Archives for posts with tag: relationships

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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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.

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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Digital clock of a basic design commonly found in hotels. Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-September-29 via Wikimedia Commons

Digital clock of a basic design commonly found in hotels.
Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-September-29 via Wikimedia Commons

The electricity tripped.
Time fused
at 05:17.
I woke to the flashing.

On my ‘phone 08:03.
The day well underway
and no new messages.

I waiver over the buttons
to recoup the extra hours.
Inside this digital turn-back machine,
once a bedside radio-clock,

05:17 is closer
to that stolen other time.


This poem reminds me of another I wrote when I was younger – ten years younger, which made me do a double take when I realised that I could have ten years behind me and have been writing for over a decade.

I posted “Knowledge,” the poem in mind, on Monday. You can read it here.

A friend asked me recently about negotiating the cross-over between topic and auto-biography. When I wrote the postlude to my first book of poetry, Shining in Brightness, I still aimed to disembody the writing I produced from me, the person who lived some of the source experiences. I have since come to a different understanding of creative process and its resulting work. I shared as much with my friend in a reply comment:

In the beginning I tried to pretend, “Oh, this is this is the through the conduit of the Narrative Voice” blah, blah. Now I care less. I just write my stuff. It’s all the laundry of my mind, clean, filthy and otherwise. People must deal, or not. Anyway, many other creatives shamelessly mine their own lives for material. Look at artist Egon Schiele, or even [writer] JM Coetzee, or any songwriter. So do celebs. They just make more money by selling their stories, together with photo-spreads, to the tabloids.

So, yes, today’s new poem derives from personal experience and specific observations. Sometimes I do write solely for myself, but if I make my work public, it’s meant for an audience. I hope you also find some stolen time in the turn-back machine of this poem.

On a lighter note, I must add that I am of the generation that loved the Back to the Future trilogy. I cannot think of time machines without a twinge of nostalgia for Doc, the DeLorean and Back to the Future III, which is my favourite because there was a smart, pretty lady in a crinoline with whom the Doc fell in love.

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

A detail from Child Life, A First Reader, by Etta Austin Blaisdell and Mary Frances Blaisdell, 1902, courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

A detail from Child Life, A First Reader, by Etta Austin Blaisdell and Mary Frances Blaisdell, 1902, courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

I proceed on the outside with my daily life, all the while taking mental or handwritten notes. These observations saved ‘for writing’ often echo personal revelations. The regularity of this continues to astound me, especially as I re-post poems from this blog’s archive. It is sometimes said among writers that we are called to write what we are called to learn.

Today’s archive treasure is “a small heart panics.” It is a companion piece to “String.” In the former poem, the birds flit from the speaker in fear. In the latter, the birds in the wood are settled and stable, but here the speaker’s presence is not human. The speaker has transformed into a balloon, which is less threatening to the squirrels and wood pigeons.

A small heart panics” reminds me of my own jittery flight when someone veers too far off the path to say hello. I am cautious and prone to wall myself off against vulnerability. I also know that this poem originates from a walk in the wood when I tried to befriend some birds and did indeed see myself in them. Similarly, with my author’s knowledge that “String” resonates with one singular moment of comfort, I can measure how these poems inform and complement each other.

When writers are called to write what they need to learn, this need not be biographical or psycho-emotional. In some instances we are called to write in different styles (e.g. an annual report) or for unexpected purposes (e.g. an explanation of an alarm system). On occasion, I have been required to write about topics for which I could muster very little interest (a narrative report of a workshop comes to mind). Yet through these processes I have learnt about style, brevity, research and working with an editorial team.

You write what you need to learn. You often teach what you need to learn. In sharing the work and self-aware process, you expose yourself twice over. The passersby will not only proffer hellos, but indignance and criticism. In such a state of vulnerability, your forest birds will no doubt become wary. Mine 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

OldDesignShop_YoungLove

Image from Two Children by F. E. Weatherly, illustrated by M. Ellen Edwards, circa 1884, and via the Old Design Shop.

It’s complicated” posted this time last year proposed a point-blank assessment of The Relationship Drama, especially as recounted by heterosexual women (as this encompasses most of my experience). It’s the “He loves me, he loves me not, why doesn’t he love me?” tune. The poet/narrator declares, none of this is complicated. Either it moves forward, or it doesn’t.

I noted in the accompanying write-up to the post:

“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.”

The likeness to Carrie Bradshaw has veered even further towards uncanny fulfillment. Over the last couple of months I have once again dabbled with dating, partially because I thought it would be interesting to meet a potential partner and partially because I sought new writing material. Previously, I had written about love, attraction, dating and relationships through Emily, the sister and sweetheart of the modern boy.

Not this time ’round. My current note-taker in the field is crazier, quirkier, more abrasive. She is yet to be named and she is yet to make her observations public, but watch this space.

Keep up-to-date with BQ’s news on Twitter (@BeadedQuill) or Facebook
Read all twenty-five poems gathered by Emily “for edification and amusement” in Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys

A year’s worth of poetry, 104 offerings in total, make up In the Ocean: a year of poetry.
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012, BQ’s first title, charts her youthful travels and life observations.

