Sunday, 31 May 2009

Other people's decisions

Speaking of big decisions (as we were last time) here's a link to an interview with Benjamin Zephaniah where he covers that subject too (down near the end of the piece). It's worth reading... but then he always is.

Link courtesy of Claire Askew and her always comprehensive One Night Stanzas. She scours the media so we don't have to!


Thursday, 28 May 2009

And now a poem...please

The 'Poetry Please' programme goes off the BBC i-player in a couple of hours so here's a new post to keep things moving. After all a link to a TV programme you can no longer watch is really no use to anybody is it?

I seem to have been doing a lot of chatting on here of late...honestly, at this rate a person could forget they write poetry at all. So, here's a poem - one I mentioned recently because I wrote it a couple of years ago after reading Owen Sheers' prose book 'The Dust Diaries' (will plugging his book again make up for previous dastardly conduct, you wonder...probably not). Anyway in the Sheers book there is a scene near the end where a character sits on a bench to make a serious life decision and that reminded me, when I read it, of a similar scene in my own life (from over twenty years ago now). Sometimes we make decisions on the hop, sometimes we struggle to make them or even know they need making...but there are times when we really just sit there and decide 'aha, yes, I will do x or y' (and sometimes we even manage to see it through!). The decision situation in this poem is related to a love poem that some of you may remember from back here (as for the full details of the decision...oh all that another time, don't you think?). This poem is one that hasn't been out and about much – I haven't sent it to magazines, it's not in the book, I haven't read it aloud anywhere – and partly because of that I figured it was time to let it out for a run around on its own. It's probably more than a little rough round the edges. Still, here it is:

Big Decision Bench

Moments of truth
Can feel so long
Especially here
On Big Decision Bench

This is mine, can you see it?
Madrid 1986
Somewhere up near
Plaza Colón

Looking at the map now
Maybe it was even
The Gardens of Discovery
A suitable seat

Mine was a common dilemma
Should I stay or should I go?
Does he love me, does he no?
You know the kind of thing

But years have passed and he’s forgotten
A happy ghost, mistake unmade
And don't we all need at least one
Big Decision Bench in a lifetime?

It can be so peaceful just sitting
Like an underused striker
Watching all the different feet pass
Planning out a next move

RF 2006

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Poetry please

Swiss was right - the BBC Poetry Season programme about 'Poetry Please' is well worth a watch. It's here but only for a couple more days. So go there!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Music in Montrose

Tonight is folk club night here and it's a band I'm really looking forward to – Genticorum from Montreal. I've been listening to their 2005 CD 'Malins Plaisirs' for a while and it's such invigorating, exciting music...I can't wait! Their myspace is here (with tour dates and so on) but they're on at the Links Hotel in Montrose tonight at 8pm if you're nearby (I guess that rules a few of you out...). There'll be the usual 'locals bit' halfway through the night and I plan to read my newish dogs poem (first time off the leash in public) and the other one (about people) that was on myspace the other day. They're both fairly direct poems (on the surface at least) but I do read all kinds of different poems there to keep it interesting (for me and the audience). I read all kinds of styles, all kinds of subjects, some more direct, some even I don't know what they're about really, some that would probably get a tick/nod/'interesting' in a Creative Writing class (see last post)...and quite a few that wouldn't. It's not a poetry audience by any stretch – it's a real mixture of people (in terms of age, interest, experience...) and they often surprise me by liking (or responding most) to poems I think they might hate/find really dull. It's over 3 years now since I've been reading poems there regularly (and I wrote about the club a while back - here). I must admit I'm starting to wonder when I'll get the nickel banjo (or whatever reward contributors get for years of service in folk clubs) but there's a while to go yet I imagine. And yes, I know that's not the point...I'm only playing.

There's also a music festival on in Montrose this weekend (small town – much going on!). The festival website is here.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

What's the secret, Janice?

There's a very interesting interview with writer Janice Galloway in the new issue of the 'Scottish Review of Books'. We get this (quarterly?) paper delivered on subscription but I'm pretty sure you can pick it up free in libraries round here too. For those of you further away I'm afraid you can't read the article online (not that I can see) but you can buy the current issue here if you're interested.

