Archives for category: Creative Process

I know you better
with my eyes closed:

the blindfold’s bluff.

(c) Dec. 2016

fragonard_-_blind_mans_bluff_game

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1809), “Le collin maillard” (The Blind Man’s Buff) (1751/ c. 1760, oil on canvas, 117 x 91 cm, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fragonard’s painting above and its partner, “The See-Saw” are discussed in this short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGLpQDFOfZM

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Cherry Hill Nature Preserve walking path

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

Along a back road

He set off from the village
when the blossoms dropped
their petal tears
and the green buds bid
to escape from the branches.

While walking along a
back road,
he was stopped

First by an old woman
who bent over a stick.
The stick gave way on the path.
The old woman fell
and struck her knee on a stone.
She said there was no need to worry anyone.

He could not pause too long
and, as she had said, there was not much he could do.
Along the back road
he continued walking
under trees now shadowing
with their leaves
and he was stopped

By a young man with hard arms
who implored and
would not let go.
This circling did not hurt
until the man dropped his embrace
and dissolved into the darkened roadside.

The journeying man
could not pause too long. There
was not much he could do
along the back road.
He continued walking.

He continued walking
and after some time
in the summer sunshine
he took off his shoes
and drank at a waterspout.
He was stopped

by a sweet-talking salesman
in a clean shirt, buttoned down
with a solution.
This opportunity would surpass the roaming.
Here, if the journeying man would
step off the back road.

He put on his shoes, washed his face
at the waterspout. He should not pause
too long. There was not much he could do
on the back road if he should keep walking.

The trees were dropping their leaves
and mushrooms clustered at their roots.


Given the contemporary climate of gender pronoun fluidity, it occurs to me that this may be in an antiquated voice. I had in mind those old fairy tales (such as “The Tinderbox”) and in particular those where the traveller – often a soldier or humble village man – is confronted by three companions on the trail.

For interest, you could try changing the ‘he’ for ‘she’, or your choice of gender neutral pronoun.

OldDesignShop_StorybookFairiesBees

A Round Robin, by M. A. Hoyer and Robert Ellice Mack, illustrated by Harriett M. Bennett, c. 1891. Image sourced from The Old Design Shop

Watching the bees

Here are the words of the blazing day
and the once beautiful arrangements.
It was heady, was it not?
The arrival of this brightest of days.

Outside the day was perfection.
Here a few few bees in the garden
hid under clumps of cut grass.
Why are they tucking themselves away?
Or are they burrowing for pollen,
heady on word from the other bees?

Our day of blazing perfection was heady,
was it not?
Was it not?


It has been a wildly warm day by London standards. I tried to write in the garden first thing this morning. The bees and butterflies and a single large-bodied horsefly were my ground company.

Aster yomena yomena02

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. by No machine-readable author provided. Keisotyo assumed (based on copyright claims). [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. No endorsement of BeadedQuill’s work by this author should be implied.

Plant asters by autumn

When all else fades,
semi-trailing heath comes
into its own. In banks and borders

snow-petalled asters make a
brilliant ground cover. Shimmering
their heads: a butterfly magnet
in the wildlife garden’s

banks and borders. Plant this by autumn,
plant this great choice in height and spread
before the winter turns.


I spend the occasional sunny, bright afternoons sitting on a plastic chair in the backyard staring at the hanging roses, pink hydrangeas and purple foxgloves. I am no gardener at present, and do nothing in this patch of yard in the house where I lodge. When I was a child, I first had a corner bed in which grew a pink hibiscus bush. Later I had a patch of soil next to my wendyhouse in the back garden and as a pre-teen I changed the flowering contents of a box outside my bedroom window. Since living the rented room life, I have dabbled with the usual supermarket herbs in pots and seasonal indoor bulbs. Currently, I am nursing an Ikea spathiphyllum that moves from the chest of drawers next to my bed to the sun-catching shelf on the other side of my room. It really needs a dose of plant food and would probably benefit from re-potting.

