Allegiance

When others mocked you I stood firm and said,
Your vision would be for our betterment.
In happy fealty I volunteered,
Believing your requests would teach a path
Worthwhile for more than monetary gain;
I thought it my apprenticeship’s terrain.
Your fair-minded way inspired me.
I trusted the value of your guarantee.
This confidence in words proved error, mine.
Onward, I’ll loyalty with care assign.


Towards the end of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, there is a scene in which the draconian and exacting fashion magazine editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly, passes over one of her dedicated Runway employees for a recommendation. Nigel, the employee, has served many years in the hope that his efforts at Runway will be noticed by Miranda and provide a stepping stone to another opportunity. I reverted to a Wiki synopsis for these full plot details, for it is Nigel’s comment to Andy (the protagonist of the film) that has long played in my mind. Although disappointed, Nigel declares that his loyalty to Miranda will one day pay off.

Perhaps Nigel was raised, as I was, by a mother whose cue at such moments was, “Everything comes to those who wait.” It is not surprising that sanguine expectation has filtered into my consciousness. For some reason, I have paired this with the view that loyalty will be rewarded. (Can you tell that my ancestors were possibly the peasants rather than the overlords?) Perhaps allegiance should be its own reward. I have not evolved to that level of enhanced consciousness. I still dedicate my time, energy, working hours, money, talents and intention in the hope that there will be outcomes and that these outcomes will advance towards grand triumphs. If not immediate successes, at least the next opportune stepping-stone.

On too many occasions (and I recognise at least two in my life currently), I have held quiet admiration for someone with whom I have had a working relationship. Let me qualify that these working contexts span more than the workplace; they have included my days as a student and aspiring academic, groups and organisations where I have been involved because of a conviction or interest, even interesting people I have met who I hoped would notice me. I have wished, yes sometimes as desperately as a preteen with a crush, that some of these more experienced war-horses would offer to mentor me. Or, at the very least, my dedication would be acknowledged. In more than one instance, I believed that I offered a great deal of myself: unpaid time, tactful allegiance, trust rather than explicit demands. My view of my efforts may be biased, but the devotion was true. And then circumstances unravelled. I am prone to idealism and intense commitment, so it is not surprising that I have found myself in similar situations at recurring intervals in my life. It would seem I have yet to learn those last words of my own poem, “Onward, I’ll loyalty with care assign.”

In one of the working versions of the poem the last line read, “Shall I loyalty with more care assign?” The construction touched me as self-doubting. Why address the reader with this question? Was this the speaker’s call for confirmation, yet again? Right now, onward, I need to weed out self-doubt. I started by cutting it out of the poem.

The connection between ardent fealty and self-doubt is not abstruse. Certain narratives of our contemporary society suggest that we can all do whatever we want, right now, and we should not doubt ourselves. Expecting someone else to hold the banner for your cause demeans your agency.

I prefer to convince myself that my expressions of sanguine loyalty were in support of a learning endeavour. For there is another narrative that advises you to follow in the footsteps of the peer, superior or colleague you admire, and you will learn the ropes. These are also the movers and shakers who will be able to recommend you and open doors. (This view may once again betray the residual foot-soldier, serf mentality.) The promise of such open doors trap Andy, the protagonist in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. After a year working for Runway’s editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly, Andy will be able to work at any magazine she desires. In the movie the trap plays out as the old Faustian deal in which you sublimates your own seemingly noble goal for someone else’s morally ambiguous agenda.

Andy rejects the Runway world and is eventually hired by another publication. I wonder if Nigel receives his opportunity. Does Miranda eventually reward his devotion? Or does he find the courage to strike out on his own, risking the withdrawal of Miranda’s endorsement and professional connections?

