Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Since OH makes the tea in the morning and not only doesn’t understand tea but has difficulty with half-measures, I never quite know what I’m going to get.  Sometimes my morning cuppa is in the Goldilocks zone but more often there’s either too much water or too little, resulting in a watery mud-colour or else tea the shade of oak stained by decades of nicotine.  I can usually tell just by lifting the pot whether it’s right or not, and thereafter approach the act of pouring either with glee or with a due sense of trepidation.

OH is tempted to wonder whether the British have evolved to detect a greater spectrum of brown in order to discern whether our tea is of the correct strength.  It’s an appealing idea but as we’ve only been drinking tea for a couple of hundred years (and taking it black in the beginning) I think we wouldn’t have had time.  But who knows?  Maybe even as we speak I am part of that very process of evolution?

It’s been quite cold here in the mornings but by midday it’s warmed up to an unfeasible extent, resulting in a temperature hike of about fifteen degrees centigrade.  I’ve been taking advantage of this to dig the garden, turning soil while the sun shines (and boy does it shine!  Twenty degrees on Monday; I’m torn between enjoying it and being terrified by climate change) and so enhancing my ability to appreciate different shades of brown.  Spike Milligan certainly could, drowning in mud in Italy:

There’ll be brown birds over

the brown cliffs of Dover…

So who knows?  Maybe by a combination of gardening and tea-drinking we will have evolved to see fifty shades of brown by the end of the century.  If we survive that long…

Kirk out

Shovelling Sand into a Box

I found today’s writing quote very helpful.  Yesterday I got through a fair amount of work, including 1400 words of the novel, not a bad word-count for an afternoon – but was I happy?  No.  The last thing I wrote in my diary was: ‘Why is writing so horrible, why don’t I enjoy it more?’

I guess when I write a first draft, particularly of a novel (this is not so true of short stories and not at all true of poetry where the beginnings are the most exciting part) I have no clue where I’m going.  I simply write what comes – and often, what comes seems either irrelevant or completely mad.  I was once compelled to write a scene where Father Christmas turns out to be a convict in disguise.  He meets Jack and Jill and gives them presents of ice and snow; eventually Jill penetrates his disguise and the scene ends with Father Christmas saying ‘Ho ho ho!’ in an evil and yet hopeless way.  I wrote that scene twenty years ago and I still have no idea what it means.  Maybe one day it’ll come to me.

One thing that is particularly scary, especially for the new writer, is the thought that you may reveal yourself in ways you are not aware of but which the reader will notice.  For example, at a writers’ group I once attended there was a male writer of crime fiction.  He read his stories out regularly and they made us all very uncomfortable as in every one a woman was horribly murdered or mutilated.  Eventually when this was  pointed out to him, that all his female characters came to a very sticky end at the hands of the men, it was a real tumbleweed moment: there was a horrible silence as it dawned on him that he was acting out revenge fantasies in his fiction.

So today’s writing quote was this: ‘I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that I can make a sand-castle later.’

https://writerswrite.co.za/quotable-shannon-hale/

This is very helpful when you are writing a novel based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers where every chapter is as long as the previous two added together and you have no clue what you’re doing.

Kirk out

 

 

 

The Voice

Well, today is another day and it’s time for me to share with you the ways I work on my speaking voice in order to make my spoken poetry the best it can be.

As I said the other day I not only learn my poems by heart, the speaking is an important part of composition.  How do you know whether a line is right unless you say it aloud?  To me, writing without speaking is like composing music without playing it – you need to know what it sounds like.

For me the voice is key and I work on it like a singer.  I start with some vocal exercises (having done breathing exercises earlier as part of my yoga) which include going through all the sounds in the English language and practising some tongue-twisters.  Then at the moment I’m adding some overtone singing to the mix.  I just came across it and it’s amazing; you find a point in your voice where it actually starts singing in harmony with itself.  If you don’t understand what I mean neither do I really, but it’s a little bit like singing and running a wet finger round a glass at the same time.  Here’s a video about it:

I’ve been doing this for a week or two now and I think I can hear my own overtones but I’m not quite sure.  She recommends doing this in the shower as a bit of background noise helps you to hear it apparently.

When I’ve done my vocal exercises I turn to the actual poems.  It’s important that I refresh my oeuvre every so often because otherwise some poems will drop off the radar and I will forget them.  My aim is to have every poem ready for performance so that I have something for any occasion.  Usually I go through the whole book of recent poems and choose a few from my earlier book, either at random or following a theme, according to how I feel.

It’s hard to pursue the objective of absolute equality between page and verbal performance as people tend to put you in one category or another; like the publishers who returned my poems which I’d sent with the brief bio they requested.  The bio mentioned my performances and their comment was that the rhythm didn’t come across on the page.  I looked at those poems again as dispassionately as I could and I think they read the bio and made up their minds from there.