So what's interesting about it? I've only read one of Galloway's books so far (back here I read 'The trick is to keep breathing', published 1989) but I just love her forthright comments and total lack of literary scene blah-de-blah in this piece (interview by Colin Waters). She's very good on creative writing courses for fact she's so good I'm going to quote that whole paragraph:

For my sins, and for three years, I taught on a creative writing course at Glasgow University. I find myself cringing even using the phrase 'creative writing course'. Some students came because they want 'to be a writer'. And what's in their head somewhere is The X Factor: a race with glamour at the end, learning tricks that will turn you into JK Rowling. And it's all fucking mental. They want you to let them in on the secret – how it's done. As though I would know. As though anybody does. I want to be a movie star/I want to be a genius. Ho hum. As though these things are active career choices. Now, I want to act/I want to use my mind – that's a different ball game. Now and then you'd meet one of those – someone who wants to communicate to others, not gain something for themselves. It's rare though. Like hen's teeth. Then there are the last lot – those who are keen to write as obscurely and convolutedly as possible to prove something to themselves about being 'too good' for this world. Aspiring to be a lonely and misunderstood genius is a daft aspiration. Writing's gift is to reach out.

Now I'm not saying people shouldn't go on creative writing courses...they keep a lot of writers in work and I'm sure they suit some people really well at certain times in their lives....but I also think the whole 'go on a writing course, meet influential people, get published' route is not the only way for writers to progress (nor should it be). I've had people say to me that I should go on one of the creative writing MAs “for all the contacts, that's how you get published...”. Go on it to write and think about writing, by all means... but for the contacts? Just thinking about it nearly breaks my silly little idealistic heart. And think what Bill Hicks would say. If he was still alive. Obviously.

Anyway there's a lot of other great quotes in the interview – it's well worth a look. And Janice Galloway has a new book out – there's a review of it here.


Friday, 22 May 2009

Poetry fun? Are you mad?

Having a bit of fun over at myspace just now with a chain-poem thing (started this afternoon by the Paisley purveyor of gay folk songs Seedhill Bruiser). Come and join in if you fancy it...rhyming skills preferable but not essential. If you're not a member of myspace then just join in on the comments here.


Thursday, 21 May 2009

Triple expletive, coming right up...

So, you know those little bits of poems, song lyrics, films or TV shows that just hang around in your head and never go away? Maybe some of you have heads full of snippets of Wordsworth and Plath, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen - them and many more, no doubt. A lot of the scraps in our heads change over time but some hang around...and around and just never go away. The hook of this song, for example, comes back to me again. And again. And again. It does contain a rude word...but it's used very beautifully so I think you'll be OK with it.

Maybe some of you will find it a bit corny but that's OK...we all have our corny moments (even if we keep them quiet). And I know the lyrics to this song by Eels (real name Mark Oliver Everett) are very simple...probably nothing you'd be entering into a poetry competition...but they hit the spot with me (fairly regularly). In fact it's probably only the repeated "it's a motherfucker" that does it...sung the way he does, with that accompaniment. He uses such a nasty modern expression in such a gentle and sweet way. Here are the lyrics, in case you're interested:

“It's a motherfucker
Being here without you
Thinking 'bout the good times
Thinking 'bout the bad
And I won't ever be the same

It's a motherfucker
Getting through a Sunday
Talking to the walls
Just me again
But I won't ever be the same
I won't ever be the same

It's a motherfucker
How much I understand
The feeling that you need someone
To take you by the hand
And you won't ever be the same
You won't ever be the same”

He's had his share of sadness and confusion, Mr Everett, and you can kind of tell. Still, not everyone puts their sadness and confusion to such good use. I find I hear his voice singing that one many times...when things are not as they might be, when things are less than ideal. I hear it, I smile, I tear up, I get on with the next thing...oh you know the routine...

Everett has a book called 'Things the grandchildren should know' that I really enjoyed (I read it back here if you remember). There's also a documentary about him and his family (his father was physicist Hugh Everett's not a very happy story...) called 'Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives' that was shown on the BBC a while back and that's worth catching if they show it again. The Eels website is here.

I might be back with more snippets from the cluttered mind of Rachel next time. Some of them are really embarrassing though. One is even from the film 'Showgirls'. (Note to self – must try and be more highbrow....note back to self...oh, you know that never works...I'm just a messy, modern magpie kind of person...and writer...).


