Archives for the month of: November, 2013
Remember how
your grandfather stumbled and then fell
into the garden pond.
You wore a suit, freshly pressed 
-  a strange look from your usual garb
of sweat and day creased shirts. 
I in a satin dress 
of peacock colours,
never wanted to be conventional,
but my bouquet was of white arums
from the garden.
Everyone clustered: 
your mother, mine, 
my siblings, your sister and her fiancé, 
those friends who could make it,
smiles and congratulations.
Remember how we teetered into crinkled rows
on the muddy lawn
for the photographer
and almost forgot to cut
the cake 
so carefully iced by your mother.

Remember our wedding, 
that happiest of days
of our life spent together

that somehow didn’t happen.

While editing today’s entry, I turned to the dictionary to double-check the correct spelling of the man who is engaged to a woman. Dictionary entries often provide a sentence in which the word is used in context. I glanced down. “My fiancé and I were childhood sweethearts.” Interesting, I thought. I wondered, what might be the explanatory sentence for the woman who is engaged to a man? Here it is: “He went back to the valley to marry his fiancée.”

This was beyond interesting. My hackles inflamed. What archaic whatnot continues to be delivered in these sentences?

The woman, as the narrator in the first sentence, is hitched conjunctively and in sentence subject position to the man to whom she is engaged (“My fiancé and I”). This in a twenty-first century dictionary entry designed to clarify the meaning of “a man engaged to a woman.” There are alternatives, which set the two consenting adults as independents entering into an agreed contract. What about, “I proposed to a man, who agreed to marry me”? Or, perhaps it would be congenial to keep the couple pairing and shared history. Then let’s at least add some more believable action to the construction, “My fiancé and I met at work/a conference/playing tennis/surfing/while studying engineering”.

The reference to “childhood sweethearts” adds an overlay of those happily ever-afters much fawned upon in childhood and, well, fairy tales. Of course, there are some folk who meet their partners early on in life. However, the strident feminist in me is most uncomfortable to read of marriage agreement overlaid with tropes of infantilism, at worst, or indulgent adolescent mooning.  For the twenty-first century reader, this explanation is at odds with the times and many adult women’s real experiences of marriage or long-term partnerships.

As general language understanding and accessibility goes, “childhood sweetheart” is a decidedly idiomatic expression. The explanatory sentence simply falters in accessibility.

Yet, the second sentence, “He went back to the valley to marry his fiancée” could be as confusing for contemporary English –language users. Why should a man return to the wilds below the mountains to marry the woman to whom he is engaged? Is this some special English-speaker tradition? Not usually, though country weddings and returning to one’s home ‘village’ is not uncommon. Here the explanation paints a pastoralized version of the cave-man returning to the tribe to take up his woman, presented albeit as a neater pre-Industrialist version. Try the revision method I engage earlier. (Yes, that was deliberate.) Replace the man’s claiming action with some other activity and the valley location to somewhere more in keeping with contemporary, metropolitan contexts. Consider, for example, “He took the bus to the town hall to marry his fiancée”.

And, pray tell, what on earth is any modern-day, city-girl doing back in the valley? Marriage is not exclusively a rural/ peri-urban past-time. Let’s try, “He and his fiancée took their vows in front of the magistrate”. Even better, as a homage to one involved groom I met, “He helped his fiancée by selecting the wedding flowers”.

It also bothers me that both sentences locate the forthcoming wedding/marriage as an activity that involves returning to the past, childhood (time) or the valley to which the man must return (place). The significance of engagement is that it is a preliminary contractual agreement for an event to take place in the future. But now I have run out of possible alternative sentences. Hang on, what about, My fiancé and I will apply for a mortgage with our combined incomes.” Or, “My fiancée and I are planning our wedding on a budget“.

I sense a forthcoming poem about grooms flocking to the valleys.

P.S. Though did you notice, the gender of the suit wearer in the poem is not made explicit?

Fresh off the press this week! My latest volume, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boysoffers insights on life, work and love from the kind and curious poetess, Emily. Preview her introduction and some of the poems here.

