Almost done

Seven years and my degree is almost complete. In just over a week my last ever project will be printed, bound and posted. Then it will be time to start writing for myself only. That is even more daunting. No deadlines to meet. No study books to read. No assignments to polish. No instructions, no marks and no feedback.

Real author time. I won’t be able to call myself a ‘creative writing student’ anymore. The feeling is just slightly uncomfortable. In reality we never stop learning. Like a martial artist who has just attained a black belt, the journey is just beginning.

Seven years

Me, in true fashion
Timely walks out from the nest
This is it, I’m done

Don’t keep your writing a secret

During the 18 months I have been studying Creative Writing, I have come across a number of people who claim that they write only for themselves. Whether it is poetry, short stories or a diary (I have to confess I have NEVER kept a diary), I don’t really understand this.  Why write if no-one is going to read it? It’s like painting a picture and then leaving it in the attic unadmired, with the colour fading over the years.

I know it’s embarrasing to show someone your work the first time – especially poetry which is so much more personal – but it’s worth taking the plunge. (When it comes to poetry it’s much better to read it to them – even scarier I know, but it ensures that the rhythm is correct.) You never know, you may get comments like ‘That’s brilliant’ or ‘I wish I could write like that’. Or they may say ‘That’s cobblers’, but I bet they won’t, unless they are very rude. Most people are impressed that you had a go. They may even reveal that they write as well. Then you can support each other. It may turn out that they have already been published and give you loads of really excellent advice.

And if anyone says ‘Poetry is a load of old rubbish for people who read the Guardian’ well that says more about them than you, doesn’t it.

So if you now feel brave enough to share your work with the rest of us, go visit www.writers-forum.co.uk. You can apply to write for the site and see your work in (virtual) print.

And don’t forget to follow WritersForumUK on Twitter as well as me Cookiebiscuit.

In defence of poetry!

I love poetry, but I know there are lots of people out there who hate it. At best fit only for ‘old’ people and love-sick Romeos and at worst a load of old rubbish, poetry has come to signify something a bit high brow and not for the likes of mere mortals. Unless of course we include Pam Ayres and why not indeed! She brought poetry to the masses and actually did it jolly well.

Now I hear you squirming while being reminded of school poetry like The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner or The Charge of the Light Brigade, which were at times quite heavy going, but not all poetry is long and heroic and concerned with history (or fable). Sometimes (read Roger McGough for instance) it can be fun and modern. And not a lonely wondering cloud to be seen.

Haikus, for instance, are only three lines long and the pattern is very simple 5, 7, 5 morae or sound units (which are rather like syllables).
Here is an example (apologies, I already posted this one):

In my dreams I fly (5)
Birds and clouds pass by the sun (7)
I want to be them (5)

Traditionally they are supposed to be about the seasons, but they don’t have to be these days.
Have a go!

This is the childhood that I daily dreamed of

Another sonnet. I like the sonnet form! The name sonnet derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning ‘little song’. The form dates back centuries and has come to signify a poem of 14 lines with a strict rhyming scheme and specific structure. There is usually (traditionally anyway) a volta or turn more often than not after the first eight lines. This volta marks the place where the initial ‘problem’ in poetic terms, is ‘resolved’. Shakespeare was a lover of sonnets and wrote 154!

This is the childhood that I daily dreamed of

This is the childhood that I daily dreamed of
In beauty, you and I, in laughter, playing
See how I loved you, though I rarely hoped for,
Not yet born, in sleep, in dreams, in praying.
This is the motherhood I daily dreamed of
In beauty, you and I, in laughter, caring
Know how I loved you, though I never hoped for,
Believed that we might, this love, be sharing.

But now that my life is all I wished for
In beauty, you and I, in laughter, loving
Believe I loved you, though I never hoped for
This lifetime, in beauty, walking, living
So quiet now in sleep, in dreams, I wake
To find you not yet gone, but still with me

Saving the roses – a sestina for the environment

Saving the roses is a sestina. A sestina consists of 39 lines made up of six six-line stanzas and a tercet (or envoi) and is probably the most challeging poetic form there is. There are six end words which are used for every line, but in a different order which is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata (‘retrograde cross’). The sestina is reputed to have been invented in the 12th century. The oldest known English sestina dates back to the 1500s.

Saving the roses – a sestina for the environment

If the world ends life will hang in the balance
Ended by ignorance, famine and greed,
To return to love is like climbing a mountain
Pricking ones fingers and hands on roses
In the dark, your path lit only by a lantern,
I can help you, I am music, listen.

I woke up this morning and began to listen
To the music of the birds singing in balance
With nature, the sun rising like a lantern,
So pretty, yet clouded by systems of greed,
Birds’ feathers like the petals of pale roses
Flutter down the side of the mountain.

I will climb to the top of the mountain
And stand at the peak in the stillness and listen,
I am music and I can hear the petals of the roses
Flutter down and the birds create the balance
Between love and hate and greed
And in the darkness shines the lantern.

Out of the darkness shines a lantern
And the people are climbing the mountain,
Leaving behind the famine and greed
And asking for mercy, they want to listen.
They know they upset the perfect balance
I am music, I’ll play out with the roses.

Stripped to the skin and pricked by roses
They walk up the mountain lit by a lantern.
The path is narrow and it’s hard to balance
The love and the hate on the side of the mountain,
The music once played but no-one would listen
And now there is only the loss and the greed.

It’s not too late if we punish the greed
And follow the music which saves the roses,
The birds and the trees ask you to listen,
They light up the dark with their pale lantern
And reach for the skies from the top of the mountain.
I am music, I am silence, I am balance.

