27 January 2012
I'm not a member of SC (yet) but I think it is a great blog, it's one of the few I look at regularly. Well worth checking out. And this is an excellent opportunity to work through the Artist's Way in good company. I have to confess I have never done the entire process "properly"... Although I have used the book on and off for the past ten years, I skip and jump around and, with full awareness, heartily ignore the parts I'd prefer to avoid!
22 June 2009
A Week of Nights
On Monday it was a wood floor, stripped
until it was nothing but light.
On Tuesday it was an eggshell, from the inside.
I could find no cracks.
On Wednesday there were bats as well,
but they couldn't crack it, either.
On Thursday, at last, I broke its code.
When I slept, I dreamed of neon.
On Friday the constellations
came alive and started roaming.
On Saturday they all drank too much
and were out until four in the morning!
On Sunday it was a blackboard,
but too far away to read.
Now Monday again. A blackboard again.
This time, the slate wiped clean.
photo credit: Saki Teke
29 May 2009
Then on Monday I had to come up with a "literary exercise" for my writers workshop. I might have explained this before, but maybe not. Every two weeks, I meet with some other writers. We read and give feedback on each others' work. But we also are meant to do a "literary exercise" -- to write, in any form, on any subject we want, a brief piece to read aloud at the start of the meeting. On Monday, of course, I realized I hadn't done one yet, and sat down with my notebook looking for clues. I tried one thing -- nope. Then another thing -- nope. And then I found some notes that I'd made for the GPW poem.... Bits that hadn't made it to the piece I was working on.
And I thought: why not? Maybe I can do something with them now.
Well, it was a breakthrough.
This is not the first time that an exercise has surprised me. But once again I am astounded at how just playing can ... work. Within seconds I felt I was onto something good. I've been tweaking the resulting poem ever since. This one does excite me. I'm going to submit it this weekend. If it doesn't make the results piece, I'll post the poem here.
But cross your fingers for me -- maybe it will make the cut.
19 May 2009
11 May 2009
Ah, yes. Monday again. It does keep coming around. I wrote about 300 words this morning and it didn't feel like enough. I think I can do more later during "homework hour" after school, but in that case I have to figure out when to get the groceries. Sometime between leaving the office, I guess, and arriving at the school. I don't want to do it later, I have my writers workshop this evening. I need to come up with an exercise to read as well as cook the dinner. It would help if I were a wee less obsessive about food. Ha. Will someone please invent an html tag for understatement?
I started doing Christopher James's workshop. It's part of the Guardian's poetry workshop series. I've never heard of Christopher James but I like his exercise. You choose a person, a place, and a situation from the lists he has provided. Then you write a poem using those three things. The results article has already been published, if you're curious. I also like his attitude. "The objective," as he says,
is not to come up with a perfect poem. It's to send your writing mind to a place it has never been before. The exercise may produce nothing more than a line that can be transplanted elsewhere. But what's there to lose – except a few minutes from your lunch hour?
Indeed. So. I'm doing Ringo Starr at a motorway service station. He has given up everything to sell flowers.....
28 April 2009
At my fortnightly writers workshop, we are meant to read out a literary exercise each meeting. This is, in the words of our chairman, "to keep us honest." I am often late and don't get to read out my exercise. But that doesn't mean I haven't done one! Here is last night's would-have-been exercise. (Note: they are adapted journal excerpts.)
Feel like today got off to a good start, then brain was sucked out of ear during hours spent in office. I could feel it going, slowly, bit by bit; it pooled out onto the top of my desk, drip by drip, and made a puddle. It made a big soggy brain-pink puddle, and the puddle slooched off the side of the desk until it hung there, like one of the clocks in that Dali painting. You know the one. I'm not saying that no one should ever work in an office, or that its inherently bad. All I'm saying at the moment is that it's draining me of will to live.
So: I dared myself to sit at my desk and type. Set the timer for 13 minutes. I ran over, which felt nice, went to 20 minutes, and now of course am late, missing buses everywhere, it is the school holidays, and I don't have my bike because I left it at work when the weather turned bad. I wrote 229 words and thought, as I walked down rue du Bailli, that these 229 words don't have to be anything more than they are. They don't have to be perfect. They don't have to be pristine. They don't have to be publishable. They just have to sit on the page and be.