My first book, Shining in Brightness, is also available for preview and purchase at the blurb.co.uk bookstore.

Follow me on Twitter as @BeadedQuill. I comment on my practise, writing and anything else that captures my interest – from words to Russian animation.

45 Poems to fill a Stocking

Still looking for an unusual gift for a special bibliophile? Place your Christmas order now. There are two books to choose from. “Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys” offers twenty-five poems with insights on work, life and love. The twenty poems and two essays of “Shining in Brightness” explore a mystical decade of travel, study and growing up. Find both books at Beaded Quill’s bookshop at blurb.co.uk. (Click ‘photo to enter.)

Sixteen years of stiffness
ease into front-splits
right side and left.

“Now you’re showing off.”

The yielding body laughs.
It remembers
how much more
it once could do.

Recently, we’ve been doing a lot of limbering up and stretching in classes. During my adolescence, I took ballet lessons three times a week. Perhaps I was not as strong or physically fit, but I was much more supple. It surprises me at how the old flexibilities are returning. The disadvantage is every area that eases reminds my body of how pliant it was 16 to 18 years ago. People comment at how I must be showing off. Inside I remember how much more I could do, and how I was never quite good enough as a ballet dancer.

It’s interesting.

Follow my Twitter updates about my interests, my enthusiasm for coffee and my writing projects. I tweet as @BeadedQuill.

Please preview Shining in Brightness, my first book.

SSA41111

It’s been a busy two weeks on the writing front. In addition to preparing two articles, one on the gap year in my twenties and another on overseas work experience in my thirties, I’ve continued to make the regular poetry posts on this blog.

Item three is the most exciting. On Tuesday, my second book of poems went off to press! This draft print-run of Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys is due to arrive next week for me to sign off.

Your help is requested for the fourth item. I’m compiling a mini-pamphlet for the holiday season. Fans and readers have already made a few suggestions based on the poems from this blog (of which there are close on 80!) and from the contents of my two books.

I invite you to make a recommendation for the mini-pamphlet. I’d love to hear which poem has resonated with you, and why. There are plenty of archived poems from which to choose, but here are the most recent ones to get you started.

You may want to read yesterday’s poem, “A Bequest of Wonder”, inspired Japanese erotic prints and Chinese painting,

or from Monday this week, “Is It Worth I?”,

or from last week, “Every morning, because it is wonderful to watch” and “Just Punishment”. (Warning: this poem is a little bit dark and sad.)

You may also wish to read some of the poems from my first book, Shining in Brightness, which came out earlier this year. The book’s content is available for preview here.

Please do send me a comment! (See below.) I look forward to hearing which poem you enjoyed and why.

"Auspicious Cranes," a hand scroll on silk attributed to Song emperor Huizong (1082 - 1135, r. 1101 - 1126). Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAuspicious_Cranes.jpg

“Auspicious Cranes,” a hand scroll on silk attributed to Song emperor Huizong (1082 – 1135, r. 1101 – 1126). Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAuspicious_Cranes.jpg

Within the confines of a silken sheet,

the observers attend upon the temple.

Before it returns to ash and dust,

they light a votive offering.

It is

 

in a portrait

the thumbnail of the painter’s right hand

 

the sparse arm-hairs of a samurai

beset by ghosts

 

the frog at the woman’s feet,

gazing, as we do, as she steps out of her bath

 

21/11/13

Yesterday and today I have had the great pleasure of visiting three temporary exhibitions of glorious visual/material culture. I find visual stimuli a great well for my writing and am delighted that today’s poem gives credit to this recent input.

Freshest in my mind are the Shunga scenes, which I saw at the British Museum this evening.  Shunga (‘spring pictures’) are erotic paintings, prints and illustrations paintings and prints from Japan.

The last two descriptions in the poem above are drawn from two works on show. I searched for links to the images, but unfortunately could not find these particular ones in the British Museum’s online collection. Possibly they are loan items, or I am in error as to my search criteria. I’ll add a note later should I come across them.

