Le Pont Mirabeau

Le Pont Mirabeau

The Seine flows down beneath Mirabeau Bridge
and so does our love
must I be reminded yet again
that happiness always follows pain

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Hand in hand let us stay here face to face
while beneath the bridge of our arms
like flowing waves our gazes interlace

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Love flows away like these flowing waves
love flows away
life passes slow and  fills hope with dismay

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Days flow by and weeks flow by
nor times past nor former loves
come back again
under Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine

Let night descend let the hours sound
the days go by … I’m still around

Comment: I spent the school year in Paris in 1962-1963 and I have always wanted to translate Le Pont Mirabeau from French into English. Today, I found both the time and energy to do so. It’s not a great translation, but it is mine. It also contains new revisions from an earlier post but note that the links in the earlier post no longer function. Click on the link above to get the French original.

Creating vs Revising

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Creating vs Revising

The introductory picture (above) shows revisions made to my painting by my three year old grandchild!

1. As I read my early morning messages, I realize that there are two very different processes involved in creative writing: creation and revision.

In terms of creation, I follow Graham Green and Steven King: write 500 words a day, regularly, about two pages. Then, next day, re-read them and revise them. Then continue with the next two pages. This allows a steady accumulation that is usually somewhat under the writer’s control. It also allows the writer to go back and revise while creating: an important step for both King and Green.

In terms of revision, once the book or story or manuscript is complete, different processes emerge. One is to leave some time for the manuscript to settle: this also works chapter by chapter during the writing process. The other is to start again and apply the revision process as outlined in the First Five Pages.

Each one of us will be on a different stage of what is, I hope, an enjoyable creative experience. Part of the fun is also finding out what works for us; and by us, I mean each one of us. And yes, we all need those words of encouragement … so hang in there… have confidence … and be creative …

As for revision, I started by reading The First Five pages and found that this made the revision of my own manuscript much easier. The First 5 Pages deals with items one by one and in order of priority; it also allows you, as a writer / reader / adviser to have a clear idea of where you are going with the revisions, what you are doing, and why you are doing it. I also perused other online links and found them quite useful, especially those that referred to the revision process. I recommend searching for such links, in particular, the one that tells us never to give up.

Burroway for me is an adventure. I find that when I am reading the theory, I have a tendency to get confused and lost. In addition, I do not always agree with her analyses of the chosen snippets of text. I understand what she is saying, but I do not always agree with what she has said.

Selected stories themselves are something different. Reading them allows me to gain a perspective on what I am doing and how I am doing it. Thus I can say: I can do that; or I’ve done that; or I wouldn’t want to do that. The stories then come over as a reflecting mirror in which I can see aspects of my own writing, however beautified or distorted. The theory, on its own, leaves me cold and often confused. Other people’s creativity is inspiring.

The secret, in my opinion, is to relax, to be yourself, and to continue writing as you want to write while paying attention to the small details of which I am becoming more and more aware of every day. We are all creative — or we wouldn’t be here, reading this, doing this course. The secret is to develop and polish our own creativity. We must also learn to develop our own voices and to have confidence in those creative sparks that dwell within us.

2. Writing the introduction last is a standard procedure in academia. This is partly because it isn’t until the end of the research / study that the writer really understands the substance and the intent of what s/he has been studying. Also, it is only when the work is finalized that the appropriate conclusions can be drawn and the route that one has taken can be established.

As for the order in which revisions are made, there are many rules and circumstances can change. Even when there doesn’t appear to be a plot, as such, there is a chronology and chronology can be used as a substitute for plot. There is probably some form of evolution throughout the chronology, and that should be kept in mind, too. In addition, I would assume that as the learning process “bites” so we will be better able to make our own judgement calls. The art of good teaching is to eliminate the need for a teacher.

3. Changing the perspective: letters work: they can be found, sent, received, or discovered. The identity of the writer / receiver is also interesting.

In the 13th Story, the novel which I am currently reading, the principal narrator investigates / researches her subject in local libraries, the Who’s Who, a graveyard (reading the tombstones), and many different places. She also visits the local newspaper archives and interviews other characters in the novel, much as a newspaper reporter might.

Just read, think, learn, absorb, and, above all, remember to reject that which doesn’t suit you!

Writing: Task or Multi-Task?

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Writing: Task or Multi-Task?

“To task or multi-task? That is the question.”

