Archives for posts with tag: daily life

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.

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

Scrambled eggs-01

By Tom Ipri (Scrambled Eggs auf flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Into your hands
I commend the
beating of tonight’s
eggs. This will
be the last meal
of solid food.

When my Dad was in the final stages of his cancer, one of the few things he ate was scrambled eggs. That period of my life still circles in my mind. It was a strange time when we all continued with the daily activities of feeding him and being with him, neither realising nor acknowledging that he was actually dying.

I still think about what is it was like to be with the ‘almost gone.’ As I do not work in a profession that confronts death on a regular basis, my only experiences have been related to passing family. I sometimes wonder about the ushering performed by those in pastoral or hospice care, medical or funeral professions. How much of their work is solely the task at hand? How much is curating the metaphysical surrender of the body that expresses our life and appetites?

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

Newspaper rack, Gare del'Est, Paris - 2014-02-01 - Andy Mabbett - 02

By Andy Mabbett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


I haven’t read the news today,
but it knows how to chassé into my life.

Laid out in Budgens
4th Briton beheaded
splashed from the Saturday cover pages
into my eyes.

Over lunch cooking
on the radio the weekly round-up
where the chatter chewed
over NHS woes, the nurse’s strike.

Before I could log on to my mail,
a banner scans past offering
man at war, Ebola,
grotesque foods of the world

and a celebrity wedding.
I didn’t read the news today,
but I did entertain
an interview with David Gandy
who only gyms five hours a week.

The starting point for this poem was derived from a prompt suggested by A Poem A Day October.

Illustration courtesy of the vintage image treasury that is the Old Design Shop.

Thank you for signing up
for your HP daily updates.
Each day we reveal
your most important task.

Before you had this service,
words and deeds you left
undone, passed over
in your routine haste.

Today’s commission
is to assist a woman lost
on Highgate Hill. She clutches
a page with the address.

These are your clues.
Seek out the rest.


Two sources overlap as inspiration for today’s verse. Firstly, I’ve been invited by a friend to participate in Poem A Day October. (For details and to sign up click here.) Today’s prompt suggests, “write about a technology that doesn’t exist yet”.

I’ve often wondered how you should know what might be your most important deed for that day. Should you invest particular energy into a work-related assignment or stop to help a stranger on the street? Is it that moment when you arrive home frazzled, commute-battered and hungry when you’re called on to exhibit patience with a family member or housemate? Is it the decision to do press-ups before bed and pass on cake? To help with such decision quandaries, I’ve wondered if it might be possible to have updates sent to one. In the days gone by, I fantasized about discovering a guiding note in an envelope under my pillow. Nowadays, an email or text or other similar message (whatsapp, FB message) would suffice. All we need is the service rendered through a communication channel. In fairness, though, this isn’t really ‘a technology’, but perhaps it could draw on science. Maybe someone could work out an algorithm to attune each person’s Highest Priority task.

The second source for today’s verse is a study about which I read. (I’m trying to recall the book. It was possibly a title about human habit and behaviour.) In this study a group of pastors in training were asked to prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). They were then sent to a second venue where they were to deliver the sermon at a particular time. En route, ‘a stranger in need’ was placed on their path. Almost none of the pastors stopped to help. The conclusion for this behaviour was that when people are in a hurry and focused on upholding a time-bound commitment they are less attuned to others around them and certainly do not feel at liberty to help.

I too have fallen into this pattern. Many a person in need and distress I’ve passed by, sneered at, dismissed and judged, especially when I am harried and going someplace. Sometimes I wonder, was that moment possibly my true task for the day? If only I had some guidance that could reassure me, if you help this person and are 15 minutes late for the next thing, it will be ok.

However, finding yourself waylead and not being on time are the hallmarks of somebody who most certainly does not have their priorities in order.

Then there is the other matter that sometimes I am just sceptical about helping. But that could be a verse topic for another occasion.

(P.S. I am aware of the tautology of ‘highest priority’. In the poem the acronym serves a double purpose (Highest Priority > Higher Power). The tautology also references the commonplace usage of the expression to mean the item that is absolutely at the top of one’s list of things to do.)

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

Image with thanks to "Homes and Garden Journa"l. See http://bit.ly/13ACooj

Image with thanks to “Homes and Garden Journal“.