The image with the artist’s thumbnail is “Portrait of Shen Zhou at Age Eighty” (Unidentified Artist, 1506, The Palace Museum Collection, Beijing). Shen Zhou (1427–1509) was a notable painter during the Ming dynasty in China. (You can view an image of the work here.) It was at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum’s Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700 to 1900, that I saw the original of Shen Zhou’s portrait. I was supremely fortunate to also see the original of “Auspicious Cranes” (possibly Emperor Huizong, about 1112, The Liaoning Provincial Museum Collection). A reproduction of this image had inspired my poem Twenty Auspicious Cranes in July.

As for today’s poem, I ask for some artistic leeway from the post-colonial theorists and rigorous Asian Cultural Studies scholars. They will have noted two misdemeanours. The first, that I group the creative production of two distinct traditions in one list. Secondly, I overlay the poem with a veil of ‘spiritual East’.

Now I spy two further inadvertent creative devices that may tempt critique. I have compounded the ‘spiritual East’ with the ‘historical Orient’.  This imagined benevolent kingdom of the past bequeaths, through its exotic treasures, wisdoms about greater universal truths to the present (read: curious Western scholars or readers). Note the tactility elicited in the poem. We read about silk, ash, dust and light. We imagine the referenced water. Thumbnails, arms and feet are mentioned. Alluded to are the hands as they attend, light offerings and paint. We imagine the form of the woman stepping out of her bath. The poem catalogues wonder through an exploration of sensual (sense) experience and the ‘body Orient’. Here, it is worth cautioning that I am conflating East and Orient at will. Ai me. Edward Said and his followers shudder.

Finally, I suspect not all the images are painted on silk either. Yet, this quintessential fabric of the East sets the canvas.

When I look at the handiwork of other artists, artisans and craftsman across time and cultures, I am frequently drawn in by their attentiveness to those small details like the thumbnail, the arm-hairs and the gazing frog. It mattered enough at some point in time for them to add that observational asterisk to the image. This is what, as an artist, I perceive as a votive offering. I indulgently imagine their bequest of wonder is of a similar sentiment to my poetic attentiveness that declares, Now Here is Something to Marvel At…

P.S. The third exhibition was a marvellous homage to pearls at the V&A. It had my imagination at sea with mermaids, but all that for another post.

P.P.S. I didn’t even mention the samurai.

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700 to 1900 is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 19 January 2014. Tickets: £13,50 with concessions available. Advance booking is strongly recommended. For more information see the exhibition website.

 

Victoria and Albert Museum details:

Tel.: 020 7942 2000

Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

Opening times:

10:00 – 17:45 daily

10:00 – 22:00 Fridays

Website: http://www.vam.ac.uk/

 

Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art is on at the British Museum until 5 January 2014. Kindly be advised, the exhibition will be closed all day on Saturday 14 December and until 12.00 on Sunday 15 December. Tickets: £7, Members free. Parental guidance advised. For more information see the exhibition website.

British Museum details:

Tel. for ticket booking: 020 7323 8181

Address: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

Opening times:

10:00 – 17:30 daily

10:00 – 20.30 Fridays

Website: http://www.britishmuseum.org/

You’re invited to take a peek at my book of selected poems, Shining in Brightness.

I tweet about art, writing and London life as @BeadedQuill. Please follow me.

One Page to Tempt You, Modern Boy

Please indulge me. I also wanted to share this page preview with you.

25 Poems for Modern Boys

I am so very thrilled! My second book of poetry is rolling off the press. Here is a preview of the cover design for “Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys”. The image is another beautiful work by Norfolk-based artist, Nicola Slattery.

Grass grows to an unruly height.

It makes the lawn untidy.

Restore order, with its low rumble.

First it breaks a Saturday lie-in.

It leaves clippings to be swept up.

Give it a few weeks,

once more green blades will jiggle

their blue, sun applause.

Over a year ago I was asked for my advice on something. The question posed was, “Is it worth it?” At the time I wrote a poem about walking up a hill and eating prawns, but those four lines are lost amongst my usually well filed, carefully dated papers.  I’ve pondered the question occasionally since and recently find it much on my mind. Here then is a freshly cut poem on the theme.

