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 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
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999-2012

Queensland State Archives 1615 Public Instruction Activities at the Teachers Training College the College Council April 1951

By Agriculture And Stock Department, Publicity Branch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While looking for some entertaining archival posts, I came across this micro-poem from a year ago:

The Best Instruction

You might receive
an email telling you
such ‘n such.
Don’t worry! Take no action!

May your week include more emails that require less action.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Street gutter in Old Town Stockholm

By Bengt Nyman (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_2356-1) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tight red-green leaves sprout on
the curbside trees. Drizzle taps the
flattened Strongbow cans
stomped down with an empty pizza box

American hot
pepperoni and chilli.
Baronsmere’s pink petals
line the gutters;

blown down in April rains.
I even spied a spider.

12 and 13/4/2015

In rhythm and feel, this poem bears a resemblance to ‘Ninja Turtles Strike Again!’. They both hint at melancholy and contain a tone of nostalgia for things past. In each, things of the gutter and underground animal world are referenced. Plus there’s mention of pizza.

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

By Suzuki Harunobu (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Suzuki Harunobu (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Supportasse Boughs

The blossoms have come!
The blossoms are here.
On parade, white ruffs
of spring’s courtiers.

24/3/2015

Today I present the second of the two poems about spring blossoms. These lines, indeed like those of “March Burst” (posted last week) and many of my ‘sushi’ poems, owes a debt to Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” (1913).

I was in Standard 5, all of twelve years old. We relocated to the school hall while our ordinary classroom was enlarged and converted into a specialist science classroom. (Now that I think about it, this was quite a progressive enterprise for an all girls’ school in 1990s South Africa.)

The hall was dark and echo-ey. On the hall wall, as in the school passages, there were block-mounted reproductions of famous Works of Western Art. I spent many hours staring at a faded, blue-tinged reproduction of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” wondering if the lady in conversation under the black umbrella would ever make it down the riverbank to the water’s edge. Of course, I had spent six years sitting through assemblies and other high day occasions in the hall, yet being taught in this formal space made it more intimate. The back corner of the ceremonial cavern became our classroom and learning nest for half a year.

It was during an English lesson that we sat over photocopies of “In a Station of the Metro” as an introduction to haiku. Years later, with some literature knowledge, I know that this is an unconvincing approximation of a haiku (inasmuch as haiku can even work in the English language and literary tradition) and an example rather of the Imagist poems of the twentieth century. I have also learnt a bit more about Pound’s work and life, which now adds conflicted layers to my adult reading of the poem.

But when I was twelve and I first read the poem, it was just me, the scene in the metro and the vivid image of petal-faces, a visual motif that I realise crops up in my own verse.


‘Supportasse’ is another term for the starched, lace collars worn by courtiers during the Renaissance. Read more about supportasses courtesy of the following links:

http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2011/11/ruffs.html
https://historyofeuropeanfashion.wordpress.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supportasse

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

These exuberant blossoms were taken by Filipa van Eck. They appear courtesy of the photographer, who is by day and night a talented opera singer.

These exuberant blossoms were taken by Filipa van Eck. They appear courtesy of the photographer, who is by day and night a talented opera singer.

On March 2nd when I woke up, I opened my curtains as usual. My first view is of the neighbour’s tree at the bottom of the garden. What had been bare brown branches across the winter had exploded seemingly overnight into white blossoms. It felt as though spring come. The poem ideas started to percolate. Here is the first of two poems about this year’s spring blossoms:

March Burst

Anthers atop a filament;
eyelashes pink.
The blossoms have come!

11/3/2015

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

Photo by Anders Knudsen via Flickr | Creative Commons

A blazing sickle of the sun
cut a toothless smile
unseen by rushing city men
caught up in the Mile.

Thick cloud across
the southern skies
obscured the time majestic
when darkness peaked –
nine thirty-five:
a normal day of business.

21/3/15

This poem was inspired by the solar eclipse mania of last week Friday. I was so excited about the event, but it hardly filtered through the clouds that covered London that morning. The only indicator was eeriness and discord as the birds registered the unusual event. All the busy city folk continued with their commutes to work. I, like others, was at my desk.

The day’s later blue skies allayed my disappointment. The day moved on.

On the commute home, I was reading the follow-up articles in the Evening Standard when some ideas for a poem started to form. So, here it is – a little after the event, and with some touches of artistic license (the peak time of the eclipse, for example).

What was your experience of ‘the smile in the sky’? Did you take any photo’s?

I have written some other poems that feature the sun, stars and moon:
On the declaration of the first day of the Year of Our Light
Transition/ Disclosed
Another Summer’s Day
Philip’s Log: Entries about my moonlit sylph

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