Thursday, 29 January 2009

Some words from Mick, John, Don and Holly

I've written a few monster posts lately...great long rambling I thought maybe it was time for a few quick quotations instead. Here are a few snippets that have caught my mind lately.

From Scottish poet Mick Imlah (1956-2009), quoted in his obituary in the 'Independent':

“ write verse effectively I think you have to be practically unconscious with inspiration”


“poetry should at least try to be exciting to read”.

John Updike (1932-2009) on writing (seen posted in a comment by Fantastic Forrest on Dave King's Pics and Poems):

"The essential support and encouragement comes from within, arising out of the mad notion that your society needs to know what only you can tell it."

From the still-living Don Paterson's first book of aphorisms 'The Book of Shadows' (Picador 2004):

“The men and women who could change everything - Nature has sensibly cursed with sloth; they accomplish nothing but tabletalk and bitwork. The mediocrities found their cities everywhere.”


“Technically, speech is a very complicated form of song."


“No email for an hour. The bastards.”

I could quote that book all week and indeed I may well be quoting it again soon. You should buy your own copies though because it's worth every penny of the birthday book token I spent on it last week. In fact have this one could I not mention it?

“Exclams are for hysterics. Ellipses are for sensitives. Colons are for bullies. Please: can we have all the punctuation, or none ...”

And of my very favourite moments from a film (and if you don't know the film then you should!). I think maybe even the marvellous Mr Paterson might like it (how dare I assume he would like anything?! And me with my devil-may-care punctuation!...). It may be a bit out of synch but you'll get the idea:

More rambling another time.


Fantastic Forrest said...

Loved the quotes from the Paterson book. I must check that out further. Where are MY birthday book tokens? May have to use cold hard cash. :)

Holly Hunter is great. Have you seen her in Always with Richard Dreyfuss? Makes me cry every time.

McGuire said...

Thoughtful quotes, particularly the Don Paterson, shocked me with the truth, I think we (we, the people) are all mere tabletalk and bitwork, a bag of intentions we never lif from the ground.

God, I'm a hysteric and a sensitive, I use excalamtion marks far too much and use ellipses in the wrong way all the time...

molto interesante.

Rachel Fox said...

On Paterson's aphorisms - I have the first book and the second ('The Blind Eye' faber and faber 2007)...I bought them in the wrong order. On wikipedia it mentions a third book but from what I can see online that looks like a selection from books 1 and 2 in an American publication.

Both 1 and 2 are excellent books - packed with wisdom and outspoken craziness and sadness and humour. I have been 'laughing out loud' a lot over 'The Book of Shadows' this week. He's so clever it must hurt. I think you'd love these books buy, buy, buy.

And FF - I do like 'Always' - very different to 'Broadcast News' but still a classy film. I could watch Hunter in almost anything.

Rachel Fox said...

And I had to put the ellipsis quote in...didn't I?

And he's right because I am sensitive...hyper-sensitive, over-sensitive, multi-sensitive...a cry-at-adverts kind of an idiot (and I HATE adverts!).

Ah well, there are upsides to it too. I think.


The Solitary Walker said...

I'm a bugger for this sort of thing..! Memo to self: try and be less hysterically sensitive and less controlling in future.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, you can try, SW, but it won't necessarily work...


BarbaraS said...

Ah, he's right about the punct... uation: quite right!

Doesn't Holly Hunter look really young?

Rachel Fox said...

Spooky synchronicity, Barbara, as I just that moment put a comment over with you!

Also I think the word verification fairies are playing with our minds just now. The one I got for you was 'ineduc' which I'm taking as ineducationable. Is that a word?

Holly Hunter...the only woman to make a bob look bearable? I've never been bobable myself...always more disordered than that.

Dave King said...

An enjoyable post. It reminded me that I did learn somewhere sometime that song came first and speech developed from it.

Rachel Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

Typo alert. Please try again

Oh Dave, there's another great aphorism in the book about conversation but I can't quote the whole thing or I guess he might send the heavies round. Can poets be scary? Not really...


The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes - good quotes say such a lot, don't they?

Rachel Fox said...

I think at their best it's eyes meeting across a crowded room...the whole shebang!

Colin Will said...

Good quotes, Rachel. I like DP's aphorisms, but I'm never quite sure if they're meant to be true, or if they're very precisely manufactured literary artefacts.