I love spending time in green spaces, surrounded by plants, and sometimes I find myself drawn to glossy, coffee-table garden books in bookshops or the gardening pages of home magazines. Yesterday I was leafing through the Guardian Weekend and stumbled across the gardening pages and started reading the “What to do the week” section. The advice covered Thin this, Read this, Plant this; reduce clusters of fruit on your trees, read up about 101 chillies and consider planting asters in time for autumn.

Today’s resulting poem is drawn from the column and echoes another poem, “look – really look”. This poem of two years ago (and uncannily this very time of year) was also inspired by the Guardian Weekend’s gardening pages. The relationship between gardening, seasons and plants holds a deep mystery for me. Birds, and especially butterflies, are for me symbolic messengers from another realm. My paternal grandmother was a botanist and her interest in the flowering world seemed to be the science and beauty. My interest is the beauty and lessons it offers about our human flurries.

It is no coincidence that garden banks and border feature in today’s poem during these times when both national and economic security are under pressure in many parts of the world. There is something of ‘the lilies of the valley in all their beauty’ about the delicate snow-petalled asters. Yet, as they trail like other determined ground-covers, they may prove the surviving, life-continuing film when the monuments of mankind have faltered. There are seasons of all kinds, both in the natural world and in our rhythm as humanity. Perhaps planting star-like flowers is not such a bad task to consider before autumn. As three of my favourite lines from “look – really look” remind us:

Concrete is brutal.
It needs softening.
Plants should have dominion.

Image courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury. This image of bicycle and bicycling outfits is from a page in The Delineator magazine, April 1895 issue.

Image courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury. This image of bicycles and bicycling outfits is from a page in the April 1895 issue of The Delineator magazine.

How’s the poetry going?
Is a giveaway question
on the pavement.
It signals you
have not read
anything much
the poet
might have
written recently.
Or otherwise you have,
and now on meeting
the poet
on the pavement
you wonder, this
that the poet
has written recently,
is any of it about me?


There is a post often shared on social media among the writing community that reads something to the effect of, “Do not upset a writer or they will kill you off.” Whenever I re-read it, I chuckle a little.

Of course, writers are not without fault and many (of greater wisdom than I possess) certainly look to their own foibles to create villains or draw inspiration for their work’s darkness. However, inspiration also comes from circumstances and experiences lived. Yes, for me there are some people’s comments and actions that have spurred particular imaginative turns. This works best when the initial situation proves a spark for an augmented parallel vista, such as in my recent series of short stories (see
Gone are the cars
Running in the wood
Hand-tie
Fenstone’s Flower).

I don’t expect most of the people who engage in daily small talk with me to be avid followers of these blog updates, though I do suspect (and can attest, from being asked) that when they do read my work, there is curiosity as to whom or what it might reference.

So here’s a clue: there just might be something I’ve written ‘about’ you.

I have also written about small talk before.

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Corridors

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

In the corridor

Along the walls,
a green of mint ice-cream,
are plastic chairs
moulded grey for sitting
in the moment before
the cold night coming.

Not wanting contact,
she slips a piece of paper
through the door.


I had an appointment with the renal specialist today. In the hospital corridor I sat with the bulky gel pen and budget A4 writing pad I bought last week in Poundland.

The corridor was painted in the mint green described. The chairs were moulded in grey plastic. I was waiting and also watching and scribbling. Patients and nurses passed down the corridor with pieces of A4 paper, probably print-outs of requests for particular blood tests. Even though these are routine check-up clinics, many people wait with anxiety in those hospital chairs or the consulting rooms. A nurse opened the door of a consulting room and slipped through a printed sheet.

Back at home, to one of Spotify’s Grime soundtracks,  I have been fiddling with my notes. The poem above is a neat example of moments observed now morphed into fiction.

Indirana semipalmata tadpole

By mvbhaktha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Conversations

Word amphibians hold the real treasures
felt in the veins. But we talk more, more.
Make more words known to each other.
Chime this topic. Ring out that story.
Wring out absolutely the whole truth.
While the word amphibians live in those tones;
they also swim in the extract of transmission.


I wrote the usual mini-essay to accompany this poem and on re-reading decided to leave it out. I am quite certain you have had your own experiences of word amphibians.