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Wordsworth and squirrels

Well, the comments still continue down at the Wordsworth on TV post. Some of them are very entertaining so be there or be square (now, there's an old saying...I thought it was apt though what with TV, get the picture...). I just watched the third programme in the 'A poet's guide to Britain' series (about George Mackay Brown and 'Hamnavoe') and there was some lovely stuff in it including local interviews, gorgeous views of Orkney and plenty of time with poet Don Paterson (looking like he never, ever sleeps but saying some fine things and reading a poem of GMB's beautifully). Like the Plath programme I found this one more developed and interesting than the Wordsworth half-hour that opened the series and I am getting used (little by little) to presenter Owen Sheers' regular sparkly-eyed presence on-screen. I think the change I'm having to get used to is that he's just so pretty and neat for an arts documentary. I mean, have you seen some of the guys who present these things normally? We've been watching Waldmar Januszczak's series on the Baroque just recently and he's all excess stomach, ill-fitting clothing, crazy stabbing of air with big chubby hands. Sheers is so...well-behaved and clean-cut in comparison...and it is a visual medium after all (and it can't only be women who get judged by looks now can it...didn't we talk about that here?). In the meantime it might take some BBC4 viewers a while to adjust to this kind of change. Just give us time.

As for squirrels...the other day I was looking at some fascinating squirrel photos over at this blog (no really...I was!) and that led me to a blog all about squirrels (the internet...can you beat it for variety...isn't it like flying round a giant library on a jetpack...stopping to read now and again obviously...). Anyway, I've had a poem about red squirrels brewing since I saw one (a squirrel, not a poem) on the path just up the road from here and this week the poem made it out onto paper and screen. I sent the poem to the squirrels blog (where else would you send a squirrel poem?) so now you can read 'It might be about squirrels' here along with lots and lots of information about squirrels. The writer of this blog is in the US I'm pretty sure...but I've looked on the blog and can't see a more precise location.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Big issues and London songs

Any of you who live in the north of England might take a look in the local Big Issue* magazine this week and see someone you know. Sean of Expletive Undeleted (one of my favourite blog names by the way) has a piece in the Big Issue in the North this week about pirate radio and one of the interviewees is former pirate radio DJ Havoc (i.e. me). You can't read the article online as far as I can tell - that's just a link to the magazine's site. I can't remember if I've said this before on here but my friend and I took our DJ names from dolls I had as a child so we were Daisy & Havoc (and those links will take you to info on the retro dolls – not us...although we are both fairly retro dolls now ourselves anyway).

Also this week...that poetry TV programme (3 posts ago) and the Wordsworth London poem it featured seem to have set me off on a 'songs about London' tangent. First I was singing Ewan MacColl's 'Sweet Thames flow softly' for a day or so (more about that soonish) but then I remembered this song by the brilliant Australian band The Waifs:

Green Ink're an Aussie in must know this one, right? I have it on the Waifs album from 2002 'Up all night' (which is fantastic – really varied, lovely songs, singing and playing). I've never seen them live but hope to one day – I just heard them on the radio a few years ago (when they were over doing Cambridge Folk Festival, I think) and had to get hold of an album. Here's their myspace and here's another song from that album...a livelier number called 'Lighthouse':

And don't forget I showed you our local lighthouse somewhere back in here. Dolls, songs, lighthouses...nothing can get me into trouble there, can it..?

*Different 'Big Issue' magazines are sold by homeless street vendors all over Britain. For history of the magazine see the London issue site here.

And don't forget Hope's poem aloud at the post below.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

News just in

Who needs the Eurovision* when you have an international, transatlantic poetry reading project...right here! It started with this post and we're now up to recital number 4 (still all female voices...). So now please welcome Hope (all the way from South Carolina, USA) reciting (by heart) 'Thou and You' by Alexander Pushkin and 'The Termite' by Ogden Nash. I knew your accent would be gorgeous, Hope, and it is. You might need to turn your volumes up a bit folks but it's worth it. Just listen to how she says 'good' in the Nash one. Fabulous!

*I watched the Eurovision (song contest) for the first time in years (about 30 years probably) because Our Girl wanted to see what it was. Some of them were OK and I liked Portugal, Moldova, Armenia, Israel...none of them won though. Even Our wee one was saying by 9.30pm "a lot of them are very similar". "Yes, dear," we said wisely, "that's Euro-pop." Plus how could that burlesque woman with Germany's lot breathe in that corset?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

An old master

I like buying books in odd places – strange little charity shops, murky junk shops, car boot sales - and one of my favourites is buying old library books when the local council facility is having a sale. There's just something very appealing (to me) about a well-used book with a chequered history. For me a book like that is far more interesting than a pristine, author-signed, special edition (and read into that what you will...I like my possessions well-used, I guess...I don't own that many new or expensive clothes either).

