Tuesday 23 November 2010

Street Photographs I & II in Twenty-One Syllables

or the past couple of months my friend Caroline has belonged to Street Photography Now, a project for amateur photographers which each week instructs its members to go outside and either photograph a particular scene or use their cameras in a particular way.

I have decided to take part too and write a twenty-one syllable response to the instructions. Each week I want to create a poem that has a strong visual, perhaps Imagist quality, what Barthes calls 'an explosion [which] makes a little star on the pane of the text' (Camera Lucida).

Last week's instructions were to get 'On your knees please... Take a picture from ground level.' This was my (slightly cheating) response:

This is the path the leaf took:
from bud, down,
stripped to vertebrae
and the push of my brush.

And this week the Street Photography chiefs said, 'Play photographic poker. Look for a pair, two pairs, or three of a kind.' Today I came up with this:

On the snow-slowed road
a car slushes past,
its headlights form yellow cones
flecked with shadows.

I'm enjoying myself hugely and hope post a few more small poetic explosions over the coming weeks.

***Today's initial began as a lightning flash, but a furry frost beast appeared instead, no doubt born of the snow.

Friday 19 November 2010

Poetry at the Lewes Arms

After some weeks without attending any live poetry events, I spent an inspiring evening on Wednesday with Sandy, a couple of dozen other poets and poetry fans and the brilliant Andy Brown, as part of the University of Sussex's New Metaphysical Poets series. Then last night Rebecca and I went to Lewes Poetry at the Lewes Arms.

Olly, Lewes Poetry's compere and resident poet, used to run a comedy club that A A Gill once described as 'the worst comedy club in London'. He is rightly proud of Gill's review.

Olly and his wife have made their own decoration for the poetry events by creating a backdrop of purple velvet (apparently made from their bedroom curtains) with the word, 'Poems', in applique letters at the top. Flaps of further, flowery psychedelic fabric hang beneath, half obscuring another word: 'Pi...'. Rebecca and I were told this was 'Pints', but Rebecca reckoned it was more likely 'Pimps'; I went for 'Pineapples'.

It turned out Rebecca and I were the only poets who wrote primarily serious work. I don't think I have ever laughed so much or so joyously at a poetry reading before, though perhaps our whiskys with ginger ale increased the sense of carnival.

During the break (and while we were serenaded by Andy Williams on a portable stereo that had to be played upside-down or the CD lid would flip open) Olly said we were all to write limericks for that evening's competition, the prize for which was a bottle of white wine. We were told to write on a certain engagement that's been in the British news this week. Unwilling to write limericks, Rebecca and I each wrote two haikus (or seventeen syllable jabs, in my case) instead.

Mine won, largely due to Olly's vitriolic reading and the company's desire to let a mock-haiku (a fake-u?) win a limerick competition.

On our way home and full of drunken chutzpah, I told Rebecca I would publish my pieces; so, ruining forever my chances of becoming laureate, here's the stronger of the two:

He's stupid, balding, buck-toothed, an arse.
I really couldn't give a toss.

And, with great pride, here's my bottle of wine:

Thursday 11 November 2010

My Life is Better Without You Because...

Illustration by Corinna Sargood, from Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales

My life is better without you because you used to make me sandwiches with horrible fillings, such as jam and sausages, or ham and bananas; then you'd watch me eat them and snigger to yourself. Sometimes I was sick.

My life is better without you because once when I was weeding the drive you came back from the shops and ran me over. My ribs and pelvis were crushed and I was in hospital for five months. Even now it's hard to breathe. You didn't apologise.

My life is better without you because you used to do the hoovering at 2am and would hit the bed repeatedly with the upholstery attachment. Then you would hoover the mattress, poking the nozzle beneath me and catching the hem of my pyjama top.

My life is better without you because whenever I tried to leave you, you hired security people to find me and take me back. I could never get further than a few miles away because you took away my bicycle, my car, my passport and my money. I had to sleep in fields and hedges; so I couldn't leave in cold or wet weather. Once I knocked on my neighbour's door and asked for shelter, but somehow you knew I was there and came for me. I wondered sometimes whether you controlled the world.

My life is better without you because you always knew what I was thinking and I was scared to think anything bad in case you saw it. I used to wake up shaking whenever I had nightmares about you, when my dreams were begging me to leave you. I was so afraid you'd see them.

***I wrote this piece last Saturday as part of the Day of Meaningful Nothing. Jenny suggested we write on this theme, as she, Rebecca and I love Luke Kennard's prose poem, ' My Friend', which I won't reprint here as would put my own piece to shame. She also reckoned it might be cathartic for us all to write about getting rid of someone who used to cause us pain. I didn't want to write about any real people, as I still miss most (though not all) of the people I'm no longer in contact with. Instead then I wrote about someone fictitious. It was only when I came to read it out that I realised it was actually loosely autobiographical, describing among other things aspects of my childhood. It prompted much discussion among Jenny, Rebecca, Suzanne, Terri and I about childhood: being forced to eat food we didn't like, being powerless and unable to run away, believing our parents were telepathic, and, of course, angry maternal hoovering.

Rebecca has given an excellent account of the day on her website. I can't add to her description, but I would like to thank my four fellow Meaningful Somethings for filling it with their creativity, honesty, sensitivity, intelligence and good humour.

Friday 5 November 2010

Creative Panic

hat should we do when we can't write anything of any quality? Should we carry on working through the drought?

I've just come to the end(ish) of 600 or so lines of a narrative poem I started at the beginning of the year. Since the MA ended I've been preoccupied with finishing various projects that I just haven't had the time for until now, one of which has been the narrative piece.

Ovid needs further work too, but I'm stuck in the Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs and frankly I find the fights the least interesting tales in Metamorphoses: I have problems remembering which centaur has his head crushed so that his brains come out through his nose, eyes, mouth and ears; or which gets tangled in and trips over his own intestines. I'm sure I shouldn't admit this, but I don't much care: having recently read both The Golden Notebook and The Women's Room, a bunch of men, even ones with hooves, chopping one another up and pulverising each other with tree trunks seems no great shakes.

But I'm not getting on with anything new and that's the rub. Should I? Is it best to tie loose ends, or begin weaving new ones? If I finish everything, what will I do then? I'm afraid that
if I don't begin anything I'll forget how to do it and end up in serious creative panic. It's like beginning a new notebook: all those blank pages that demand brilliance but so often end up covered in mistakes and non-starters.

This is familiar territory, of course, and I guess it will pass. It's probably partly due to the post MA void: my life feels a bit like a new notebook at the moment. Perhaps I need to learn not to worry so much about the future.

Tomorrow I have some friends coming over for a Day of Meaningful Nothing, that is, a day of talking, voice-workshopping, cake and alchemical stew-eating and vision-board-making. I am so looking forward to a full day of creativity and I hope it might ease my panic. In the meantime there are just those dying centaurs to contend with.