photo by Mark Stephenson, "Sunrise over the river Tay"
There is one more Poetry Bus for 2010. A selection box of prompts came from Jeanne Iris (here) and I chose this one: Ask yourself what it is that you will do this year to advance humanity (or simply yourself) toward a higher level of consciousness. Then write a poem about it.
No small prompt!
Xmas is a funny time I find. Too much food, not enough routine... either you're working and wish you weren't or you aren't working and, after a few days of intense family life, you wish you were. Or maybe I'm just never contented... rarely at this time of year it must be said. My mother-out-law told me that growing up she was told “Christmas is for Christians, Hogmanay is for heathens”... hell, no wonder I've always preferred the latter. And we're nearly there, nearly out of the woods.
Like most folk we've watched our share of movies this holiday and in one of them I heard the simple line “you have to look for your life” (well, movie spotters... what is it? What movie?). This year I will be looking for my life in some new places, I know that for sure... (big trip coming up... my family's crazy half-gap year... but more of that later). For now here's a simple poem for the end of this year and the beginning of the next (and it somehow relates back to this one that I posted almost exactly two years ago). May 2011 be a good one for us all.
There might be flying But it will be different
We will fly from the soles of our feet To the very tips of our fingers
And we will think we are running But it will be much, much more
p.s. A friend bought me a book of Alastair Reid's poetry for Xmas. Straightaway I love this poem (also, bizarrely considering the heathen business, here). Onwards, my friends, onwards. The exit's here somewhere.
And on it goes... the festive season... my, how it can drag...
I try to read something really unseasonal at this time of year (a form of escape!) and right now I am ensconced with Quentin Crisp and his "The Naked Civil Servant" (1968). A friend left it here for me to read a couple of years ago and I've only just managed to reach for it recently. It looks something like this:
Crisp is eminently quotable (and not for the tiny-minded...) but so far my favourite quote is in the first chapter:
"... keeping up with the Joneses was a full-time job with my mother and father. It was not until many years later when I lived alone that I realized how much cheaper it was to drag the Joneses down to my level."
I've missed one Poetry Bus but might make the next one at the weekend (prompt here).
Well, let's start with a totally non-academic fact - my Mum, Margaret Fox, shared her birthday with William Shakespeare (23rd April not the year, obviously). This may not seem very important in the great scheme of things but it mattered to me because Margaret (1924-2010) was a huge fan of the one they call 'the bard' (the one by whom all poets in English shall be judged... 1564-1616). She particularly loved going to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon - she would go for a few days whenever she could, see play after play after play and think she was in heaven. She was a bit of a culture vulture (and a some time snob, it must be said) and so the RSC was her idea of top entertainment (well, that and Saturday night TV... ). Part of the reason she loved the RSC and all that went with it was that she'd had an odd, and in many ways hard, upbringing in the 1930s without a lot of cultural content and I know she loved to experience that 'look at me, enjoying Shakespeare, this is life as it should be lived' feeling. I used to gently take the piss out of her for it ('my snobby mother, ha!' - easy target) but she was perfectly entitled to her feelings and really I could have let it go (though of course she got me back regularly by making faces at what she saw as my own low culture tastes and life choices... she once said 'I think you could do better than poetry, dear'! Ouch...).
Anyway, this spring, in the last week or so of Mum's life, I kept trying to read to her when it got to the point where she was restless and fed up but couldn't read to herself any more (she'd always been a devoted reader). After several false starts I realised that just a page or so of a Shakespeare play would do it (the nearest one on the bookshelf was 'Twelfth Night') and as soon as I started to read it aloud her face relaxed and I could see that it was just the thing she wanted to hear. I could see that it made her happy ('my life still has culture! I may be dying but I still have this and I am not in an old people's home listening to “Eastenders” or bingo numbers'). Also it reminded her of happy times and it helped her to fall asleep (very quickly – she was hardly sleeping at night). Overall I'm pleased I thought to do it – it is a happy memory from a pretty difficult time.
Like my mother, I too have loved Shakespeare's plays (well, the tragedies certainly). I studied several in school ('Macbeth', 'Hamlet', 'Measure for Measure') and I went to see those (and loads of others) when I was 16-18 and living in London. I was lucky enough to have good English teachers who really encouraged a love of the plays and though I've rarely gone back to Will's work since then I should think that the love of Macbeth's torments and Hamlet's confusions will be with me forever... in some form or another.
Shakespeare's sonnets though...all 154 of them... I've never really seen the attraction and therefore the new Faber & Faber edition of them (complete with commentary throughout from Scottish poet Don Paterson) was aimed precisely at people like me (oiks what are a bit cultured but not as much as they could be...). I bought the book a little while back and have been reading it steadily (I love Faber books... could lick them... though this one, I note with shock, has more typos than any book I've read in years! Disgraceful really.). The front cover looks like this:
So, what's my position now? Have the sonnets and all their talk of love found a place in my heart..? Or in my head..?