Why am I telling you this? Because I've been reading a book I picked up in our local library in a sale a while back - Roald Dahl's "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – and six more”. It looks like this:

The one I picked up is a big old hardback - published by Jonathan Cape in 1977 (price inside reads £4.95). A quick surf tells me there have been many different covers for this book over the years but mine has a wobbly cartoon cover by a Susan Shields. It's not immediately obvious on this copy whether the book is aimed at either children or adults (or both), though more modern editions are put out under the banner of teenage fiction (from what I can see online). The book's dedication would help a browsing reader out anyway though - “This book is dedicated with affection and sympathy to all young people (including my own son and three daughters) who are going through that long and difficult metamorphosis when they are no longer children and have not yet become adults.”

What a great dedication – one of the best I've read in a while – and one that struck many chords with me just now seeing as Our Girl, at 9, is just about at the beginning of that metamorphosis whilst her old mother (me!) may just about be getting to its end (late I know...I took in a lot of scenery along the way...). Some of the stories in here would be OK for a nine year old ('The Boy who talked with Animals' is charming and dreamy) but some absolutely would not (not for our innocent, head-in-clouds 9 year old anyway). On Sunday morning I sat in a friend's bed (we were staying over, kids sleepover, they were in a tent...) and I read a story from this book called 'The Swan'. It's quite a piece of writing and it had me covering a good part of the friend's bed in tears (and it's been a while since I cried that hard whilst reading anything other than a newspaper). 'The Swan' is about children bullying other children and it captures the real brutality of bullying (physical and oral) in an extremely vivid and moving way. Anyone else read it? Anyone ever read it with or to a child or young reader?

Also in the book is the very marvellous 'Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar' (which is about meditation really...and wealth...and everything) as well as Dahl's account of how he became a writer 'Lucky Break' (and that's well worth a read too – his is a fascinating life story). Dahl's is one of those names that has been with me ever since I can remember so it's hard not to be interested in him somehow. I read and loved 'Fantastic Mr Fox' as a child (always confused me of course...especially as my Mr Fox had gone...). I also loved 'James and the Giant Peach' and 'The Magic Finger' though I somehow managed to completely miss all the chocolate factory business (don't quite know how that happened). Then of course when I was a little older I watched the TV show that started (in the UK at least) like this:

Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' (he didn't write everything in the series but he did write the first episodes). A little while ago one of my favourite Irishmen Ken Armstrong was writing about the TV themes we remember from childhood and I can't believe I didn't mention this one in the comments somewhere (the music was by Ron Grainer apparently). It was such a powerful series for a young viewer and I still remember some of the individual tales really clearly...particularly the one with the frozen leg of lamb ('Lamb to the slaughter') starring '70s favourite Susan George. Slightly less clear but still in there somewhere are the one about the guest house and the one about the eyes. They'd probably look very wooden now but at the time (1979/early1980s mainly) they were really exciting drama experiences. Apparently they are in book form too – anyone read them?

For a while after the 'Tales' I didn't really come across Dahl very much. He is most famous as a children's writer and I think we do tend to think we grow out of him (and that's probably a mistake). Then one day somewhere deep in the 1990s I ended up watching the film about his first wife Patricia Neal – 'The Patricia Neal Story' starring Glenda Jackson (and Dirk Bogarde as Dahl). I can't remember much about the film apart from a very clear memory of Bogarde heading off to a shed at the bottom of the garden in the film (to write). How lovely it looked – the life of heading off to the shed to sit and write all day. That made quite an impression...I think of it quite often and whilst I don't write in a shed I do write every day. Sometimes quite a lot.

