Category Archives: poems

Crossword Crossover

It’s funny the things that cross over from real life into blogland and the things that don’t.  As I said before, I’m very bad at telling people about this blog; but I am also quite bad at telling my readers about some things that happen in real life.  Viz: crosswords.  I have got into the habit of starting each day with – well, first of all with a pot of tea and second of all with a conversation (see previous posts) but third of all – once I’ve checked email and Facebook – with the Guardian crossword.

I began these when I felt stymied in my work.  Either no words came, or else the ones that did were dull and uninspiring; or they were interesting but like hair after washing I couldn’t do a thing with them (I’ve never understood that comment about hair, by the way) – anyway, I decided that a cryptic crossword would sharpen the wits and enable me to do more of the things I like doing with words – or more of the things that words like me to do with them.

At first it was hard.  I’d been used to solving the Telegraph cryptic with a couple of co-conspirators: and let me tell you, doing the Guardian alone is a whole new quantum level of difficulty.   The online-ness of it does help though, because one of the major drawbacks to a paper crossword is that you can’t make too many mistakes, wheresas with online crosswords you have a ‘check’ button so that you can try out different ideas without committing yourself.  If all else fails, you can hit the ‘reveal’ button.  So in some ways it’s easier.

And does it help with the words?  Well it certainly gets the brain going in the morning, and I’m a lot better at solving them than I used to be.  Cryptic clues help you to see words in a different way (a ‘flower,’ for example, is often a river) and to search your memory-banks for synonyms and your lateral brain-waves for homophones and lookalikes.  There are many tricks crossword-compilers use to construct their clues; and I’m constantly finding out new ones.  The Rev. Spooner is a staple, indicating that the beginnings of words have been swapped over.  Anagrams are near-universal: you also find the ends or beginnings of words chopped off, or else alternate letters used.  It’s a whole ‘nother language: it’s English but not as we know it – in fact there’s so much I could say about this that I’m going to go away and think about it and put it in a whole ‘nother post.  Or maybe a series of posts.

Anyway, here’s the link if you want to try one yourself: I recommend the Quiptic if you’re new to these.

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords

Kirk out

 

 

 

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The Organ Grindr

Yesterday morning before I had even ingested an amount of tea sufficient to restore some sort of consciousness (it’s life, Jim, but not as we know it) OH informed me that there is now a ‘choral app.’  Not having any context to put this in I resorted to an irritable ‘what?’

‘A choral app,’ he said – repetition, in the mind of Mark, being equivalent to explanation.  He treats my queries rather in the manner of a Victorian colonialist who, when not understood by the natives, merely repeats himself more slowly and loudly.  I have long since learned that silence is the only response; sure enough, after only ten minutes of this he explained that an organ app is an app which tells you where your nearest choral evensong is.

‘It’s like Grindr,’ he explained.

‘Organ Grindr!’ I quipped.

Such puns are a staple of our daily conversation: I venture to assert that without them our married life would – ahem! – grind to a halt.  Another grind-related pun which surfaced quite early on in our joint existence arose out of the ubiquity of coffee-grounds.  OH and I are like Jack Spratt and his wife (name unrecorded) in that I only drink tea and he only imbibes coffee.  But whereas I dispose of my tea-leaves in a thoughtful and tidy manner (without reading them first) he merely gives the decanter a casual swill, leaving coffee grounds All Over The Place.  This being our honeymoon period, it took me a while to complain but when I did he instantly quipped ‘grounds for divorce!’ and so a tradition began.  Other standing jokes include such gems as ‘we were disgusted by the bus so we went by tandem’ (de gustibus non disputandem est) and many more which unfortunately I can’t remember (and neither can OH) because they arise out of the moment and are forgotten until the next moment.  When I asked if he could think of any, he suggested I should have written them down in a notebook.

‘I did!’ I said.  ‘I just don’t know where the notebooks are.’  And there’s the rub: generally speaking I write things down to forget them, not to remember them.  The whole point of writing is to get things out of your mind; words and ideas that would otherwise lodge there like awkward house-guests, never leaving and starting arguments with all the other guests.

So now you know the secret of writing.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

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Lay Your Head on the Writer’s Block

I’m never quite sure what writer’s block is.  I know it refers to an inability to write, but what actually counts as writer’s block?  If you sit staring at a screen for hours without writing a word, does that count?  Or is that too short a time?  Does it have to last at least a few days or weeks before you can call it writer’s block?  And when I wasn’t writing at all between the ages of eight and twenty-four, was that writer’s block?  Or was it a crisis of identity?

