What do you do with all the bits left over ?

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I was talking to Maggie Mendus the other day
( see her work here:http://tinyurl.com/q7pr7a2) and I said that she was probably physically unable to write a bad poem- (she writes a lot- and all of it good) and she replied that I knew nothing of the starts that never finished, the odd ideas that trickled away into the sand and never came to anything.

So I looked at my own junk folder ( keep everything– throw nothing away) and I was amazed at the amount of false starts, stupid ideas, bad writing that was lying around. Most of it will never see the light of day, but I came across one recent effort and, aware of the need to recycle, I thought I would post it here as a writing prompt.

I had this dream about snakes. It happened on some distant planet where the moon only comes out once in ten years.I could see snakes uncoiling out of the rocks and raising their heads up to the moonlight ( I know it sounds silly-but it sounded like a good idea at the time, ok?) As the moonlight touches them they SING. I like the idea of singing snakes. I wondered what sort of a noise they might make. I wrote…something….and then it faltered and died. I had no idea where it was all leading me- I had no end in view- and the writing was mediocre. It was not for me.

But it might just be for you. Here it is- the hulk of a poem which didn’t quite make it. Take what you want- the idea, the language whatever you fancy. Use it as a starting point for your own journey.
Let me know how you get on.

I have seen them in my dream,
the singing snakes. Like ammonites
they seem, waiting for the touch of moonlight
to release them .

Slowly, they uncoil-
longer than a man can reach
and thicker than his wrist.
Scales rustle, whisper on the broken schist.

Blind, blunt heads lift
to the bonelight, jaws snap wide

and they sing

a thin, high note
unrelenting, folding on itself until
the air quivers, and blurs.

I see ice cliffs, stinging hail
and burrows hollowed from the frozen soil.

How do you read ? Over ?

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No, this isn’t a piece about an air traffic controller trying to get through to a missing plane. It’s a series of questions which has been bothering me for a while.

How DO you read ? Hmm…maybe we should start with deciding what reading is. How about this- reading is the ability to deduce meaning from symbols, behaviour, places or situations. You read a bus timetable to find out when the next bus is coming- and when you meet a stranger, you’re reading voice, dress, stance- in order to decide what you think about the person in front of you.

Let’s stick with reading text, otherwise this will be a very long post indeed. Scanning is the fastest mode of reading. You’re in a strange town and you want a cup of coffee, so your eyes flick round for a Starbucks, Nero or whatever brand of beige frothed milk you prefer. You see the sign- and in you go.

Skipping is when you’re looking for something specific from a text- your eyes flick from page to page looking for key words.

But then reading….reading the whole text…reading for pleasure. What motivates you to do that?
Esacpe is a part of it. You become engrossed in a novel, you inhabit the story world. You develop relationships with the main characters…you care about them…and they never really existed. How strange. You feel a sense of loss when you get to the end of the story because you’re back in the real world and it’s over.

Now I’m wondering if it’s harder than it was to immerse yourself in a book than it was in the pre-digital age. We demand a diet of fast information Maybe the rise of the haiku can be attributed to the prevalence of texting. We need it punchy, short, accessible. Fast reading, like fast food.

Now don’t get me wrong, fast reading is a vital skill. I’m just saying that slow reading- turning off the tv and reading a chapter a night- that’s not a bad skill to have either. And it’s a lot of fun.

What do you think ?

Summer/Autumn 1779

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This is the second part of a two-part poem based on the journals of Gilbert White. He was an 18th century clergyman, who became the founding father of natural history in England. He was interested in everything, from flies in the kitchen to sunsets. He had a superb eye, and natural writing skill. His book – ” The Natural History of Selborne” was compiled from his daily journals, and has never been out of print.

This poem, like the one before

See here:https://jackspratt823.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/winter-1778/
is made up of lines taken from his daily journals.

As I said before- I didn’t grow the flowers, I just arranged them in the vase.

Things freeze in the pantry.
Storm cock sings. Rock-like clouds.
A sudden thaw and paths get dry.
Snow all day, but melts as it falls.
Crocus make a gallant show. Green woodpecker
starts to laugh. Last night I heard the short quick note of birds
flying in the dark.
Swallows.

Nightingale sings; wood owl hoots; fern owl chatters.
Oats are sown. Apple trees well blown.
Timothy the tortoise comes out of the ground.
Wheat thrives.

