Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tuesday Poem: Being here, by Vincent O'Sullivan, New Zealand Poet Laureate

Tuesday Poem: Being here, by Vincent O'Sullivan, New Zealand Poe...:

It has to be a thin world surely if you ask for

an emblem at every turn, if you cannot see bees

arcing and mining the soft decaying galaxies

of the laden apricot tree without wanting

symbols – which of course are manifold – symbols

of so much else? What’s amiss with simply the huddle

and glut of bees, with those fuzzed globes

by the hundred and the clipped out sky

beyond them and the leaves that are black

if you angle the sun directly behind them,

being themselves, for themselves? I hold out

my palms like the opened pages of a book

and you pile apricots on them stacked three

deep, we ask just who can we give them to

round here who hasn’t had their whack of apricots

as it is? And I let my hands tilt and the plastic

bag that you hold rustles and plumps with their

rush, I hold one back and bite into it and its

taste is the taste of the colour exactly, and this

hour precisely, and memory I expect is storing

for an afternoon far removed from here

when the warm furred almost weightlessness

of the fruit I hold might very well be a symbol

of what’s lost and we keep wanting, which after

all is to crave the real, the branches cutting

across the sun, your standing there while I tell you,

‘Come on, you have to try one!’, and you do,

and the clamour of bees goes on above us, ‘This

will do’, both of us saying, ‘like this, being here!’

From Further Convictions Pending: Poems 1998–2008 by Vincent O’Sullivan. Posted with permission.

Helen McKinley has posted this on the Tuesday Poem website and I wanted to share it because it's so good. The second half of the blog is an interview with Vincent Sullivan - very well worth reading.  This is one of my favourite quotes.

'Some very good poets, like Robert Graves, insist that the least a poem should do is to make good prose sense. Others think quite the contrary – Wallace Stevens’ remark, for example, that ‘poetry should resist the intelligence almost successfully.’ The overarching fact of poetry is that it offers a swathe of possibilities, from total clarity to the most elusive symbolism. There’s no obligation to admire every kind of poetry, and there’ll always be enough of what we do care for us not to fret about what we don’t.'

If you'd like to read the whole interview you can do so here. . . . .

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tuesday Poem: The Moth Magazine - review

There are so many little poetry magazines, it's impossible to subscribe to them all.  I tend to pick and choose - buying one issue to see if I like it before I order a year's worth. Then next year I subscribe to another.  I've tried Magma, Poetry London, Poetry Review, Domestic Cherry, The Interpreter's House,  Rialto, and currently I'm trying out The Moth.

The Moth has beautiful covers
The Moth originates in Ireland, edited by Rebecca O'Connor and Will Govan, and it looks beautiful as well as containing a wide range of writing from all over the world.  The current issue contains an interview with Billy Collins, fiction by Sharon Boyle and some interesting poetry.  'The fish I would like to meet' by Catherine Ayres, vied for best title with 'The War Reporter Paul Watson's Obsession with Combat Sex' by Dan O'Brien and 'Ghazal of the Tonsured-in-Denial' by Killian O'Donnell.  The Moth website is showcasing one poem from the magazine - 'After Eavesdropping at the Temple' by Mike Casetta - (though not one of my favourites from this issue)

I pressed my ear against the wall
I heard a candle flame

sing a torch song to the sun
Burning in love

I beseech you
to let this burning

be how I reach you.
A gung ho moth yelled,

before flying headlong

into the fire.
I cringed when I heard it sizzle.

I flinched when another moth shouted,

& ran amuck in the belfry.
Cherubic laughter rang out

& kneaded manna
out of apparently nothing

as apparently nothing
needed kneading.

I started to speak in tongues
but so far I am able to bite each one.

The poetry is never boring, or middle of the road, or pompous, or precious, but it is clever and full of surprises. The quality of both the poetry and fiction is very high.  The magazine looks as good as it reads - whoever illustrates it is doing a fabulous job.  I also liked the fact that there's no long roll call of contributors showing off in the back.  Just their names.  The work speaks for itself.   It's a magazine I'd love to find mine in.  Submission criteria here. 

