29 September 2011

Boldy going where I have not gone before...

Wheee... I just uploaded my first assignment for my Poetry School course, a completely on-line course taught by Katharine Towers. Not only have I never taken an on-line course before (we meet every two weeks in a chat forum thingy, drop into the forums to see what's going on in between times, get assignments through a special website), but I have never taken a poetry course before. I've done workshops but nothing like this, with theory and everything... with other people who are also interested in things like the music of words and the science of the sense of sound (see here for example) and willing to put time and money into the experience. 

I'm kind of worried how I'm going to hole up on Tuesday evenings for two hours right around dinner time, but will deal with that later.

I'm going to take a moment instead to plug The Poetry School because I think it's worth it. Originating in London, the PS was founded in 1997 by Mimi Khalvati, Jane Duran and Pascale Petit with the aim of providing structured, high quality teaching programmes for adults to develop their poetry. Check it out, poets!

And because I now work with foundations, I'm also going to praise the Poetry School's funders: Arts Council England, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Garrick Trust and the Granada Foundation, as well as its programming partners: the Bluecoat arts centre, Cadaverine Magazine, the Poetry Book Society, Waterloo Quarter, the Wordsworth Trust and Writers' Centre Norwich. These courses don't cost an arm and a leg and I am very very very grateful for it!

27 September 2011

Service With A Smile

Last night trying to do some online banking, a friend of mine got a message that his digipass didn't work and that he should use the new card reader he was sent. Now, my friend had received several emails about this new toy but never received one. So he went into the bank, asked what was up and was informed that they had sent one in July to his address in the UK. My friend had made clear to them on at least two previous occasions, however, that everything should be sent to the Brussels address, not the UK address.  So the card reader made the third time they sent stuff there.

So my friend says, "OK, fine, just give me a reader."

"That'll take ten days sir."

"Ten days? I tell you what, don't order one, I'm closing my account."

At this point the bank clerk burst into tears and begged him not to.

No, she didn't. She simply replied, "Would you like to close it right now?"

ING Bank: reaching all-new lows in customer service. Score: A big fat F, especially because the only time the bank clerk was actually helpful was when my friend said he was closing his account.

25 September 2011

Dear Facebook, It's Over, and It's Not Me. It's You

I logged into Facebook today after not being on for a couple of weeks. FB saw fit, while I was gone, to change  its interface again, but why? What was wrong with the old one? Why does FB mess about with its users so much? Whatever happened to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" ? I've been glad to be able to be in touch so easily with family and friends but over the years of Facebook use I have come to detest the experience - not the content, but the constant tampering with privacy settings, status updates, and the whole way one uses the website - and and I don't know whether I will continue. I'll continue to feed my blog posts there for whatever that's worth, as I do for Twitter; I used Twitter for about a month back in 2009, then never again and never looked back. I wonder if FB realizes, it has a lot of users but MySpace once did, too, and where's MySpace now? Like MySpace, FB was a phenomenon, an intersection of time and interest and dumb luck, as far as I can tell, on behalf of the people who created it. The next new thing will come, technology will move on, as with this new thing with Google, or something else, and the crowd will follow.... Does FB not understand that no one loves it, but simply puts up with its crap? And that as soon as something better comes along, FB will be dumped, willfully and joyfully, like the boyfriend/girlfriend you finally realized wasn't that into you?  FB isn't that into us - FB is into the money it earns from our mouse-clicks and our page-views and the fact it can say it has so many bazillion users. It doesn't respect us however (example: the privacy setting manipulations, or try to de-activate your account and see how far you get!).  I've been able to get something out of the deal up until now, and maybe you have, too, but for me the balance has tipped. Sorry, FB, but you don't bring me flowers anymore and the ones you used to bring me, frankly, weren't all that great to begin with.

20 September 2011

And we're up!

My friend Vincent made this video of my glove poem.


