Revisions: Wednesday Workshop

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Revisions
Wednesday Workshop
27 June 2018

Below are the texts of a poem that I am attempting to revise. Any comments on the text(s) or the revision process will be welcome.

In Absentia 1
Princess Squiffy

I hear her voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by her plastic plaything.
She isn’t there. He is and he’s talking.

I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his
other sex perfumes, but there he is and
when he stops talking, I can hear her voice.

I move to his talk box. A shadow, I
can’t quite make it out, then her voice again.
My whiskers stiffen, I lean forward, sniff,
but no smell. She has no smell, and scentless,

I cannot sense her, I bristle, she calls
me by my favorite names, mews, and I mew
back in reply. But I can’t smell her. There’s

no sense of touch … is this the hell all cats
will suffer … shadows on a screen, a voice,
haunting, memories shifting and dancing,
nothing solid … just shadows and absence?

Problems:
Repetition of scents / smells, there, voice (4), plus avoid all cats

Solutions:
Seems easy to tidy up … but … how do I end the poem with I hate him? Would it make the poem stronger? It would man a total rethink and restructure. 

In Absentia 2
Princess Squiffy

I hear her voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by her plastic plaything.
She isn’t here. He is and he’s talking.

I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his
other sex perfumes. He stops talking. I
can hear her warm, sweet words: where can she be?

I move to his talk box. A shadow, I
can’t quite make it out, then her tones again.
My whiskers stiffen, I lean forward, sniff,
but cannot sense her. I bristle. She calls

me by my favorite names, squeaks, and I mew
back. There’s no sense of touch, of her presence.
Is this the way we all will suffer? Wood

burns. Firelight flickering, shadows on
cave walls, long gone memories revived to
haunt us. Are these the torments held in hell?
Will dark shapes shift on half-lit screens? Will the

memories of loved ones come back to taunt
us, haunt us?  Will there be nothing solid
in the afterlife, just outlines and absence?

First Revision:
I quite like it, but it has become much longer and the cat’s voice has either been conflated with the human voice at the end or it’s an exceptionally intelligent cat, knowing all about Plato,  unless those can pass as feline memories because she was in the cave with him.

In Absentia 3
Princess Squiffy

I hear your voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by your plastic plaything.

You are not here. He is. I can hear you
talk. I stalk to his noise box. I see a
shadow, moving, but I can’t make it out.

My muscles first tense, then stiffen. I sniff,
lean forward, but find no trace of female
smell. I cannot sense you. You call me by

my favorite names, mew at me, and I
respond. Shifting shadows, your haunting tones,
memories dancing to the music of

your absence. I can’t eat. I bristle when
he laughs. Where are you, my love? He doesn’t
care for me the way you do. I loathe him.

Second Revision:
This is much shorter, builds up to the proposed new ending, eliminates the repetitions, and replaces hate with loathe, a very catty sound. However, I have lost the ending that I liked so much: the suggestion of Plato’s Cave has now been lost. So, let’s head to Plato’s Cave.

In Absentia 4
Plato’s Cat Cave

Princess Squiffy

I hear her voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by her plastic plaything.
She isn’t there. He is and he’s talking.

I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his
other sex perfumes, but there he is and
when he stops laughing, I can hear her voice.

I move to his talk box. A shadow, I
can’t quite make it out, then her voice again.
My whiskers stiffen, I lean forward, sniff:
she has no smell. I bottle-brush my tail.

Envoi
by Plato

Firelight flickering, shadows on walls,
distant voices echoing, memories
perched on our shoulders, night owls hooting.

Is this the hell we all will suffer, shapes
shifting on a screen, voices taunting us,
memories dancing to half remembered
melodies, nothing solid, shadows, absence?

Third Revision:
This poem has now changed shape and direction. I quite like it but it is dependent on a knowledge of Plato’s Cave. Does the cat belong in Plato’s Cave … I think of Kipling’s Just So story The Cat that Walked … perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn’t.

Decision Time:

Playing around with the text was fun. The text moved in several directions and now I must choose my final direction.

Comments on any of the versions or on the revision process I used will be very welcome. And yes, nothing perishes. My poems, like my cats, have nine lives (well, four in this case, with possibly a fifth to come).