Well, for a start I must warn you that Paterson guides the reader in a very particular way and from the reviews it is apparent that some people like his approach more than others. The marvellous Adam Mars Jones (in the Guardian here) is pretty scathing but other reviews (here, here and here) are more positive. For me, the approach was... OK, quite more-ish, certainly not dull. He's slangy and funny about... 70% of the time... and then erudite and high-powered for the other 30% (but I managed to skim a lot of the latter... whenever he said 'anorak alert' I confess I did press fast-forward on the eyes hating, as I do, so much of that poetry-as-science-and-here-look-at-the-length-of-my-terminology business). As for the jokes, some were funny, some weren't but that is the way with jokes, I find, no matter who's tellin' 'em. Overall his chatting-to-a-mate-in-the-pub style worked for me in the simple sense that it got me through the book and that without it I'm not sure the sonnets themselves would have kept me reading (and yes, I do know you don't have to read them all at once but, on this occasion, I did... it was all or nothing). I was glad, I must admit, that Paterson had done all the background reading (so we oiks don't have to...) because lit. crit. has never been a place I've felt at home. Plus he's good with the vocabulary of the time (vital so you don't get the wrong end of the innuendo...) and in a good number of cases I found the explanations (just literally 'what the hell is this sonnet about?') necessary and helpful (even if I didn't always agree with all his decisions and directions). Now I come to think about it I disagreed with him fairly regularly but I suspect a lot of that is just to do with taste, life experience and the fact that I'm about as arrogant and temporarily overconfident as he is sometimes (or as his writing persona is sometimes anyway). As for where I disagreed... well, for a start I wasn't hugely keen on all the 'what poets do' and 'what poets think' that the commentary contained... as though they/we were all one happy band of campers working in the same way (I'm not sure that that could be any further from the truth...). Also he often hated the end couplets (last two lines) of the sonnets and found them unnecessary, whilst more often than not they were my favourite bit. Finally he wrote a lot about the whole 'Will's gay, Will hates women but still dabbles with them now and again' thing (for context purposes) and whilst I didn't necessarily disagree with what he said on that score I did feel he spent a lot more time talking about it than I really wanted him to (and I LOVE gays... and women...). The more he pondered 'who Will was shagging when' the more I found I just didn't want to try and come up with a 'what Will was doing at this point in this life' scenario (because we just don't know so it's like a game with no rules, no point, no end... and I'm a person who's interested in people, on the whole...). I know why he banged on about the gay content and issues so much (he feels other critics/commentators have ignored it, got it wrong etc.) but still it felt a bit forced to me at times... or a bit too matey somehow (in a 'hey, we all know what relationships are like, don't we, got gay friends, haven't we, eh?'). It's hard to explain why but this did get on my nerves and even a bit under my skin. Maybe DP and I just think about people and relationships in very different ways... or maybe I should have read the book more in snatches here and there... or maybe I moan too much (and not in a sexual way). Bloody readers - always moaning about something.
As for the poems themselves - Paterson is very clear in his 'some are good, some are not so good' commentary but try as I might I couldn't get very excited even about the ones he INSISTED were beyond compare. On this reading at least, I found again and again that I just didn't like these sonnets very much (the odd line here and there but not many whole poems). They seemed so nowt-but-showy, so in-the-knowy, so woe-is-me-oh-woey (must stop this now...). In fact I got so restless that I found myself playing a little game called 'give the sonnet a silly subtitle' (some of them 20th century song lyrics...). The more I read the more they made me long for the plays, for some substance, for some direction, for something (anything!) other than all this whining and obsessing with looks and beauty and 'oh, how time will ruin you my young bunion, but I'll still love you and commemorate you in me lovely verse' (and am I judging them by my own 21st Century silly sensibility... well yes, it appears so... but I can blame Paterson and his constant use of 21st century silly language and catchphrases throughout for that... innit though?). Perhaps one of the things about reading the sonnets was that I found them, as a whole, quite depressing, strangely hollow. For me, there seemed to be very little love in them at all (or at least little that I could recognise as love... and love has kind of been my life's work - we talked about love poetry back here, remember... though I suppose it could be partly the several hundred years time difference...). Or maybe it's that Shakespeare just didn't love anyone very well (men or women). Or maybe no-one loved him (that might explain the great tragedies...). Or maybe he just loved himself (that wouldn't be unheard of for a writer now would it?). But I'll stop there because, as I said, we'll never know. This may shock you but I struggled to find even one sonnet in the book that I'd like to copy and paste for you here – and that helped me understand why every time a newspaper has one of those 'print some famous people's favourite Shakespeare sonnets' I'm always bemused by all the choices (and yet I could print excerpts from his plays till the coos come hame). It's not even that I don't like sonnets and formal poems... anyone who reads here regularly will know that I do (50% of the time at least... I wrote a sonnet last post... and did I mention... save the villanelle! In fact email Faber and Faber to that effect if you don't mind – I'd like an anthology of them please by Easter!). In the end I picked this one (102) to share with you (it's all nightingales and 'I know I'm not writing about you as much as I used to but I still love you, honest, in fact it's more special now...'):
My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming; I love not less, though less the show appear. That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming The owner's tongue doth publish everywhere. Our love was new, and then but in the spring, When I was wont to greet it with my lays As Philomel in summer's front doth sing, And stops her pipe in growth of riper days. Not that the summer is less pleasant now Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night; But that wild music burthens every bough, And sweets grown common lose their dear delight. Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue, Because I would not dull you with my song.
So, there you have it – Shakespeare's sonnets 4 out of 10... must try harder. Would anyone even read them if it weren't for all the plays (controversial, sensationalist, moi?)? Maybe I'll feel a bit more rational about this in a month or two but it is interesting to note that this book partly came about because Paterson realised that, like many of us, he referred to Shakespeare's sonnets as 'classics' without really knowing them. Well, maybe there's a reason so many of us don't know them very well (and some of the ones we think we know we get completely back to front...). Maybe they're just not that classic. Maybe we worry about what is and what isn't 'classic' too much.
Anyway, to finish this broadcast I bring you something else about love but this time from that great cultural resource - 21st century TV (an episode from series 3 of the wonderful 'Six Feet Under', to be precise... could only find the bit I wanted with subtitles and an abrupt end...). We're a bit late to this series (as ever... so no spoilers for later series please) and this clip about love had me snivelling when I watched it last week. Coincidentally it's a gay character speaking here and the clip must be good because I enjoy it even though it has o'pra in it (I don't like o'pra much - my culture vulture Mum adored it of course...).
It's nearly Xmas, isn't it? Peace and joy to you all, peeps, and love too of course - good quality love.
Last week the moon... this week a starry prompt for the Poetry Bus from the Weaver of Grass. Being a bit busy with family Xmas stuff just now I thought I might just recycle something for this... but then this morning I thought I'd have a go at a star sonnet (yes, I'm still reading the new Don Paterson Shakespeare's Sonnets Book... well, just finished it actually... report on that next week... expect huge generalisations... up now - here). And what do you know... I sat down to write this morning and lo, a sonnet appeared. So here is my sort of Xmassy, sort of starry sonnet (and I had to get the word 'eyes' into it... Shakespeare uses it in practically every one of those dratted sonnets). Now I'm off to wash some socks or something...
