Archive for June, 2010

The Tuesday Poem

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Today I’m feeling melancholy and wanted to turn that into righteous anger about the oil spill with a poem for the Tuesday Poem blog – but of course couldn’t find a modern angry poem that was both apposite and out of copyright. I can think of several I’d like to use in a future bout of wrath (Adrian Mitchell’s for one) if I can get permission for them.

Meantime, this Charles Causley poem touches the edge of anger and futility – in this case directed at war.

LOSS OF AN OIL TANKER by Charles Causley

Over our heads the missiles ran

Through skies more desolate than the sea.

In jungles, where man hides from man,

Leaves fell, in springtime, from the tree.

A cracked ship on the Seven Stones lies

Dying in resurrection weather.

With squalid hands we hold our prize:

A drowned fish and a sea-bird’s feather.

With thanks, once more, to David Higham Associates for permission to use a poem by Charles Causley.

Peonies and roses

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

I haven’t given up a centimetre of my allegiance to peonies at this stage of the summer, but all the bunches on sale in London are  lying around panting in the heat, and the flowers are blown to smithereens. I like to buy peonies in tight bud so that I can enjoy a good week of them whilst they open, petal by petal. (I put a teaspoon of sugar in the water these days which seems to help all of them to open – in past seasons some of them have mutinied and stayed closed for ever.) And more than anything, I try to hold out for white peonies: the absolute top of the mountain.

I looked at the pink peonies in the market this morning but they just weren’t right, so I bought these glorious roses instead. The guy selling them suggested keeping them in the fridge overnight, vase and all – which in this weather I’ll certainly try. Meantime, aren’t they absolutely gorgeous? I keep walking back into the room to have another look and to catch a ghostly waft of their scent.

Vuvuselas in history

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Look! Vuvuselas drove people crazy in 1660 as well!

Incy wincy spider

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I’m about to get my techie friend to change the photos on my blog intro page and then I remembered there are two photos I’ve never explained. (Explained? When did a picture need explaining? But still.)

One of them is this: the spider pic. Eighteen months ago we were in Kerala and this amazing spider set up home one morning outside our room. I am not that keen on spiders, to be truthful: I can appreciate them from a distance, god’s creatures and all that, and little ones no longer frighten me as they did when I was a kid. But still, I don’t exactly seek any of them out.  I feel, um, cautious about them, at best.

All that should have meant that I didn’t embrace the experience of having this spider close by, because frankly it was ENORMOUS.  At least the size of my hand. But I was struck by its beauty and by the symmetrical  charm of its stance. (Also, it looked great against the yellow wall.) And maybe you can just see that it had started to make a web – I can’t make the photo any bigger on the blog because it gets stretched, but you can just see, if you peer, that it’s hanging from a thread of web. So as it happened I enjoyed looking carefully at it, and getting close enough to take a photo.

By the time we got back from breakfast it had disappeared, perhaps to find a quieter spot for spinning. I don’t know what kind of spider it was, apart from the obvious: big, brown, skin (do they actually have a skin?) like suede, eyes on little stalks. Maybe also, oh, man eater, deathly poisonous: who knows? But I liked it a lot and I was truly delighted to see it, which surprised me.

It’s good to be able to surprise yourself once in a while.

The Tuesday Poem – ‘To my father’ by Charles Causley

Monday, June 21st, 2010

TO MY FATHER, by Charles Causley


‘It was the First War brought your father down,’

My aunts would say. ‘Nobody in our clan

Fell foul of that t.b. Lungs clear and strong

As Trusham church bell, every single one.’

My soldier-father, Devon hill-village boy,

The Doctor’s sometime gardener and groom

Hunches before me on a kitchen chair,

Possessed by fearful coughing. Beats the floor

With his ash-stick, curses his lack of luck.

At seven, this was the last I saw of him:

A thin and bony man (as I am now),

Long-faced, large-eyed, struggling to speak to me.