Wednesday Workshop: Voice Recordings

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Wednesday Workshop
13 June 2018
Voice Recordings

To be Welsh on Sunday

I am continuing today with my experiments with voice recordings, something that interests me very much. As I said earlier, my voice changes with audience and mood, and early morning, in Island View, with the microphone and Princess Squiffy as an audience, and the window open so the cool morning air can circulate before the heat of the day, is not the best way to induce mood, well, not in this reader anyway.

When I made the recording, I was reading from my book  Though Lovers Be Lost  (available on Amazon) my head was slightly turned away from the laptop’s built-in speaker, and, as a result, the reading is not as loud as I would have liked. It is also a little bit fast. I don’t mind the speed of it: when I was younger I would read this poem in a single breath, all 90 seconds or so of it. Now I need many breaths to get though it successfully. Ah, a young man’s fancy turned to dust …

I will do a retake of the poem, not on my laptop, but on my IMac, and I will add that later, below the first recording which will appear just below this introduction. Then I will add the text. Yesterday I offered text, then reading. Today I offer the reading first. That allows the listener to listen first and then read the text OR to start the audio recording and then follow the text as it is being read. This is a Wednesday Workshop and this is all part of my workshop experiments in reading. Wonderful fun and highly recommended. Thank you for being here with me and remember, your comments are more than welcome, they convert a workshop from a soliloquy into a dialog.

 

Second recording to follow

To be Welsh on Sunday

To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life, that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer, at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time, Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow, The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Photo Credit: Princess Squiffy, my favorite listener. She never complains, but she rarely stays awake.

Thursday Thoughts: Cricket

 

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Thursday Thoughts
19 April 2018
Cricket

            Street cricket. Played on cracked tarmac. The wicket: three sticks whitewashed on to the high stone wall of our cul-de-sac street that backed on the railway yards. The wall the boundary. And the neighbor’s front yards. Six and out if you hooked and hit behind the wicket and over the railway wall. You also had to retrieve the ball yourself. Game stopped until you climbed the wall, looked down at the rail yards thirty feet below, and shouted until someone emerged from a workman’s hut to find the ball or throw it back.

            No worker … no ball … no game. Then you had to run out of your street, down the main road, up the hill for two streets, beg permission at the locked rail yard iron gates: “Please, mister, can I go get my ball?” Then run all the way back down the railway lines to where the waiting players hung over your own street wall, shouting and cheering. Search for the ball among shiny rails, shunting rails, rusty rails, dandelions, thistles, and nettles, avoiding rolling stock and the occasional shunting engine. Find the ball. Try unsuccessfully to throw it back over the wall to the waiting hands. Try again. No good. Wall too high. Carry ball back to iron gates. Thank gate man politely so you can come back next time. Return ball to game. Game continues, rain or shine. Unless it’s real rain. The Lissingdowne / Pissingdown type. If so, run for nearest house and shelter by fire in kitchen.

            Basic rules. Six and out if you hit it over the railway wall. Two runs and fetch the ball yourself if you hit it into the to bomb buildings at square leg, next to the railway wall. No fielders there. Banned territory. Still piled with grass-overgrown bombed bricks and debris. Fragile, crumbling walls still still liable to tumble. Cellars that might open up. Low walls that might collapse. Four and out in a neighbor’s front yard. Some were nice and didn’t mind. Watch out for the old witch with the garden gate. If you hit her window, even with a tennis ball, she’d be out quick as a flash, steal your ball, and wouldn’t give it back. Otherwise, it was single-batsmen. Run the runs and walk back from singles. One hand, one bounce. Tip and run once you’d scored twenty. One hand off the wall if you didn’t clear it for a six and out. Out if your fox terrier got the ball and ran round and round in circles with it in his mouth. Damn difficult to catch. Also his sharp, terrier teeth might puncture the ball. Damned dog. Lost ball and stopped match if the dog ran into the house and gave the ball to your gran who was saving it for tennis.

            Cricket, in those days, was civilization. It had survived the bombing raids that missed the railway yards and bombed the bomb buildings. It had survived the machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers that had strafed the street leaving bullet-holes, still un-repaired, in walls and shattering the glass of now-mended windows. It gave us a sense of rule and law, for the rules were strict and nobody broke them and stealing runs in tip and run was legal and not a crime.

            Cricket: a small, bright window on the back-street where I lived, a window filled with happiness and light, even when it’s over the wall and six and out, or the dog runs away with the tennis ball, or the ball vanishes down a mysterious rabbit-hole in the bomb buildings and slides down to someone’s ruined cellar.