Re-watching TDWP clips on Youtube, especially the wonderful ‘Cerulean top’ scene, I realise how many lumpy sweaters I own. They make up a motley rainbow of grey, brown, pink and teal. While TDWP explores the ambivalence of someone caught in a Faustian deal, it drives home the point that the clothes make the character. If you want The Job, you must dress The Part. I, the character writing, am sitting in a pair of jeans, two sizes too large, and a black pullover, all pre-owned pass-ons from friends (and I’ll spare you how exactly my underwear has been re-stitched at its fraying seams). Rather than finish writing this post, I am tempted to tear through my drawers and closet and plan a wardrobe-revival shop tomorrow on Regent’s Street. Real-life enactment of this plan extends as far as googling interview outfits, work wardrobes and Banana Republic office-skirts (I locate the Regent’s Street store on Google Maps). But sense prevails, my emergency survival fund is not a wardrobe allocation for a life I do not have at present. For this brief time, while I search for the next Faustian contract, my time, money and talents are mine. My allegiance is to this craft; my loyalty is to myself. And my work wardrobe will be a pair of oversized jeans and a motley rainbow of lumpy sweaters.

Auto scrapyard 1

Image courtesy and work of IFCAR (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A short story, written in one sitting this afternoon (and I confess, not yet thoroughly proofed). This post is offered in the spirit of completion energy and is inspired by my current read, Jurgen Wolff’s “Your Creative Writing Masterclass” (Nicholas Brealey, 2012). The poem weaves together last night’s dream, some thoughts spurred by Earth Day and a futuristic location based loosely on a suburb of San Diego, CA.

Gone are the cars

I used to worry that I would be found out. But I have come to this conclusion, since everything is so carefully monitored, either someone is protecting me or the authorities are waiting for the right moment to take me down. I have come with my camera and a commission. I am to photograph the fading world of parked cars. Officially, I use a digital device for my work, but after finding a memory card mysteriously wiped after an assignment, I now carry two cameras. The other is based on pre-screen methods of image-capturing, with negatives and processed photographs. This is deemed intensely wasteful, which is why the practice was outlawed ages ago, but in my experience, these are the only photographs that no-one else can intercept. It is only through my own negligence that my physical negatives might be destroyed.

Tarmac roads are still in use in these outer neighbourhoods. The authorities feel no need to update the paving and roads, especially as these are still the areas in which cars are used for transport. I spot one a manhole cover. This is unusual. Even though they are unwieldy to move and heavy to carry, few remain. At metal recycling plants they fetch a hefty price as black-market items.

Of course, everyone is encouraged to recycle. The fines are hefty for the ‘lazy’ and ‘unconscious’ who neglect to put their trash out in the correct containers, on the designated day. Rules about which items may be mixed, which may be separated, what should be cleaned and what may be thrown in as is, change so often. For those who are able to afford it, specialist services will manage your trash separation. The services range from brand-mark companies, with symbiotic shares in the waste management and recycling sectors, to small-timers, individuals who will come to your house before collection to sort through items. Those who run these services, keep themselves updated about the changes, often by paying for the information from the authorities’ Environmental Support Departments.

“This here is the house of a ‘lazy’. You will see for yourself.” J knocks on the door.
“Coming,” wobbles a voice from within. A chain is removed. The door opens.
“Oh, so good to see you. Come in.”
“This is an old friend of mine. May…?”
“No need to ask. Come in. How lovely, my dear.” Two wrinkled hands clasp at our arms in greeting and drag us out of the sooty air into the dark corridor.
“Mrs B, shall we take your trash out while we’re here?”
“Please.”
“Mrs B has lived here, alone, for six years. Her family lives further North, in the New Town. She regularly forgets to sort her trash. She seldom remembers that items must be separated. When she does manage the sorting, she forgets to put the bins out.”
In the kitchen, we are confronted with piles of tins, empty plastic milk bottles, egg containers and the stench of food waste decomposing in a brown bin. A few fruit flies disappear up my nose. My sinuses inflame at the mould spores. I respond on instinct to these triggers. I pull up my lens.

After helping Mrs B with her trash for this week, J and I continue down the street. “It’s a losing battle. She’ll forget something next week and there will be another fine of 150 in addition to the 2570 already black-marked next to her name. We have been appealing, but the courts are delaying it in the hope that she will pass before the case is heard. The authorities will deduct the owed from her estate.”
“Don’t her children care?”
“They’re well established and it is not worth their while to have their names associated officially with a ‘lazy’. They have tried to send assistance, but Mrs B does not like strangers in her home. When they visit, they do what they can. If they take her into any of their households, Mrs B’s listed misdemeanours will follow. This will compromise the environmental points on their property.”