I see him on his allotment, leaning on

A spade to catch his breath. He takes me to

The fair, the Plymouth pantomime, the point-

To-point. My mother tells me of how proud

He was when I was five years old and read

The news to him out of the paper. Now,

Seventy years on, he strolls into my dreams:
Immaculate young countryman, his mouth

Twitching with laughter. Always walks ahead

Of me, and I can never catch him up.

I want to take him to the Derby, buy

The wheelbarrow he longed for as a boy.

I want to read out loud to him again.

I speak his name. He never seems to hear.

I know that one day he must stop and turn

His face to me. Wait for me, father. Wait.

(Reproduced by kind permission of the poet’s literary agents, David Higham Associates)

I love this poem of Causley’s and it reminds me of what a great poet he was. It seems he’s never had the recognition he deserved – perhaps because he wrote poetry for children as well as for adults, or perhaps because his work uses such simple forms and words.  Someone said of him that he always stood outside poetic fashion – and maybe that was another reason he’s been neglected. (His work’s still in print with Macmillan, though – both the Collected Poems 1951 – 1997, and his collected children’s poems – so maybe not neglected: just not fully acknowledged.)

This poem expresses such clear eyed memories, such tenderness and longing, and such a visionary ending. I hope it might make those less familiar with his work seek him out.

And do have a look at other Tuesday Poems, when you have a moment.

The Tuesday poem: Fearing Paris by Marsha Truman Cooper

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Fearing Paris by Marsha Truman Cooper

Suppose that what you fear

could be trapped

and held in Paris.

Then you would have

the courage to go

everywhere in the world.

All the directions of the compass

open to you,

except the degrees east or west

of true north

that lead to Paris.

Still, you wouldn’t dare

put your toes

smack dab on the city limit line.

You’re not really willing

to stand on a mountainside,

miles away,

and watch the Paris lights

come up at night.

Just to be on the safe side

you decide to stay completely

out of France.

But then the danger

seems too close

even to those boundaries,

and you feel

the timid part of you

covering the whole globe again.

You need the kind of friend

who learns your secret and says,

“See Paris First.”

(by kind permission of the author)

I absolutely love this poem and I’m so pleased to be allowed to share it with you on the Tuesday Poem blog. I love its simplicity of structure and intent, and I find the underlying thrust of meaning extraordinarily powerful as well as comforting.

And I’m amused that I’m able to post it the day I arrive back from a long weekend in Paris! (See: it works…)

Low tide for writing

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

I love being on a beach or by a tidal river at low tide to watch how the water and sand merge, and how the light reflects and shifts with the tide. It all seems especially beautiful to me. And there’s always the hope that a low tide will reveal aspects of the landscape that you haven’t seen before: maybe an old feature – a rock or an abandoned jetty or bits of a wrecked boat. So there’s hope and interest and the promise of the unknown: all very attractive.

But right now I’m having persistent troubles with writing, and that kind of low tide isn’t at all hopeful or interesting or promising. It’s not a classic writer’s block – I don’t get that, or at least I don’t think I do. This seems more a lack of the energy and confidence you need to create something on paper.

I’m trying various strategies to move beyond it. The confidence is the hardest part for me, and dealing with that’s a fight against the devils of negativity. Still, I’m making some progress. Joining The Tuesday Poem blog helped a lot because it gave me a structure to think about writing (I don’t write poetry myself but I admire it passionately). And the advice I offer other writers when they’re stuck – like making character notes, or revising the chapter plots, or just thinking rather than doing (but doing the thinking intensively, not just vaguely wondering) helps as well, or anyway it’s helping me this time around.

A few weeks ago I moaned on about this in an email to a writer friend, and she wrote back so thoughtfully I want to share her response. This is what she (Anna Owen) said: –

“I don’t know what to say about your current writing low point. At the moment, every writer I know is having a grim time. I’ve been wondering why we bother, any of us, especially since I’ve been under pressure from my paid job to go full time.

