Digital clock of a basic design commonly found in hotels. Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-September-29 via Wikimedia Commons

Digital clock of a basic design commonly found in hotels.
Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-September-29 via Wikimedia Commons

The electricity tripped.
Time fused
at 05:17.
I woke to the flashing.

On my ‘phone 08:03.
The day well underway
and no new messages.

I waiver over the buttons
to recoup the extra hours.
Inside this digital turn-back machine,
once a bedside radio-clock,

05:17 is closer
to that stolen other time.


This poem reminds me of another I wrote when I was younger – ten years younger, which made me do a double take when I realised that I could have ten years behind me and have been writing for over a decade.

I posted “Knowledge,” the poem in mind, on Monday. You can read it here.

A friend asked me recently about negotiating the cross-over between topic and auto-biography. When I wrote the postlude to my first book of poetry, Shining in Brightness, I still aimed to disembody the writing I produced from me, the person who lived some of the source experiences. I have since come to a different understanding of creative process and its resulting work. I shared as much with my friend in a reply comment:

In the beginning I tried to pretend, “Oh, this is this is the through the conduit of the Narrative Voice” blah, blah. Now I care less. I just write my stuff. It’s all the laundry of my mind, clean, filthy and otherwise. People must deal, or not. Anyway, many other creatives shamelessly mine their own lives for material. Look at artist Egon Schiele, or even [writer] JM Coetzee, or any songwriter. So do celebs. They just make more money by selling their stories, together with photo-spreads, to the tabloids.

So, yes, today’s new poem derives from personal experience and specific observations. Sometimes I do write solely for myself, but if I make my work public, it’s meant for an audience. I hope you also find some stolen time in the turn-back machine of this poem.

On a lighter note, I must add that I am of the generation that loved the Back to the Future trilogy. I cannot think of time machines without a twinge of nostalgia for Doc, the DeLorean and Back to the Future III, which is my favourite because there was a smart, pretty lady in a crinoline with whom the Doc fell in love.

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

This image, courtesy of HelloSprout, is a handmade card and available for purchase from etsy.com. See http://etsy.me/r1D7Vd

This image, courtesy of HelloSprout, is a handmade card and available for purchase from etsy.com. See http://etsy.me/r1D7Vd

To feel
waves
must crash
if they thirst for the shore;
they must trip stones smooth,
burst jagged hands,
pierce the stretch strain
of speckled beanskins
learning the ground.

The walker must trip.

2003,
after Las Vegas, Death Valley and Flagstaff, USA

“Knowledge” appears in Shining in Brightness (2013), my first book of poetry.

It is one of the self-identified process poems that were included as snapshots of my period of adolescent whimsy. They are the very sort of poems a creative writing seminar tutor or professor would probably rip to shreds and ban one from showing to the world. In defiance, I have posted “Knowledge” for you here. I have also posted it because it came to mind while I was preparing Thursday’s post. This is a fresh poem that mentions a trip of a different sort, but also touches on the themes of time and process.

Please do return and read “Time tripped”, the new poem which is scheduled for Thursday.

T: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books

A detail from Child Life, A First Reader, by Etta Austin Blaisdell and Mary Frances Blaisdell, 1902, courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

A detail from Child Life, A First Reader, by Etta Austin Blaisdell and Mary Frances Blaisdell, 1902, courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

I proceed on the outside with my daily life, all the while taking mental or handwritten notes. These observations saved ‘for writing’ often echo personal revelations. The regularity of this continues to astound me, especially as I re-post poems from this blog’s archive. It is sometimes said among writers that we are called to write what we are called to learn.

Today’s archive treasure is “a small heart panics.” It is a companion piece to “String.” In the former poem, the birds flit from the speaker in fear. In the latter, the birds in the wood are settled and stable, but here the speaker’s presence is not human. The speaker has transformed into a balloon, which is less threatening to the squirrels and wood pigeons.

A small heart panics” reminds me of my own jittery flight when someone veers too far off the path to say hello. I am cautious and prone to wall myself off against vulnerability. I also know that this poem originates from a walk in the wood when I tried to befriend some birds and did indeed see myself in them. Similarly, with my author’s knowledge that “String” resonates with one singular moment of comfort, I can measure how these poems inform and complement each other.

When writers are called to write what they need to learn, this need not be biographical or psycho-emotional. In some instances we are called to write in different styles (e.g. an annual report) or for unexpected purposes (e.g. an explanation of an alarm system). On occasion, I have been required to write about topics for which I could muster very little interest (a narrative report of a workshop comes to mind). Yet through these processes I have learnt about style, brevity, research and working with an editorial team.

You write what you need to learn. You often teach what you need to learn. In sharing the work and self-aware process, you expose yourself twice over. The passersby will not only proffer hellos, but indignance and criticism. In such a state of vulnerability, your forest birds will no doubt become wary. Mine do.

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

Chess gameboard.