In the lonely world of creative writing, be it in poetry or in prose, is it better to continue with one text until the task of writing it is thoroughly finished? Or should we flit from text to text, developing several at once and thus multi-tasking in the best sense of the word? This is a key question in the revision process and relates directly to the concepts of write, re-write, revision, revisionism, and the creative process, all of which have been mentioned both in this blog and in the comments to this blog. However, there is no single answer to this seemingly either / or question as many factors must be considered.

  1. Deadlines:

Anyone who has worked with strict deadlines knows that they matter more than anything else. “I want this work on my desk by 4:00 pm today,” says the manager rubbing the magic bottle in which the genie is kept. “Yes, ma’am,” says the genie bowing before vanishing back into his bottle. Only one thing matters, the task in hand, and there can be no multi-tasking.

  1. Novellas and Novels:

With longer texts, while there might be room for manoeuver, provided no deadline is in sight, it is better by far to focus on the task in hand — the extended narrative — and to dedicate all tasking and multi-tasking to that prime task. The majority of writers who have written on the art of writing, including Stephen King, Graham Green, and E. M. Forster, emphasize the necessity of sticking at it, maintaining focus, and getting on with the task. Graham Green’s recommended approach is to write four to five pages a day, re-reading them and revising them the next day, before writing another four pages. That way the events, the action, the characters, are kept well in mind. In addition, Joan Clark and Norman Levine, in their workshops, advise writers to get to know their characters intimately, to think about them, and to write and rewrite until they come living from the page. Anyone who has taken a longish break and then returned to the writing of a novel knows just how difficult it is to get back into the mind of those characters. With an extended narrative, a dialog abandoned is a dialog lost. And one must learn to listen to one’s characters and to never forget what they have said, mustn’t one?

  1. Poems, Prose Poems, and Flash Fiction:

This is where multi-tasking can truly take place. The brevity of these pieces, and I classify epic and extended poetry with narrative rather than with poetry, allows the writer time to pick the pieces up and put them down again, to play around, to abandon the text and to return to it later. Being shorter pieces by definition, one can re-read them with ease, correct them at leisure, and research around them with impunity. In an extended narrative, or when writing to a deadline, focus is necessary. With shorter pieces, easily recalled, procrastination is a pleasure, not a crime. With poetry, focus is sharper but for shorter periods.

  1. From Poem to Poetry Book:

As the poems accumulate and the writing, or rather the putting together, of the collection becomes more important, so the need to concentrate and single-task, rather than to procrastinate and multi-task becomes paramount.

These are my initial thoughts on Task or Multi-Task. What happens when we apply them in real life to real questions?

  1. On Revision (Chuck):

Will this exercise (revision of older texts) provide you more gratification than starting new ones that may or may not be so important to you?

The question of revision is key. While I would like to avoid revisionism (Al: There is value in showing poetry as a snapshot in time (if only to avoid endless revisionism), the question of how to revise a text is of maximum importance. The text to be revised may be old or it may be recent, but the act of revision — how and why and what to revise — is one that must concern us as writers if we are to eschew automatic writing in a search for le mot et la phrase justes. If I can learn from the revision of older texts what I need to look for in order to revise newer texts, then my search for a way in which to recognize and achieve better form of writing can be justified, for the techniques discovered can surely be applied to future texts as well as to past ones.

  1. The young Roger who was once you is no more (Kevin):

This is a beautiful thought: thank you, Kevin. Much of that earlier writing must stand as it is (and was) as a monument to what and who I was back then. However, some thoughts and phrasings may well be weak and need revision. The recognition of weakness and the realization of how to strengthen and how to renew is surely a part of our ongoing growing writing process. That is what I would argue, anyway. I would argue further that revision is NOT multi-tasking, but is single-tasking in the sense that I, as reviser, am teaching myself how to revise: an ongoing process in the act of creativity.

  1. Conclusion:

In my current situation, I have five creative works (Echoes …, Waiting, Bistro, Stars … , People … ) lying fallow and waiting for their final touches. As I look back on what I have previously written and how I have written it, I am, in my opinion, multi-tasking. That is to say, I am working with many texts rather than concentrating on a single text. However, at the same time, I am working hard on a single task: that of teaching myself, once again, how to revise and how to rewrite. Hopefully I will put a little, objective distance between my current self and my recent texts. Then, when I return to them, I will be able to take them, one at a time, and revise them properly. That is my hope and my intention.