These 229, they feel like a block, like a building block, or a patch. I'm going to concentrate on making a bunch of patches, and when there are enough of them I will sew them all together. I'm not going to make any daft quilt analogies, but it is true that I have always admired quilts. I once tried to make one: I thought it would be easy but even finding the right fabric was hard, I guess because I grew up with quilts and they were already soft and worn, but fabric doesn't start off that way. That was disappointing. I did eventually find some suitable material, it still wasn't the right kind and when I started to cut the squares, the fabric started to unravel and it was hard to cut the squares straight. The entire process seemed to confirm everything I knew about myself and sewing, even though I really wanted to do it and I could see the result in my mind's eye: but I was crap at sewing and have no patience for it. I still am crap at sewing and have no patience for it.
One day perhaps, one day -- when I have a pair of green wellies and a dog and a goat, when I live in the country near an estuary -- perhaps I will try again.
Now I'm in bed, and made a cup of tea as the minibar wine is outrageously expensive. It is very quiet. I can't say that I have warmed to the charms of Cologne. Frankly I can't see anything so charming. Today I talked with the man who came to turn down our beds. The girls and I were lounging about and he knocked on the door so I let him in to do it. He was asking where we were from and all that and we gave our usual schizophrenic answer, about being from Belgium but really from the US and etc etc. Well, he was from Afghanistan, 11 years ago. Said that he lost 2 brothers and his family said "that's it then." They got out. They had spent a lot, his family, on his education, but when his brothers were killed they got the hell out. Now they're scattered all over Europe and one sister in the US. Only his mother and oldest brother are still at home. I forgot what he said he studied, all I remember is the expense... And something about languages, being close to India. And now here he is, a middle-aged man, turning down beds in a big hotel and maybe lucky to be able to do it. It doesn't seem right somehow. I wish I'd asked him what he'd studied.
04 March 2009
However (much like making cookies), writing poems makes me happy so, well, I always come back to it.
But then I got a bit stuck and felt like I was getting nowhere. I needed a shake-up but with 2 kids and no trust fund, the options are not enormous. I sulked about this for a while.... Questioned my own self-worth.... Despaired of any number of things. And then I remembered: exercises!
I've had good luck in the past doing writing exercises.... two published poems, in fact. One of them via the Guardian poetry workshop... Which I hadn't looked at lately...
And off I went. Now I have been happily immersed in several exercises, involving among other things, Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda, letters, elegies, and nature walks. I printed the instruction bits off the internet and took them with me on the bus. (Writing even just one or two lines on any given bus ride is very satisfying.) I think (thank god) I will have something edible to read for the soirée, and also a nice thematic point: that they are all exercises.
Finally, if you've a mind to it, check out the very good exercise by Kate Clanchy using Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat. I will consider "showing you mine if you show me yours"....
20 April 2008
This poem came out of the excellent poetry workshop I attended last Friday evening, run by poet Anna Woodford from Newcastle. The workshop was given through the Open Univeristy here in Brussels; Anna is a Creative Writing tutor. My colleague Julitta made me go with her, and I am very pleased that I did.
You don’t like sweets. Grandpa
always gives you sweets.
You tell him no thanks,
you tell him not to,
but he thinks you’re some weird kid because of that
and then you feel guilty, he’s your grandpa,
an old guy on his last legs
so why don’t you just take the sweet?
Good girl, that’s a good girl,
The sweet is warm from his pocket, the wrapper
like cellphane tulle. You untwist it, certain
your mother can hear it
all the way
where from wherever she is,
so you finish it quick like she does when she pulls off your bandaids –
one quick rip;
and pop the sweet into your mouth, nodding
“fank you, grandpa…”
The sweet is thick, it’s an old man’s sweet,
bland and a little soft,
but one good thing you discover is that
you can chew it; you won’t have to suck it for ages
and then spit it out,
which you normally have to do when grandpa’s not looking.
The problem with chewing however is that you're stuck,
your mouth's really full,
and you hear your mother, already, saying,
“What have you got in that mouth?
You’ll ruin your teeth, yong lady,
if you keep this up.
And where are you getting this candy from anyway, missy?”
“Gramfa,” you say, your mouth still quite full,
too full to properly speak;
you don’t mean to get gramps in trouble –
not any more trouble, at least,
but too late, she stomps off, and
you think, this is it,
now you've done it,
this is the real thing,
and you tentatively cover your ears with your hands,
but then, nothing happens.
And when nothing keeps on happening, for a while,
you sneak down the hall and the kitchen stairs
and then you see her – your mother,
not with grandpa like you thought but quite alone
with her back to the house,
smoking a cigarette.
She sits in the swing you disdain,
claim you’re too big for.
She's pushing herself around
by the ball of one foot.
You know because you’ve done that before, just like that.
And you don’t know what to do now,
you’re stuck with the taste of the sweet,
but you're pretty sure
that you shouldn't disturb your mother;
so you watch as the smoke from the cigarette
curls itself, silently, upward.