By Levente Fulop from Brno, Czech Republic (The King’s Game) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve always wished
to be expert at chess,
but I overthink
every move and
lose my pawns
and queen in the
oldest, quickest
thrashing in the book.

I have a knack for completely overthinking things. The reference in this short verse reminds me of a line from “Escucha.” During the dance, the poet/narrator “[worries] too much about accurate footwork.”

Both poems propose that striving doesn’t always fare well for the perfectionist. In “Escucha” the dance partner, even though he employs patience, “shares nothing” and departs. In this poem, the opponent beats the player/narrator at speed and without mercy.

Chess also features in an earlier poem, “I told her.”

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

In the Ocean_Cover Final
I wrote about whales last week in “Ulterior Motives.” It’s odd then that this time last year I posted “In the ocean one night,” a poem about whales that I had transcribed directly from a dream. Yes, I kid you not. This was one of my genuine, vivid sleep-time dreams.

The poem inspired the title of my third book, which was published last year.

The whimsical cover art is the work of the generous and gifted Norfolk-based artist Nicola Slattery. Her work features on all three of my covers.

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

Scrambled eggs-01

By Tom Ipri (Scrambled Eggs auf flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Into your hands
I commend the
beating of tonight’s
eggs. This will
be the last meal
of solid food.

When my Dad was in the final stages of his cancer, one of the few things he ate was scrambled eggs. That period of my life still circles in my mind. It was a strange time when we all continued with the daily activities of feeding him and being with him, neither realising nor acknowledging that he was actually dying.

I still think about what is it was like to be with the ‘almost gone.’ As I do not work in a profession that confronts death on a regular basis, my only experiences have been related to passing family. I sometimes wonder about the ushering performed by those in pastoral or hospice care, medical or funeral professions. How much of their work is solely the task at hand? How much is curating the metaphysical surrender of the body that expresses our life and appetites?

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

OldDesignShop_YoungLove

Image from Two Children by F. E. Weatherly, illustrated by M. Ellen Edwards, circa 1884, and via the Old Design Shop.

It’s complicated” posted this time last year proposed a point-blank assessment of The Relationship Drama, especially as recounted by heterosexual women (as this encompasses most of my experience). It’s the “He loves me, he loves me not, why doesn’t he love me?” tune. The poet/narrator declares, none of this is complicated. Either it moves forward, or it doesn’t.

I noted in the accompanying write-up to the post:

“My younger sister prophesied that one day I – à la Carrie Bradshaw – would be sitting at my laptop in my apartment typing up many a misadventure. This evening almost fulfills her premonition, bar the fact that I type this in my little rented room.”

The likeness to Carrie Bradshaw has veered even further towards uncanny fulfillment. Over the last couple of months I have once again dabbled with dating, partially because I thought it would be interesting to meet a potential partner and partially because I sought new writing material. Previously, I had written about love, attraction, dating and relationships through Emily, the sister and sweetheart of the modern boy.

Not this time ’round. My current note-taker in the field is crazier, quirkier, more abrasive. She is yet to be named and she is yet to make her observations public, but watch this space.

Keep up-to-date with BQ’s news on Twitter (@BeadedQuill) or Facebook
Read all twenty-five poems gathered by Emily “for edification and amusement” in Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys

A year’s worth of poetry, 104 offerings in total, make up In the Ocean: a year of poetry.
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012, BQ’s first title, charts her youthful travels and life observations.

By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of an Edo period work, 18th-19th century Japan by Daderot (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

It was very suspicious
the way that whale
rolled over and opened
its mouth for tips,
then set fireworks
to the water gods
from its blowhole.

Whales have featured in my poetry before. Like sluice gates and bears, whales prefigure as a childhood fascination. In my first or second year of school, we learnt about blue whales. They were enormous yet ate such small food with little effort through their sieve-mouths. Either in conjunction with the curriculum topic or with my family I must have visited the South African Natural History Museum where there was (and still is) the large skeleton of a blue whale. Alongside was a booth in which recordings were played of whales in communication. These creatures had a language, which I could not penetrate. I was in awe.

Southern Right whales come into the sheltered bays around Cape Town to calf. Whale watching is a notable annual event. I still think about a particular train journey from Simon’s Town, past Glencairn, when I saw two majestic whales dancing in the ocean and spouting the fireworks from their blowholes.

So it is that whales crop up every now and then in my musing, in my writing and even in my dreams.

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

Bunch of blueberries

By Jeff Kubina from the milky way galaxy (Blueberries) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s something in the blueberries
that my body needs.
It might be the blue
citric blue in its
vitamin skin. It might
be the tray of pebbles
on a shelf in my ‘fridge.
There’s something blue
that’s missing from my body. Even a doctor advises
that something’s in the berries. blue.

It could be spurred by personal anxieties or simply a quirky habit, but when I feel penny-pinched I lock down on my grocery consumption. I don’t realise it until I start losing weight, get sick or people comment on my bad skin (I’m prone to horrendous staph infections when my immunity is low). It doesn’t help that my body must contend with a cocktail of medications consumed to neutralise a chronic kidney condition (glomerulonephritis). Eating a diet that is nutritionally inadequate and unadventurous exacerbates everything. In all the years I have been responsible for feeding myself, I still haven’t learned.