I'd love to look above and see a star One spark of bright to help me find my way The thought that light can guide us from afar That is a hope that shines for some each day But others of us look up to the skies When times are hard, when nights are long and cold We see not one but myriad shining eyes Each one a shepherd to a different fold We cannot make a choice, we want them all We want to see each road, each glint and glow And though some roads lead only to a fall The only way to learn that is to go We take the paths we take, it is alright When we have one another kept in sight
A song you say? A starry one? Maybe this from the 1980s...
Although (no surprise) I really prefer this one from the 1970s...
p.s. 'Books I've read this year' post back here (oh, and I've added one I'd missed first time round...).
Last Xmas I wrote a ridiculously long post about the films I'd watched in the last year (back here). This year I present to you a much shorter trip through all the books I've read this year (not counting poetry... that's such awkward stuff... it needs a post of its own...). As I did last year I've included my own private reading matter and the books I've read to our daughter at night (she still likes to be read to so I'm going to keep going as long as she'll take it without barricading me out of the room - she's ten now... it won't be long). Last year I gave movies a score out of ten so I've decided to do the same with the books. It seems a bit cruel maybe, scoring a book out of ten, but it's a cruel world, n'est-ce pas? These are such varied books that the scores will show you nothing more than how much I liked each individual book and how much I would like to recommend it to you (or not).
I've gone through the books in the order I read them so, what did I read in January..?
Jack Kerouac “On the Road” (publ. 1957) Bought cheap in the supermarket with a voucher I got as a present Also mentioned here, I'd never read this and felt I should but I found it really quite dull and only got about two thirds of the way through before putting it down and not picking it up again. It's still on the bedside table but low down the pile. 6/10
Stephen Fry “Making History” (1997) Borrowed from a friend I'm not a mega Fry fan like some but I can sometimes admire what he does and says and he makes me laugh now and again. His books though I find a bit Lib-Dem, if you know what I mean (sorry for those outside the UK... that reference won't mean much). And what do I mean by that? They have good moments and some promise but are ultimately disappointing. 6/10
Neil Gaiman “Coraline” (2002) Read as bedtime story to daughter We both enjoyed this slight novel well enough but they did take it up a notch (or twenty) with the film (which is fantastic – one of our real faves). 8/10 (she says 8½)
Dave Eggers “What is the What” (2006) Bought this a few years back after reading an article about it... left it sitting in the 'to read' pile for ages (mainly because someone else said it was very harrowing and I was scared to read it... sorry) This book is really, really, REALLY good – both its fiction and its truth. I wrote about it back here (though I didn't really say very much). Read it, read it, read it! 10/10
Mark Steel “Reasons to be Cheerful” (2001) Bought this because I read and really enjoyed his “What's Going On”(2008) last year A lot of 'funny' written matter just doesn't make me laugh but Mark Steel books are almost guaranteed to make me splurt out noisily on the bus. The jokes don't always work (and can be a little laboured from time to time) but overall I really love his outlook, dedication and way with words and images. 9/10
Frances Hodgson Burnett “A Little Princess” (1904) Read as bedtime story to daughter I loved this as a kid and enjoyed it even more this time round (and Miss I'm Ten loved it too). It is SO sad (I cried real tears, whilst reading...) and it prompted us to talk a lot about inequality too – always good. 9/10 (she says 9½)
Nora Chassler “Miss Thing” (2010) Bought from the publisher, recommended by a friend This is a lively, spiky, pretty intellectual piece of New York-based fiction via Scottish Two Ravens Press. I very much enjoyed it – though I had to look a few things up (I knew all the drug references but not so much the philosophers....). I'll be interested to see what this writer does next... especially now she lives in Tayside... 8/10
Wendy Cook “So farewell then Peter Cook” (2006) Borrowed from a friend This memoir takes namedropping to a new level. There were some interesting details about comedian Peter Cook's life but a lot of flannel too. Disappointing. 4/10
Dave Eggers “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (2000) Bought it after reading 'What is the What' (see above) The first section of this I really enjoyed (the heartbreaking bit) but once he moved out to California I'm afraid the genius side of things started to wear a bit thin and whiney for me. Still, it wasn't uninteresting and it got Eggers started on the path that led a lot of the very interesting work he's doing now. 8/10
Lauren St.John“The White Giraffe” (2007) Read as bedtime story to daughter Adventure with animals in South Africa. A bit cheesey but Miss I'm Ten loved it. 6/10 (she says 8½)
A.S.Byatt “The Children's Book” (2009) Bought it in Smiths This is one of my very favourite reads of the year (I wrote a little about it here). A huge book in every sense. 10/10
Robert Graves “Goodbye to all that” (1929) From local library This has such a good reputation but I'm afraid I skimmed a lot of it. There was one line in it about singing with the soldiers that I liked but I forgot to write it down. 6/10
Rose Tremain “Trespass” (2010) Mum's copy – she was quite a Tremain fan Moody, sad... I read this at the right time (just after Mum died). Not amazing but perfectly readable. 7/10
Mark Steel “Vive la revolution” (2003) As “Reasons...” above A history of the French Revolution, this isn't my favourite of Steel's books... in fact I didn't finish it. But then I did read Hilary Mantel's “A Place of Greater Safety” last year so maybe I just didn't need more Danton and friends quite yet. 6/10
Robert Graves “On English Poetry” (1922) From local library I loved this – loads of bonkers quotes about poetry (I posted some here and here). 8/10
Barack Obama “Dreams from my Father” (1995) Mum's copy I loved this too – wrote about it here. Although my favourite Obama line has to be from comedian Reginald D Hunter on TV's 'Have I got news for you' – I can't find it online but it went something like 'yeh, a black man gets to be in the white house – now that the whole country ain't worth a damn'. 9/10
Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” (1871) Read as bedtime story to daughter I am not a Carroll fan (I know, stone me!). I read the first Alice to Miss I'm Ten last year and I couldn't bear it (she enjoyed it – she likes most books... especially if there's a female central character and/or animals in it). I did find this one more enjoyable but still... I find the books flat somehow, lifeless. I am aware that lots of people (and poets in particular) do not feel this way (hysteria if you ask me). 7/10 (she says 8)