“And the unconscious? What’s the story there?”
“You’re smart. What do you think?”
“I’m guessing it’s the overworked, the other half. And the child-headed households.”

Two rusting beauties with fresh, pumped up tires are parked along the curbside. I walk around them, snapping close-ups. I stand back to capture the full bodies against the board houses and withered grass verges behind them. A few rats appear from the gutter-grilles, but when I step forward to include them in a shot, they’ve skimmed off. I turn to my host, “I can’t believe it’s been thirty years since I was last here. That exchange year made such an impact one me. I always thought I’d come back, but this place – it has changed. Even in those days, I knew it was desert country, but back then it was green, blue and sunny. Remember how from our campus cafeteria, over the suburban roofs, you could see a thin strip of the Ocean as it met the sky. All around the library were those glades of cooling trees. And remember our newly built residences? I remember the landscaping: neat green shrubs and bird of paradise flowers added for colour.”

“My parents had a spectacular bird of paradise outside the front door. Every year it shot out those spiked orange blooms. Eventually the authorities sent removers from the Water Management Department, claiming that it was a classified ‘indulgent plant’ requiring excessive watering. I now have a feeling it is now the abundant plant that now flourishes outside the Department’s own entrance. But that’s just a suspicion. Hey, look here.”

J points and we left into a street. Ahead of us is a vast, multi-level parking lot. “That should give you lots of photographs.”

I look at the shelves of grey concrete, the abandoned cars silenced while they chalked up monthly payments in storage for their nostalgic owners. These were not the luxury relics of high-end collectors. These were the beloveds that owners had lovingly kept on despite the rising rates and repaired in the most ingenious Heath Robinson ways. These were the defiant beauties that had been coaxed along, even during the decade’s recurring fuel shortages, to rallies at parking areas along the sea promenade, near the mountain park, even along the highway. Those had caused the greatest ruckus, but did not disrupt much traffic. Even in those days, it was only the trucks that really used major roads. For most of us, our circumference of movement was already limited to the daily, public transport commute or flights. Those were the days when driving a car seemed a political act declaring our freedom of movement.

I felt a constriction. Pulled out my pump. “How much time do we have?”
“Just under an hour. The collection bus will be expecting us, so we must still walk back to the collection point. The route that avoids the cameras will take at least thirty minutes.”

Photographing cars is conspiracy enough. Anyone caught out of their allocated carbon-neutral zone faced not only fines, but sentencing. I already had listings in two international locations. I could not afford, either for my professional freedom or for my family’s environmental rating, to be caught out of line in a third.

Where I now live, only luxury cars held in private collections may be seen by the people. They are on display in two national museums, as people once exhibited paintings. A mock-up automobile, powered by renewable energy, drives along a reconstructed road. It costs a lot of money to take this novelty ride. From what I remember, it is a fine replica of a luxury vehicle. It certainly is nothing like the rickety old moto my parents constantly tried to keep going. Traces of those ordinary vehicles have disappeared. First, through government intervention manufacture came to an almost standstill through, although limited edition models were still available for a price. Slowly, they disappeared from popular culture. No mention in songs, no longer screened in programmes, gone from billboards.

It was the disappearance from advertisements that affected me most, for I used to earn my salary photographing vehicles and then constructing scenes of affluent families with their latest upgrade. When those assignments became fewer, I noticed the larger obliteration. My children were nearing adolescence and I recalled how when I was a teenager, a car was your ticket to independence. Once everyone started interacting via screens and blocking out the world with headphones, meeting up was no longer as important. Initially, young people no longer needed a car to meet up somewhere. Then, the cost of obtaining a license and a car was prohibitive. Finally, cars themselves disappeared. I have been told there are mountains of rusting bodies in the rubble regions, those areas that accept waste for compensation. I would like to photograph this, but that would be a very dangerous mission. Cars have entered public consciousness as demonic vessels that brought down the industrial world. Designing carbon-neutral and environmentally conscious democracies has depended on this narrative. We now live lives circumscribed by monitoring cameras, restricted travel, carefully allocated food and entertainment resources.

