Archives for posts with tag: creativity

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.

An Artist Works” was inspired by Constable’s cloud study dated ‘evening, 31 August 1822’. The English painter produced these close observations of the skies during 1821 and 1822 in Hampstead, North London where he spent his summers in the early 1820s.

This reproduction of one of Constable’s cloud studies was sourced via this lmc.gatech.edu link. (I shall gladly remove, if required. Please simply contact me.)

256px-Piano_Keys

Piano Keys‘ by Truls (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One two three four
One two three. And a 
oneity two three four
one two three _ [fine]

Oneity oneity oneity oneity
oneity two three four-a
yeah ah peep for
Parp twoity three _

Oneity two me four
this song’s three four-a
want to join me? 
Catch twoity three _ [Da capo]


The beginning/end-of-the month weekend when people move from their rented accommodation proves a fruitful time for random pavement bounty. Yesterday’s gift was a plastic bag of abandoned CDs. It was Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin that first caught my eye, but home with me also came Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morrisette’s soundtrack to my mid-adolescence, and the wild card, twenty tracks of The Best of Boogie Woogie.

This afternoon I’ve been listening to the Boogie Woogie CD.

In today’s Guardian, television presenter and Forward prize for poetry judge Jeremy Paxman writes that contemporary poets write for each other, rendering poetry irrelevant to ordinary readers. This may indeed be true. I write most often for myself and an imagined ideal reader, rather than The Public at Large.

Together with the Boogie Woogie his comments inspired some self-indulgent pseudo-improv.

So here-above, and a-oneity two three _, is a song just for me. Readers, join in if you wish. Performance directions are included. (Da capo means ‘return to the beginning (lit. head)’ and fine indicates the end of the piece. I.e. to perform you must follow verses one to three, then repeat verse one.)

If this arrangement doesn’t please you, take some wisdom from ‘Pine Top’ Smith. In Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie he calls the crowd to,

“Mess around!”

And a
oneity twoity three four. Forget those poets.
Make your own poetry! Mess around.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill 
Facebook: BeadedQuill 
All BeadedQuill’s books are available for preview and purchase. Click on the links below:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Image courtesy of The Old Design Shop (http://olddesignshop.com/), Vintage Image Treasury.

In response to the questions often posed to me about my writing, I have decided to introduce a new feature on my blog:

Please explain…

Send in your questions about a particular poem, a running theme or even a line that puzzles you. If you’re curious about the creative process behind a poem’s existence, you may ask about that, too.

Here is our first submission. “Please explain…”

This month I once again
neglect to pay into a pension,
fertilize a good egg at ovulation
or further my career. Untoward

outcomes will result! In twenty years
it will not matter
that I didn’t
write this poem today

This poem (Five Consequences of Repeated Actions) covers recurring discussion points of so many of my (female) peers at present: the difficult job market, not being able to put aside financially for the future and the biological clock. The further question is – of all the things you do in a day, which one will be the most important? If you do not pursue your calling (e.g. writing), will this really have an effect in twenty years’ time. Does what one do today really have such a huge outcome on twenty years down the line?

Of course these eight lines are a little autobiographical. (Some say most writing contains a kernel of autobiography.) I question myself about my professional status. (I don’t have one at present.) I freak out about not making adequate provision for my retirement. (I’m just grateful to pay my rent, buy groceries and then blow a fiver on a night of dancing.) The ticking of my biological clock created a recent panic. (After visiting the assisted fertility specialist, I am allowing myself an 18-month/2 year window period to get my health in order before revisiting the biological clock issue.)

I write daily and try to remind myself of my commitment to this path and craft. But for what? Will the world really be any poorer for my wallowing in creative self-indulgence, when perhaps I should be paying into a pension and salvaging some sort of career track? The literal and literary irony of this little poem is that it does exist. Whether or not it hovers in the ether in twenty years’ time is an outcome yet to be determined.

Cover for Emily's Poems

‘The Poet’ (a find from the archives) was composed from lines written on the tube after reading the freebie magazine The Short List:

you’ll need to use me again tomorrow
because our words are all
pre-used
but if you set me down
in words and lines then published
me I’m already seen and
done cutting edge
A lot of thinking to go beyond hackneyed –
Push to keep us running new –

The final, pruned poem may be read here. It is also one of the twenty-five poems selected for my second book, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys (2013).

Escucha

My new muse 
is light in his visits,
is late,
never calls,
smiles his cheek,
tells me nothing.
So I invent 
everything.

My new muse
wears white-soled trainers
and a St. Christopher tucked against 
the tattoo, never seen in full.
When the night begins, 
the muse’s t-shirt smells of clean laundry.

My new muse
is an impish sprite.
He wears his hair
in spikes,
is light on his feet.