It has been suggested that anorexics and the chronically obese obsess over food. That is, obsession characterizes our patterns of denial and excess. But surely some of us express obsessions at other points along the spectrum? I write regularly about food. As a recurring subject matter it explores a variety of themes such as provision, inner-states, comfort, class standing and social identity. Right now, I am thinking about a coffee (a black Americano, because cow’s milk doesn’t agree with me), what I’ll consume for lunch (warmed up butternut soup) and what I should eat before this evening’s 3-hour Tai Chi session (high protein – probably scrambled eggs with spinach). If this is not a degree of food obsession, what is?

In the days when I was ‘more vegetarian’, a young man said to me, “Are you anorexic vegetarian or vegetarian vegetarian?” At the time I thought it was such an interesting and astute comment. Most women have a fascinating relationship with food irrespective of culture and social bracket. Of course, men also have a relationship with food (for starters, they eat it), but conventionally it is not framed as notably psycho-emotional. This is not the whole truth, for as we see more and more in our modern age, men also have complicated relationships with food.

In “Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking” (Kate Colquhoun, Bloomsbury: 2007) there is mention of young people – she mentions young bachelors in particular – who live alone in bedsits and rented accommodation during the early and mid-twentieth century. For the first time, they were disengaged from a community network in which their food would have been prepared. Their isolation was made complete by the canned and pre-portioned packaged foodstuffs made possible by the Industrial Revolution. At moments in my rented existence, like on Saturday when I portioned up butternut soup and pasta bake for the freezer, I think about this chapter.

Pantry staples of my childhood such as canned pilchards or peanut butter seem a million miles away from blueberries, or berries of any sort. The mere suggestion that blueberries might be a viable everyday item takes some reconsideration. The further suggestion that they might be a necessary vitamin source during a cold, grey London winter sounds like saying chocolate will help with PMS (which it does). My logical brain objects: I take a multivitamin and paracetamol is available for pain.

Yet, ‘that missing something’ like the ‘x-factor’ is elusive. Blueberries might indeed possess a quantifiable nutritional and vitamin content. On my ‘fridge shelf they do look like little pebbles in a plastic tray that await plopping into porridge and goat’s milk yoghurt. Perhaps their very presence satisfies the ‘missing something.’ I shall give this experiment in blue at least a month.

Any contributions of blueberries for the poet will be gratefully received.

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

"Image

BBC Radio 3 is my station of choice. I listen to hours and hours of their programming, both on the clock radio that rests on my bedside chest-of-drawers and on iplayer on my laptop. Sometimes I schedule upcoming programmes or concerts into my diary, or mark catch-ups on my to do list.

During these many hours of ‘classical music’ content it came to my attention that composers across the ages have not been afraid of reworking their own material or borrowing material from others. Now alerted to the regularity of creative recycling, I started looking for it in other forms such as art, dance, theatre and literature.

Re-using material seems more acceptable in music than in the realm of writing. Able writers are assessed on their ability to be continually re-inventive. Originality makes for a proficient writer. This is a demanding attitude. I have since warmed to the approach of the related performing and creative arts. Variation on previous output is a legitimate avenue of creative exploration. In many instances I am intrigued by a product where the artist who created the first version reworks the material in its subsequent expression. These examples have given me courage to consciously mine my own writing for material when I am stuck.

While writing up this last Monday’s post, I was reminded that “Making soup again” was not the first poem I had revised. (Nor was it the first time I had revisited themes or motifs, but such general recurrences are considered more acceptable in written creativity.)

Here are five reworked poems from my portfolio:

1) Two versions of ‘Tumbling After‘, a scene based on the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill rolling down a hill.
I wrote a longer version and then reworked a shorter version.

2) A card from the postman inspired two poems. Each approached the delivery of pre-Christmas mail from a different point of view.
One imagines the poet-recipient; the other gives voice to the postman.

3) In response to a mislaid poem, I wrote “Is it worth it?
I later found the scrap of paper with the original poem.

4) My poem from 2011 “Jacob’s Dream for crinolined girls” is in many respects the poem that started my recent poetry writing spurt. It was inspired by Dorothea Tanning’s painting Eine Kleine Nachmusik (1943).
In 2014, three years after writing “Jacob’s Dream,” I revisited it in “Exalted thus, we left.”

5) “Making soup again” is a reworking of “In this place I eat butternut soup.”
Food preparation is a recurring motif in my poetry and food features as a metaphor for states of self, relating to others and enacting class or social position.

Visual artists frequently obsess over the same visual motifs and these become their trademarks. Composers are known for a particular sound, even if their music includes phases that are less quintessential. Dancers, singers or actors receive renown for their interpretation of a particular role. I’m intrigued by the creative recycling that might characterize a writer’s broader oeuvre of creative production.

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

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