Not long after seeing that film Our Girl was born and before too long Roald Dahl was back in my life regularly (via her reading this time). She loves Dahl's books passionately (as so many children do) and of course she has access to more of them because some of his best came after my time as a junior reader (the truly marvellous 'Matilda' is her favourite and that was only published in 1988 - I was 21 by then). She likes all his books and his poems for children but she has read 'Matilda' heaps of times (and watched the very good 1996 film of it – starring and directed by Danny DeVito – more times than I can tell you). Of course she doesn't really believe that grown-ups can be as mean as Matilda's evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull...but read anything about Dahl's schooldays and you'll quickly see where she came from. Dahl knew a lot about cruelty and the darker side of life and his books don't shy away from that (that's partly why children love them of course). In 'The Swan' you will find some of the clearest writing about cruelty you are likely to encounter (child on child cruelty in that story) and much as Our Girl knows children can be cruel I don't think she's ready for that story quite yet. It is really very horrible (though masterfully put together) but it has more than its fair share of beauty and wonder in amongst everything else too.

If nothing else the story/mini-autobiography 'Lucky Break' in 'Henry Sugar' would interest most of you readers, I think. It recounts Dahl's schooldays, his career, his wartime stories...but it also contains excerpts from some of his school reports (“indolent and illiterate”) and his views on university (“unless one was going to become a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, an engineer or some other kind of professional person, I saw little point in wasting three or four years at Oxford or Cambridge, and I still hold this view”). It also lists Dahl's views on “some of the qualities you should possess or should try to acquire if you wish to become a fiction writer:

1.You should have a lively imagination.

2.You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader's mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don't.

3.You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week and month after month.

4.You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have re-written it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

5.You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don't turn up for work, or to tick you off if you start slacking.

6.It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humour. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it's vital.

7.You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble.”

What a list. I may come back to some of these (especially 2 and 6) but in the meantime...self-discipline, self-discipline! Back to your work (and sheds) now everybody. And watch out for ghosts in the comments box...


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Poetry TV - A tale of two williams...

With Mark off playing cricket this evening I decided to watch the kind of the thing I record especially for when he's out or otherwise occupied – the first of the series 'A Poet's Guide to Britain' from BBC4. Sorlil's been watching programme two (the Plath one) but I'm a bit behind her, I'm afraid (though you can still watch both programmes one and two somewhere over here if the mood takes you).

The first programme is about William Wordsworth and his poem 'Upon Westminster Bridge' and I watched it partly to see if it could stimulate my interest in Wordsworth (which is fairly non-existent). I keep trying – reading the poems, reading posts by enthusiasts (such as you Solitary Walker – here's an example), trying to overcome my own prejudices, thinking daft things like 'well he loved walking and I love walking...'. So, half an hour of culture TV – did it help at all?

Well, it was a weird programme. It felt a bit like it was made for schools TV (quite slow and basic and...well...flat) but that might be partly down to the presenter poet/writer Owen Sheers who has more than a hint of Blue Peter about him (excessive youth, awkward hands, various fleecey jackets). There was far too much “and then William went to France and then he went back to England” (OK...not real quotes...) and it all felt a bit like a 5th form essay (though I'm not anti-Sheers – I very much liked his prose book 'The Dust Diaries' – think I even sent him a letter about it...I do that a lot). The highlight of the programme though was easily poet Simon Armitage's thoughts on the Wordsworth poem (remember how I liked Armitage back at StAnza earlier this year?). If nothing else I think this may be the year I learn to see what all the fuss is about old Simon Floppy Fringe Armitage. All the fuss about Wordsworth though...I've still not really got to that one. Maybe I never will. His poems just make me want to edit like crazy ("cut that bit out, for god's sake!" and "do you have to go on and on...?” and “blah, blah, blah...economy, man, economy and surprise!”) and I know, I was a different era. Still his poems press my shut-down button like little else. And that Westminster Bridge poem – it's just Shakespeare with all the fun and vigour taken out of it...isn't it? Really?

Now, is that sacrilege or sage-like wisdom? Any views?


Monday, 11 May 2009

Dogs aloud

Sorry. Couldn't resist that title. No insult to Girls Aloud (the pop band) intended. In fact I barely know who they are and probably couldn't pick any one of them out of a line-up. Does that mean that (finally!) I'm too old for new pop music? Hurray! (Luckily our Lovely Girl prefers oldie music like Fleetwood Mac just now.)

So anyway, some of you wanted the 'We are dogs' poem from the last post read aloud. Here it is. I hope you like it.

While I'm here there's a couple of blog things I wanted to say....

Any more recorded versions of other people's poems? Keep them coming please! Here's Sorlil's, here's Titus', here's mine (still with pause!). All women so far...girls aloud indeed...