Kurt Vonnegut “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969) Borrowed from a friend This is another classic I'd not read. It is powerful and very well-written and quite ahead of its time in its crazy style. I can't say I could rave about it just yet (like some of you do...) but heck I'd take it over Kerouac any day! I might read it again. 9/10
Rose Tremain “Sacred Country” (1992) Mum's copy I much preferred this to her 'Trespass' (above) largely, I suppose, because it didn't have the middle-class stamp so clearly right the way through it. This is a really fascinating, well-told tale about ordinary English people doing what might be thought of as very extraordinary things. I found it very moving and it's that simple thing - a good novel. 9/10
Zadie Smith “Changing my Mind” (2009) Mum's copy There was the odd essay in here that lost me completely but overall I thought it was a terrific collection of work and writing. I wrote about it here. And you can read one of my favourite sections of the book (about comedy) here. 9/10
Rhona Cameron “Nineteen Seventy Nine” (2004) Borrowed from a friend Funny and hugely emotional, this gritty '70s childhood memoir really gets to the heart of life in a small Scottish town. I wrote about it here. 9/10
Jacqueline Wilson “Secrets” (2002) Read as bedtime story to daughter Miss I'm Ten is a serious JW fan so there are a lot of her books in this house. This one is a modern day Little Princess/Prince and Pauper affair but, like all her books, it works like a charm on the fans. 8/10 (she says 9½)
“Q.I. Book of the Dead” (2009) Bought this for Mark last Xmas - don't know why... much more my kind of thing than his! I've dipped into this on and off all year. It's basically lots of potted life stories and I have learned lots of interesting facts from it. Sadly, because I'm not really good with facts, I'm afraid I've forgotten most of them again already. Quite frustrating, I can tell you. 8/10
Kathleen Jamie “Findings” (2005) Bought second hand in Edinburgh A smashing book of non-fiction pieces – I wrote about it here. 9/10
Steven Poole “Unspeak” (2006) Bought second hand locally This attempt to dissect a lot of the nonsense language in news reporting started well but then lost me about a third of the way in. Maybe another time I will come back and explain why... At the moment it sits on the forgotten pile keeping Kerouac company. 6/10
Alexander McCall Smith “Dream Angus” (2006) Mum's copy This is simply fabulous - myth with modern twist. Highly recommended. 9/10
Astrid Lindgren “Pippi Longstocking” (various dates - this edition 2007) Read as bedtime story to daughter – the new edition with the Lauren Child illustrations This is another one I'd somehow missed as a child. Miss I'm Ten loved it because the heroine is an eccentric redhead (close to home..?). We both enjoyed the 'child given total freedom' storylines though I can't say it's stayed with me much since finishing it a couple of months ago. 7/10 (she says 9½)
Bill Bryson “Shakespeare” (2007) Mum's copy I nearly put this in the Brilliant Poetry raffle but then I decided to give it a go. I suppose this is the height of middlebrow non-fiction but, you know, his books sell well for a reason or two (and none of them to do with a Katie Price lifestyle...). It was informative, entertaining, clever. I particularly liked all the details about the London of Shakespeare's time – Bryson really brought it to life for those of us with zero historical background (facts you see...). 8/10
Peter Ackroyd “Milton in America” (1997) Mum's copy A fictional account of a poet's fictional trip in the seventeenth century. I started it, got bored, stopped. Then I started it again, got bored again, put it in the pile with 'On the Road'. It felt really forced to me. 5/10
Cathy Cassidy “Indigo Blue” (2005) Read as bedtime story to daughter These books are very like Jacqueline Wilson's from what I can see (though the writer is younger than JW and you can kind of feel that somehow). I started thinking it was going to be a bit of a copy cat (didn't like the cover either) but in fact we both really enjoyed it and couldn't turn the pages fast enough. 8/10 (she says 9)
Jacqueline Wilson “Secret Teenage Diary” (2009) Read as bedtime story to daughter This is the second volume of Jacqueline's own life story (written with her young audience very much in mind). Just as with the first volume with Miss I'm Ten and I really enjoyed this – some great details about an ordinary 1950s teenage year-in-the-life. 8/10 (she says 9)
Gregory Maguire “Wicked” (1995) Borrowed from a friend As we were seeing the musical show in London this year I fancied reading this original reworking of the Oz story (though I probably never would have got to it otherwise). People seem quite split on this book but overall I did enjoy it (though of course it is very different to the show – much more adult content!). There are some strong ideas and the characters and places came over well, I'd say. It's one of those... I wouldn't say 'rush to read it' but I wouldn't say 'don't ever read it' either. 7/10
And that's me - sacrilegious, full of shite or on the money? You decide.
p.s. Forgot one we finished just recently Ray Bradbury "The Halloween Tree" (1972) Borrowed from a friend and read to daughter I'm afraid neither of us could get as excited about this book as the friend who lent it to us! Miss I'm Ten really struggled with it (lots of description and historical facts content, very little characterisation or story) and I found it poetic (in the sense that I almost wish he'd gone the whole hog and made it into a poem). Great illustrations though (by Joseph Mugnaini). 7/10 (we agreed on this one)
So this week... our first Poetry Bus prompt from Titus the Dog (see here). I chose the video option and so, on Thursday morning, I watched this:
and, being me, straightaway I had to look up who the music was by (details here). Then I wrote the beginnings of this little piece:
cooking up something
be in your work better be in your world
Then later in the afternoon I wrote the walking/ghostly/snow poem that's in the last post (here) and so I suppose that should really be included in this prompt too (but I'm not going to post it again here... that would be silly...). Then finally I walked the dog on Friday morning and realised that a line that hadn't fitted into the above 'cooking up' poem could set off a little piece of its own:
The moon sings us a lullaby We don't know how, we don't know why But as each day takes turn to fly I'm sure I hear a moonrock sigh
After all this I remembered what the original art video had made me think of – a song and character from a kids TV show. I used to love this song (and her voice) every time I heard it when our Girl was teeny. She had the soundtrack CD for this show as well so we heard it a lot!