The air is heavy. I struggle to breath and clutch at the asthma pump in my pocket with more urgency than my camera, and my camera is for me my everything, my life. Overhead, the sky is pale grey. In times past, people may have called this an ‘overcast’ day. This meant that clouds were gathering, possibly for a bout of rain, or perhaps to blown with the rain elsewhere. That was in the time when rain was more frequent and did not burn the skin as much.

“J, do you feel that? J?” It doesn’t make sense that it should be raining inside a covered parking lot. Perhaps it’s slanting in from outside, like in the days when wind used to blow rain in directions.
“Yeah. Just here.”
I carry on snapping, “It’s not going to be great walking back in this rain.”
I’m also worried about my equipment. It’s more difficult to hide and juggle under difficult conditions. I start packing up. “Hey, let’s head out now.”
“Are you sure? How about another ten minutes, at least? Come on. When will you get a chance like this? I mean… It’s not every day that you fall across a parking lot… Not even ten minutes?”
“Nah, I’d rather be on the safe side.”
“Are you sure?”
I’m ready to go. J is stalling. If also soaked to the bone, J will be under as much suspicion. No ordinary spends too much time in rain, as we all know every drop that doesn’t sting is needed for the dams, the water supplies, the plants. I start moving. I have to pass down three storeys back to street level. My pace has a regular tempo. J’s is laid back. Of the two of us I’m the one who usually stops to admire the scenery; J’s definitely the one who’s destination orientated.
“Stop dragging your heels. Come on.”

We arrive at street level. This isn’t my home turf, so I need J to navigate back to the collection point, avoiding those cameras. It’s raining pretty hard now. I hide my hands in my sleeves, but the drops are stinging my face. A car starts up in the parking lot, drives out and stops in front of us. The driver is panting, but offers us a ride. I take a cue from J who acknowledges, “Sure. Thanks.” We get in.

“It’s very generous of you to help out some strangers like this,” I say.
“Oh, we haven’t met,” replies the driver, “but we’re not strangers. And I’d like our photographs.”

Song bird perched on asphalt shingle roof

TriviaKing at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

After the storm

The scenes and sentences dislodged,
brought the ring and rat-a-tat.
The ladder walked past, did not stop
to receive the repairman.
There was a ready welcome,
prepared since the disturbance,
to re-set three tiles.
The blue door climbed the roof.


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Sullivans-Island-Lighthouse-beach-night

By JonathanLamb (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Beacons for the utterly lost

A bright star led seekers 
    and wise men. 
A bright light gave comfort
to the night 
    and travellers crossing.
A bright beam from the shore
struck ships from death-knell rocks.

Today's nights, made bright with bulbs and glare,
blind the guiding lights
    we still seek everywhere.


I like that these lines read like a carol for the searching, modern spirit. I could half hear it set for voice when I read it through while searching for the title. (This could also have been the influence of Spotify in the background. It isn’t an angry playlist today. Instead it is Hot Hits UK, and right now the Jonas Blue, Dakota remix of Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’.)

I have been thinking quite a bit about our modern lives and how they diffuse the deep resonances of motifs and symbols from the past. Consider the darknesses in the poem: the very depths of night, an unknown travel route and a dark ocean. Our screens and lights illuminate so much of our lives making them visible and navigable. That a bright star or light on a far horizon could provide guidance and encouragement during a journey is something of folklore. It is as quaint and almost as downright silly as talking foxes or birds delivering messages from the faerie realms.

From this, I suspect that the part of us that resonates with fictional motifs recognises these old stirrings, while our modern selves blink it as far as the retina, only to move on with a swipe or tap. Yet for all the bulbs, lights, fluorescent tubes and bright screens, we still use a language of celestial signs and wonders when talking about hoped for beacons. We still seek our lodestars, our North Stars, our guiding stars, our supernovas.

Habits are habits

In a friendly coincidence,
we pretended not to understand
the fumes of heavy traffic.
We chose to take a ride
entirely on a road to nowhere.
Nothing happened.
We paid for petrol, an absurd sum,
a kind of ransom.