Aside from the question of how long it lasts, what kind of thing is writer’s block?  Is it the complete inability to write a single word?  Or does it mean you don’t write anything you’re remotely satisfied with?  If it’s the latter, I’m in trouble – because ‘not remotely satisfied’ describes nearly every day’s work for me.  But if it’s the former I’m OK because most days I manage to write something, even if it’s only a blog post.  Which is why I’m so glad I have this blog, because on really bad days where I can’t string two morphemes together, I can at least manacle a blog post into position, run it up the flag and see if anyone salutes it.  A blog post is usually less than 500 words; it’s achievable and, with the click of a button, it’s published and ready to read.

OH has an interesting view on overcoming writer’s block.  In the same way that Michelangelo saw the sculpture as being hidden within the stone

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michelange386296.html

you could regard writing as ‘taking away’ everything which is not the story.  I’m not sure how cutting things away works when faced with a blank page rather than a lump of rock, but it’s worth thinking about. *

In ‘His Dark Materials’, Phillip Pullman wrote of the subtle knife which cuts windows between different worlds, ‘you may have intentions but the knife has its own intentions.’

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/the-subtle-knife

This is an idea I try to bear in mind when writing a poem; that when writing I may have intentions, but the poem has its own intentions too.  Nevertheless, the blank page can be a very intimidating thing to overcome, so when I have a bad day and think all my thoughts are worthless, I try just to write, believing that anything is better than nothing and reminding myself without a first draft there can be no second draft, no finished version.

I guess the process of writing is hard to fathom, else there would be no such thing as writer’s block.  But it’s clear that writing begins with thought.  Thoughts occur in the mind, and the writer selects which of them to commit to paper: so maybe writer’s block begins here, at the level of thought.  When the mind is a blank, the page will be a blank.  However, in my experience what is more likely going on is that the mind is not producing anything your critical self deems worthy of using; hence a good exercise when blocked is to write whatever comes into your mind, no matter how nonsensical or seemingly worthless.  James Joyce did this, and look what he managed to produce just listening to the babbling of his mind!

Interesting things happen when we let go of controlling our thoughts.  And out of this arises poetry.

And I know it’s not the day for linking to it, but I’m going to link here to the Insecure Writers Support Group because this post is relevant.

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Kirk out

*Sounds like some bizarre version of scissors, paper, stone…

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Gosh, That Was a Busy Day

Yesterday proved unexpectedly busy, what with going to the Utilise Social Cafe and then to a canvassing training session by the Labour Party.  Those were the planned events; but on my way home from the cafe I ran into Jan parking her bike.  This happens a lot these days, since she’s in Loughborough every Saturday, and it fell out that she was on her way to a pub.  Who am I to resist the promptings of fate?  I promptly fell in with her and accepted the generous offer of a drink, which took care of the intervening time until I went to Unity Building for the canvassing.

Canvassing is something I’ve often thought about doing but was too afraid to ask, the thought of knocking on people’s doors and asking them to vote for us being somewhat daunting.  So it was good to have some training in this area and next week I will be going out with some other reddish bods and doing it for real.

After the canvassing came another unplanned event.  At the cafe I got talking to a couple of women who go there, and they told me about a demo that afternoon against racism and for – well, peace and harmony and stuff.  I’m aware that this sounds a bit like Neil from The Young Ones, but there it is.  About half a dozen white British people and twenty or so Muslims turned up to stand around a banner and chant at the passers-by and marketeers who were packing up the Loughborough market.  I made up a couple of chants which were generally admired.  Well, I am a poet after all…

I shall be doing a write-up on this for the Loughborough Echo, exhorting people to stop tarring all Muslims with the same brush.  (Not you guys – I know you would never do anything so crass.)

So that was yesterday.  And a jolly good Saturday it was too.  Today I shall be mostly… going to Quaker meeting and then heading off for lunch to celebrate Alan’s birthday.

Kirk out

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The Year of Sitting Comfortably

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

You will only recognise those words if you are a) Old Like Me or b) young and into cultural irony like my son: I continue to be amazed at how much stuff from my youth he recognises because it’s referenced in things he watches.  Anyway, are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin: because today’s post is about the lost art of storytelling – by which I mean the old oral tradition of face-to-face narration (I realise plenty of stories are being told in print or on film.  Incidentally, remind me to post a review of La La Land.  I saw it on Friday and it is beyond description, but I’ll try.)