To task or to multi-task … writing or re-writing … each has its place in the creative process. To conclude: I thank all of you who contributed to this conversation (mentioned or not!), and I wish you joy in your (re-)creativity.

Comment: These questions are as relevant to my writing now as they were when I first posted them several years ago. The text names change, but the multi-tasking continues. There are about five manuscripts / typescripts on my desk right now, each one clamoring for attention. In a couple of cases, there are deadlines that I must meet. In others, overnight thought means an early morning return with new ideas. Most important of all, is to write, and to continue writing. And yes: unless there is an imminent deadline, I multi-task!

Revisions

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Revision
“We are not writers, we are re-writers.” I do not remember who said this, but it is extremely well said. We write, yes. But then we rewrite, sometimes obsessively, again and again. But how does that rewriting process take shape? Why do we rewrite? How do we rewrite? And what do we do when we re-write? These are all vital questions.

Mechanical revisions and rewrites
This, for me, is the search for typos, punctuation errors, mis-spellings, grammar corrections, that sort of thing. Yes, we can rely on a (reliable?) editor and a not so reliable spell-check, but the editor usually costs money. Or we can learn to do it ourselves, which is what I recommend very strongly.

Grammatical revisions and expression checks
These are usually a little more difficult to deal with. Do the verb tenses check out? Are subject and verb clearly delineated? Does the wording make sense, not just to us, but to the outside reader? A second pair of eyes is always useful at this point. Also, a sense of distance from the text is useful. Leave it a day (or two) and come back to it later when he creative rush has fled the system.

Structural revisions 1
Whenever we do a structural revision, it is essential to check that the revision ties in with the rest of the piece and that we maintain consistency throughout. A simple example: I decide, on page 77 of my novel, to change my main character’s name from Suzie to Winnie. Clearly, her name has to be consistent, both backwards (1-77) and forwards (77 onwards). While this is obvious, other changes, taste, color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, tv program preference, may not be so easy to check and double-check. But it must be done.

Structural Revisions 2
This is where we must pay attention to the vision in the re-vision. We must ask the question, what does the poem / story / chapter / text want to say? What is it actually about? Often, in the flush of creation, we write words (actions, thoughts, emotions) on the page and they flow like water from a fountain. It’s a wonderful feeling. Later, during the re-vision process, we must ask ourselves, again, deep down, what do these words mean, what are they trying to say? This is actually a slightly different question from what am “I” trying to say?
The speaking / writing voice may want to say something, but the words (and characters and actions) themselves may want to say something else. Now we are faced with a dilemma: do we write what we want to say or do we follow the intricate word-path growing from what we have written? As a beginning writer, I did the former. As a more mature (and I hope, a slightly better writer) I now do the latter.
The result is often a piece that is radically different from it’s starting point. When you listen to what the story / poem / text / characters etc are telling you and when you follow words and characters, then structure changes, paragraphs switch places, thoughts move around, expressions change. We are no longer forcing words into our meanings, we let the meanings grow out of the words. This is particularly important in short story telling and the writing of poetry. It is vitally important to the novel where any inconsistency must have a relevance to the development of action, plot and character. It is also a totally different approach to the meaning of re-vision.

Summary
I realize many writers may have difficulty accepting these points. Those trained originally in the academic world, in particular, will respond negatively to the idea of the words ‘not being forced into the correct academic shape by the quasi-omnipotent academic mind’ aka Constable Thesis Editor. However, the more creative a writer is, the more that writer will respond to the creativity that lies within both the creator and the creation that has appeared on the page and, as writers, we must never lose sight of that creative act, for it is one of the most truly wonderful things that we can do.

Comment

This is a golden oldie. However, it is still worthy of being reconsidered. Why do we revise? How do we revise? I hope this article is of use to the many out there who are looking for help and encouragement.

Revision

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Revision
“We are not writers, we are re-writers.” I do not remember who said this, but it is extremely well said. We write, yes. But then we rewrite, sometimes obsessively, again and again. But how does that rewriting process take shape? Why do we rewrite? How do we rewrite? And what do we do when we re-write? These are all vital questions.

Mechanical revisions and rewrites
This, for me, is the search for typos, punctuation errors, mis-spellings, grammar corrections, that sort of thing. Yes, we can rely on a (reliable?) editor and a not so reliable spell-check, but the editor usually costs money. Or we can learn to do it ourselves, which is what I recommend very strongly.