When we call through the speaking trumpet to Timothy
he does not seem to regard the noise.
He retires under the rhubarb leaves.

Wheat housed.
Distant thunder.Distant lightning. Distant showers.
Vast rain for many hours.
Sharp air. Some few flakes of snow.

Timothy gone underground in the laurel hedge.

After poetry

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Look in an art catalogue and you often see something like ” Old Man” and then “after Rembrandt” in brackets afterwards.It means ” in the style of” and it’s a way of paying respect, tipping the hat at the great and good who have gone before you.

Well the poet VC Linde has carried this idea into the world of poetry.It works superbly well. She has started a collection of ” After Poems”- her response to poetry which has affected her. And you can see it here:

http://tinyurl.com/kskvjpp

I was so intrigued by this I had a go myself. One of my favourite poems is ” Not Waving, but Drowning” by Stevie Smith and I’ve taken this poem as a starting point. Here it is.

After Waving

I could tell he was drowning, not waving.
Full ahead, we punched out in the bay.
The lifeboat was bucking and swaying;
the sky looked muddled and grey.

As we breasted each wave top I saw him-
an arm pointed up to the sky,
a face clenched against slopping water,
refusing the fact he would die.

When we got to the spot he had vanished,
leaving only his body for saving.
And I had been right all along-
he had always been drowning, not waving.

If you want to see the original poem, then you can find it here:

http://tinyurl.com/kbty6w5

If you’re looking for a writing prompt….you could always try this for yourself….

Winter 1778

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I’ve tried a bit of an experiment here. I haven’t actually written it.

Gilbert White ( 1720-1792) did that. Or rather, he wrote a long- running and detailed journal from which I have lifted a sentence here, a phrase there. The words are entirely those of Gilbert White. All I’ve done is arrange the flowers.

Have you ever tried that ? Any text will do… have a go…let me know..

Here’s the poem:

Leaves fall very fast. My hedges
show beautiful lights and shades.
Rain all night. One vast shower.
Vast rain and strong wind.
My well has risen many feet.
The earth is glutted now with water
which runs from our fields
into the hollow lanes.

The tortoise is very torpid
but does not bury himself.

Water froze in my chamber window.
The tortoise begins to dig into the ground.
Rain all night. And wind.
The tortoise retires to his coop.

Shallow snow. Ground very hard.
Snow all night. Snow lies on the hills.
Snow half-shoe deep on the hill.
The ground is as hard as a rock.
The ground is hard as iron.
The snow is drifted to the tops of gates.
The lanes are full. A very deep snow.

The tortoise does not stir.

Compiled from the journals of Gilbert White (1720-1793)

Making the bed

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Once I left beds- rumpled with the print
of sleeping bodies, the aftermath of love-
untouched all day.

But now I never fail to make the bed.
A point of honour.
Duvet shaken, pillows set in order,
the undersheet, twitched straight and smoothed
flat as a blank page

ready to receive
my dream-self, the one who brushes past me
each morning when I wake, and when I sleep.

Full of sound and fury…signifying nothing…

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I went to the theatre at the cinema yesterday- you know- it’s a theatrical performance with cameras- and it works very well.

I went to see the Kenneth Branagh “ Macbeth” which has had rave reviews all the way through its run at the Manchester Festival. I was really looking forward to it.

And it was dreadful. I have never see such a train crash. Kenneth Branagh was brilliant as Macbeth, obviously- he’s a born Shakespearean actor- it’s in his blood. I’ve never seen him put a foot wrong. And he was a terrific Macbeth- thoughtful, uneasy at the start, and as he travels down into his personal hell, he becomes petulant, childlike, horribly aware of what he’s gained – the throne of Scotland- and what he’s lost- his own soul.

I have no complaints about Ken Branagh- it was everything else that let him down. The play was put on in a deconsecrated church and the playing space was a long narrow rectangle- perhaps twenty yards on one side and three or four on the other. The audience sat , facing each other on the long sides. Well, that was problem enough. It meant that you could never have any depth in grouping the actors- there wasn’t room. And they had to be in constant movement up and down, so that the audience could see them.

But then they turned this narrow rectangle into a muddy lane. Real earth, real mud. It was great in the battle scenes- they even had real rain pouring down. But all the interior scenes went for nothing. The great banquet, where the ghost of Banquo reappears, was a modest table with six IKEA stools,- set down in the mud. All the intimate scenes between Macbeth and his wife were, it appeared, set in a field.