I suspect that “Screens” is one of those atmospheric poems that evokes interesting images, but by the end of it the reader isn’t quite sure what it was all about.

Here’s how I see it:

The poem sets forward how our days are filled with noise and rushing. Simultaneously we seek escape in parallel realms and our imagination. We seek retreat in our dark and quite moments, in artists’ creations or in times past. In these kingdoms exist magical creatures (green-scaled dragons), conduits to the other side (golden bridges) and crafted beauty (tilted bonsai trunks).

There is a screen that separates these realms. Once one transcends it, one may see the province of imagination – “the far off poem”. The viewing platform, which in sensible understanding should be a stable structure, should ideally be positioned on the super moon. Not only are these lunar occurrences rare, but it is also difficult for most of us ordinary earth dwellers to make our way to the moon.

Screens is a poem about seeking poetry beyond the daily. At the same time, it is a poem about daily things: screens, commuting, traffic, viewing platforms and super moons.

Screens was one of the 104 poems I wrote over a year for my 2×52 project. These poems are collected in the book “In the Ocean: a year of poetry.”

T: @BeadedQuill.
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books available for preview and purchase.

Fish_scales

Look At“, a poem posted this time last year, is a combination of a journal poem and a pavement poem. Derived from mental notes taken during a walk along East Finchley High Road, it documents the comings and goings of an ordinary morning.

Observing the ordinary and everyday is a recurring theme. “Look – really look” takes a similar approach, but places the entry within a specific season (summer) and circumscribes it to a smaller location (one man’s balcony garden).

Look At” is one of the 104 poems that feature in my latest book, In the Ocean.

The image of fish scales is courtesy of Wikicommons Media and photographed by Rajesh danji. View the original image here.

Colias croceus – the Clouded Yellow Butterfly. Image courtesy of Zeynel Cebeci via Wikimedia Commons.

I will be 80 this year
here in my flat
only a mile and a half
from where I was born.
I have tried 
to lead by example, by
plunging my narrow balcony
into the principality of hanging gardens.

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

We breakfast amidst the crisp verdure
and watch a nesting bird,
fledgling wrens, butterflies 
and such wild visitors.
The flat faces of the 
daisies, pansies and geraniums 
accrue the afternoon and evening sun.
Most years –
A wren nests somewhere
blanketed by the ivy leaves.
Her fledglings zing past 
while we’re eating.
They’ll even call 
on us at table.
In warm summers,
the clouded yellow butterfly 
may join us from abroad.


Sometimes some quirky combination of words and images will capture my imagination. This time last year it was a comment in a Gudrun Sjödén catalogue about a Senegalese artist who sculpted birds from flotsam-and-jetsam.

Sunday last, the Guardian Weekend’s column “How does your garden grow?” hooked me. William Howard’s evocative interview about his balcony garden in the Barbican (London) – and the fantastic photograph of him in from of his verdant kingdom – had me enthralled. (Read the interview from the 28th June 2014 Guardian Weekend here.). “This garden,” explains Howard, “is about memories, sharing and reminding people to look – really look.”

Perhaps being a poet is in some respects like being a gardener.

(P.S. One of the most affecting books I read during my young adolescence was Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, in which a scrabble of children try to grow a garden and learn how to look – really look.)

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 credit: Bananas (2006) by photographer Steve Hopson, www.stevehopson.com. Via wikicommons.

Photo credit: Bananas (2006) by photographer Steve Hopson, www.stevehopson.com. Via Wikimedia Commons.

10 hours ago
I must remember
to tell everyone
about this
banana.
Post.

4 hours ago
Dumplings!
Post.

a few seconds ago 
Now,
finished my poem!!
Post.


Yesterday evening I read this post, 7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook. Ohmyme! Guilty, of all seven misdemeanours, I am quite certain. The post made me laugh so much and 3) The Literal Status Update with its banana-contemplating stick figure, especially so. I couldn’t resist. Here’s another gem of a very short Monday poem/non-poem. It’s almost literally as short as a status update.

In other literal update news, I had an all-day workshop yesterday. There are parts of my ribcage that ache when I breathe out too deeply. I had not realised my ribcage could ache when breathing. Is this normal?

Also, the BeadedQuill blog is now two years old.

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