Archives for category: Youth

From this time last year: an essay about a painting of Covent Garden rooftops. The image triggered a series of personal memories about school art history lessons and my ‘London Granny’.

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Shining in Brightness, my first book of selected poems, documents the hopeful years of 18 to 30. I hold a special affection for this creative scrapbook. It is a nostalgic artefact of a time period I declared ‘a mystical decade‘.

This handmade heart hangs from a nail above my desk. I don’t remember on which day it was given to me, yet it carries more sentimental meaning than any Valentine’s token I’ve ever received. This heart has shadowed many of my poetry journeys. It has travelled with me from Cape Town to San Diego, to South America, to Poland, to the UK the first time around for studies, to the Eastern Cape and has now settled a while here in London. It reminds me, we can give of our creativity in a heartfelt way on any day. 

Actually it’s very simple.
Either it’s in motion
or it is not.
This bears the signs
of not.
That bears the signs
of motion.
Words to-ing and fro-ing
And actions
Everything bears
the mask of nonsense.

13/1/14

A liberating revelation in my younger youth was the concept of He’s Just Not That Into You (HJNTIY). The rule-of-thumb is if someone in whom you are interested is not pursuing you, they’re really not that interested in return. In the  book  (and movie) and common understanding, the pursuit is framed as man pursues woman. I have found it a useful concept for relationships of all sorts, including job offers and even dealing with estate or travel agents. Brutal, un-nuanced and woefully marginalising of women’s agency, HJNTIY is however a great counter approach for those with too much headspace for pining, mooning and generally idealised, but unrequited, romanticism. This imaginative energy can then be better applied to creativity – playing halting Romantic Lieder on the piano, dancing Argentine tango and writing bad poetry.

It has been ten years since the book proposing HJNTIY (and its Sex in the City dialogue cameo) entered popular discourse. This probably dates me. I still consider myself more a younger sister who looked up to the SITC quartet than a peer of the Girls generation. (In fact, 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.)

Many of my lovely, often truly heartbroken friends as well as my aforementioned sister have been subjected to my less than sympathetic dismissals. It’s not complicated. Either it’s happening or it’s not. Next topic. On the other hand, I have had many a patient friend listen to my timed and dated litanies – there was this, then that, then this other thing. And, he left his cigarettes behind!

“As a smoker, I can say that truly means nothing. I’m always forgetting my cigarettes and lighters in places.”

Ah yes, that was a good misadventure from eight years ago that I’d almost forgotten. Nope, never did hear from that one again. Nor from the friend who offered the advice. But this much I know and it isn’t complicated – HJNTIY.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

Roll up! Roll up! To see
the hairy Caucasian lady
with her mandible chin hairs
protruding since she long gave up
plucking or pulling
or waxing them off. And
nobody else cares to do it for her.
Hairs and cavernous wrinkles! Roll up!
It’s not a wig. That’s naturally grey.
Under the chin? A wattle of flesh.
Stare on at those mandible chin hairs
sprout afresh.

For Doris, 1911 – 1998

My London-born granny, my maternal granny, was considered a handsome woman. She told me as much herself, proudly holding up a 1940s studio photograph as evidence. She remained a strikingly attractive. In these early memories, she was a formidable, confident and vital woman.

In the darkness of her bedroom, she had once shown me how she pinned her long, white hair into the trademark chignon she wore. After twirling her mane into a pony and tucking it under itself, one by one, she picked up and inserted the hairpins laid out on the white windowsill.

Gan Gan had impeccable style and a polished fashion sense. Her home in Newlands was furnished with complimentary imbuia furniture, always gleaming. She did not believe in wearing trousers, but was fond of a jacket and skirt suit. Perhaps this was an influence of her youth in London of the 1920s and 30s.

In my early teens she fell and broke her hip. Over the next five years, as she was shunted from one smelly, dismal old age home room to another, she grew more and more frail. Sensible elasticised tracksuit trousers became part of her wardrobe. Her once well-fed, upright frame crumpled. Her sturdy voice became a wobble.

“Nurse, nurse, don’t hurt me,” she’d plead.
“Gan Gan, for the zillionth time, I am not the nurse!”

Even her magnificent hair became “too much to manage” and it was chopped into a practical bob.