The Tuesday Poets are a group of 28 poets posting poetry from around the world every Tuesday. To find out what the rest of them are up to, please click on this link. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Secretly Scribbling

My mother’s younger sister, Aunt Joyce, died recently and on Monday I went to her funeral - a beautiful Humanist ceremony conducted in the hall just over the road from her home and attended by all her friends and family.  Afterwards we all had tea in her favourite tea-room.  It was as good as funerals get, but also rather sad because she was the last of my mother’s generation.  There’s no one left now to answer all those ‘do you remember?’ questions; no one to tell us who that strange woman in the hat was at the back of that photograph in 1935; no one to explain what happened to the uncle no one talked about.  And we, the next generation of family elders, were very conscious of our new roles as keepers of the family story, sharing memories and – sometimes – secrets.
Joyce and her older sister Ella - the blonde and the brunette
My mother had the reputation of being the bookworm of the family – addicted to books, she kept a record of her reading for almost 60 years, loving both poetry and prose. She never tried to write anything herself – not even a line of poetry, though she could recite reams of Shakespeare and Tennyson.  Mum’s younger sister liked to read, but wasn’t known for being ‘bookish’. So it was quite a surprise when, after her death, her son found an exercise book among her things called ‘Poems and Thoughts’.  Inside were all the poems she’d written over the years, secretly scribbling.

My mother's notebooks
One of them was a poem about my mother – the older sister she envied for her dark curly hair and her academic ability.  Joyce was blonde in a family of dark Anglo-Italians and never settled at school.  There was also a moving poem about nursing a husband (who hadn’t always treated her well) through Alzheimer’s.  They are very good poems – one of them read out at her funeral. How sad that she couldn’t share them during her life-time.

Poetry is a safety valve - something we turn to for emotional release. How many people scribble secretly?

PS - I was intrigued to discover that Aunt Joyce had read my novel The Sun's Companion - which included childhood memories of my grandmother and some of her friends - and she had recognised everyone. Not quite as fictional as I'd intended then!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

One Lovely Blog Award - some blogs you might like

I've been nominated, by novelist Jane Davis, for the One Lovely Blog Award - a meme, but a good one because it suggests blogs you might never have found.  I have lots of favourite blogs, so I'm including only a quick selection here.

I'm very impressed with Gerry's blog 'That's How the Light Gets In' - discussions of art and poetry that go more deeply into creative things than blogs usually do.  This week he's talking about the paintings of Anselm Keifer and the poetry of Paul Celan.  I always come away with something to think about after reading his blog.

If you're a novice writer, creative writing student, creative writing tutor, or just someone interested in another writer's take on the nuts and bolts of the business, you can't do better than Emma Darwin's 'This Itch of Writing'. 

I like writers' journals and blogs that are online journals, so Sarah Salway's blog, 'Sarah's Writing Journal', is one I look at regularly.

Then there's Wendy Robertson's 'Life Twice Tasted', (a quote from Anais Nin).  Wendy's blog is an honest reflection of the ups and downs of the writing life and the amount of work that goes into researching a novel.  Wendy is a best-selling author with more than 25 published books, who has enthusiastically embraced e-publishing, creating an organisation called 'Room to Write' in partnership with other North Eastern authors.

And where would we be without readers?  I love Mel U's 'The Reading Life'.  He shares a wide range of books (where he gets the time to read all of them perplexes me!) both classics and contemporary. I re-discover old favourites and find new ones to read too. One of the best book review blogs because he chooses what he's going to read across the whole spectrum of literature according to a particular literary journey he's on - at one point it was short stories, at another Irish literature.

Finally, there's The Bone Garden, the blog associated with Sharon Blackie's 'Re-enchanting the Earth' web site - because we need some magic and re-enchantment in our lives.  She quotes DH Lawrence -
". . . we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.'

 Happy bloghopping everyone!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tuesday Poem: Marinero Soy de Amor - setting of a poem by Cervantes

Marinero soy de amor
y en su piélago profundo
navego sin esperanza
de llegar a puerto alguno.

Siguiendo voy a una estrella
que desde lejos descubro,
más bella y resplandeciente
que cuantas vio Palinuro.

Yo no sé adónde me guía
y, así, navego confuso,
el alma a mirarla atenta,
cuidadosa y con descuido.
Recatos impertinentes,
honestidad contra el uso,
son nubes que me la encubren
cuando más verla procuro.

Oh clara y luciente estrella
en cuya lumbre me apuro!
Al punto que te me encubras,
será de mi muerte el punto.

This poem is by the Spanish poet and novelist Miguel de Cervantes and was set to music by 'anonymous', in the Spanish/Portuguese Sephardic tradition.  The result is a haunting folk song embodying what the Portuguese call 'Saudade' a mixture of longing, loss and homesickness - profound melancholy.  It's the music of exile.

The Tuesday Poets are a group of 28 poets from around the world who post a poem every Tuesday.  We're all very different!  To see what everyone's sharing, please click over to the Tuesday Poem website. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Afternoon on the river

The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh wrote that ‘to know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience’.  He thought that it was important for a poet to know every inch of their own acre in depth.  Observation is everything.