What started me off on this was – well, first of all it was because the title came to me and secondly because there is in Loughborough library a storytelling chair.  It’s large enough for one adult and one child, and it’s decorated with ladybirds.  Lovely, I thought, just right for a parent to read to a child.  And then I discovered that it’s actually an electronic chair: you sit in it and it tells you stories – and that seemed sad to me.  It seemed alienating and distancing – and moreover, a waste of money, especially as the funds had been raised by Friends of the Library and could have been spent on an ordinary comfy chair destined for face-to-face storytelling.

One of the first TV programmes I ever watched after we got our first black-and-white set was ‘Jackanory.’  This was a storytelling programme and as with all TV programmes, sitting comfortably was a prerequisite.  Jackanory went on for years and featured famous actors and actresses reading from a book, interspersed with pictures.  It was a simple but effective format.  Nowadays we have to turn to the radio for storytelling, but once every two months I go with Ruth to a group called Telling Tales.  The Leicestershire Guild of Storytellers puts on this event in Leicester and it features a mix of traditional and modern tales from a huge variety of cultures.  Last week we had stories from India, Norway, Germany and Iran, as well as my own largely descriptive account of the garden of the vicarage where I grew up.  I love telling stories and hearing them, and it is my firm belief that we need a return to our oral traditions; to go back to face-to-face storytelling.

And poetry, of course.

Kirk out

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Cancel the Helium Balloons

I came across some advice recently on a writers’ blog, about handling your first book signing.  I was briefly interested as this is likely to happen to me at some point, but I don’t know what I expected.  Hints on how to interact with readers, perhaps; how to sign a thousand books without getting cramp; how to respond to difficult questions or prolonged conversations – maybe even how to deal with critical comments.  But none of these figured at all.  Instead the points were these:

  1. get your helium balloons inflated early
  2. if you are an introvert, take breaks from people
  3. dress comfortably
  4. iron the table-cloth
  5. if you bring bags of bite-size candy to give it away, bring scissors to cut the bag.

Wow.  I confess to being a bit gob-smacked by all of this.  OK so the word ‘candy’ gives away the transatlantic location; but you could just as well be organising a birthday party or a jamboree; there’s no reference whatsoever to books or fiction or signing or interacting with readers.  And it made me very depressed.  So here are my plans:

At my first book-signing there will be no bite-sized candy to give away; instead there will be bite-sized poetry.

At my first book-signing there will be no tablecloth.  I will wear comfortable clothes but they probably won’t be ironed.

At my first book-signing there will be books and there will be live poetry.

At my book signing there will be conversation and dialogue.  There will be meetings of minds.  There will be interaction between me and my readers, whom I will be interested and happy to meet, even if they are critical.

At my first book-signing I will sign books.

And you can cancel the helium balloons.   We won’t be needing them…

Kirk out

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The Prince of Paradox

There’s going to be a lot of Cohen on this blog in the coming days, so hang onto your hats just as he is in this photo:

The thing I want to write about today is his gift for presenting paradox.  As first of all a Jew and later a Zen Buddhist, Cohen was very drawn to what he saw as the paradoxes inherent in human life; and today’s song illustrates this beautifully – as well as being utterly timely.  In fact it’s tempting to wonder whether the election of the man whom I shall refer to only as Mr T, is what convinced him to go.  My tribute to this side of his work is very short: as I have said, Leonard was a guru of sorts for me; someone who seemed to show the way – or a way – to be an artist in this world, to handle fame graciously whilst never compromising in following his own voice.  That above all is what I respected in him.  Anyway, Leonard was the perfect guru for me because he would never had wanted to be anyone’s guru.  So that makes him perfect for someone like me, because like the Groucho Marx of discipleship, I would never choose for a guru, someone who actually wanted to be one.  So here’s my little wild bouquet for today:

Guru

Leonard
you taught me to embrace paradox
with both hands tied
behind my back.

He also taught self-deprecation.  This was a hallmark of his public style right from the sixties – when it was fashionable – through the nineties and after, when it most certainly wasn’t.  When every other performer was relentlessly engaged in self-promotion he undercut himself with jokes.  He was famous for being gloomy, but this was most unfair.  A lot of his songs are full of jokes, and when interviewed he had the journalists in stitches with his wry, self-deprecating humour.

So here’s today’s song.  I hope you find it as funny and as timely as I do:

And it may well be from the very concert we were at!

Kirk out

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