On my calendar, I scheduled in POST for today, meaning come Wednesday I would need to produce a poem for the blog. Last night, I was mulling over possible topics. This morning, after my regular walk in the wood (during which I got pretty soaked) and first set of warm-up pages, I prepped the 11am rocket-fuel coffee, switched on Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ and started scribbling in the pink Poundland notebook. This is one of two Pavlovian routines I use when preparing posts.

In my recent Tai Chi training, there has been much discussion about the importance of ritual and routine in support of automated action. Anyone who has tried to implement a habit will second that a trigger, be it music, a particular time or a certain place, can be extremely helpful in prompting a reliable, default performance of predictable outcomes. It is for this reason that I have my writing habits, and this morning there I was with Miles Davies and coffee, so I that I could trigger the course to poetry. Yet four pages in, poetry still wasn’t coursing.

I have mentioned in recent posts that I have been working on a long-form project. At the moment I am typing it up, and in doing so, I am concentrating on ‘finishing energy’. The notion is that once a project is started, one aims to complete it, even if it is not up to the imagined standard one had set for it. In tying up the project, one experiences finishing energy or, in less metaphysical terms, one experiences what it is to complete an endeavour. Similarly, this morning I was determined to access finishing energy for today’s post poem.

All too often I turn to books for solutions (another instance of habit). In this morning’s situation, I pulled out a book on writing poetry from the bookshelf next to my desk. I opened on ‘Cultivate an Anti-writing Ritual’, a chapter based on the following diagnosis: when the routine becomes rut, that’s a problem. Under such circumstances, “you may find your poems continue and end in similar places, creating a kind of cookie-cutter effect.”*

I confess that many of my verses have a particular shape and rhythm. Today’s poem shares some of the familiar traits: eight lines, a journey in the outer world echoed by experiences in the inner, a scene in the narrative past, an encapsulating final line. But please believe me, I tried.

I changed the music to a radio station (and not my usual BBC Radio 3). I wrote out a page of sentences, some inspired by random lyrics. I cut up the sentences; turned the words upside down; laid them out on a page. The result was nonsensical, although I did try to re-shape it. I then moved to seeking out disconnected words, sentences and moments from a book of short stories I had in the bookshelf. I tried multiple stanzas of varying lengths, then three stanzas of three lines. Yet after all that and the revisions, the poem about habits surfaced in a markedly familiar format.

Routine so easily becomes the rhythms of our mornings, middays and nights. It is not by chance that even writing habits echo sitting in traffic, possibly on a road to nowhere where nothing happens.

* Cohen, Sage, “Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read & Write Poetry,” Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio: 2009, p. 119.

Osterstrauss 08

Goldi64 at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By ribbons from branches

Where are we today,
you and I? Each,
together? Further, closer,
the same as yesterday?
Suspended from our meeting-
point of a hundred points,
each weighing down the end of a branch.

The celebration season done
we will be rustled back
into the box where our
meeting-points of a thousand tones
will once again lie side-by-side
in the dark, at distance
unmoved until we once again rotate from
the branches in the glow of celebration.

The celebration season done
where are we today?
Rustled back, you and I. Each
into the box where
together, further, closer
our meeting-points of a thousand resonances
the same as yesterday
will once again lie side-by-side,
suspended from our contentment
in the dark, at distance,
point of a hundred points
unmoved until once again the hanging ornaments rotate;
each weighing down the branches
in the glow of celebration.


In the wake of my previous post I promised a friend a happy poem. It helps that this last week I had the pleasure of house-sitting a home that qualifies as a sanctuary.

There’s a gleaming, bright-toned piano in the music room and a wary, self-possessed cat. There are books on art and works of European literature in translation on shelves and dressers, and on the walls hang original landscapes and life-drawings. The furniture and soft furnishings nod to the influence of French Provençale style, as do touches such as the blue-and-white ceramic jugs atop a wardrobe, raw-cut soap in the bathroom, lavender standing tall in a tarnished coffee pot. It is absolutely my kind of home.

Together with trusty porridge oats for breakfast I have been left rations of wholesome home-made soup, pasta sauce, battered-peppered fish fillets and a wonderful lentil-artichoke salad. I sneak a chocolate digestive after lunch and discover that the coffee supply is utterly decaffeinated. In under a week, I notice that my jumping mind and heart-rate are stilled.