Added later - the voice of Luna belonged to Lynne Thigpen (1948-2003). She was in many other TV shows and movies and was the radio DJ in 1979's 'The Warriors' (remember you never see her whole face... I loved that movie when I was a teenager!). Never knew that link till today.
I was out walking deep in the snow today When I met myself coming the other way I said "hey me-you – where are you going, friend?" It said "far be it from me to start a trend But I heard there's a way-out just down there" And off it slipped into the wintry air I called "please take care, don't get cold or lost" It was quick with a cheery chirped riposte "Don't worry yourself, I've been here before" And I looked and shrugged and I walked some more
I've already mentioned this on facebook but I know that not all the people who read this read that so here I go again...
Very exciting snail mail post arrived here yesterday... a magazine with a front cover that looks like this:
This is the Journal of the Philip Larkin Society (current issue – number 30 - free to members) and inside it are lots of articles (about Larkin – obviously) and a few poems by other people. Most excitingly (for me) two of the poems in this issue are written by one Rachel Fox of Montrose (hurray! And you will understand the cheering if you know anything about how bad my record is with those arsewipes the majority of paper poetry magazines!). The poems of mine included are “The way life should be” (a villanelle! Even more exciting if you remember this post) and “Significant other deceased” (blogged here ages ago... also a postcard). I was quite surprised by the poems they chose to use... but I'm not complaining (in fact I'm thrilled). The issue also contains poems by Alison Mace.
English poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) is not to everyone's taste (his poetry, his life, all of him) but he is, as I've said here before, one of my very favourites. Here he is reading one of his quite well-known poems (and beware – this one has a 'fuck' in it):
He reads so well. And that 'long slide'... makes me wonder if it got into my head for a poem I posted back here. While we're at it the whole 'looking from age to age' makes me think about my last post's poem and some of the comments there too. He is SO my kind of guy.
You can join the Philip Larkin Society (here). You can read his poems all over the place – especially this year as it's the 25th anniversary of his death (whole website about that here). You can read about one of my favourite Larkin poems back here (if you missed it first time round). You can even get a bit of Larkin tonight on BBC4 ('Philip Larkin and the Third Woman'). So gorge yourselves! Fill up with Phil! Start the T.S. Eliot plan diet in the New Year or something...
This week's Poetry Bus task comes from Kat (details here) and she wants us to take a pub's name and come up with something fun and funny. Hm... fun... I can't say I'm really in the mood for writing fun this week. I have been watching a lot of funny TV shows of late but I think that's in a bid to rediscover laughing (after the sad changes of recent months). I've been watching, in case you're interested, 'Big Bang Theory' (excellent – so tight, so well-written), 'Miranda' (charming, innocent, nostalgic... daughter loves it too), 'Six Feet Under' (not really a comedy programme but some wicked funny moments) and 'The Trip' (not funny very often but still... beautifully made and oddly addictive, I find). I've always lived and worked in a place that's caught somewhere between music and comedy, if you know what I mean.
But for now there isn't a funny poem brewing anywhere round these parts I'm afraid – and in fact I think I've only ever written funny poems unintentionally. I'd say 'sorry' about this but I've already posted a poem that has a lot of sorries this week (back here). So instead I present you a new poem about pubs – or about a pub-related memory anyway. After a couple of formal weeks (villanelle two weeks ago... sonnet last week) this is more your splurge of freedom poem. Splat! Take that! Kapow!
We were never meant to be there at all We were years too young Still smelled of homework
But tapped crazy cats all psyched and hyper We ran up the street in the dark, dark night Let doors bang shut 'Hello! Hello!'
Inside, the lights all twinkling, sparkling Glasses of warm intoxication And men at the tables, instead of boys
Snow, snow, snow... and gradually our daughter learns why grown-ups are sometimes less than excited about that white stuff (because almost everything gets cancelled in this country when it snows!). The headlines in the papers are already promising months of freeze, the whole island running out of fuel and so on and so on. I'd happily go to bed for a week or more if I could.
Anyway, I will get to this week's Poetry Bus later in the weekend (driven by Kat - prompt here) though can't promise I will manage to obey all the instructions. In the meantime here's a small poem of mine that came to mind the other day. It's quite an old one (p.76 of little green book).
About the thing
Sorry for every shout Sorry it was never worth Even being cross about
Sorry for decisions made For all the drips of selfishness and Errors I cannot explain
Sorry for not being it The big success The worldwide hit
Sorry that I didn't try Do you think that? Worse still, do I?
It has been snowing here... plus short school holidays... plus I'm still knee-deep in the new edition of Shakespeare's sonnets... so for now all I want to say is that this is an interesting interview with writer Alan Bennett. There's a lot of talk in the UK just now about higher education and on a slightly related note I particularly agree with Bennett on schools:
"I don't believe in private education. I just think it's not fair, that's my attitude, and until they get that right, which we won't do now 'til God knows when, the country is always going to be in the same boat – divided down the middle."
There's plenty of good stuff about writing in the article too.
Possibly my favourite piece of Bennett's work is the film 'A Private Function' (1984 - co-written with its director Malcolm Mowbray). Not seen it..? Here are a couple of minutes... perhaps not for hardcore vegetarians...
p.s. Simultaneous Blogging Experiment post is back here.
This post is part of Mairi Sharratt's Simultaneous Blogging Experiment (link to the mothership is here... anyone looking for my Poetry Bus poem this week that is back here). This post is in English... to begin with... pero en español a bit lower down... read on, read on...
The theme for today's experiment is broken conversation and this is my poem (in English... with audio file here). Regular visitors will win no prizes for guessing what (or who) triggered this piece...
There is no language for us any more All those words that you knew That you hunted for crosswords They're quiet and scarce And I'm totally clueless
And I look at the photos And I hear all the funny old ways And I feel like I can touch your skin But I can't
There are a lot of Spanish writers involved in this experiment (all links below) and as I did study Spanish and live in Spain (both a long time ago - over 20 years ago in fact...) I thought I would have a go at translating this little piece. My attempt is below – apologies if it's awful but it's been a while (lo siento, lo siento...). I did run it past the one Spanish speaker I know online (this man) and he very helpfully ironed out a couple of lumpy bits but he can't be blamed for the overall piece. Also (just so you can hear my very, very rusty accent) there is an audio file of the translation here (¡hombre, qué cara que tiene esa mujer!). Yes. Sin duda.