I have yet to encounter anyone who marries the page and stage with equal expertise: a case in point was a group I saw on Saturday night.  I ought to say at once that they were great; thoroughly entertaining and original (imagine the Sensational Alex Harvey Band doing poetry and you’ll get an idea.)  Led by poet Mark Gwynne Jones they were called Psychic Bread and were unlike any poets I’d ever seen.  And I feel very churlish saying this but in the light of today’s blog post I wonder how the poems come off on the page?  I’ve had a look but can’t find any in the public domain, so without buying a collection I can’t tell you.  But I wonder.

So there it is: there’s a huge gulf between those who write for the page and those who perform on the stage and it’s a very foolish person who tries to bridge it.

That must be my cue to enter…

Kirk out

 

 

Why Write Poetry?

This is a question which occurs to me often, though perhaps not so often as it occurs to other minds.  What is the point of poetry? they seem to say; or even more damningly, Is poetry even a Thing?  Isn’t it just chopped-up prose?  My acid test for the latter is to suggest they write out a poem in sentences and see if it reads exactly like prose: results have yet to come in on this exercise as I strongly suspect they can’t be arsed.  Once on Thorpe Cloud a man was heard to quote Wordsworth’s Daffodils and bleat: How is that different from ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb?’  How?  In the moment I was stumped because on the surface, it’s not that different; it’s a little like asking how a Joan Miro is different from a child’s daubs: on the surface, they aren’t.

I’m always stumped in the face of such scepticism because to see poetry for what it is demands a degree of openness; it’s not something you can persuade people of by showing evidence.  The earth is flat – no it isn’t, you can see the curvature in a plane, you can see the horizon at sea and you can view the whole sphere from space.  QED.

I’d be the first to admit that Wordsworth’s language is simple; it’s deliberately so because he was emphasising the simplicity of a life lived in harmony with nature.  Some of his ideas seem risible today but he had a strong belief in the tendency of the natural world to produce virtue in human beings.  So given that, let us compare and contrast Daffodils and Mary Had a Little Lamb.

First, the nursery rhyme:

Mary had a little lamb

its fleece was white as snow

and everywhere that Mary went

the lamb was sure to go.

It’s not great poetry and it’s not meant to be; it’s a rhyme for children which according to wikipedia was based on an actual incident:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Had_a_Little_Lamb

The simile is cliched: white as snow offers no surprise or insight and the rest of the rhyme simply tells a story.  I can’t think of anything else to say about it.

Now Daffodils:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

that floats on high o’er vales and hills

when all at once I saw a crowd

a host of golden daffodils

beside the lake, beneath the trees

fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

We are so familiar with this verse that its impact has faded but I would suggest Wordsworth offers us two things here.  If we stop for one minute to consider the image lonely as a cloud it will probably strike us as strong and original; it places the writer (or narrator) as part of the natural scene and yet separate from it.  As a ‘cloud’ he is looking down on the scene below, floating ‘on high o’er vales and hills’: the cloud is also animated, given feelings.  The second idea is the image of daffodils as a ‘crowd, a host’.  Anyone who’s ever looked at great swathes of daffodils swaying in a breeze can’t have failed to notice their resemblance to a crowd of people.  Wordsworth continues with that metaphor in lines to come, so not only is he part of the natural world but the natural world resembles a crowd of people, thus signalling his major theme of connectedness between people and nature.

One may disagree profoundly with Wordsworth’s thesis but I don’t think we can fail to ascribe greatness to his work.

And while we’re on the theme of simplicity, let’s consider another Romantic poet, William Blake.  There’s no tricksiness with words here, no verbal gymnastics or stunning erudition, but consider the power of these couplets:

A robin redbreast in a cage

puts all heaven in a rage.

Or this:

A truth that’s told with bad intent

beats all the lies you can invent.

And we are just as familiar with The Tyger as with Wordsworth’s blooms but I hope no-one would dare compare this to a nursery rhyme:

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

in the forests of the night

what immortal hand or eye

could frame thy fearful symmetry?

And if you can read these lines without a lump in your throat, there’s no hope for you:

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I

did, till we loved?  Were we not weaned till then?…

and now good morrow to our waking souls…

My face in thine eye, thine in thine appears

and true plain hearts do in the faces rest…

(from John Donne, The Good Morrow)

 

So much for other people’s poetry: now, for my own.  Why do I write poetry?  Like most people I suspect I do it because I must.  I do it because there are times when prose, much as I love it, just doesn’t cut it.  As C S Lewis wrote in his introduction to the Narnia books, you do it because ‘it is the best art form for something you want to say.’

