well with the suds.

With your fingers, with what is left,
crunch up the crystals from the soap dish.
Rub such salt
against forearm, shoulder,
shin and knee skin;
sand out
the rough grains of today.

In the giant bowl of liquid,
soak off the dead lees.
This could be the basin
that dissolves sharp edges.


With poetry above and life advice below, it’s two for one in this post:

“When it’s been one of those days, the best thing left to do is sometimes to have a little cry in the bath. Let the taps run. Slough it off with the bath salt. Parcel up the little cry.

Then dry yourself off and have some cocoa, honey with milk or soya with cinnamon.”

At some other point, I must write an essayette about the bath I had the day after my dad died, Frida Kahlo’s bath painting and the metaphorical salve of bathing. Today, tea and lesson prep calls.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

tilted galaxy

This image of a tilted galaxy appears courtesy of http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/pictures/space/tiltedspiralgalaxy.html

For World Space Week last October I wrote “On the declaration of the first day of the Year of Our Light.”

There are some wonderful lines in this poem, such as

“The swirling spheres in proclamation”,
“Light of more silver bright”
and the bit quoted for the headline, “The whole kerfuffle woke the stars.”

Sometimes I just like poetry for the way it allows words to sound.

For more about my fascination with words, see
Nice Words #1
Nice Words #2
Nice Words #4
Nice words of the moment (from autumn)
Cast them together

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

What does your truest smile look like?

Mine is at its most genuine when it crinkles across my nose. Here’s the very short poem I wrote about it.

Genuine“, along with 103 other poems, features in my most recent book, In the Ocean: a year of poetry.

Image cropped from a vintage advertisement for corsets from Le Petit Echo de la Mode (Dec. 15, 1901 issue). Courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

Image cropped from a vintage advertisement for corsets from Le Petit Echo de la Mode (Dec. 15, 1901 issue). Courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

How am I supposed to compete
with Nicole, Fully Experienced

who is able to stroke false lashes
onto her eyelids
rather than lose the wily moults
to the back of a chair?

Nicole, with her cream of know-how,
certainly has a drawer of négligée
and suitable apparatus for pranking

Unlike 8 pairs of cotton briefs,
stitched where they give
so as to last another year of wear;
The only bedside apparatus
a weatherworn Bukowski (apparently
to some a turn on).

I bet fully practised Nicole
wears fetish heels as thin and long
as the ballpoint used to spike down
my wares.


I was on Charing Cross Road recently. Swept up in the usual bustle of traversing a London pavement, I kept mindful of my step and the other walkers as we congested around a buggy that had stalled the flow. A scrap of paper under someone’s heel caught my attention. It was a flyer for the services of Nicole, Fully Experienced.

Nicole’s imagined experience inspired today’s poem.

(I am still not entirely convinced about the title, as women who do work in the adult entertainment industry may find it condescending. ‘Skills’ and ‘Wares’ were other options which I considered.)

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Tulips from A Day in a Child’s Life by Kate Greenaway, c. 1881 and courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

I did not set out to write poetry. I intended to write Novels. And anyway, I am of the view that much superbly written and evocative poetry already exists. The Shadows of Giants loom large. At the moment I have no illusion about even coming close to their kneecaps, never mind shoulders. This time last year I posted “Emulation“, a poem about the finely wrought craft of three (English language) poetry giants.

Emulation” references two poems that had a notable impact on me during my adolescence: Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms” and “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes. (Yes, we studied them at school in our English lessons. Some exposures in life just can’t be helped.) Both poems struck me with the synaesthetic potential of words. To this day, I can still feel those mushrooms mouthing their insidious, hollow-breathed o’s at the world (“So many of us! So many of us!”). That Thought Fox still darts with a hot fox stink across my imagination.

(I had not noted, until reviewing these poems for this post, that both set the scene in a forest. How very archetypal; how very Brothers Grimm.)

“Mushrooms” is referenced via Plath’s famous “Tulips” (1961). I came across “Tulips” when I was older . Although a recognised and fine work, it does not evoke the same nostalgia for me.

The third poet to whom homage is paid is John Donne for his poem “The Flea“. Besides the pleasure of the words, it latched onto my leaning towards the miniature and slightly odd. Perhaps my little poem “An arrangement of Strangers” owes Donne a debt.

I may not (yet) have found myself on the shouders of giants, but I have written nearly 200 poems. 149 of them are available in book format:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry – 104 poems written across a year
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys – 25 poems about work, life and love
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012 – 20 poems about loss, love and growing up in quiet suburbia

Please follow me on
Twitter @BeadedQuill
or Facebook BeadedQuill

This illustration gem appears courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a wonderful resource for vintage images.

This illustration gem appears courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a wonderful resource for vintage images.

You cooking me

Two burnished hazelnuts
singe flax.
Golden Savoiardi shake
loose vanilla pods.

An oiled aubergine
turns roasted cumin seeds.
The sorrel and bay sauté
with wild mushrooms,
freshly picked.

A wholesome slice seals
the Dijon.

I have written a number of poems that draw on the influences of cooking and kitchen. Today’s offering started as a meditation on the colour mustard, the most unglamorous (even unsexy) of colours. The meditation shifted along the colour spectrum towards synonyms of yellow, golden-yellow and brown. (A Poem A Day October was once again the prompt source.)

“Mustard and brown” vied as an alternative title for the poem. In this version, the end lines would also have been different:

A wholesome slice seals
you cooking me.

Here is the alternative version in its entirety.

Mustard and brown
Two burnished hazelnuts
singe flax.
Golden Savoiardi shake
loose vanilla pods.

An oiled aubergine
turns roasted cumin seeds.
The sorrel and bay sauté
with wild mushrooms,
freshly picked.

A wholesome slice seals
you cooking me.

I’m still undecided as to which combination works better poetically. I prefer the opening version for it’s punch and mustard. What’s your take?

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Edgar Degas - Orchestra Musicians - Google Art Project

“Orchestra Musicians” (1872/6) by Edgar Degas [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From the archive, a poem about playing in an orchestra. If recollection serves me correctly, we may have been rehearsing a seldom performed Tchaikovsky symphony.

My ongoing relationship with music has also inspired:

And a – a poem with a boogie woogie beat
Nightstar of Sirius – written during a jazz concert
We stayed up late and waved our sticks about – as told to me by a fellow concert-goer while queuing for proms chamber recital tickets at Cadogan Hall
Nos Liberavit – a poem about the joy of song

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books by BeadedQuill – Yours to own!

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