In this quietude, I finish the last 5,000 words of my 22,000-word draft, start Günter Grass’s “The Tin Drum” and try to convince the cat that I could be a friend. From 10pm, I fall into a routine where I switch on the tv (a novelty) and scare myself witless on late-night American crime dramas, like CSI and Law and Order, and an old series about Jack the Ripper starring Michael Cain and Jane Seymour. When my eyes are sore and I am so wrought up into a flap, I run around the house, switch on as many lights as possible and hop about next to the bed trying to recall all the happiest things I can before falling asleep under a heavy, comforting duvet, covered by a white coverlet with a migration of red triangles that keep terrifying dreams at bay.

In the sanctuary house, enveloped by order and quietude, I turn to contemplation and fall into personal, domestic contentment.

At the kitchen table, I settle to write in my smaller, pink, Poundland notebook, the notebook currently reserved for work on poems. This is in an attempt to develop the happy poem. There’s a window box on my near horizon and on the table, in an enamel jug painted in folk-art flowers, springs an Easter tree. From a dozen branches with small green leaves and shoots hang tiny, wooden eggs painted in pinks, yellows, blues and the palest lilac. They all are all suspended from fine, yellow ribbons. I make notes about the tree, about other objects on the table and notice, for the first time, a spider’s web hammocking from the bottom of the window-pane to the corner of the blue window-box.

Amidst these vestiges of spring and Easter recently past, I wonder to myself, if not a poem about happiness, then perhaps a poem about contentment? I start with a first draft and fiddle a bit with two further variations. Later, I work up another version on my laptop. While the Easter tree inspired it, the resulting poem is pleasingly ambiguous. It could refer to any celebration where ornaments are suspended from branches. The poem could, for example, reference Christmas and its associations with togetherness and contentment (and the holiday’s opposites of abandonment and family friction). I look into some other tree decorating practices, many of which centre around winter, spring or New Year festivals.

The eggs remind me of little heads, and the point from which they hang on the ribbons looks like the crown of a skull. In concepts around traditional Chinese meridians, the meridian meeting-point at the top of the skull is known as “the meeting-point of a hundred points”. Where is the location of a meeting-point for expression? At which a good forte wallops from Tchaikovsky’s 5th (Symphony) on the radio. It reminds me, of course communication is in the source of tone, sound, resonance, impact, touch. For a person, perhaps this meeting-point is the mouth, the vocal chords or the hands.

I am intrigued by these ideas as applied to the hanging eggs or any festive ornaments, as well as a moment of contentment. When the ornaments are laid down, the meeting-point may be turned upside down; when the moment of contentment passes the locus fragments, the people and time scatter. How might baubles, or people, packed away after celebration continue to find within themselves and others an alignment conducive to contentment? Or must they wait for the next glow of celebration? I think the poem is also wondering along these lines.

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Starflower 1
Borage Flower by Yummifruitbat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Accept

This falling debris is your life;
Too late to snap the hinge. 
Your children's children will collect 
cast snakeskins along this route 
on which you will breathe your last

Even with your eyes still open 
and your legs that drag on.
Inside your body, dim,
	a blown-out cave
	with rubble
	Pandora's thaw upon the ground.
Borage flowers hang sealed
to the wearied bees.

I’ve been writing 1,000 words a day towards a novella project. As of yesterday, I’m half-way through the first draft schedule. The plan is to start typing up next week. I estimated that 1,000 coherent words of narrative added to my regular routine of three daily warm-up pages plus a weekly poem would prove easy-peasy. I pride myself on being a copy-producing machine. After all, my ability to churn out word count as reports, grant applications and training materials has earned me my keep in a number of day jobs.

It baffles me that this pure creative writing seems so difficult. (Current concerns about rent, groceries and life sustainability don’t help.) It is not for want of ideas or fabricated universes, but putting words to lines has highlighted my depressing lack of skill. How do actual real writers give their characters believable voices? Or dress them in the morning? Or make their characters’ journeys truly compelling for readers?

There are a number of ‘make it as a successful, 6-figure income-earning writer’ gurus that I follow online. Besides product funnels, they tout pure, unadulterated prolific word count as the Midas touch to funding your rent, groceries and life sustainability. At the moment, I wrestle each day with my solidly boring, 1,000 fiction words. Any more would still simply be more solid boringness. At this rate, oh woe, I am going to have to eat my own story-filled paper to fill my stomach.