            Game’s over. The Tests Match is on. The one primitive, tiny black-and-white screen in the street lights up with flickering figures and we sit around on the floor watching real men playing the real game on a grassy field in a fairy-book world, a world that most of us back-street boys and girls will never know or see, but that comes over to us as a dream of reality on this old black-and-white tv.

Wednesday Workshop: Why I Write II

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Wednesday Workshop
Why I Write II
28 March 2018

Joan Didion’s autobiographical note did not appeal to me in the same way that George Orwell’s did, but then, I was born on the same side of the Atlantic as Orwell, and yes, that does make a difference. So much in Orwell is familiar, so much in Didion is alien.

For Didion, Why I Write (borrowed from George Orwell) is composed of three short words, each of them emphasizing the first person singular I + I + I. She sees writing as an ‘aggressive, even a hostile act’ in which she, as writer, imposes herself on other people (her readers) saying ‘listen to me, see it my way, change your mind’. From this idea of imposition springs the second idea of the ‘aggressive, hostile act’. This, in some ways, can be seen as a sort of combination of Orwell’s first, third, and fourth points (1) sheer egoism; (3) historical impulse; and (4) political purpose with possibly the first dominating.

That said, I like the idea Didion presents of ‘pictures in the mind’. She carries these pictures with her and then writes from them. She writes from the physical, the tangible, the ‘taste of rancid butter’, the ‘tinted windows on the bus’, the concrete nature of these things and her desire to describe them as accurately as possible, led her to discover herself as a writer.

When I apply her descriptions to my own writing, I gaze at my own memories of my childhood. They are like photographs, still, black-and-white photographs, like those we used to see when I was a child at the entrance to movie theaters. The skill for me in writing is to allow these pictures to spring back into life. Much of my writing, especially my stories about Spain, Mexico, or Wales, is autobiographical in its beginnings. However, as the pictures move and speak they tell me things and I write them down. What starts out as a story is very rarely the story that ends up on the page. A metamorphosis takes place. Words slip and shift and change their shapes and meanings according to the whims of characters and the situations in which they find themselves. In the beginning was the picture: that, I guess, is what Didion and I hold in common. But my writing is not her writing, and her pictures are not my photos, how could they be?

Interesting in my own original photos is the lack of sound, the lack of movement, the lack of taste and touch. First the figures are stiff and stolid. When I study them, they shift and move, and next they begin to speak. Alas, what they tell me when they speak to me in the shiftless shadows of my dreams at night is not necessarily what they lazily lisp in the full sun of my waking mind. A long time ago, I struggled to recall the exactness of that dream world and I tried to pummel the words and thoughts on my mind’s anvil and to hammer them into shape aided by the heat of my seemingly inexhaustible creative energy. Now I am more relaxed: I just listen to the daylight voices and allow them to shape themselves and their situations in their own way.

When I do this, background sounds and the tell-tale smells of time and place slip slowly in. Boarding school: the unforgettable stench of burned porridge. My auntie’s house: the whir of the cuckoo clock as it coiled itself up in preparation for the little bird to whip out and enchant the hours. My grandfather’s grandfather clock: the metallic lightness of the clock hands as I adjusted the minutes and the hours when the clock ran down and I sensed the tautness in the piano wires as I turned the key and wound the heavy brass pendulums back into their starting positions. My grandmother’s house: the bubble of water boiling on the hob, the warmth of constantly brewed tea, strong as a farrier’s horse and quite undrinkable without the second, third, or fourth watering and, of course, always the smell of boiled white fish cooling for the cats’ supper.

My best writing comes from deep inside myself. I find it  in the midnight coal mine of my mind where ghost-like figures drift and roam as they seek that special person, the one who will drag them to the surface and bring them back to life. Poor, pale, thin imitations of a reality that never was, I do my best to revive them. Often, my best is just not good enough and I must cast them away and drop them back into the depths to ghost away and prepare themselves for another day when perhaps, they and I will each be ready to deceive each other.

Wednesday Workshop: Editing Plus

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Editing Plus
Wednesday Workshop
14 March 2018

We all need a second pair of eyes whether we are editing our own work or when we edit the work of others. Clearly,  there are several levels (layers is also a good word) at which editing can place.

1. Self-editing: I think we are better off creating the work first and editing it afterwards. However, whether we like it or not, self-editing, and even self-censorship, often takes place during the act of creation as we shuffle sentences, change words, and search for appropriate metaphors. Finish the first draft. When the piece has been drafted, we can look at editing it. I very much like the idea of going to an unfamiliar place so that we re-read in an unfamiliar setting. If familiarity breeds contempt, then unfamiliarity can often breed better editing. That is why I like to leave pieces fallow for a while, before returning to them.