"Image

BBC Radio 3 is my station of choice. I listen to hours and hours of their programming, both on the clock radio that rests on my bedside chest-of-drawers and on iplayer on my laptop. Sometimes I schedule upcoming programmes or concerts into my diary, or mark catch-ups on my to do list.

During these many hours of ‘classical music’ content it came to my attention that composers across the ages have not been afraid of reworking their own material or borrowing material from others. Now alerted to the regularity of creative recycling, I started looking for it in other forms such as art, dance, theatre and literature.

Re-using material seems more acceptable in music than in the realm of writing. Able writers are assessed on their ability to be continually re-inventive. Originality makes for a proficient writer. This is a demanding attitude. I have since warmed to the approach of the related performing and creative arts. Variation on previous output is a legitimate avenue of creative exploration. In many instances I am intrigued by a product where the artist who created the first version reworks the material in its subsequent expression. These examples have given me courage to consciously mine my own writing for material when I am stuck.

While writing up this last Monday’s post, I was reminded that “Making soup again” was not the first poem I had revised. (Nor was it the first time I had revisited themes or motifs, but such general recurrences are considered more acceptable in written creativity.)

Here are five reworked poems from my portfolio:

1) Two versions of ‘Tumbling After‘, a scene based on the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill rolling down a hill.
I wrote a longer version and then reworked a shorter version.

2) A card from the postman inspired two poems. Each approached the delivery of pre-Christmas mail from a different point of view.
One imagines the poet-recipient; the other gives voice to the postman.

3) In response to a mislaid poem, I wrote “Is it worth it?
I later found the scrap of paper with the original poem.

4) My poem from 2011 “Jacob’s Dream for crinolined girls” is in many respects the poem that started my recent poetry writing spurt. It was inspired by Dorothea Tanning’s painting Eine Kleine Nachmusik (1943).
In 2014, three years after writing “Jacob’s Dream,” I revisited it in “Exalted thus, we left.”

5) “Making soup again” is a reworking of “In this place I eat butternut soup.”
Food preparation is a recurring motif in my poetry and food features as a metaphor for states of self, relating to others and enacting class or social position.

Visual artists frequently obsess over the same visual motifs and these become their trademarks. Composers are known for a particular sound, even if their music includes phases that are less quintessential. Dancers, singers or actors receive renown for their interpretation of a particular role. I’m intrigued by the creative recycling that might characterize a writer’s broader oeuvre of creative production.

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

OldDesignShop_WomanCooking-208x300

Image from the February 1912 issue of Pictorial Review, courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury.

These days I refuse to sigh
for cooked up futures.
Potatoes from a friend
and a bag of mixed root veg for £1
assure companionship.
This bounty grated, cooked with stock and bay leaves,
will be ladled out for half-a-dozen bowls
dressed up with haricot beans.
The appraising birds perch in the top bare branches,
more interested in other messes.

London kitchen, January 2015

I cook a great deal from scratch; partially because I have the time, mostly because it’s an attempt to stretch my budget. In autumn and winter, soup-making is a regular activity. Last winter (2013/2014), all my soups were restricted to three items from the grocery aisle, and cooked up with either red or brown lentils. This year I have discovered the mixed veg. packets at budget retailers, so I have broadened my ingredients list. Whatever the concoction that results, half is put aside for the freezer. This way I have a couple of flavours on rotation.

Chopping or grating vegetables for soup is both a mindless and thought-encouraging activity. I’ll think about things in my life, and I’ll think about nothing except scooping up the peelings for the bin. The other satisfying bonus of soup is that you can leave it to simmer while you continue with other tasks, like writing.

Today’s poem is a response to “In this place, I eat butternut soup,” written in 2012. You are astute readers, so there is no need for me to hammer home the points of contrast between the two poems. If you would like to share your own observations, please do so in the comments. I would be interested to read them.

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

512px-Bicycle_two_1886

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. c. 1886

While it’s going for a song,
let’s play this dalliance.

It’ll knock wind from our sails.

That’s the hazard of entanglements.

Over the weekend I watched a movie about a song-writer. Many of the songs featured dreadful clichés. This prompted some fiddling of my own with clichés.

The poem’s title is thanks to an associative trigger courtesy of the illustrative photo. “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do…” was a song from my childhood.

Interestingly, one of the few words of dating advice that came from my father was, “One does not have to be the village bicycle.”

Associative triggers. They’re a funny, possibly Freudian, business.

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

An old magazine advertisement for a Williams Typewriter courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

An old magazine advertisement for a Williams Typewriter courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

At the beginning of this month I wrote of the bumper crop of archive poems for November. Here are the last few from the files of 2012 and 2013:

A Bequest of Wonder, a poem inspired by a painted banner of Chinese silk, a Chinese artist’s portrait and two detailed Shunga prints.

I do. Do you?, in which all the antics of friends and family at a wedding are recalled.

The Benefits of 320 Kicks, for which I, the poem-writer, executed 320 kicks.

Did you read the post about the poem I’d like on my epigraph? Here I share about the wild horses who fling their thoughts.

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