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Livelihood

If you were a beast and it was May,
I would say

Listen to me, you golden beauty,
we must walk through those flames.
Do not fear. Shhh, calm,
calm your hooves. Calm your trample, trampling.
Look at me.

With my hands to the muzzle
I lead the prosperity of my summer yield,
garlanded in cowslips, buttercups and wild daffodils,
through the Beltane flames.

Afterwards, I sweep up cold ash and protection for you,
cold ash for me and mark: here, our foreheads are signed
to welcome prosperity.

It is May, and livelihood is not a golden beast with deep eyes
left to summer fields and prophecies. The bonfire –
a stupid superstition swept away.

It is May, we step through cables, then through screens
and the unseen marks our foreheads.

Out of curiosity, over the bank holiday weekend I looked up details about May Day festivities. I wanted to unravel the relationship between pagan May 1st festivities and the International Workers’ Day association. The latter stems from the Haymarket Riots, confrontations between labourers and police in Chicago during May 1886. These pivotal events led to the institution of International Workers’ Day (for more details read here). However, it was the descriptions of the pagan, Gaelic, Celtic Beltane festivals  that captured my imagination. I have relayed the captivating information (i.e. vivid scenes) to almost every friend, associate and family member with whom I have had a conversation during the last couple of days. Now, dear reader, I have incorporated the fascination into a poem for you.

One of the practices during Beltane was to usher cattle, beasts that provided the livelihood for the people of the settlement, between two large bonfires. The beasts were sometimes garlanded in yellow May flowers. Ash from the bonfires was considered sacred, so it was swept up and used to mark the cattle. In some instances, it was cooked into food (such as oatcakes).

The difference between our present and times past is a recurring theme at the moment. It surfaced in the recent poem ‘Beacons for the utterly lost‘ and my dystopian short-story ‘Gone are the cars‘. Admittedly in ‘Livelihood’ the ‘past’ is a constructed and sanitized pastoral one. It is possibly more like the mythical pastoral that crops up in Friday’s short story, ‘Running in the wood‘. Furthermore, I am also aware that not everyone in our current times is beholden to cables, screens and whatever those ‘unseen marks’ on the foreheads might be.

However, the screen-bound, desk-bound condition is for many the locus and source of a contemporary livelihood. As an artist, the fascination is in the stories that are to be found in the workplace experience, including, as this poem explores, how own might coax a livelihood through flames, or mark it for prosperity. The Beltane acts might strike sceptical office workers as ritualistic hooey, yet there are contemporary equivalents. Organisational targets and projections, meetings and elaborate strategies – all those documents, spreadsheets, published reports – make rational, tangible sense today. In seven hundred years’ time, will Trello boards look like the wild flower garlands on a dairy cow? This may seem an outrageous comparison, for current office methods underpin efficiency and the measurable results prove as much. The movement of money proves as much.

In the days of Beltane festivals, there were fewer bank accounts. Instead there were hungry stomachs to fill. The marked dairy cows provided for the celebrants and then their children’s children, who went on to produce more children whose descendants perhaps send emails and hit targets in this contemporary age.

It bothers me a great deal that all that might be left of my writing output will be a couple of filed applications, some reports and a virtual mound of emails. All this will be destroyed when my workplace footprint has run its course. Whenever I have produced written content for job purposes, it has served such a small audience. Sometimes it has served barely any audience at all. While the same may be said for my posts (and the growing pile of miscellaneous unseen material), it is my hope that eventually my writing will be of substance such that it will endure. It is my hope that writing I produce will touch people in the future and that something endures as good, worthwhile craft. It is my hope that I shall be able to send meaningful work of beauty and value into a realm beyond my present time.

In the interim, practicalities require that I must also earn my livelihood. May rent must be paid, groceries need to be topped up and my cracked tooth needs to be seen by a dentist. I am on the search for a new position of paid employment and watching the bank balance decrease. Once again, the tension between desk-bound livelihood jobs and having head space to create gnaws at me. I am both grateful for the creative bonfire and terrified by the prospect of a summer devoid of a harvest, so my next writing task is to revive my CV.

P.S. If you enjoyed the mash-up of Beltane bonfire and office job, you may enjoy my poem about El Dorado’s operations meeting.

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.

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.

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.