Each night this week, I also kept writing ‘post poem’ on the to do list for the next day. Other things were marked off: laundry, hoovering, plug clean (yes, even this least favoured of tasks), grocery shop, birthday calls, Tai Chi and press-ups. The gurus would say there is no excuse for not doing The True Work, which of course there isn’t.

I have four poems in process that are not quite ready. (I should simply tackle them. Oss.) So I accepted that the post would have to be a fresh verse. Yesterday, in lieu of actually doing The True Work,  I resorted to searching for writing prompts online and took down three sets of pointers. The first was to locate your piece in a place of fear. The second suggested two words to incorporate: dim and hinge. The third was a suggested trio of words: thaw, honey, snakes.

My place of fear at the moment is that my life, as everything is right now, might be it. As I started writing, the fear place expanded from petulant whinging to more enduring scenes of human struggle and hardship. A sign from a local building site (‘Beware Falling Debris’) inspired the first line. With some re-writing (at least four derivations from the first loose draft), the scene started to emerge as something more ‘Biblical’ or resonant of Greek tragedy. The Pandora reference is an apt fit (and is one I have written about previously in Her magical box). At the risk of siphoning from current headlines, I pulled some of the lines about loss an suffering that felt too obvious.

‘Dim’ and ‘thaw‘ slotted in comfortably. The other words proved more challenging, especially ‘honey’ and ‘hinge’. At the moment I spoon honey onto my morning porridge, conscious that it is an ancient foodstuff with healing and nourishing properties. Its golden colour, different in each jar, and stubborn viscosity entrances me at the start of each day. Incorporating honey, this most useful and delicious of substances, into the poem struck me as a good puzzle that I wanted to solve. I worked with honey losing its sweetness and considered artistic license about honey going acrid (which doesn’t happen).

My byways led me to an astonishing discovery. Romans had a fondness for borage honey, which they believed made them happy. Further research into borage revealed that historically it is viewed as a flower of happiness and courage (poignantly, originating in Syria). The narrative match between borage and honey proved to be the bee. In these modern times, urban and peri-urban bee populations are under threat; a reflection of the compromised health of our biodiversity. In the poem, the tired bees who cannot access pollen both respond to and embody their weary environment.

From all this thinking and research, the four handwritten drafts and a few cut ‘n pasted, re-written versions on the screen, I present to you a 65 word poem. Rather than the opulent Midas count, it is a pure, pruned fragment from the falling debris of my – our collective – current life.

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Pigeon krakow
By Kulmalukko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, Dead pigeon via Wikimedia Commons

The evening of score

You will stand at a window
The clouds will part.
A dead pigeon will fall
down thud down at
your feet. The day will turn.
We now bar the exits.

Cower. Plead.
Waste your breath.


As mentioned last week, I have been expanding my Spotify playlists to include Grime and Rap. The latest is Trap (which as a term new to me I had to look up in the urban dictionary).

It is lazy of me to describe these tracks generically as ‘angry music’, but in contrast with ambient woodland meditation, on the surface they are. It was out of curiosity about this perceived musical-emotional attitude that I clicked on the playlists in the first place. And hallelujah! Because angry music is hard liquor from which I am enjoying a good drink at the moment.

The rhythmic beats and aggressive vocalisations takes my current writing along some highway with pace and fury. I recognise the creativity in compiling a whole song about ‘Shutup’ or ‘Shutdown’ or ‘Feed ’em to the Lions.’  In my time, I’ve struggled to configure resonant poems and pages about topics like disappointment, revenge, hope, personal and collective narrative. It’s there in these songs and many many people are moved by them. These Rap, Grime, Trap creators make it look easier and more fired to write such material than I’ve found it to be.

To my surprise, it’s the verse among the beats and aggression that makes me stop and listen. I jot down the lines I really like. Some blog appropriate ones include: “Tomorrow I’m going to come scoop you.” “Go on, then, go on.” “I’m so London; I’m so South.” “I used to wear Gucci, but I put it all in the bin. That’s not me.”