Ahora no hay lenguaje para nosotros Todas las palabras que conocías Que buscabas para crucigramas Ya todas se han quedado tranquilas Se han vuelto escasas Y yo, al final, sin indicaciones
Y examino las fotos Y oigo tus manías Y me parece que todavía puedo tocarte la piel Pero no puedo
Here are all the links to other people posting right now as part of today's experiment:
And finally here's a song with some English and Spanish all mixed up beautifully. I knew this singer way back and in fact she was the person who first introduced me to Madrid and Spanish life in general... but cielos that was many many lunas ago...
I've been working on two blog poetry things this week - Mairi Sharratt's Simultaneous Blog Experiment (due to be posted at midday on Saturday our time - that post of mine now here) and, of course, everybody's favourite - the Poetry Bus. I'm posting my Bus poem now, a bit early, rather than get it all mixed up with tomorrow's Experiment. For this week Dana gave us three Bus options (here) and I chose the second one:
"In the movie 'The Hunt for Red October' Sam Neill (swoon) plays a defecting submarine officer. During a quiet moment in the film he tells Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) that he has always dreamed of living in Montana. SPOILER ALERT FOR A TWENTY YEAR OLD FILM! He dies before he makes it to the United States. Made me cry. Write about the place you dream of living someday. Or if you’re lucky enough to already live there write about home."
Thinking about this task (walking the dog – where I do my best thinking) I had all kinds of things coming into my head (for a start the poem/song "I vow to thee my country" - not even sure where I know that from... maybe primary school... maybe Charles and Diana's doomed wedding service... how timely... ). And then, because I'm reading faber's new edition of Shakespeare's sonnets just now (and I mentioned that on the Bus last week – here), I decided that I wanted to have another go at a sonnet for this task. After all sonnets are so often about love and this is a task about love too, in its way. I have old sonnets here and my “Happy New Hope” one on a postcard (buy now for the 2010/11 festive season!) but here is today's brand new one (and an audio version here):
Trying for home
Let's picture a country that's worth fighting for A land we can treasure and still want to share Where no-one can buy themselves higher than law Close your eyes tight, you might see it, somewhere With healthcare, sound housing, wide spaces of green And the money to keep it all ticking along Kind teachers, prime time-off and nobody mean To dream a fair home, is that so very wrong? We count what we're missing and wish it weren't so The waiting, the pushing, the steal and the con We know most of all there's a good way to go That the seats are all full and the engines turned on We try to find the place hidden from sight We worry that it's only there at night
As with last week's villanelle you will notice that this poem is the height of low fashion (awash as it is with end-rhymes). What can I say - like old Will S, I just prefer my sonnet efforts with end-rhymes – though that's not (of course!) to say that I think all lines in all poems should end in a rhyme (no, no, no... variety is the key to all good things... is it not? Why, yes it is!). Getting good end-rhymes can be tricky (I had to fiddle with this poem till my brain boiled) but overall I figure something like... if they were good enough for WS's sonnets then they are certainly good enough for mine.
Anyway, hope to see you all on the Bus at some point and don't forget the simultaneous blog experiment thing (including the chance to hear my Spanish accent... a once only offer) is now here.
A while back I was singing quite regularly - sometimes even in public - but recently I haven't done any singing for ages. After the last post and all that talk of warbling I thought I'd have another go (no warm-up, no practising... I'm just that kind of slapdash gal). So if you go here you can hear an unaccompanied song I wrote a couple of years ago called "Hindsight, hah!" It's a bit ropey at the top end but I did it in one take and after a big meal (and a thousand other excuses). The words are on my website under 'songs' if you want to read them rather than hear them... and oddly I think they too could answer this week's Enchanted Oak Poetry Bus prompt (see last post).
On another (much better) singing note today I came across the most fabulous song whilst trawling Youtube for all things Aristocats (it's a facebook thing... cartoon week). This is Scatman Crothers (Scatcat in Aristocats, hence the link) singing the opening song to a 1975 animated movie called 'Coonskin'. I'd somehow never heard the singer's name (and he was an actor too) or heard of this song or that movie until this week. If you want to read about the movie there's plenty here but this song (written, according to t'internet, by Crothers and the film's director Ralph Bakshi)... it's just such a great set of sounds:
I know this is early but it's ready so let's just get on with it. This week's Poetry Bus prompt was suggested by Chris at Enchanted Oak (thousands and thousands of miles from here). It's a straightforward task – no messing around. She gave us this: Poems that address your existence on this earth. Good, bad, or indifferent, tell us something, anything, about your life here.
I had a couple of false starts on this (won't bore you with all the details... suffice to say writing about me and my life is not something I'm very keen on just now) but then I slapped myself a couple of times in the face and walked the dog again (photo of typical walk this week above and there are many more here). After all that it seemed I was ready to get on and write something. Literal... metaphorical... I'm covering all bases here.