The balance is fine between love and greed,
From the top of the mountain I can see the roses
Still lit by the lantern and hoping you’ll listen.

Outlandish Tales of Folklore

Outlandish Tales of Folklore is a series of three sonnets which uses traditional folktales and mythology as its subject.

Cooking with Elves

Around the campfire they sit and
Squabble, the Dark Elves, the Svartálfar,
Who capture babies in the night,
While slumbering peacefully in their beds
Tangling their hair in elflocks
They squeal with horrid delight,
Throw them in… Throw them in…
No beauty here, just the sharp pain of fright.

So before you sprinkle Buckthorn in a circle
And dance wildly under the full moon,
Think wisely if you cry before he flees
Dark Elf! Halt and grant my boon !
And wish not for help or harm
Or harm will harm you soon.

The Curse of Baba Jaga

Where are the servants? Don’t ask or
She’ll kill you, Baba Jaga, of the forest
Who kidnaps babies in the night.
The cat… The dog… The tree… The gate…
Her invisible servants, silent like the riders,
I am Day, says one, all dressed in white,
Who comes in red? I am the Sun,
Then dressed in black, I am the Night.

She’s coming now, look out, look out,
Sweeping their hoof-tracks with her broom.
The wailing wind begins to blow
While trees around her moan and groan
And shrieking spirits follow in her wake,
Leading you flailing to your doom.

Hansel and Gretel

Deep in the forest, two children cry alone,
Finding a friend; a witch, a fiendish hag
Who snatches babies in the night,
Fattens them… Cooks them… Eats them…
Oh Hansel, Gretel, be afraid and run,
Hide in the bushes, stay out of sight.
Too thin, too thin, I like them fat,
The witch-hag cries with sheer delight.

Gretel, now her servant, fetches sweets
To force feed Hansel, trapped alone.
She’s coming now, the witch, she squeals
Be he fat or lean, I’ll eat him soon
But it’s too late, in the oven she goes
The children flee and the tale is done.

Lost and found

Lost and found is a villanelle, a rather old-fashioned poetic form which is 19 lines long and consists of five tercets and a closing quatrain. It depends on the repeated use of two lines. These two lines appear four times each and again at the very end. The Villanelle originated in France and entered the English language in the 1800s.

Lost and found

I realise now what I have lost
Is not as much as I have found,
Yet still I have to count the cost
Of losing what I valued most.
As life and death get swapped around
I ask myself, ‘what have I lost?’
Like dreams on stormy oceans tossed,
Then flung upon the stony ground,
Yet still I have to count the cost
Which no-one can regain once lost.
My voice can speak, but make no sound
When realising what I have lost.
Then winter comes with snow and frost
And hardens hearts on stony ground,
Yet still I have to count the cost
Of love when I have loved the most
And lost the love that I have found.
I realise now what I have lost
But still I have to count the cost

Sunday

Sunday is a very short poem I wrote years ago. I have also included a couple of Haikus. A Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of three lines in the pattern 5, 7, 5 morae (or on). A morae is a sound unit, which characterizes Japanese poetry, unlike English poetry which is characterized by meter.

Sunday

You left on Sunday
Now the sun is gone
From Sunday
And it’s just another day

Haikus

Cat-like the night creeps
Silently, winter clothed
In fur, she sleeps

In my dreams I fly
Birds and clouds pass by the sun
I want to be them

Circus

Circus

You left to join the circus
As it travelled through our town,
You said you were a lion-tamer
Not a lady’s clown.
I didn’t mean to hurt you,
I was trying to play it cool.
I didn’t mean to be unkind
Or treat you like a fool.

The flat was cold and empty
So I let it to a man
Who was a part-time actor
And drove an ice-cream van.
His wife had left to join the air force
In a neighbouring town;
She said she was a flyer
But she thought he’d let her down.

I left to go to London
To get a job outside.
I couldn’t stand to watch the mirror
Watching while I cried.

It’s hard to iron

It’s hard to iron

It’s hard to iron
Without a hand
No not a hand
As in to help,
But hand as in
The five-fingered extension
Of one’s arm

It’s hard to climb
Without a foot
No not the measurement
Of length,
But foot as in
The five-toed extension
Of one’s leg

It’s hard to think
Without a head
No not ahead
As in gaining ground,
But head as in
The single extension
Of one’s body

But harder still
To live and die
No not to live and die as such,
But live and die as in survive
This world, this earth, this time

Childhood dreaming

Childhood dreaming

I wished I was a Persian cat
With long grey fur and amber eyes
I wished I was a greyhound dog
Fast and sleek with coat that shines
I wished I was a jungle lion
Smart and fierce and roaming wild
I could have been all three of these
If I had been a different child

But I was timid as a mouse
Who never dared to venture out
I lived my life inside the house
Fearing gentle words of doubt
It’s too late now when childhood’s past
The mouse is me, the die is cast

Poetically retentive

This is not really my usual sort of poetry, just a bit of fun. I am not good at free verse.

Poetically retentive

With mathematical precision I count every beat
From beginning to end of each line
They must be concise and perfect and true
And every so often must rhyme

No freedom of verse or lyrical waxing
No skipping a meter or two
Iambic, trochaic or even dactylic
I just can’t get away from this view

So give me the sound of a heroic couplet
At the end of a sonnet’s quatrain
And leave out the free in the dreaded ‘free verse’
From such abandon I choose to abstain

This looseness, this freedom, this modern approach
Would make Shakespeare quite turn in his grave
Sestinas and pantoums or even a haiku
Is the poetic challenge I crave

But sometimes I wish I could open the window
And let all the verses run free
Oh, the burden of being so precise all the time
Is boring the hell out of me!