Don't forget, if you can identify the Brussels-based location of my own glove's cameo appearance, I'll treat you there.

19 September 2011

Nearly There...Glove

At last! After sufficient incubation and reflection, Vincent will release our Losing A Glove, poem by me, images by him, tomorrow.

He's the same guy who did my Button (or here, if you want to hear him reading).

If you like what you see you might well like to check out his other stuff - it isn't all poems! V also blogs - you can find his latest post in a link on the right side-bar, or here's the link.

None of the auditioned gloves made the cut, but if anyone can recognize the venue of my own glove's cameo appearance, I'll treat you there. Write in with your guesses from tomorrow.

Mmm... could this (or something like it) be yours?

17 September 2011

Poems on the Metro!

Just heard about this – 

Beginning 26 September, the European Day of Languages, a variety of European poetry will be displayed in the Brussels metro. 

The project will run for a month, and features 21 poems from 21 European countries in 18 languages. Poems will appear alongside a translation in French and Flemish. 

This is being brought to us by Transpoesie, a project whose partners include STIB (the local transport authority), the House of Literature Passa Porta, the Polish Presidency of the European Union.

Names I recognized from the list of poems on Transpoesie's website were Sinéad Morrissey and Ryszard Krynicki, but the project's press release says that includes both aspiring and established poets. 

Pretty cool and about time - London's Poems on the Underground has been running for years. Now, if we can get them on the trams and buses too? 

15 September 2011

Best news I've had all week + photos

There's an opening in the online course (from the Poetry School) I've was on the waiting list for. ‘Poetry & Music: A goblin walking quietly over the universe'. Ah, maybe a force/the universe/something does respond after all to our calls for help. Now to see if schedule still permits!

My very own goblin...

... in her very own universe.

12 September 2011

What I found while being writerly today

Excerpts from an Interview with N. Scott Momaday.*

1. When asked, "Why poetry?"...
"Poetry is the crown of literature. I think it's the highest of the literary arts. To write a great poem is to do as much as you can do in literature. Everything has to be very precise. The poem has to be informed with motive and emotion. You're bringing to bear everything that literature is based upon when you write a poem. A poem, if it succeeds, brings together the best of your intelligence, the best of your articulation, the best of your emotion. And that is the highest goal of literature, I suppose. I think of myself as a poet, I'd rather be a poet than a novelist, or some other sort of writer. I think I'm more recognized as a novelist, simply because I won a prize. But I write poetry consistently, though slowly. And it seems to be the thing that I want to do best. I would rather be a poet than a novelist, because I think it's on a slightly higher plane. You know, poets are the people who really are the most insightful among us. They stand in the best position to enlighten us, and encourage, and inspire us. What better thing could you be than a poet? That's how I think of it."
2. On the work of writing... 
"I wanted to succeed. I wanted to write well, and I tried to. I applied myself. I think that writers haven't much choice. You know, if someone really has the impulse to write, then that's what he must do. I don't think there's much of a choice. After the impulse is realized, he writes. And that's how I feel about my development. I think that I was compelled to write, and so I never had the choice of doing anything else, really. I was talking to some kids today and they were talking about happiness. One of them said "I'm going to Harvard and I'm going into science, I'm not sure that's really what I want to do. I want to be happy., and I might be happy doing any number of other things." I thought, that's true in a way. But if you are really compelled to write, that's where happiness is. It's in doing what you can do, and being the best you can be at it. That's what really makes for --.I don't know if I'd use the word happiness, but contentment. There's a lot of frustration in writing. I heard an interview with a writer not long ago in which the interviewer said, tell me, is writing difficult? And the writer said, oh, no...no, of course not. He said, "All you do is sit down at a typewriter, you put a page into it, and then you look at it until beads of blood appear on your forehead. That's all there is to it." There are days like that. But when you come away after two or three hours with a sentence, or two, or three and you understand in your heart that those are the best sentences you could have written in that time, there is a satisfaction to that that is like nothing else. That justifies everything. I think that there are people who have a kind of intrinsic love of language. They're born with it. It's a gift of God, if you want. For those people, nothing is as gratifying as writing. In my experience, most people who have had that gift know it, and they celebrate it. I think Emily Dickinson knew absolutely that she had a great, great endowment, and that was her life. It is incidental that she only published five or seven poems in her lifetime." 