I also do it because poetry connects strongly to the oral tradition.  When I first started to write I assumed I’d write novels and didn’t see myself as a poet at all.  But having found the novel too huge a thing to begin with, I turned to the short story.  Even these didn’t seem quite right, but I still didn’t think of myself as a poet and it wasn’t until I went to Word! poetry performance group in Leicester that I realised spoken word was what I’d been looking for.  I had to travel all the way back to our oral traditions before I could really discover what I was about as a writer.  This seems to me entirely logical.

The oral tradition is key: nowadays I never write a poem without speaking it.  As soon as I have a rough draft I stand up (poetry must always be spoken standing) and read it aloud.  Inevitably there will be bum notes and often fresh words will occur to me as I speak – and so the editing process goes on, sometimes speaking sometimes writing, until I have the finished poem by heart (though I agree wholeheartedly with Auden’s comment that a poem is never finished, only abandoned.)  To me, writing a poem without speaking it aloud is like writing music without playing it: impossible.

I’m going to get on my hobby-horse here because one of my bugbears is poets who kill their work in the reading of it.  Of course not every poet is able to read well, I understand that, but what offends me is the all-too-common attitude that it’s the page which matters and the reading aloud is just some throwaway act; something writers do.  It’s as if the very fact of it being the author’s voice gives some authority and mesmerism to the reading.  It doesn’t.

I don’t get this.  It shows a disrespect for the oral tradition, for a start, and for another thing why would you?  Why would you spend all that time and effort getting the right words in the right order on the page and then destroy them in the reading?  It really bugs me.  I work on my poems all the time, honing each word and phrase in the speaking just as I do in the writing.  I work on my voice too – but now I think I’ve wandered long enough o’er the vales and hills of poetry so I shall come to rest and tell you about that another day.

Kirk out

 

 

,

 

Fairyhell Marriage

Millions of words have been written about Princess Diana and even more pictures printed but we had to wait until after her death to learn that Andrew Morton’s biography  was based largely on tapes she recorded secretly with the author.

It’s a story to break your heart: a classic Grimm fairytale with enough evil stepmothers, ugly sisters and neglectful husbands to fill an entire library.  Diana’s married life – and possibly her life even before marriage – was utterly devoid of human warmth and compassion: according to her account during her worst hours the Royal Family, her husband and even her own sister failed to support her.  Buckle up and get on with it seems to have been the order of the day: but what must have made an intolerable situation far worse was having to present a smiling face to the world.  The world needed to believe in the fairytale of a commoner marrying a prince and living happily-ever-after: it was a fantasy in which the hapless couple were forced to be complicit as they were not only followed everywhere by cameras but cross-examined in interview after probing interview.  Diana must have felt she was carrying the weight of the whole world on her shoulders.  There were times when she wanted to cancel the wedding but once announced the preparations were like a rocket already launched and could not be stopped.  Imagine: it’s hard enough for a commoner to cancel a traditional wedding once preparations are in train; if you add into the mix the cold, inflexible royal protocols and an unprecedented level of press intrusion, you have a recipe for 360-degree hell.  On her wedding day she was sick with bulimia (who wouldn’t be?) and wanted to cut her wrists.  Had her marriage been happy the rest might have been tolerable, but it wasn’t: she had little in the way of love and support from her husband as he was always more interested in Camilla.

Diana must have been made of steel, because she not only survived this hell but made a role for herself, a role which seemed genuinely to use her gifts and talents.  She had the common touch and an ability to connect with ordinary people, particularly those suffering from AIDS and injured by land-mines.  But sadly the press never left her alone and although it’s not clear that they were directly responsible for her death, they surely must bear part of the blame.

The story of Diana has many possible narratives and in fairness her version is just that, a version.  I have no reason to doubt what she says, but every witness is partial and there are always other points of view: in a sense Charles was as much of a victim as Diana, being unable to marry the woman he loved and forced to wed for the sake of the succession.  In the past he’d have been able to carry on with Camilla in secret whilst presenting a respectable public face but modern levels of scrutiny make this impossible.  Besides nowadays the royals, like the rest of us, are supposed to marry for love.

The story also illustrates a paradigm shift, as pointed out in The Queen: a ‘shift in values’ between the old stiff-upper-lip of royal protocol and the more human and compassionate face which Diana represented.

I hope no future royal princess will receive that level of intrusion because we have no right to demand it of them.  They are not there to fulfill our dreams, we need to do that for ourselves.

Here’s the film:

https://bit.ly/2BDYj4Y

Kirk out

 

 

 

We’re Here Because We’re Here Because You’re There Because We’re Here

The older I get and the more I look at unjust societies (which is practically every society) it occurs to me that oppression is based on nothing at all.  The ways in which women were held to be inferior were myriad: from the size of our brains to the predominance of our hormones, no matter which way we turned reasons were advanced as to why we must advance no further.