poem temporarily removed
Some of you (maybe even all of you) will recognise straightaway that this poem is a villanelle and this is a poetic form that I use every now and then. I love some villanelles (first loved them via poet Wendy Cope, I think, her 'Manifesto' is good and there's one of hers online here) but I should tell you that they are very unfashionable in British poetry just now. Obviously all the slam/young/hip poets don't bother with them (not as far as I know anyway) but even some of the fogey/literary/academic/respected poets look down on them these days. One of Scotland (and Britain)'s most influential poets, Don Paterson, seems to be running some kind of evil campaign against them as he has slagged them off (again!) in his recent article about Shakespeare and his sonnets (he had a go at them at our Brilliant Poetry event back in April too). There is a long but interesting piece (by Paterson) about his new book “Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets” here and I have bought the sonnets book... because despite his foul smearing of the villanelle I am not anti-Pati (not at all, not at all). In this article however he even quotes that bloody Carol Ann Duffy villanelle about villanelles (again!) and I'd have to say that, from what I've read of it so far, it's not one of her best pieces (even poet laureates have off days, I'm sure...). I mean I just don't understand it (well, I do but I don't agree...) - does a person hate the tango just because ex-conservative MP Ann Widdecombe makes a flying mash of it on “Strictly Come Dancing?” (No, a person does not... but you can see it here if you really want to suffer in the interests of research). So do we blame a poetic form just because some people have used it as a basis for unappealing or just plain crap work? I don't think so, I really don't (and even though I'm here in poetic obscurity I don't think that makes my opinion any less valid... does it?). All this villanelle-bashing makes me feel quite sorry for the poor old form. Even more so as some of my best work has been in villanelles (which probably says heaps of bad things about me and my writing... oh, undoubtedly it does... I like repetition... I said ' I like repetition'...). Indeed if it weren't for the fact that there's so much else to protest about just now (the tories are in power – just that in itself...) I think I might be pacing the streets with a placard reading 'Ring a big bell/save the villanelle!' I might start up a magazine filled entirely (every month!) with villanelles! I might devote my whole life to the cause...
Well, I did say 'might'. In the meantime other villanelles of mine, in case you're interested, are here (Radiohead one), here (Michael Marra one) and here (eating pizza on acid one). And there's one in the next issue of 'About Larkin' (out later this year – I'll let you know when it's available).
Speaking of singing (as I was in the poem before the villanelle declaration) here is one of my favourite singers (though I have a LOT of favourite singers...wrote about some of them a few years ago – back here). I watched the recent TV interview with this singer last night (taped from a few weeks back - "Robert Plant: By Myself") and it covered his highs, his lows, his more popular phases and his times in something more like obscurity. Most of all it was good to watch a programme that was really about the work of singing rather than just all the usual pop/rock biog. nonsense. It was glorious.
Here he is with the old band:
and here he is with a more more recent band doing an old favourite:
I'm not sure how I will manage the Bus next week because I'm part of another writing project next Saturday (details here). I'll try to make it though!
These days every weekday morning Zoe (our dog) and I walk our Girl to school and then head off for our morning fresh air. I've been meaning to take the camera with me for ages on one of these walks but I am not exactly a morning person so I'm lucky if I remember the dog and the Girl (never mind accessories...). Today I did remember... and here are some photos of our wander this morning (approx. 9-10am). It was, as you will see, a cracking morning - wintry and bright. And for those of you who live in cities... look how quiet everywhere is! It's so much easier to stay sane with this amount of people-free space around (honestly... take it from one who knows...).
So, first we walk up this road
These farmer's fields are looking different now winter's pretty much here - never seen these shadows look so bold before
There used to be a lovely view of the sea from this path... then someone put a fence up. Luckily the wind (strong on the coast here) has other ideas (dog agrees).
Just one of many lovely bits of woodland
There's evaporating frost in them there hills
At this time of year wherever you go round here the geese are always with you
It's wintry under foot now (I saw the gritter out on the roads this morning too)
All that talk of paths on the Poetry Bus this week... shall we take this path?
Or this one?
This part of the walk used to be the estate of a big house (house now gone). They obviously got themselves some fancy, foreign trees though because ours aren't usually this huge.
Looking up at a giant... a bit Lord of the Rings this one
The shrub in winter
I never get bored of looking at trees...
Winter sun doing its best
One of my favourite bits of the walk - through this pine wood
These fields were looking particularly dramatic today
I thought I wasn't going to manage a Poetry Bus ticket this time. I've been writing quite a lot on the blog in the past week (all about the best side of pop music – starting with part one here and working right up to part five here) and I just thought enough was enough. I half thought I might post an old poem about making big decisions (that's here) but then in the end I took a couple of minutes to really read the prompt and think about it. Here's the prompt:
"Write about one of the following: (1) a time you had to choose between two clearly divergent paths; (2) a time you were called to walk a path you didn't choose for yourself; or (3) a time you refused to travel the path you were called to follow."
Suddenly number 3 made me remember a time (about 12 years ago) when I was working in a crappy job and someone told me to do something that I considered stupid/wasteful/wrong. It wasn't a huge matter of global significance or anything... but it was still one of those moments when you think 'this is a decision I can make – what will I choose? Who the hell am I after all? Do I stand up to be counted etc.' And so the ticket reads like this:
Do it they said Just do it No questions Drop the attitude You don't need To know why Just do it The way we say Do it quickly Do it now
So I thought about it Long and hard And then I said No
Maybe I should send it to a politician or two (Mr Clegg? Still time to step down, make a stand, be who you said you were...).
Other Bus travellers are here. Unless my records are wrong this is my 50th trip on the Poetry Bus! Can't quite believe that...
I tend to be an instinctive writer (is there any other kind?) and that's true whether I'm working on poems or blog posts – I just go for it and I don't worry too much about whether it's a good idea or fashionable or the right way of doing something. This week's series of posts about pop music for example, in true instinctive fashion, was completely unplanned... I just starting thinking about pop music (as a subject) last weekend and hey, presto – here I am at the end of a long week of rambling about what pop music is and can be (at its best perhaps...). I'm sure for some regular readers this little series has been a bit of a turn-off (and for some quite the opposite) but never mind, next week's a whole new week (and the Poetry Bus will be back soon – prompt this week from Karen). And who knows what I'll be rambling on about next week?
But first... for the last pop post we come to the year 2000 (and the decade we seem to have ended up calling the 'noughties'). Again I had an instinctive feeling and in this case my instinct was telling me to post Britney Spears' 'Baby Hit Me One More Time' (written by Swedish writer/producer Max Martin). Why on earth did I think that, you may ask yourself (I know I did). Maybe I thought of it because it's a great pop record (half the world seems to have done a cover version already and that's a good sign of pop success)... or maybe it was because all the other records I've picked this week have been by artists who are also songwriters and I thought that, to really represent pop, I should also pick something that is in the hit factory no-one-here-writes-their-own-songs-but-they're-all-pretty territory... or just maybe it came to me because miraculously all the music I've posted so far this week has been by male pop stars/bands and it seemed time to put a female in the frame. But Britney? Britney? Was that really the best I could do – a song where the singer dresses up as a schoolgirl in the video (I mean really, who needs porn – and while we're on the subject there's a lovely comedy song about substituting burlesque for porn from last week's TV here)? And after all couldn't I have posted something by a woman who does write her own material – something by Carole King from the '60s or '70s (she is one of my VERY favourites and a great writer and I have posted songs of hers before) or some Kate Bush or Blondie, some Tracy Chapman, some Lauren Hill, some Feist... there are so many really great, talented female pop artists that I am crazy about.