Then there were the chin hairs. We gave up plucking them; too fiddly for us, too painful for her. We tried waxing; also too painful for her. For a period we used depilatory creams. In the end, we simply left them for longer and longer periods of time.

As the plumpness of life left her body and face, she developed this jowly flap of skin under chin, like a turkey’s mandible.

Gone was my beautiful, fiery grandmother who terrified us all a little and would merrily sing “Knees up Mother Brown” or “Pack up Your Troubles”. Instead there was the woman with the mandible chin hairs.

My granny passed away in 1998 when I was 17.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys 
Shining in Brightness

“His father beat him around 
the head.
Only a little bit
on Wednesdays, after pay day,
or on Friday late,
after the races.
Clean up your mess, boy!”

The teachers preferred 
her creative writing 
to include such
notable topics.
So mature for her age!


In the accompanying essay to yesterday’s posted poem, I wrote about my creative process. Today both poem and essay are a comment on subject matter.

In my youth and during my brief teaching experience, I noticed a tendency towards a certain tone of pathos favoured by school creative writing. Describing meaningful life-knowledge in correct language and with well-chosen form, students showed maturity of expression. Such were the conditions of mark allocation.

As a pupil, when I wrote to emulate the style of this School of Pathos and Poignancy, I knew very little. My own life did not seem mark-worthy for creative writing submissions. There seemed to be nothing of Pathos and Poignancy in what I did know about – my suburban home-life, our small family dilemmas, my adolescent anxieties about would it all be ok, the constant balance of schoolwork and extra-murals and monthly visits to the renal clinic. Oh, how I dreaded Tuesday nights, because it would be tomato-bean-sausage pie for supper. My worst! 

Now I have grown confident about my small life. I have also been fortunate to meet many who have shared of their lives. In these stories have I been touched by life’s school of pathos and poignancy.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill 
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

The soda needs fountain; 
the lolli needs pop. 
Pink milk goes for shake;
red counters seek top.

On jukeboxes rave
and motors rev bike.
Heat moves towards wave,
while cream swirls for ice.

Young leather struts jackets,
then shy ankles flash socks.
The point brings us to make-out
where our lips search for lock.


Clearly winter charges in me thoughts of a fantasy ’50s summer. Daily lunchtime bowls of vegetable soup bring me to pink milkshakes and red counter-top diners.

Thank goodness for the yields of internet research. My googling provided insights into everything from 1950’s teen fashion trends to the song hit ‘Rave On’, from retro diner-menus to make-out habits of the day.

The internet and imaginative nostalgia seems to be an apt pairing, too.

In my books, you will find more poems tinged with nostalgia. Click on each title for a preview:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill

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.

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.

People start to ask questions

they really have no right

to pose

 

At a point, they expect you to be

studying.

Let it be known: a non-graduate works shifts

and packs plastic bags.

 

Since 2008, so do graduates with four degrees.

But people will still ask,

What do you do? They mean are you in a Proper Job:

doctor, lawyer, finance something, accountant,

teacher still makes the mark

 

the arts are hobbies

 

Now, have you bought a house? Or looked at a fifth degree?

MBA’s or the property ladder move

aspirations rung for rung

 

Children are also acceptable. But know,

They are a Lifestyle Choice until you are

Settled and wish no longer to do things for yourself.

 

People will narrow their eyes

if you have never travelled,

or are divorced by 32

or have parented children, now nearing the age of ten.

Then you can see them counting back the years.

 

At the considered right age

you should be doing the proper thing,

so people will ask.

 

I am told it is called making conversation.

If you enjoyed the above you may also enjoy the following poems:

The Character Building

A Definition, Notably for the Cloud-Dwelling Artists

Impatience

They also touch on the themes of life choices, the current changing social strata-education-work climate and the frustrations of being a young person in the contemporary post-Industrial world.

My first volume, Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012, presents twenty poems that trace the study, travel and life experiences of my twenties. The book is available for preview and purchase here.

A second volume, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys, is forthcoming. Please follow the blog (see sign-up in right-hand corner of the screen) for updates on the content, release date and special subscriber offers.

I tweet as @BeadedQuill. Please follow me.