‘Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness’ – Samuel Beckett
I’ve been absent for a while – my energy levels are low, there have been numbers of small but distressing events to deal with, and the ability to write seemed to have deserted me.
It’s election day in the UK today, and this morning I realised that even though my friends and I may vote very differently, what motivates us is the same thing – a desire for things to be better – and our differences lie only in how we believe that might be achieved. On a day that often leads to arguments and opposed views, it’s worth remembering our shared humanity.
In here, I am tired and the clock ticks slowly.
Pillows are piled high under my head
and I cannot straighten my legs because two cats are arced across the blankets.
The hot water bottle is unnecessary, but comforting nonetheless.
Out there, in a cold June wind, people are voting for a better world,
making their mark beside those names they hope will provide it.
The worlds they yearn for are not the same,
but an identical longing moves through them all, like the cool summer wind.
I haven’t got a great deal to write about at the moment, so I’m going back in time a bit. My writing course finished a while ago, but in the last session we worked on trying out different poetic structures. The first exercise – which led me to think that our tutor has a demonic streak that she normally manages to hide extremely well – went like this. We had to take a word of eleven letters, use the letters to create as many other words of four letters or more as we could, then write an eleven-line poem in which – wait for it – the last word in each line had to be one of the words we’d extracted from the original word. I hope you’re keeping up here.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, we were told the word we had to use was ‘chimpanzees’. Well, I failed, miserably. For one thing, I loathe chimpanzees. I’m not keen on any of the primates, but chimpanzees, with those horrible gurning old-people faces, personify for me the worst stuff about humans without any of the good things. That aside, the whole thing felt too much like an intellectual exercise, on a par with – perhaps – solving cryptic crossword clues or doing sudokus, neither of which appeal to me in the slightest. I simply couldn’t get into it at all.
I have a deep suspicion that Fiona was motivated to give us something truly horrible to start with so that we wouldn’t freak out when she said the next thing we had to do was write a sonnet. Believe me, after the anagram crossword exercise, a sonnet seemed like a breeze. For an awful moment it did look like the subject of the sonnet was going to be James Bond, but fortunately someone else protested and that idea was abandoned. We got chocolate instead – chocolate as a subject, that is, not the real stuff. (Although by then some of the real stuff would have been more than welcome.)
So here’s my sonnet to chocolate. In case you’re wondering, a sonnet is structured with rhyme endings that go like this: first eight lines are AB AB CD CD, then six lines that go CDE CDE, or alternatively you can have the last two lines as a rhyming couplet. I’m afraid mine falls apart a bit towards the end, and it might well have Shakespeare turning in his grave, but you can’t expect perfection in the space of twenty minutes.
Chocolate – a love story
We’ve had a life-long love affair, we two.
Though times I’ve tried to leave you and be free
It never lasts and I return to you –
I can never have enough of you, you see.
You’ve been my solace in a hostile world,
You’ve been my sweetness, oh, and my delight.
You’re there for me, your wrapper comes unfurled
At any time of day, or even night.
But I must give you up, I know I must,
Though it leaves a space that I can never fill.
I think of you and I am filled with lust
And seeing your rich brown body’s quite a thrill.
But here’s the thing: I’m getting rather fat, and clothing-wise things are a little tight.
I’ll give you up, I swear I will, I must. But even so, not without a fight.
It is not expected that you go somewhere exotic, grand, or far-flung in order to write a poem. You can make one anywhere, about anything. It will not be seen as a worse poem for being about your toddler looking at the moon (Ted Hughes), a fork in a woodland path (Robert Frost), a blade of grass (Brian Patten), or a haggis (Robert Burns). It is recognised that something big can be said by writing about something small.
A poem is not thought to be better because you climbed a mountain and trekked through thigh-deep snow for hours in order to write it, nor because you had to get up before dawn or risk your life on the edge of a slippery precipice. It is not thought better because you hefted several kilos of pens and notepads to the location where you wrote it.
It is not necessary to keep upgrading your pen and paper to be any good. Nobody will think any the less of you, nor judge your poems according to whether you write them with a biro or a Parker pen.
Nobody ever asks what kind of poet you are and expects you to define yourself as a landscape poet, or a street poet, or to say you specialise in sonnets or villanelles. It is enough to say that you write poetry.
A poem is not thought to be good because its grammar is exact and perfect, and its spelling exemplary. A good poem breaks as many rules as it keeps and it needn’t be instantly clear and obvious. It is recognised that there are many ways of creating a good poem and that all good poems do not have to conform to a single ideal, but are allowed to be good in their own way.
A poem is not expected to describe exactly, but to distill its subject down to its essence and, by changing it, show it as it is.
It is expected that a poem be edited and polished before it is released. It is not regarded as some sort of cheating if you change the words of the first draft and crop out superfluous phrases.
Finally, nobody ever says: ‘that’s a great poem, you must have a really good pen. Oh, and what sort of notepad do you use?’
December drips and drabs along into the dark time,
grey rain drizzles from an oozing sky,
and the murky light glooms its way to nightfall.
Birds are silent; the world smells only of damp dead leaves.
In houses, in streets, squares of warm yellow – reminders of an absent sun.
I don’t mind the cold of winter, or even the rain as such – it’s the grey gloominess of it all that gets to me. I would welcome snow and ice, sparkling frost, tumultuous skies full of stormy life, pale blue skies with a wintry sun, even rain that comes down in torrents – anything other than this drip and drizzle and monotonous greyness. It’s the one time of year when I regret our temperate climate and long for some ‘real’ weather.
I woke up one December morning – very early, I thought, but it was after 8.00am and the light was so dim and poor that it didn’t seem as if the day had got started yet. My heart sank a bit on seeing how dreich it was (Scots: dreich: – a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather; at least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich) . I’ve been writing bits of poetry lately – usually in the middle of the night, and this certainly felt like the middle of the night – so I wrote a little word picture and got it out of my system. I found this photo that I took a while ago, and it worked quite well with the words. Sometimes you just have to go with things as they are and make something of it, and by doing that you can rise above it. The great thing about writing and photography is that everything is fuel for creating, even the bad and the dull.
Some of you may have seen the film of The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel of the same name. A man and his son make their way through a grim world inhabited by survivors who are quite likely to kill you, or even eat you in order to ensure their further survival. It’s a sombre film, made more so by the unrelenting rain that teems down on father and son, and the lack of any colour but greys and browns. This alone is enough to make you wonder about your motivation to stay alive in such a world, even without the threats and danger from others, and the whole would have lost much of its power without the absence of colour and that endless soaking dull rain. No wonder the ancients worshipped the sun.
I have big changes in mind for this blog, although it may take me some time to implement them. The first thing is to change hosts as Hostgator is getting ridiculously expensive for a simple blog that doesn’t make any money. But changing hosts is the easy bit – I hope – as I’ll get someone to do that for me. I also want to expand the scope of what I write about to more than just photography, and that will involve a new name for the blog and a new design, too. I’ve found a theme I like, but it’s pricey and January has been full of unexpected expenses, so I may have to wait a couple of weeks for that. I know that the theme I’m using has problems and I’m not tech savvy enough to know how to solve them. I hope the new one will be a big improvement.