Also thanks Kat for the award recently. I do appreciate these things even if I don't always follow the chain with them or anything. I pretty much always appreciate anyone saying they like a poem (or anything I write really) and Kat calls me 'established' (which shows how far away she lives from here!). Over here I'm still fairly obscure and overlooked (as a poet anyway). Sniff. No really, I'm fine with it. Sniff. No really. Attention-seeking is so last year.

I wanted to say something about the blog following thing too...I don't really use that system. Maybe it's the name that puts me off, maybe it's the mug shots...but I use the blog list instead. Of course you should feel free to follow me if you like using that long as, you know, you don't follow me anywhere...uninvited...

And now...let's end on a's always the best way and hark, the girls aloud theme continues...because they started out on talent show TV, didn't they? Anyway, we (the three women in this house – Mark to be excluded from all the following) don't watch any of the X Factor/Pop Idols/Got Talents or any of that but we do watch some of the BBC family entertainment shows in a similar vein (no ads, no Cowells, no Piers bloody Morgan). In the spirit of family unity we sit together and watch the ballroom dancing silliness in the autumn (it's about the only thing we can watch across the generations) and also some of the singing competition shows (the search for Joseph, Nancy from 'Oliver' etc.). OK, I tend to be doing something else at the time (sometimes blocking my ears) but I am in the room when they are on and I like odd moments here and there. In the Nancy one (last year) a young woman from Ireland (Jessie Buckley) sang like a total dream. She didn't win the show but listen to the following clip and imagine what it must be like to be able to sing a Judy Garland song like that in your teens! Man alive (as Sorlil might say). And even if you don't like Andrew Lloyd-Webber (I'm more or less indifferent...probably should hate him...don't really) it is well worth watching for his oh-look-I've-laid-an-egg moment near the end.

Karaoke TV? Maybe... but she's still a fantastic singer. And look she has a wikipedia page already. Stars are born and all that.


Thursday, 7 May 2009

Dogs on blogs (and sing that to the tune of Duran Duran's 'Girls on film' if you will please, readers)

I know that at least one of you regular visitors has already seen this new poem on myspace (I put it up there the other week). I have been neglecting the myspace system for a while (distracted by life, books and blogging mainly, not facebore, witter or any of the newer flavours) so I thought I would put something up there first for a change. Not that anyone else particularly gives a rat's backside what I do with poems...I just felt like a change.

So, the new poem (it's really quite new...maybe just 2 weeks old) - it's about dogs...and people. I suppose it's probably about people most of all...but written with dogs in mind. I did start with the usual intentions of writing a big, serious meaningful poem (no really, I did!) but I'm not sure how well that has worked out (again...). For a start the rhyme fought its way in ('go on, go on' it nudges 'you know you want to...') and then of course there's the scratching and the drooling and all that. I still think it's big, serious and meaningful...but I'm not sure anyone else will. Ah well...what it is to be misunderstood.

On myspace I even put a newish photo of our current pooch underneath the poem. I won't repeat that here (there was a photo of her back here already) but I will remind you of a car sticker I saw in Arbroath not long back (have I quoted this already...stop me if I'm boring you...):

It made me laugh out loud in the street (as you do)...but it was probably big, serious and meaningful to its author.

Here's my poem – at least Titus should like it...

We are dogs

We are dogs
In cars

Some go growling
Hear them revving
See them straining
To be first
Others panting
Tails adrooping
Fixed on exit
Tired by thirst

We are dogs
In queues

Always hungry
Sometimes drooling
Short on patience
Long on push
Others chilling
Watching others
Somehow smiling
What's the rush?

We are dogs
In bed

Snoring fully
Yet more drooling
Scratching freely
When required
Seeking comfort
Warmth and heartbeat
Sleep our one god
When we're tired

We are dogs
At heart

Prone to fighting
Needing structure
Self-control poor
Love to share
Inner puppies
Think of skipping
Old dogs work hard
Guard the lair

We are dogs

Out and sniffing
Wandering merrily
Things smell better
In real light
What's the problem?
What's tomorrow?
What's my name again?
Oh yeh, right

RF 2009

p.s. This is nothing to do with dogs but keep emailing me links or small mp3 files of your 'by heart' poems if you record them, won't you? There's no deadline...just if/when you manage it. I just received Sorlil's so please welcome Marion McCready reading “To a Poor Old Woman” by William Carlos Williams. You can read the text of the poem on her blog too.