However, I’m now on the 18th draft (or 17th? – not sure) and in this rewrite, every single chapter has been ripped apart, most replaced, all rewritten. It still feels like restoring some dodgy old house after the collapse of the housing market, with a heavy mortgage to recoup. It would be quicker to build a new one, but it’s a listed building. I can’t fix the inconvenient structure, just have to make a charming feature of it, or plaster over it.

Despite the multiple difficulties … I still have moments of pure pleasure when writing. Rationally, I know this is because I am in a ‘flow’ state – this is an activity that I find so absorbing that it tickles obscure pleasure centres in my brain and makes me feel alive. Thanks to these intense neurological rewards, I am passionately interested in writing in general. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If I looked round, I could probably find another activity that makes me reach a similar state – something that adds up to a rewarding hobby rather than a hideous addiction. Water-skiing? Making your own clothes?

The only reason for continuing with writing is that you can’t give up – which is crap, but seems to be the deal. So, having accepted this, the only thing to do is to write. When I can’t bear to write, I do the Dorothea Brande thing of writing first thing in the morning for about three days, find it too annoying, agree with myself that as long as I write 1000 words a day I can do it at any time, do the 1000 words and then I’ll be grabbed by an idea and realise that resistance is futile… This sounds glib, it is actually a long and bloody annoying process but it works, after a fashion.

The other thing that cheers me up is the realisation that you’re as good as your next book – so what if everything I’ve written in the past is unlovable and unloved? Just wait till you see the next one!”

So I think I’ll get a t-shirt printed with “WAIT TILL YOU SEE THE NEXT ONE!’ on the front. And meantime I’ll look at this picture of low tide on a New Zealand beach and find inspiration from its beauty.

And I’ll just keep writing. Which, I remind myself, is what writers do. So do it, woman, do it.

The Tuesday poem: Migratory Birds, by Odilia Galván Rodríguez

Monday, June 7th, 2010

MIGRATORY BIRDS by Odilia Galván Rodríguez

you were born
to gypsies
though you didn’t
want to be
every spring
when orange blossom’s
perfume
filled the air
your world was packed
into a few bundles
then your
family was off
living in tents
trailers
dirt floor shacks

you were born
to nomads
though you didn’t
want to be
longed to live
with the
settled and the straight
work in the
five-and-dime
go to school
play tennis
and every time
you found a friend
it was time to go
another town
another round
in a world
that made you
dizzy

you were born
to migrants
though you didn’t
want to be
from Texas to Illinois
living in a blur
out a car window
roads endless
as fields of crops
to be picked by the piece
never making enough
to eat
let alone for the trip back
home
pleading for the
traveling to stop
words in the wind
wooshing by ears
of the gypsy king

you were born
to wanderers
though you didn’t
want to be
when you got
the chance
you planted
yourself
deep
in concrete
and steel
to make sure
you or your
offspring
wouldn’t
branch out
too far
from home
you were
settled
for
ever

I was born
to a life of never change
though I didn’t
want to be
same familiar streets
same people
same stories
year after year
until one sweltering
Chicago summer night
the moon full
color of sun
reflecting off
fields of green
and the sweet scent
of lilacs from
our backyard
helped me sprout wings
so I could fly away.

I encountered this poem – and the poet – completely by chance, leafing through an anthology of Chicana writing from the University of Arizona Press while waiting in line for the photocopier in the Key West Public Library. I was putting together an anthology of poetry for young women (“She’s All That!” – there are details about it in the poetry section of ‘Books’ on my website ) and as soon as I read Odilia’s poem I realised it was perfect for the collection. I love the sense of both physical and metaphysical travel she conveys, and the way she has paced and patterned the generational story she tells.

Tracking Odilia Galván Rodríguez down for the necessary permission to use her poem on today’s blog took a lot more persistence than finding the poem ever did – Odilia turns out to be a woman of many parts: poet, activist, traveller and speaker are just some of her skills. But I did eventually hear from her, and she was pleased to give permission to use her poem. I’m delighted to share it with all the Tuesday Poem blog readers, as well as anyone who finds it on my own blog.