He’ll offer 4 minutes to Prince Royce,
“escucha las palabras”
but I wear too much clothing 
and worry about accurate footwork.

In the dance,
the muse
is patient with the serious poet.
He smiles a thank-you,
lets go,
leaves the floor,
leaves me turned,
shares nothing.
So I fabricate
the poem.


This poem marks the final work of my 104 project. I set about to write two poems a week for 52 weeks, to total 104 poems across a year. The aim of this endeavour was simply to produce on a regular basis. Irrespective of quality, subject matter, tone, style or artistic investment, the resulting works would be allocated to the 104 project and posted on this blog.

The creative burnout I experienced at the end of February, after a solid month of posting work, was unexpected. Production seemed to be on such a high. Another learning curve has been the resistance to completion. I have wrestled with this over the last couple of weeks.

In truth, during this time I have written more than the two poems required to complete the count. I have judged some of the work too personal or inadequate to post, thereby ignoring the very rules established at the beginning. Each of these recent poems fell short. It was not my intention to have the project end on an unceremonious note. None of them deserved to be The Last Poem.

All in all, these 104 poems (plus the 25 that were siphoned off for Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys) were not the sorts of poems I had intended should fill a book. It was my intention to explore grand themes of ars poetica, politics, justice and humanity. It felt time to explore the wide, broad, deep, conflicted, enduring state of the world.

Instead, my writing inevitably turns to examine the minutiae. Much of this last year’s work presents daily concerns of an ordinary suburban life. There are the quandaries of emotion and soul, work and provision, grocery shopping and living in rented accommodation.

130+ poems later, I am tired. It would also seem I cannot count, for not only did I recalibrated the mark as 102 on Monday, I have also counted 107 poems posted since last year. I have swum in a sea of poems and I am weary.

Truly, it has started to feel as though the muse has left me.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will already know about my current interest in Bachata, a dance style from the Dominican Republic. I have now had all of eight lessons and this last Saturday attended my first open dance party.

In this inspiration dearth, I think the muse has met me on the dance floor.

The poems of the 104 project will be compiled into a book. This will be my third since February last year. Subscribe (see tab below right), or follow on Twitter or Facebook for updates.

My other titles, available for preview and purchase via Blurb.co.uk, are Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys and Shining in Brightness.

A letter is…

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. 

1.
Wake up.
Work hard.
Plan and strategise.
Talk to someone who
     has done it before.
Find a mentor.

2. 
Protect its pollen from the wind.
Blow on the quills when they
   erupt.
Wrap it in this moment
and suspend it from but what if?

It might rest its weary hope 
in a chest of velvet lined

for the unsplit bean alone 
is the treasure


During a very happy and productive year of my professional life, I used to spend Sunday evenings assessing the week that had passed, plan the week ahead and review my life, especially in terms of where I was in achieving my goals. I felt so wonderfully smug and on top of things. Yes! I was making things happen in my life. Yes! Through strategy, persistence and application I was helping my dreams to come true.

Life, they say, is what happens when you make other plans. I left that particular field, moved from the town and no longer pursue many activities with which I was then involved. Half a decade later there are only three outputs that I hold dear from that organised and hyper-functional period of my life: 1. a couple of special, enduring friendships; 2. a few poems and some essays of interest; 3. that I wrote regular letters to my Dad, who was ill at the time.

I mull much over society’s sanctioned notions of success and achievement. The product-driven pressure that a dream must be brought to fruition follows me like a shadow. If I dream of being A Writer then I must schedule writing time, move towards products and a business plan, target a definable readership, join one of the professional writers’ associations and ideally land a contract or an agent, and if not claim a stake in the indie market. This is The Way to Make a Dream Come True.

See how easily I can write about that? I have been avoiding the business plan for nearly a year. Instead, I have been writing poems, drinking coffee at my laptop and watching Bachata videos on YouTube. (Bachata is a style of dance from the Dominican Republic in which one steps to beats 1, 2 and 3 and adds a tap on beat 4.)

So now I have these additional, distracting dreams. One is of simply writing and writing and writing. The result may be endless waffle. Another is to spend time in my local indie coffee shop up the road, as an out-of-jail option when I’m feeling cabin fever. And then there is the dream of dancing like this – so much happiness on such a small square of stage above the earth. That would be treasure indeed.

Follow me @BeadedQuill on Twitter where I get carried away with YouTube forays into Argentine tango, Systema, Krav Maga and, most recently, Bachata.
Or, if you prefer, follow BeadedQuill on Facebook.
My two creative ‘babies’, my published books, are my successes of 2013. Preview them at Blurb.co.uk by clicking on the links:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys 
Shining in Brightness