Monday, 4 May 2009

Sound and vision

OK, well here I am reciting 'Inversnaid' by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I've never heard anyone else recite or read it so I hope I haven't made any obvious mistakes. We could have edited out the ridiculously long pause I inserted between verses 2 and 3 (mind went blank...) but that would have been dishonest (get behind me, Simon Cowell, in fact go away altogether...). Anyway don't worry, I do get to the end of the poem eventually! I would have to say that I like 'Inversnaid' a lot more now than when I started learning it...which is interesting (isn't it?). I particularly like the 'rounds and rounds' bit...I almost started rotating my head when reciting as if I could see the pool. I know some of you poem-learners are having technical hiccups but if you can manage to get me a link or a small mp3 file my tech support can put yours online too. And don't be shy or worry about your funny voice. We all have funny voices! I would love to hear them all. (First completed assignment can be heard via Titus' blog. That's one damn clever dog! Brilliant. Other related posts at Sorlil's Poetry in Progress and Dave King's Pics and Poems - see blog list)

What else can you listen to whilst you're here? Well, lots of you may have heard this already but here's a radio programme about James Macpherson and the Ossian poems that I listened to whilst ironing recently. I must be getting more informed about Scottish literature (finally!) because a lot of the information wasn't new to me but I still enjoyed it and those of you further afield who are potty about Scotland (mentioning no names...Hope) will enjoy it even more. It is presented by Scottish poet Kenneth Steven and BBC programmes are usually on the player for a week from day of broadcast (it was first heard on Sunday 3rd May).

Also, seeing as she's been so in the news, I wondered if youtube had any good readings/recitals of Carol Ann Duffy poems (answer = not really). Mostly I came across half-arsed stuff by young people who could perhaps be doing something better with their time (not that I did anything full-arsed when I was young obviously...). This wealth of Duffy-related do-do is largely due to the fact that her poetry features on lots of school exam syllabuses in the UK (syllabi - not likely) so there are lots of clips by former literature students complaining about her poems as well as lots of current students reading them in...well...not a manner you would necessarily want to display on an international stage (one was in the shower fully clothed...I think). Such are the joys of the successful writer – to be so honoured! Some schools obviously get their students to reinterpret the poems they're studying using video and some of these clips are a bit more interesting (well, a bit...and they are young...). Here are a couple of school groups (one here, another here) getting to grips with the poem that got Duffy in the news last year 'Education for leisure' (and the full, properly laid-out text of the poem can be read via that link too). We didn't have video cameras or video phones (or even mobile phones) when I was at on earth did we ever learn anything? Or now I think of it...did we ever learn anything? I can hardly remember's all like a strange dream (and I've been having a lot of those recently it the Hopkins do you think...or the fact that we're now in series 4 of the Sopranos?). Going to post this now and then go to bed. What on earth will I dream of tonight?


Saturday, 2 May 2009

More about queens

So how did you all do? Anyone learned their poem yet? Anyone got a link they want me to post for their recital online (I'll post mine early next week when I'm word perfect - so let me know and I'll post yours too)? Anyone not know what I'm talking about? Well then, where have you been! Read the last post and all will be clear.

As I wrote in the comments back there it took me a while to get going with the learning by heart business. I learn song lyrics by heart quite regularly but poems...not so much... and I did miss the aid of a tune (though at least I had rhyme on my side...something I'm very partial to). Some of the monstrous and mouth-invading phrases in 'Inversnaid' were so foreign and cumbersome that I found myself stumbling over them here and there (I like them but I can't say I've found them easy to memorise). 'Rollrock highroad', for example, (in line two) just did not want to go into my head at first! I had Ted Hughes' thoughts on memorising to hand (they are also in last post) but try as I might I found I wasn't using visual images to learn these words (that just seemed to give me more to remember!). Instead I was doing it purely on sound - I found myself even putting it into a Scottish accent, perhaps because of some of its very Scottish words ('burn' for stream, 'braes' for hills...though oddly not 'loch' for lake). I won't be recording the poem in a Scottish accent Scottish accent is a bit...variable and some of you are real Scots and might be appalled! After a few useless attempts indoors I eventually discovered that outdoor learning worked better and that repeating the poem whilst dogwalking was the easiest way to learn it (though I am sure any walking would do - the dog is an optional accessory really). Being out in the open, of course, suited the poem ('Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet') and my mind could probably concentrate better away from the laptop and the kitchen and the lists of things to do. Being a bit of a chest-beater poet now and again I am really quite besotted with the last verse. Stirring stuff!