Preview more of my poems in Shining in Brightness, my first book.

You can also add Shining in Brightness as a book on your Facebook profile. Please do so!

My second book, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys, has received preliminary readings from a few discerning modern boys and some modern girls. Their commentary appears favourable. One reader notes of the poems, “I liked the ones I read.” Another notes, “Emily is kind. Emily is patient… Emily asks for us to pay attention for a short while.” This second volume is due out by the end of this month.

I also tweet as @BeadedQuill. I’d be delighted if you would follow me.

scrumpled dashes dots and lines
between the tracks
        09:33
2 mins until the train arrives
    for Kennington via Charing +

On the tracks
     far from my reach
the scrumpled ball of paper speaks:
    I am a poem between the tracks.


I am quite conscientious about dating my scribbles and working notes. It is a habit ingrained from my junior school days where we were always under strict instruction to date our work. This meant a neatly turned out rendering of the date in cursive. It was always positioned on the far right of the second line of the A4 page. We were not to write in on the line below. This was to be left as ‘a space’. On the next printed line, a neat pen length in blue was to be ruled across. It was all in all a comforting, focussing ritual that made us take note and prepare. It also squared work in a referenced point of time.

When I was older and the formatting was no longer dictated, I simply scribbled day and month in the far left of the page. During high school and university, many a page of notes commenced with day/month suspended in that far left-corner square created by the margin cutting the first line. In that spot where the staple holds pages, a date held mine.

Now I inscribe day/month/year: 14/11/13. Usually these temporal locators  precede a writing session. They reassure me that I am ‘punching in’ for my regular writing routine. These time-markers still find their way into left-hand corners, but also veer to the right. Sometimes they’re added at the end of a jotting, as in the instance of the lines above, which are dated 13/9/12. 

On occasion I shall note the place in which I am writing, but this detail is more often indulged in during personal correspondence. I reveal my location to those closest to me so that they may imagine me there during the then.

Please have a look at my first volume of poems, Shining in Brightness.

I tweet about my life which this last week included 7 hours of training, accidentally burning rice and writing about the gap year I took in my twenties. Please do follow me as @BeadedQuill.

Little Knowing, a lonely desert bird,
was small and light of wing.
Along the road he saw a woman.
She smelled of cinnamon.

“My bed,” she said, “smells of more – 
of myrrh and desert aloes.
It is richly covered, soft – and ours –
in colourful Egyptian linen.” 

Little knowing saw the tent
to which he now was bidden:
a desert plain in bloom and blush,
a-sighing after winter’s hold,
in lighter joy  ‘fore summer’s ambush.

The lady then held out her hand.
“Little Knowing,” she whispered, “come – ”

He hopped into her painted palm.
Her veils fanned him with her scent.
Her eyes cupped his restless wings
and said, “Little Knowing, be not afraid.
Tonight we drink deep of love.”

Next morning Little Knowing shared
his bursting heart with all. 
“My love,” he sang in sweetest tune,
“has brought me joy. Let all rejoice!”

This called the people to the tent
and there, the woman now found out
was dragged to meet deservéd death
and Little Knowing – stupid, foolish bird 
to be seduced by scent and desert blooms,
those kindly eyes and gentle words –
was placed correctly in the noose.
Little Knowing – stupid, foolish bird –
darted into that snare 
and such it did cost him life.

The moral of this tale is thus,
young man and maid forget it not:
your lusts will take you far from god
and with them reap all death, damnation, loss.

I don’t want to write too much about this poem at this stage. I sincerely hope that it does not offend, but I do hope it stirs some mulling. You may find a reading of Proverbs 7 will add a layer to engaging with today’s piece. In tone the above is actually similar to this poem about success, which I wrote in August.

For more of my poetry, see my first published book, “Shining in Brightness“.

You can also add “Shining in Brightness”  as a  “Like” on your list of Facebook reads. Simply search the title in the Facebook search box. Your support would be much appreciated.

I tweet as @BeadedQuill. Please follow me.