Lullaby

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Lullaby
Wednesday Workshop
11 July 2018

One of my close friends asked me if I would write her a lullaby. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Yes, of course”. Like a fool, I rushed in where no angel would ever care or dare to tread. I sat down and straightaway started to write.

The first thing I discovered was that a lullaby has to rhyme. I couldn’t write one unless it went bumpety-bumpety-bump + rhyme. I wrote several of those and they were all awful. Well, I thought so anyway, and I couldn’t imagine any young child willingly go to sleep while having an adult leaning over them and chanting at them.

The next thing I found out: it’s not easy to write poems, even a lullaby, for other people. Why not? It took me some time to understand that while I write poetry from within myself, heart, stomach, and gut, the lullaby I was writing was not written for me, but for a second person who was not me. What would this friend like to read? How would they like it to sound? By extension, there were not two people involved: I was also writing for an unknown child whom I had never seen. I didn’t know their likes and fancies, nor what would fill them with fear, nor what would successfully send them off to sleep. This three-way traffic was unnerving.

Third problem: a lullaby is a cliché and is filled with clichés. Close your eyes. Sleep, baby, sleep. I will rock you. More important, perhaps, the clichés are not just verbal, they live in the rhymes as well: sleep, deep, keep.

My telephone talks with other writers led me to the theory that rhythm was what mattered. Rhythm, comfort, rhyme, gifts, and the allaying of fears. So easy to write, so hard to fulfill, especially in an age of instant communication. As I wrote, so different formulae marched through my head. I recalled the lullabies my parents and grand-parents sang for me, apparently not very successfully, I was a terrible infant at bed-time. I have more memories of being set to bed, often without supper rather than being sang to in bed. Then there was boarding school (age 6) and the faceless matrons in comfortless dormitories where, more often than not we cried ourselves to sleep. Hush little baby don’t you cry.

So, rhythm, rhyme, nonsense words, dream worlds where everything is good. Along with traditional lullabies like All through the night / Ar hyd a nos, my head filled up with reminiscences of Dylan Thomas, and in the evening, when the sun goes down, / I ask a blessing on this town, and Federico García Lorca, La luna vino a la Fragua / The moon came to the forge.

So much happening. So much laundry passing through the washing-machine of my mind where the waters churned away and rhymes were soaped, rhythms were bleached, ideas were blended and rinsed. I wrote five. I am not sure of any of them. They certainly kept me awake most of last night, syllable counting on my white woolly sheep-fingers, that brought no sleep. I tried counting my blessings too, but that didn’t work either.

Question: does anyone actually want to read my lullabies to keep a child awake? If so let me know. You might persuade me to post one or two.

 

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.

On Reading

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(Today’s photo: Cherry … she was a very obedient dog and always listened carefully. Sometimes she actually obeyed.)

On Reading

Yesterday, I posted an audio of me reading Monkey Presses Delete. I received some e-mails about this reading and realized that reading into the microphone, alone, without an audience, had crated a ‘new voice version’ of the poem. I thought about it overnight and came to the conclusion that my public readings are dictated by two things: (1) my own mood and (2) audience reception. Audience reception is, in itself, a double thing (a) how they perceive me before I even open my mouth (especially if I am an unknown quantity to them) and (b) how they perceive me as I use my performing and reading skills to manipulate them. And no, I am not a passive reader of my poetry, but a very aware and active one.

So, I rethought my relationship to Monkey Presses Delete, and re-recorded it this morning. The second reading is very different, as you will hear. Virtually the same poem, virtually the same poet, but a very, very different reading. I will be very interested to read and / or hear your comments on these two audio variations.

Monkey Presses Delete
(Take 2, Monday, 11 June 2018)

Good Heavens!

Skeleton

Good Heavens: it’s hard to believe that I am a blogger when, currently,  I so seldom blog. I guess it’s the online courses, back to back, eight weeks of creativity online, but a different line from the blog line, and then another eight weeks, five gone and three to go. So much to catch up with. So much to do. Also, all that hard work and then the discovery: a poem published on my blog is a poem published and it is not eligible for publishing elsewhere.

Oh dear … that somehow sucks … like a rose, a poem is a poem is a poem and there is an enormous difference between publishing, can you really call it ‘publishing‘, a poem here and publishing it in a journal or submitting it to a competition, with real live editorial groups poring over its content and then giving it the thumbs up, or thumbs down, as the case may be.  Whatever: rules is rules, I guess, made to be broken, but we lesser mortals break them at our peril, I guess.

Whatever: the reading lessens in three weeks time, also the writing load, and the critiquing load, and all the other loads we writers must carry around with us, on our backs, like a snail carries its shell, aka its house. Lesson: be like a hermit crab, moving in, moving out, changing your residence as it suits you … one way tickets that will keep you in the pink, or some other suitable color.