When you see a play, you suspend your disbelief, right ? You know it’s just actors, pretending…but you go along with it for the story. The only time I got involved was when Branagh was speaking. The rest of the company were passable, or would have been if they hadn’t had to tramp through a morass to say their lines. The witches- crucial to any “ Macbeth”- were- I’m really sorry about this, honestly- utterly dreadful. Painted green, they writhed in the mud and talked like Daleks. The Porter scene was unintelligible- as was the Porter.

This “ Macbeth” was set in the non-specific distant Scottish past, which meant that all the men wore sacking kilts dyed with potato peelings and all the women wore generic medieval frocks. The battle scenes at the end looked like the British Lions taking on some tough opposition, and there was much brandishing of swords and Manly Hugging ( sounds like a little village in Gloucestershire) at the end. I breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over. Me- the man who would offer a pint of his own blood to see a Shakespeare play.

And what do I take away from all this ? Even Kenneth Branagh makes mistakes. Shakespeare is bullet proof, and will survive another day. But the thing that cheered me up was that the cinema was crammed- and not just with old fogies like me. People came and saw and no doubt made up their own minds.

That’s got to be good. Eh ?

Darth Vader in a doublet

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I’ve liked Shakespeare since I was ten years old- and I owe it to my dad. We used to read bits of the plays aloud ( this was before tv and shortly after The Flood.) He used to explain the rude bits to me and we would do the Prince Hal and Falstaff scenes from “ Henry IV” or the rude mechanicals from “ Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

I totally fell in love with Shakespeare in the summer of 1964 when I saw the Peter Hall’s “ Wars of the Roses” sequence. That year the RSC did all the histories from “ Richard 11” to “ Richard 111”- and every weekend during the season they did all three parts of Henry V1 in one day. Nine hours of Shakespeare- and I got a seat right at the front. It was incredible- blood, battles, love affairs, hangings, evil plots- all happening two yards in front of me. I was totally blown away. I loved the spectacle- and I loved the story too- the great rambling, blood soaked tale which started with Richard 11 and ended with Richard 111 ( Ian Holm) twitching like some crushed spider as he died. I love Shakespeare. I think I’ve made the point.

I love “ Star Wars”- I always did. I love the visuals- swirling galaxies and space ships which looked….like real space ships would look. They had bumps and fairings and gun ports. They were the real deal. The story has everything a story should have…a boy on a search for himself, a beautiful girl, a buccaneering pirate of the spaceways and a robot double act. And it was so clever- Darth Vader is so much more than a pantomime villain; the bad guy storm troopers wear glossy white armour. Quest, love story, saga-Star Wars has the lot.

I love Shakespeare.I love Star Wars. You can imagine how I felt when I read” William Shakespeare’s Star Wars “ by Ian Doescher. Ecstatic doesn’t even get close.

This wonderful script is a re-imagining of “ Star Wars” written through the lens of Shakespeare’s writing . It’s in blank verse and Ian Doescher borrows shamefully ( and wittily) from the plays. At the very start of the play C3PO says:

“ Now is the summer of our happiness/ made winter by this sudden fierce attack”

That ‘s kind of familiar, isn’t it ?

The end -of-scene couplets are there as well: Luke says boldly:

“ A Jedi shall I be, in all things brave-

and thus shall they be honoured in their grave.”

There are lovely, perceptive touches. Han Solo is described as “ a smuggler with a lover’s kindly heart” and C3PO describes Vader as “ split ‘twixt manhood and machine.”

Great stuff, isn’t it ? But it isn’t just the language that shadows Shakespeare’s plays. Just look at the characters. Who is Luke but Hamlet, uncertain and unsure as his personality unfolds. Obi Wan is Prospero while he’s alive and Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost after he’s dead. Princess Leia is all the tough, brave girls in the comedies – Rosalind, Viola. Jabba is either Sir Tony Belch or Falstaff. Oh…and there’s one other clever reference…. Puck the mischievous sprite from “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream “ is…R2D2. All those beeps and trills are just a front. R2 speaks !

I cruised at light speed through this book in an afternoon, and now I’m going to start it again. I’m sure there are plenty of touches I’ve missed first time around. If you like the idea of Darth Vader in a doublet, then this is for you.