Granted, what I’m absorbing is commercialised and comfortably distant from my quiet, rented room with its pink lampshade and chintzy duvet cover. I acknowledge that I am not tough or ‘cool’ or ‘street’ or whatever. Not by the longest shot. I am a library geek who enjoys opera and symphony concerts. At the moment, I don’t drink, I spend my evenings doing press-ups and am reading Chinese poetry in translation and a volume of Afrikaans letters. In the words of JME, compared with the heavy flavours of the Rap, Grime and Trap world, I may have, “No taste, like vegan cheese.”

Here comes Skepta with ‘Track 5.’ Like other wanderers, he taps into his surrounding urban landscape, “Suffering from the dark psychosis”… “Just me and my cats and the foxes roaming the streets at night.” Through the song he treads London streets and the back alleys of one’s personal, vocational and creative direction. Such London street narratives take me back to the Museum of London’s Dickens exhibition of a few years ago. One of my favourite exhibits was an artist’s video. Footage of London streets was voiced over with Dickens’s descriptions of his night time wanderings around the city. Perhaps at some point this poet-storyteller Skepta and I really could wander London’s back streets. And after the meander, we could stop for tea.

It occurs to me – through the song we have already made the meander. And it’s now that time of the afternoon for tea. I have a choice of Waitrose English Breakfast or Fortnum and Mason’s Russian Caravan. Apparently Skepta also enjoys tea, just not the crumpets.

Grime! Grime! Feeling super. And coming next week with more poetry from the Spotify highway.

There will be a final page,
the faded note
and empty seats.
One day the concert hall
will be an office block
and after that a hospital.
Our hands
at the serenade
took home the note that fades.

blue pink birds illustration, vintage new year postcard, singing birds clip art, holly berries bird illustration, music conductor bird graphics


It’s spring again. The blossoms I wrote about last year came too early this year, even before January had concluded. I wasn’t ready for their exuberance and I wasn’t ready for what 2016 would bring.

Here starts a new season of public posts. ‘Jangle Between Jangle’ are words about working, living and trying to survive in the big smoke. Not all the verses are as gentle and nostalgic. I, die-hard BBC Radio Three devotee, have been listening to a lot of Grime Shutdown and Rap Caviar on Spotify. Please visit again soon for some grittier verse. In the meantime, may ‘There was a first time’ ease you in.

BeadedQuill
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With thanks to the Old Design Shop for the image of the vintage New Year’s postcard.

By Markus Kuhn at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Markus Kuhn at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the people are eating
are wondering
if eating in the morning?

porridge dense in the bowl
raspberries adjoin

a breakfast complete

22/07/2015

On Facebook I follow Elle Korea. I can’t read Korean and I seldom read women’s magazines even in English. Yet, for some reason I find Facebook translations about Korean fashion developments and the latest pretty-boy model intriguing. It’s an enrichment of my experience of contemporary global culture.

Cape Town is a port city and during the later 1980s and early 1990s there were many Koreans connected with the shipping industry that passed through or were in residence. At the time I attended violin lessons with a Korean boy whose father ministered to the sailors. Perhaps we spoke to each other during our lessons, and I remember his name so very clearly, but any recollection of true conversation escapes me. This is odd, as we learnt with the same teachers for nearly six years. I mention this only because the connection is Korea and how one association simply triggers another.

On my Facebook feed a few days ago, Elle Korea posted the most enticing photograph of a simple bowl of porridge supporting a few red raspberries. Of course, it was styled – placed on a dark wooden table-top. To the right was a hand holding a spoon at the ready. (Here be our world ever instagram-able.) Yet the image nourished my desk-bound soul. The muse had sent virtual sustenance.

Food, breakfast in particular and my personal affection for porridge have all featured previously in my oeuvre. It would seem that perhaps – perhaps – this poem heralds the start of new activity, as breakfast does a new day.

For yes, I have not posted fresh work for the last couple of months. Words from Wendy Cope consoled me. (I read them during my tube commute.) She, too, spent months, even years, not writing…

But write the writer must, for without the practise the practitioner is not.

I have another verse ready. I shall post it very soon.

Yours fed by porridge complete,
BeadedQuill


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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