Grammatical revisions and expression checks
These are usually a little more difficult to deal with. Do the verb tenses check out? Are subject and verb clearly delineated? Does the wording make sense, not just to us, but to the outside reader? A second pair of eyes is always useful at this point. Also, a sense of distance from the text is useful. Leave it a day (or two) and come back to it later when he creative rush has fled the system.

Structural revisions 1
Whenever we do a structural revision, it is essential to check that the revision ties in with the rest of the piece and that we maintain consistency throughout. A simple example: I decide, on page 77 of my novel, to change my main character’s name from Suzie to Winnie. Clearly, her name has to be consistent, both backwards (1-77) and forwards (77 onwards). While this is obvious, other changes, taste, color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, tv program preference, may not be so easy to check and double-check. But it must be done.

Structural Revisions 2
This is where we must pay attention to the vision in the re-vision. We must ask the question, what does the poem / story / chapter / text want to say? What is it actually about? Often, in the flush of creation, we write words (actions, thoughts, emotions) on the page and they flow like water from a fountain. It’s a wonderful feeling. Later, during the re-vision process, we must ask ourselves, again, deep down, what do these words mean, what are they trying to say? This is actually a slightly different question from what am “I” trying to say?
The speaking / writing voice may want to say something, but the words (and characters and actions) themselves may want to say something else. Now we are faced with a dilemma: do we write what we want to say or do we follow the intricate word-path growing from what we have written? As a beginning writer, I did the former. As a more mature (and I hope, a slightly better writer) I now do the latter.
The result is often a piece that is radically different from it’s starting point. When you listen to what the story / poem / text / characters etc are telling you and when you follow words and characters, then structure changes, paragraphs switch places, thoughts move around, expressions change. We are no longer forcing words into our meanings, we let the meanings grow out of the words. This is particularly important in short story telling and the writing of poetry. It is vitally important to the novel where any inconsistency must have a relevance to the development of action, plot and character. It is also a totally different approach to the meaning of re-vision.

Summary
I realize many writers may have difficulty accepting these points. Those trained originally in the academic world, in particular, will respond negatively to the idea of the words ‘not being forced into the correct academic shape by the quasi-omnipotent academic mind’ aka Constable Thesis Editor. However, the more creative a writer is, the more that writer will respond to the creativity that lies within both the creator and the creation that has appeared on the page and, as writers, we must never lose sight of that creative act, for it is one of the most truly wonderful things that we can do.

Autograph

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Autograph
(1603 AD)

it spews out words
bones to hungry
academic dogs
gnawed the word-knot
grammar’s gristle
doubly chewed
then eschewed

wet concrete sets
where the statute’s
clay feet whisper
damp follies
to waiting bergères

prance advance
macabre the dance
ink its acid burning
fragile the page
held to the light

pin-holes where stars
peep through thin paper
more fragile than
parchment

parched for knowledge
crisp pages crumble
under the fumble
thumbed
by dumb hands
lusting eagerly
for  wisdom drawn
from bone-dry dust

Writing Memories 8

 

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Writing Memories 8
Module 3.1: Illness

We talked about illness in old age, how our systems weaken and break down. Above all we discussed the difference between minor illnesses, the coughs and chills that, if caught in time, do not threaten to carry us away and the serious illnesses that are life-threatening or that steal our loved ones, still living, away from us as they shut themselves into the prisons of their own minds. Sad and serious faces filled the room. Everyone knew a friend or a family member that was suffering from, of had suffered from, Alzheimer’s or some form of cancer. It is not an easy topic: how could it be? Yet it is one that, as writers, we must often face and to which we must bear witness. How do we do it? Now that is the question. Here are two poems in which what turns out to be a minor illness is treated with humor.

Poems 1 & 2

Two Gnomes

Two small gnomes camped
last night, one in each of my lungs.

All night long they played
their squeeze-box, wheeze-box
concertinas, never quite in unison.

Sometimes they stamped their feet
and my body rattled with their dance.
Their wild night music caught in my throat
and I coughed unmusical songs
that spluttered and choked.

An east wind blew outside my window.
It whistled and groaned
as it herded the stars from left to right.

The stars pursued the westering moon.
The planets danced to the rhythms
of the accordion music playing in my chest,
and the sky’s planetarium folded and unfolded
its poker hands of silent cards marked with my fate.