2. Self-editing: One of the best forms of self-editing for me is publishing work on my blog or reading it at an open mic session. When I publish on my blog, I think of the offering, be it prose, poetry, memoir, or criticism, in terms of the ‘other’, those other eyes that will read it. When I read at an open mic session, I think of the people who will hear my spoken word. In both cases, I usually make changes in response to the audience and the perceived audience. Sometimes I make these changes as I read … realizing as I speak my offering that certain phrases are better said in a different fashion or left out altogether. Open Mic readings: I always read my offering aloud and time it before I read in public. Viva Voce is the best way, in my opinion, to catch errors in rhythm and to improve word usage.

3. BETA Readers: Many of my friends use BETA readers, trusted friends who read and criticize their work in early format. I like this idea, but I trust very few readers. Those I do trust are often too busy with their own writing to have time for consistent BETA reading.  Trust is a key issue here. If you have a good, tried and trusted BETA reader, shower them with gifts, buy them presents, keep them by your side.

4. Copy Editing: This comes at several levels that vary from the friend who corrects the occasional error, to the copy editor who fine combs your work and corrects grammar, accuracy, and punctuation. Good copy editors rarely work for free. However, it is well worth while to prepare a manuscript with great care, and some cost, before sending it away, especially to a professional publishing house. Again, trust is an important issue here.

5. Structural Editing: The editor who can deal competently with structural issues is both rare and priceless. We often see and hear how brutal editing can be, both on the writer and the text. While structural editing  can be destructive, both to the text and the writer, if well done, it can be very constructive. I think of Ezra Pound’s notes and changes to Eliot’s Waste Land as an example of exemplary editing. There are many others.

6. Editing and Publishing: I know of authors whose first books were edited heavily by the presses that published them. I also know that in some cases they never published again and in other cases they were frozen into a ‘what will the editor say mode’ that disabled their creativity enormously. Editing can be destructive as well as constructive. Alas, if we want that elusive publication, sometimes our professional editors give us very little choice. Publish or Perish + Change OR Else = an uncomfortable situation in the course of which the original wok can change shape in ways the author cannot control. This is doubly true if the writer belongs to the Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth school. And remember, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder who just happens to be editing and then offering to publish your work.

This is an interesting topic and there is so much more to say. I hope I haven’t wasted too much of your time with this.
Roger,
waiting for the snow to arrive,
in Island View.

Wednesday Workshop: Writing from Inside

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Writing from Inside
Wednesday Workshop
07 March 2018

Crave More: I hate those words.  I always choose a cart with the shop’s name on the handle. I can handle that. I can’t handle a shopping cart that screams Crave More at me every time I stoop down and place another item in the wire grid. If stores were honest they would write Think More and Crave Less on their shopping cart handles. But I bet that would quickly cut into profits.

Anyway, there I was, in LaLaLand, leaning on my cart, still half asleep, when this ghost drifted towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry. I need food.” I woke up from my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones protruding, grey face drawn with shame. The single word “Sorry” came automatically to my lips. Then I too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I only carry plastic.” The excuse limped heavily across the air between. I saw something in his eyes, I knew not what, and I turned away.

In my mind, I added 120 lb of muscle to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years away. Filled his body with joy and pride, not shame, and remembered how he played the game, hard and fast, but true. I ran my hand through the card index of former players that I coached and knew: their moves, and attributes, the way they played the game, their stronger / weaker side, their playing strengths, their weaknesses. I remembered him holding up the Champion’s Cup. But I couldn’t remember his name.

I pushed the cart all over the store in a frantic search for him. He was nowhere to be seen. I went to the ATM and took out cash. I could hand it to him. I could tell him he had dropped it. I went through a thousand scenes. I could invite him to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy what he needed and follow me to the  check out lane. A single opportunity. One chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow the championship. Take it, and we win the game.

 

True Love

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True Love

Her voice in the night
drags me from my dreams.
But it is not her voice:
she has gone back home
leaving Clare and I alone.

Our sleeping rhythms have changed
and we wake each other up
when we unexpectedly touch
or startle at the voices in our dreams.

True love is so much more
than an exchange of rings
or a holding of hands,
especially when our lives
are no longer ruled by hormones,
and they’re taken over
by rebellious glands.