I enjoyed reading a little about Hopkins too. I had an unfortunate experience with a drunk relative reciting Hopkins to me years ago and I have to admit that had prejudiced me against the poet from a fairly young age (that and poem titles like 'God's Grandeur', I'll be honest). I particularly loved the detail in his wikipedia entry (I know, such detailed research...) about him keeping a diary of his sins (heavens, I have lots of those...) and was quite interested in all the 'was he writing about gay sex or God?' debates (can't it be both...people are so unimaginative...). Those were complicated times in that regard (he lived 1844-89) but the debates seem to be along the lines of (in the red corner) 'of course he was gay, look at that imagery!' versus (in the blue corner) 'how dare you? He loved women! He was a man of the cloth...' etc. Nothing you've not heard before...

On a related matter, I'm not going to write heaps about Carol Ann Duffy being the UK's new Poet Laureate (and first woman to do the job). Like a lot of people I have mixed feelings about the whole laureate thing and think the post and the very idea of it need some modernising. The thing is I also think that the Duffy will probably do the modernising...without even asking anyone's permission. She is doing it already...donating the salary elsewhere, speaking out about the job, her intentions and her own life (it's official, lesbians are everywhere... as the much-postcarded graffiti used to proclaim). She will make the laureateship what it should be – simply the job of being best-known poet in the country and using that position as you wish (for a set period of time). Also, unlike Andrew 'who he?' Motion she has earned it – years and years of publishing and reading and being read by all sorts of people (as the articles keep saying she is both 'popular and profound', halle-bloody-lujah).

If the coverage is to be believed in some ways she didn't really want the job (she is not mad about public scrutiny, press hassle etc. - plus she's a poet...she might want to just get on with some writing...) but she has accepted it anyway and I think that's a very grown-up attitude – sometimes we do just have to buckle down and do things we might not really choose for ourselves. She is doing it, so it seems, for women, for women poets, for the whole concept of being 'out and proud', for her daughter, for her (many) fans, for poetry... and these are all good causes (very good causes) and I admire her hugely for this decision (and in some sense sacrifice). So how will she make it bearable? There were some great quotes in her recent public statements and these all suggest that she will do this job the way she has done everything so far – in her own way. So really, for many reasons it is just fantastic news and all in all I'm glad she has chosen to go ahead. Here are some of her quotes in case you missed them (though they have been all over the place...again I ask...where HAVE you been?). I took these from the Dundee 'Courier' newspaper (and one from the BBC website) but they got them all from her interview on Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme, I think.

“Poetry is all around us, all of the time, whether in song or in speech or on the page, and we turn to it when events, personal or public, matter most. In accepting this laureateship, I hope to contribute to people's understanding of what poetry can do and where it can be found.”

Big hearty cheer!

“I look on it as a recognition of the great women poets we have writing now”.

More cheering!

On attitudes to sexuality and thoughts that she didn't get the post last time because of hers:

“I think we've all grown up a lot over the past 10 years.”

“Sexuality is something that is celebrated now we have civil partnerships and it's fantastic that I'm an openly gay writer and anyone here or watching the interviews who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and happy.”

Extra loud cheering (perhaps even some whooping and hugging the person next to you...whether you're interested in any kind of meaningful future with them or not).

“The Ministry of Culture and the Palace made it very clear, particularly the Palace, that there is no expectation or requirement at all to write royal poems, and same with government people. I don't have to write anything about anything if I don't want to, and, like all poets, I would only ever write poems that are truthful, from an authentic source, whether that's private or public.”

Popping of champagne corks, dancing in streets and all round carnival atmosphere (and odd shouts of “'Ere Motion – that's the way to do it!”). In the meantime all rejoice for Carol Ann Duffy is now, officially, the Queen of British poetry (well, for 10 years). God bless the queens, all of them...


p.s. I just read on Solitary Walker's blog that poet UA Fanthorpe died this week. I hadn't heard or seen that anywhere or might have mentioned her too today. What a shock. There's an obituary here.