Pibroch

This morning, the bailiff, Mr. Koffdrop,
evicted the two gnomes from my lungs.

Landlord Bodie placed an ad on Kiji
then rented the free space in the left lung
to a tiny piper who took up residence by my heart.
This piper piped me a highland pibroch
on his whisky-worn pipes.

A pack of miniature wolves infiltrated
the midnight forest flourishing in my other lung.
When the pibroch played, they pointed their noses
at that spot in my throat where the full moon
would have been, if she could have broken in.

They mingled their howls with the bagpipes’ caterwaul
and I lay awake all night with my heart beating
arrhythmic suspicions on its blood red drum.

The drum played, the pibroch wailed,
the wolves howled, my body lay scarred by
an absence of sleep and the presence of moonlight
that drove stars from the sky and filled the room
with shadows and shifting shapes.

Commentary: These poems recall several sleepless night when the wheezing kept me awake. I remember watching stars and moon outside the bedroom window and thought long on the Platonic dance of the spheres. In fact, I composed these poems in bed on different nights and wrote them down the following morning. They certainly amused me at the time and I am certain that the maintenance of humor in the face of disaster is a gift from the gods. It bolsters our will to fight and makes light of the ills and evils that sometimes surround us. The prose versions clarify the poems.

Two Gnomes & Pibroch [Prose 1]

Two Gnomes: Two small gnomes camped last night, one in each of my lungs. All night long they played their squeeze-box, wheeze-box concertinas, never quite in unison. Sometimes they stamped their feet and my body rattled with their dance. Their wild night music caught in my throat and I coughed unmusical songs that spluttered and choked. An east wind blew outside my window. It whistled and groaned as it herded the stars from left to right. The stars pursued the westering moon. The planets danced to the rhythms of the accordion music playing in my chest, and the sky’s planetarium folded and unfolded its poker hands of silent cards marked with my fate.

Pibroch: In the course of the night, the bailiff, Mr. Koffdrop, evicted the two gnomes from my lungs. Landlord Bodie placed an ad on Kiji then rented the free space in the left lung to a tiny piper who took up residence by my heart. This piper piped me a sad-to-play pibroch on his whisky-worn pipes. A pack of miniature wolves infiltrated the midnight forest flourishing in my other lung. When the pibroch played, they pointed their noses at that spot in my throat where the full moon would have been, if she could have broken in. They mingled their howls with the bagpipes’ caterwaul and I lay awake all night with my heart beating arrhythmic suspicions on its blood red drum. The drum played, the pibroch wailed, the wolves howled, my body lay scarred by an absence of sleep and the presence of moonlight that drove stars from the sky and filled the room with dancing shadows and shifting shapes.

Commentary: Both of the pieces seem finished and I really have no desire to plump them out further. I feel that way sometimes with a piece of writing: “No la toques más, así es la rosa / don’t tinker any more, roses are like that” (Juan Ramón Jiménez). It is so easy to write those words from the great Spanish poet and Nobel Prize winner. But one would do well to also remember these words from Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken.” And yes, we may all be mistaken, especially when we believe too strongly in our own infallibility. Dealing with serious illness is a much more difficult proposition.

Shadows
Self-portrait

My front door stood open, but I thought
I’d left it closed. I tip-toed in and called:

“Is anyone there?” Echo answered ‘… there, there,
there …”
then silence. I walked from room to room,

startled by shadows. I opened doors, looked
under tables, searched behind chairs. No one.

Ghosts flitted deep in dark mirrors. Curtains
shivered in an unfelt, worrisome breeze.

The house stood silent and empty, save for
the fear, the silent fear, that lurked
like my remembered cancer in each room.

Commentary: This is a poem from a sequence of poems …  A Cancer Chronicle … to which I do not wish to return or, in the words of the immortal Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote it all happened: “En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme / in a corner of New Brunswick, whose name I do not wish to recall …” But this is one of the joys of writing: it permits us to bear witness to anything we wish, no matter how terrible it is. More, it allows us to face the unfaceable, to bear the unbearable, and to control the uncontrollable.  In our own little worlds we are indeed, as Alexander Selkirk discovered in his solitude, the masters of all we survey. This is, surely, an enormous consolation and comfort when we live in this brave new world in which we actually control so little of what happens around us.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.
Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.
Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.
Write from an image or a metaphor.
Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.
Letter style: write to a friend.

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