 3. On what other people think...
"When I first started publishing, I was deeply concerned with what other people thought of my writing, but then came to realize, just as you've said, that a lot of people are not going to like what you do, no matter what it is. If some do, you're all right. I was extremely lucky, because early in my career I was given a lot of recognition. ... [Asked if criticism affects his work, his ideas:] No longer. At one time it made a difference, I paid close attention to it. Now I don't so much.... it's dangerous to go around reading opinions of your work, of your worth. You can get in trouble doing that. It's best to shut that off and get on with your work."

 *Don't know who that is? I didn't either. Google is your friend.

08 September 2011

A cake for when the plums come in

The plums are here... late, it seems, but maybe all the good sweet things seem late when your summer has been so wet. (Or as Clover would say, a big bummer.)

I love those little green Reine Claude gems of the plum world.

I often make "summer cake" (from Nigel Slater's 'Appetite') this time of year, but I had such success with my Nigel Slater recipe hybrid (details here), and a lovely colleague asked specially for the recipe, that I thought I had better try it again and this time, write down what I was doing. So I did. Let me know if you make it and how it turned out!

A cake with plums
(thanks for the motivation Azi!)
butter, room temperature, 175 g
caster sugar 175 g
3 eggs, room temperature
the zest, finely grated, and juice of 1 lemon
plain flour 175 g (I used farine de patisserie, which sounds fancy only because it is French; it is the local bog-standard flour for baking. It is the equivalent of what the Brits would call plain or cake flour - there is no added leavening. For the Americans good old all-purpose will do the trick; but if so, do not use the baking powder or baking soda I include here)
ground almonds 100 g
1/4 teaspoon (cuillère à café) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons (cuillère à soupe) plain yogurt
300 g plums - quartered, stoned, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180C/35F.
2. Grease and line your favourite cake tin - I used a spring form I think of about 23 cm diameter.
3. Beat together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, combining well after each addition.
4. Separately, combine the dry ingredients with a whisk or a fork (or I suppose you could sift them).
5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-eggs mixture - be thorough but gentle, you don't want a tough cake.
6. Stir in the yogurt, then the plums (and their juices) and the lemon juice and zest.
7. If the batter doesn't seem wet enough, add some more yogurt.
8. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for  about 30-45 minutes. (I don't think it will be done in 30, but check just in case.) You may have to cover the top with greased paper if it starts to get too brown (it will depend on your oven).
9. Check the cake with a toothpick, feel for firmness and nothing soggy sticking to the toothpick when you pierce the cake. Let it rest in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a pretty plate.
10. Douse the top with powdered sugar - which I did but forgot to take a photo of.
11. Note, it is pretty good warm as the fruit will be all warm and that is lovely.

05 September 2011

Back to the roundabout

A bright September morning, and I'm at the roundabout Albert Leemans again for the first time in ages. All of the dilapidated benches have been replaced and there is no sign of the burly man who made on bench his home for most of April, May and June. The woman with the little white dog was there, though. It would take much more than a burly homeless man to budge those two. In the turf wars of last spring, coward that I am, I abdicated almost right away. I became the benchless one, with no where to go for my morning coffee and 15 minutes of mind-peace, and left one (elderly) woman and her pet to defy the interloper. I pretty much don't even have a right to be here, do I? Next time I will ask her how she managed it.

It takes me 9 minutes from the bench at Albert Leemans to the tram stop to get to the office. Sometimes all I have time for is 5 minutes.

Sometimes I feel more alive during those 5 minutes than I do for the rest of the day.