But suppose a woman did show evidence of superior intellect; suppose one or more women demonstrated their ability to keep a cool head under pressure, what then?  Would the men admit they were wrong?  Of course not!  The women would be demonised, labelled as ‘not proper women.’  Because women can’t do these things.  Why can’t they?  Because they can’t – and if they can, they’re not real women.  So there.  QED.

Someone recently told me about a car journey they’d taken with a male driver, someone they didn’t know very well.  He got lost, so she dug out the road atlas.  ‘Women can’t read maps,’ he said.  He kept on saying it with the frequency of little white lines in the road.  ‘Women can’t read maps.  Women can’t read maps.’  She persisted in reading the map and got them to their destination, folding the map in triumph as they pulled in.  ‘Well, you mustn’t be a woman,’ he said. 

There you have it, in a nutshell – and that was only a few years ago.

The absurdity of these ‘arguments’ is so clear from a distance, you wonder how anyone could possibly be taken in by them.  But the oppressors don’t just rely on argument: the status quo is maintained by force or the threat of force.  This can be physical but often it’s mental (I won’t list the ways and means because they’ve been covered thoroughly in recent decades.)  The trump card in this scenario, however, is religion.  Why wouldn’t it be?  If you can claim that you rule by divine right it doesn’t matter whether you’re a monarch or a husband or a white man or a priest, you hold the trump card now and for eternity.

It doesn’t matter whether the landscape is gender or race or sexuality or something else, the game’s the same.  1. Things are the way they are because they’re the way they are.  2. If they weren’t the way they were they’d be wrong.  3. This is the right way for things to be and 4. if you want further proof read the Bible.  Or Koran.  Or whatever.

So there.  We’re here because we’re here and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Kirk out

 

Little Red People? Here We Are, Come and Get Us!

They are doing this on our behalf, without consulting us, droned the guy on the radio.  What could he be talking about?  Brexit?  They are sending out messages without any idea of what the consequences could be for our culture.  Definitely Brexit.  If alien life is out there we are basically sending them a signal that says, ‘here we are, come and get us.’

Could still be Brexit… but no: turned out the guy was talking about signals sent out in the hope of contacting alien life.  He was worried that instead of making friends we might be advertising our existence and possibly inviting an invasion.

My first thought was, my god – what a paranoid vision!  But then it made me think because yes, to be fair, they are doing this without consulting the rest of us – though how world-consultation might be achieved is not clear – but also there does seem to be an assumption that this is a risk-free process.  Do we see the rest of the universe as benign and ourselves as the only wicked species?  I think perhaps we do.  Could we be wrong?  Of course we could.

Not knowing what to think about this, I consulted the oracle.

Me:  Do you think it’s dangerous to try to contact alien life?

Jeeves:  You already know what I think. 

Me:  Oh, do I?

OH:  Yes, I told you before.

Me:  Oh well that’s all right then.  Obviously I know

OH:  Obviously.  (Come to think of it, OH is sounding more like Sherlock than Jeeves.  Not nearly polite enough.)  Anyway, I blogged yesterday. 

Me:  Oh, what about?

OH:  About Dalek.

Me:  Daleks?

OH:  No.  About Galek

Me:  Garlic?

OH:  No!  Galek!

Me:  What the hell is Galek?

OH:  Galek!  The language!

Me;  Oh for god’s sake!  You mean Gallic!

OH:  (stubbornly)  It’s pronounced Galek.

Me:  You’d always rather be correct than be understood, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, back to the aliens – because OH’s view is, as I was subsequently reminded – that any species as wicked as us would have wiped itself out already, so whatever remains must be benign (definitely more like Sherlock).  I’m not sure I go along with that as we haven’t yet wiped ourselves out, (though that may only be a matter of time) so why would these other hypothetical races?  And yet the idea that people some people view alien life as potentially hostile is utterly depressing to me, giving rise as it does to visions of star wars and galaxy wars and the whole disgusting scenario being played out over an ever-widening area.  Are we really no better than that?  If that’s the best we can do then we probably should be wiped out.

*Sigh*

One of the most interesting aspects of the play I went to the other night (I’ll say more of that in a minute) was the number of peace initiatives which sprang up before and during the First World War.  I hadn’t heard about any of these and needless to say none of them managed to stop the carnage before it ground to an inevitable halt.  What scares me is that war has its own momentum and that once you put measures in place it’s very hard to stop it.  But god knows we have to try because if we start regarding alien life as hostile before we’ve even discovered it, what hope is there for us?

Anyway, the play was called Remembrance.  Written by Bill Brookman the narrative centred on letters between a Sergeant on the front and his wife at home, the action spanning a number of wars between 1916 and the early ‘sixties.  It was a story not only of war but of the Home Front and the emancipation of women and the action was interspersed with songs and hymns, some of which the audience joined in.  It was a great evening.

And a propos of female emancipation here’s a statue of Leicester Suffragette Alice Hawkins made out of Lego:

IMG_0872

Kirk out