Then I looked up 'Baby Hit Me One More Time' (originally written for the band TLC apparently) and realised it was actually in the charts in 1998/9 so it doesn't fit into this post anyway. Ha! So much for instinct. Back to the drawing board. And anyway, it is a song that sounds better when covered by someone else (pick your own version) and that can't be good, can it? Best forget all about it.
So pop of the noughties? Help! Help! At the beginning of 2000 I was 33 and pregnant so this has not exactly been my key decade for listening to pop (I've listened to more Teletubbies than Top Twenty, more folk music than “Now that's what I call music”). I have listened to some pop of the decade though and liked it (White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Corinne Bailey Rae, The Gossip, Laura Marling, The Streets' first album...), some of it I have completely missed (Kings of Leon – wouldn't know them from Adam or the Ants, Lily Allen/Katy Perry/Rihanna – all a blur in lipstick, any hip hop after about 1992 – completely beyond me) and some I just cannot stand (anything that calls itself a 'boy band'...and Muse - ugh... plus all that bland Cheryl Cole and X Factor drivel...and Lady Gaga...please god, someone lock her in her bloody endless wardrobe). But what to pick...what to pick? In the end... as an instinctive person... I'm just going to go with my gut. Sure this singer is mad as ten hatters (and she's the songwriter on this one too), sure she looks weird with a capital W and her legs might snap at any minute (but better that than the impossible manufactured perfect of Britters et al – see pic above), sure she's been a little distracted by hard drugs (and that's all a bit sad but not unusual really), sure it's a very retro song.... but one thing I do know is that it's also a song that makes me cry every time I hear it (and that means I love it!). It is pop (from 2007)... excellent pop, soulful pop. Here's... Amy!
And if you like that, you might like this too... also from 'Back to Black' and also written by the little lass with the indescribable hair:
After yesterday's huge ramble through the 1980s I'll try to keep this short.
In 1990 I was 23 and already knee-deep in house music, rave culture, warehouse parties... whatever else you want to call it. For most of that decade I listened mainly to all the dance music that was kind of my reason for being in those years and I pretty much missed the rock/indie bands of the '90s (Britpop and all), though I quite like some of them now. Instead it was house (a huge genre in itself), techno, breakbeat, hardcore, hip hop, soul, trip hop, acid jazz, rejigged disco, chill-out... a very varied mix... more varied than you might imagine (it wasn't all just boom, boom, boom... it really wasn't!).
This does mean that picking a pop track from this decade is quite hard for me because I wasn't really paying pop/charts/mainstream radio much attention. Often the dance tracks that made it into the pop charts were not necessarily the ones that were most popular in the clubs (though it did happen). Some bands and singers from other areas got good dance remixes done and this helped them be popular in more than one zone, if you like (mixes of Björk tracks were huge in clubs I went to in the mid '90s, for example). So I could pick a track of hers, I suppose, for my '90s pop... I could... (especially as otherwise this is turning into a bit of boys week) but somehow that would seem fake to me (I do like Björk's music now but I wasn't a particular fan at the time). Or I suppose, with the same problem in mind, I could pick some Madonna today. You can't really ignore Madonna in any thoughts about pop music, can you after all (she's just kept herself there – centrestage - where she likes it, it would seem). And she did have some good singles in the 1990s – starting with 'Vogue' and working right through to the whole 'Ray of Light' thing (you can see them all listed year by year here). But the thing with Madonna is she's been SO ubiquitous that you just never feel she needs any more...exposure, do you? Plus all my favourites of hers are from other decades (1985's 'Papa don't preach', 1989's 'Express Yourself', 2000's 'Don't tell me'...). Luckily in the end an idea for '90s pop did come to me though - a band who were both huge in the dance clubs/festivals and in the pop charts (in the UK anyway). They were cool now and again but a lot of the time they were a bit looked down on, a bit too rough... and you couldn't get further away from the sugary sounds that often get the name 'pop' ('90s manufactured pop like the Spice Girls, they ain't!). No I picked the noisy, ugly, fairly uncompromising dance band that is... the Prodigy. They started as hardcore/rave but by the end they were really anything they wanted to be.
Now which track to go for – they had a lot of hits (more than you might think - names lead to videos if you're interested):
the very odd/ridiculous but distinctive 1991 surprise hit Charly
Instead of any of the above I went for this one from 1996 (and ignore all the substandard John Lydon posturing of one of the faces of the Prodge, Keith...in fact the band were really just about the beats...and the man who made them one Liam Howlett - in stripy jumper in this clip). This track was number one - so it must be pop, right? Number one in the UK anyway... and Finland... and Norway...
Back tomorrow for some noughties pop-talk... maybe even a woman or two. Oh and don't forget to listen to poet Ian McMillan on Desert Island Discs (here) if you can. He says some great stuff... particularly the bit about double glazing in the arse.
Originally from the north of England, I live in Angus, Scotland where I walk a lot, think a lot, listen to lots of music, sometimes write poems, sometimes read poems out to other people, sometimes write songs, read all kinds of odd things, watch a bit...oh and I look after my family too.
I sometimes organise poetry and music events - details are usually here (though nothing coming up in the near future). This year I went travelling with my family - photos and notes are here. Now we're back I have moved to a new regular blog - it is here.
More about the song
You can buy my book (published 2008) from my website if you fancy it (go to 'book' page) or from www.amazon.co.uk if you prefer the comfort of the multinational corporation. My book is printed on recycled paper and card. I have 12 different poetry postcards available too.