Spot the heron in the middle of the weir!
This is my acre. I’ve lived here for over twenty one years and I’ve walked along this river bank at least once a week for almost the whole of that time. The river is the first thing I see when I wake in the morning and the hushing noise of water over the weir lulls me to sleep at night.  In summer it glitters and sparkles; in winter it turns into a thundering brown torrent that sometimes runs through the ground floor.

Winter birch trees reflected in the river today
For the last three years I’ve been based in Italy and only back at the Mill once a month - occasionally for longer periods.  But a couple of weeks ago, when I was in New Zealand, I was asked if I’d like to have my RLF Fellowship at Lancaster University back. The answer, for a number of complicated reasons, was yes.  So here I am, on the river bank again, re-discovering my territory.

The river is looking its best in autumn and, even though most of the trees have shed their leaves, there’s the occasional torch still staring at its golden reflection.

The resident heron has his/her pitch on the weir, fending off all competition, though there’s another one hiding a few hundred yards downstream.

And the otters are still here.  A few days ago I was drinking my early cup of tea in bed watching the heron fishing on the edge of the weir, when suddenly there was a swirl and a flourish in the water directly under his beak.   The heron reared back in astonishment as the head of an otter emerged from the river to look at him before diving again.  The heron took flight, but the otter stayed in what was obviously rich fishing territory, rolling and diving like a seal, before heading back upriver.

Today the heron was about a mile further up where the river broadens out under shaded banks, the only evidence a big disturbance in the water and that familiar sleek body curving up and then down - gone before you can even think of getting a camera out.

Such glimpses of the wild are gifts.

A leaf floating among the clouds and trees reflected in the water.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

National Short Story Week: Last Days, Lost Ways

This week is National Short Story Week in the UK - a time to celebrate short fiction, one of the most challenging and respected of literary art forms, though not one of the most lucrative.  Since commercial publishers turned their backs on the short story a couple of decades ago, it has been kept alive in little poetry magazines and boutique literary presses - usually surviving on Arts Council Grants. A few years ago its existence was considered to  be under such threat the Arts Council mounted a huge online campaign called 'Save Our Short Story'. Extinction seemed imminent.  But there are recent signs of a revival - mainly because it has been flourishing underground in the 'Indie' sector of publishing.

The ability to Self, or Indie, publish via Amazon, Lulu, Lightning Source, Smash Words and other paperback and E-publishing platforms, has left authors free to experiment with the short form - if you aren't going to be paid for it anyway, why not have fun?   Flash fiction, novels for mobile phones, Tweet Fiction - it's all out there.  Writers are sharing them on Wattpad, blogging them, Tweeting them and getting them into every sort of print, ink or digital.  There have been some notable successes - Northern author Avril Joy (above) was one of the first Indie authors to win the coveted Costa Prize with her story Millie and Bird. 

A couple of weeks ago, Authors Electric author Alice Jolly won the Royal Society of Literature's prestigious V.S. Pritchett short story award (judged by Margaret Drabble) with her story Ray the Rottweiler. Both authors have been forced into the Indie publishing sector because commercial publishers have rejected their work.

The last couple of weeks has also seen the launch of one of the first Indie short story collections, curated and published by the Awesome Indies collective, based in Australia.  Last Days, Lost Ways includes authors from all over the world and covers the whole spectrum of fiction genres - fantasy, speculative, historical, autobiographical, crime and flash. It's a serendipity mix - readers won't like every story, but everyone will find something to wow them. I was lucky enough to get two stories accepted for the anthology - one contemporary, one historical, so I have to declare an interest!  Stories I particularly liked included A Matter of Trust, creative non-fiction from American author Colleen Grimes, and Recipe for a Dinner Party where New Zealander Shauna Bickley cooks up a storm for her errant husband.

Some of the books I've enjoyed most lately have been short story collections.  One in particular stands out - by Irish author Nuala Ni Chonchuir - To the World of Men, Welcome.  A female author looks at the world with men's eyes and explores gender myths and stereotypes. The result is brilliant!

I also loved this one, Harvest, an Indie published collection of short-short and flash fiction from Kenyan American author Amanya Maloba.  As the title suggests, a lot of the stories are about food and our relationship with it.

Also recommended is a small press publication (if you like horror) of a short story by Elizabeth Stott 'Touch me with your cold, hard fingers'.   It's a limited edition difficult to get hold of, but her collection 'This Heat' is available through Amazon. 

And if you like short stories you'll love the little magazine FireWords  - crammed with interesting new fiction.

A couple more that might interest, including a Christmas short story collection just launched by Debbie Young (plus a shameless plug for my own Three and Other Stories!):

Debbie Young's Stocking Fillers, Just launched in time for Christmas