So: since the start of May I have written / revised more than seventy poems, but I daren’t put them on the blog … why not? Because I would like to publish them in more traditional fashion or else submit them for competitions where unpublished work is demanded. Screwed up? Yes, but the whole world is whirling towards a screwed up state right now. What to do? To publish or not to publish? Where to publish? Where not to publish?

You know, deep down, I am not sure that it matters a damn. I’ll play their game, by their rules, for a month or two, then when the shot-gun riders on the poetic garbage trucks (aka the gate-keepers) move in and warn me off, I’ll come back here and publish it all anyway.

Meanwhile: believe, breathe deep and believe. I’m not going away, not just yet, anyway. But I am taking a small break, and I am moving in a slightly different direction … but I am absolutely certain that I’ll be back.

Wednesday Workshop: Codification

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Codification
Wednesday Workshop
30 May 2018

For me, it is vital to see how others read and interpret my work … what comes across, what doesn’t, how things are understood and read, sometimes in the same way, sometimes in different ways. It is always easy to pick out some favorite phrases. However, deciphering, interpreting, and then reacting to, a poem’s inner code, is a very different matter.

I love the cut and thrust of dialog … I was at our Tuesday night writing group meeting last night from 7-9:30 pm and we had a great time, back and forth across the table pecking, like wild birds perched on a literary feeder, at each others’ texts. My own texts are thickly layered and highly codified and I have become very interested in the theory of literary codification.

My own ideas are a development of those of Northrop Frye as he expressed them in The Great Code. When we lose our common code, to what extent do we need to explain a private one? This is of great import to Frye’s studies on William Blake, perhaps (in spite of his seeming simplicity in certain poems) one of the most difficult of English poets.

Perhaps the answer lies in Karl Jung’s theories on the racial subconscious: that we all share deep, (human) racial symbols that transcend words and often appear as symbols and images. If this is true, then we communicate, at a non-speech level, through metaphor and symbol, and that is more powerful and outreaching than linear language, however well and clearly codified it may be.

This emphasis on symbol, image, and metaphor leads us, of course, into surrealism, free writing, concrete poetry, sound poetry, and all those efforts to abandon the linear and reach into the subconscious roots of ‘that which binds us together as human beings’ … in my humanistic theories, to find the links that behind is more productive than the reinforce the fears and misbeliefs that separate. Alas, not everyone thinks that way in the literary world, and private codes can easily be used as wedges to force people apart.

We need codes, preferably codes that we can share. The question is, how explicit would we be, as writers, in explaining those codes? How closely should we imitate the writing codes of other people?

The eternal mystery of Aladdin’s Lamp: “New codes for old.” And don’t forget the magic words “Open Sesame.”

Ah, the joys of codification.

Commentary
This is my first post for some time, ten days in fact, 20 May. No excuses other than other commitments: to the WFNB, to my online poetry course, to my physical writing workshops, to my own creative condition … I am creating furiously at present. Codification is something that has interested me for some time: the Biblical Code, The Western Tradition, Courtly Love, the Icy Fires of Petrarchism, Romanticism,  Impressionism, Expressionsim, Surrealism. Modernism, Post-Modernism … the -isms, once started, are apparently endless. All of these -isms spiral round the ideas of verbal codes. In codification, I would like to start a discussion on what these codes are, how they affect us, what do they mean, especially when they can be so totally personal. By all means, join the discussion: what do you mean by codes? How do you use them? How do you interpret the codes of other people?

Fear

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A List of Fears
(exercise: tick all that apply)

of failure
of success
of inadequacy
of being caught short
of being found out
of the blank page
of revealing intimate details
of feeling stupid
of typos or punctuation or bad grammar
of presumption
of being laughed at
of new things or old things
of something borrowed
of new topics or new methods
of research or hard work or perfection
of rejection or dejection or ejection
of losing yourself or finding yourself
of caring or not caring
of the unknown or the unknowable
of peer pressure
of speaking out loud
of being unable to write like …
of being wrong or right
of political or social consequences
of free speech
of hurting others
of being misunderstood or understood
of large or small audiences
of clothing or mechanical failure
of starting or finishing or writer’s block
of having nothing to say
of having nothing worthwhile to say

fear of fear

Commentary:
Last Saturday, in Quispamsis, I facilitated a two hour workshop on things that writers fear. I began with a list of all the things that I have feared at various times during my writing career. This morning, I turned, with great trepidation, those fears into the list poem I reproduce above.  If you wish to discuss any of these fears, or add other fears of your own to the list, and remember, this is a list of writers’ fears, then please do so. I will be happy to enter into a dialog.
As for the fear of feeling stupid, I often offer this small piece of advice. It has been known to comfort those who actually have a fear of feeling stupid. (1) buy a small fluffy toy, preferably a Teddy Bear, that will fit into your pocket or purse. (2) christen that small fluffy toy with the name of Stupid. (3) you carry Stupid around with you all day knowing that you can put your hand in your pocket or purse and feel Stupid all day and nobody is going to know or care.
The moral of the story is this: when you can laugh at your fears, you fear them no more. And remember: you can stop feeling Stupid whenever you want to.