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Colin...true? True? I don't really think about them like that. I suppose there is truth in them somewhere, sometimes...that's one aspect of them...but there's lots of naughtiness and playing and being-an-awkward-bugger too, I think. Take one of my favourites from 'The Book of Shadows':

"Women are better than men."

Now that seems true sometimes, quite often in fact and it made me laugh when I read it on the page. It made me laugh about men poets in general (weird bunch - some in a way that suits me, others not) and it made me think all kinds of things about me and my life and DP and his life (just to annoy him - not that he'll ever know...). But is it true? No, of course not. There's my Mark and you Colin...and a handful of others who persuade us to let you all live.


deemikay said...

I have Don's book and, like Colin perhaps, I don't know when he's being ironic and when not. I know he got his maths muddled in one of them (and I wrote a blog about it two years ago).

But quite a few of them make me chuckle. However, as an aphorist he's got nothing on Schopenhauer. Or Goethe.Or even, maybe, Sei Shonagon.

Nice post, thanks for the read. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Isn't that kind of the point though, David? It is called 'The Book of Shadows' after all. Sometimes a line might seem ironic, sometimes it might not - it doesn't have to be either/or does it? I shouldn't think he feels the same about each aphorism all the time...don't your feelings about your own writing change? On a regular basis?

Most people are complicated mixtures and Paterson easily as much as any...and I think that is the subject of a lot of the aphorism books. Plus, of course, he is just messing with your head, man. Women get off quite lightly in these books. Phew! Thank heavens for self-loathing. Sometimes.

p.s. I did think about the serious limerick business...nothing came to mind...yet.

deemikay said...

I do like the book. But if it all seems like a piss-take (which at times it does) then why should the reader have anything to do with it. I also asked myself: if he hadn't been poetry editor at Picador, would Picador have published this book? Eh? :op (Quite a few of them had been published before though... by Bloodaxe in "Strong Words". So that sort of ruins my implication.)

But I've stolen quite a lot from it. And have spread the news that "Technically, speech is a very complicated form of song" for a long time. But, again, I don't know if he's speaking as a linguist, a piss-taker or a wishful thinker...

If in doubt, steal. Yeah?

deemikay said...

Oh, and the serious limerick business... I attempted one many years ago:

Knowing I climbed up the Black Hll today
could never, can never, convey
the sunset aura I saw
that made my body withdraw
from me to half the valley away.

Dire, eh? :)

So the challenge still stands...

Rachel Fox said...

David - re DP - it may seem like a piss-take...but I don't think it is, not at all. And what's that old thing about true words and jests? It depends on your take on humour I suppose. I'm considering setting up a comedy-based religion just now in fact...the serious people have had it all their way for too long now.

Plus there are some real lightening insight moments in the Shadows book too I think. I like the one early in the book that starts 'In my adult life...'

As for Picador...I should think they'll sell more of the aphorisms than the poetry really. A much larger audience could read and enjoy them, they are books that would make great presents and also there are a million people putting out poetry books of every hue (there's so much of the's like drowning...have you read my poem 'Sea of poets' 'writing' section online) but how many people are putting out books of aphorisms?

Bet he could write a good serious limerick...


deemikay said...

oh, I agree that more books of aphorisms should be sold... for me the best sort of book is one that can opened at random and something worthwhile pop out.

Can I join your comedy-based religion? Then I wouldn't have to write serious limericks anymore. :)

My favourite quote from BoS, by-the-by, is this:

"If only poets and movelists could be translated into musicianhood, even for a few seconds; then we'd see the vast majority, after only a few notes, revealed as a bunch of desperate scrapers and parpers without a tune in their heads or the rudiments of technique. God, the time we would save..."

As a musician meself, I agree completely.

(See, I don't think it's all bad... I just don't like his occasional smirk.)

Rachel Fox said...

I didn't know you were a musician too. And I love that one you've quoted. It's funny (and a bit evil) but it holds a lot of truth too.

I feel the same way about a lot of the world of poetry. It's one reason I still write in fairly clear rhyme some of the reason I bang on about songs and one reason for... lots of other things. Lots of poets do that 'anyone can rhyme, look at Pam Ayres, but only us clever types can do these hidden rhymes that no-one knows about'. I think that's a large amount of bollocks...and it's quite the opposite a lot of the time. Any arsehole can talk themselves into being a 'serious' poet. And they do. Give me musicians any least they can be arseholes with a talent for something.


Rachel Fox said...

Reread last comment...what an outbreak of anger...and whilst I do think all those things I do also think 'I don't care what the arseholes do...let them play their games as long as they don't hurt anybody'.

Nothing's ever bloody simple...shadows, see?


Ken Armstrong said...

You 'go' in the comments, girl! And I'm with you - so many writers spend more time trying to justify the shite they write then they do actually writing it. (sorry, you started with the naughty words) :)

I was reading Paul Auster last night and resolved to write this down somewhere, may as well write it here:

"Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them"

Rachel Fox said...

It's true, Ken, we are big on attitude today!

I'm reading that book you sent me just now - the John McGahern - and you're right about it being slow to get in to but worth it. There are some lovely little sentences hidden amongst the descriptions of quiet lives.


Frances said...

Don't ask me to survive without my precious ellipsis. We wants it...

Rachel Fox said...

He never said we couldn't use them...just said we were sensitive if we did. I can live with sensitive...better than some of the alternatives. Plus he uses them too...

I never used to use them (so much) before blogging. I think it's because I do see this kind of writing as different to say academic essays or journalism or...anything really. I see it more as conversation...or maybe something like conversation mated with correspondence...whatever... it's different and so I am quite happy to use punctuation differently whilst using this medium (also no-one ever taught me how to use the semi-colon and if I started now it would feel starting to wear high heels all of a sudden or something). Plus I've always liked the whole 'write as you speak' thing's not for everyone but I like it. I like speaking (and listening...obviously...).


deemikay said...

I'm very much a dilettante... with none of the positive aspects. :) I write a bit, photograph a bit and play guitar/mandolin/ukulele a bit. (I've actually been hunting for a singer for uke/voice combo... if you know anyone in the Glasgow area interested, let me know! And for those who think the uke is formby-esque and cheesy... watch this

But anyway, nothing wrong with a rant! "Any arsehole can talk themselves into being a 'serious' poet. And they do. Give me musicians any least they can be arseholes with a talent for something." Very true, hence why we should automatically distrust anyone who calls themself a poet. DP has one about that as well:

"I'm still embarrassed to say I'm a poet. I say I'm a writer and sometimes I say I work for the Inland Revenue, which kills the conversation. To say you're a poet is even worse."

Rachel Fox said...

On saying what you are jobwise and poetry I think
- it depends who you're talking to
- saying you're a poet just now is less of a conversation killer than it has been in some of the recent past... but it still depends who you're talking to.

I tend to say I 'write poems' rather than I 'am a poet' (though I probably have said the latter too). There is this whole business of 'can you say it's what you do if you don't make your living from it?' It depends how much you think your living is all about money, I suppose. It depends whether you want to talk about your life and all it's complications...sometimes I just don't!

Sometimes I just say I'm a housewife...that's more of a shocker/conversation killer than poet these days (especially for some women...). Even worse I'm a housewife who hardly does any housework. Can you's great.


Dick said...

I've avoided buying the Don Paterson book for so long, although every time I leaf through it I come across something classic. I guess I can't quite swallow the notion of someone actually writing a book of aphorisms. "These I must share with the world..."

And, yes, Rachel, that is one of the great moments. Additionally I've always fancied Holly Hunter. So thanks for the clip.

Rachel Fox said...

She's gorgeous, Dick, you're a man of taste. And, for me, this is her best film.

I think the DP book is worth getting. There's some great thinking, lots of very funny bits and linguistic twists and loads about music. I like conciseness too...and I know not all poets feel that way but I very often do.


deemikay said...

I generally don't tell anyone in Real Life that I write poems... only about, oooh, 5 people? So I can't really say if it's a conversation killer or not. :)

(PS I agree with conciseness... people go on far far too long these days!)

Rachel Fox said...

Oh'll never catch me going on and on and writing long posts and stuff like that...

deemikay said...

Nor me.

(See? I kept this comment to two words__ oh, damn...)

The Solitary Walker said...

Rachel, I do think that most real poets take conciseness as a 'given' - ie expressing what they want to say, have to say, in the least number of words possible - and those words as best chosen and as best related to the other words as possible. But, and this is an important but, sometimes the 'least number of words possible' is and has to be a great number of words (eg with Ginsberg).

Rachel Fox said...

Oh yes, SW, I agree...I like conciseness in its place but that doesn't mean I would ever want to be enforcing it for all occasions or anything! I mean how could I??

Rachel Fox said...

It appears the bit of Broadcast News is no longer viewable on yt. You'll just have to watch the film. It's great.