Wednesday Reflections/Home

Reflections/poem biography for Home
home smallest“my childhood laughter
is dislodged from old gables.
Unsettled dust layers my wet face.”

This poem links back in many ways to my earlier ‘Nomadic’. Having moved around a bit as a child and adult, I’ve never really had a town or house that I identify with as home. The closest that I get to pinning down ‘home’ is in emotions. A sense of being relaxed, safe, comfortable, loved.

One actual place I identified with for ages is Selsey, on the Sussex coast, where I lived for ten years as a young child. This house was close to the sea and, for years after we moved, I was angry at having had to leave. I missed the place. Or, more accurately, I missed the nostalgic memories my mind had turned the place into.

I think I did go back to visit Selsey once, briefly, and realised that it just made me sad because I no longer belonged there. This poem is a fictional visit in my head. It is also my attempting to come to terms not with my own mortality but my parents’. I can’t even begin to imagine what life without them would be like.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

What effects do the abstract images and the missing links between the more concrete images create in this poem? Is it unsettling? If so, when and where does the poem start to feel this way? Does this help prepare you for the poem’s ending?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Remember back to/imagine your or a fictional character’s ideal or worst home. Use all the senses to evoke both the place and how you/your character feels about it. If you’re writing a story, imagine you/your character is forced to move away, or that a stranger comes to stay for a long time. What happens?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

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January 17, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/And When

Reflections/poem biography for And Whenblue for and when 3smaller

“Blue lights sequence incessantly –
LED-blips strung at life’s corners,”

The title for this poem comes from – of all places! – the film Dude, Where’s my Car? There is a hilarious drive-thru scene where the order-taker says ‘And then’ after every item ordered, but keeps going with this phrase at the end of the order: and then, and then, and then… As this poem is in some ways a list of my different medical afflictions, changing this phrase slightly to ‘And When’ seemed an appropriate title.

For me, the poem opens in the feeling of emptiness and depression that may be a separate disease in itself but also seems to be a side-effect of other illnesses. These have included bursitis in one hip, glasses from the age of ten (for myopia and astigmatism) and diabetes – hence the abnormal pancreas.

I guess all of us are aware of death. When I was young, it was something that happened to other people, already old, such as my Nanna. My Grandad, who also had diabetes, lived with us while I was a teenager. He lost his eyesight to diabetes and had one of his legs amputated because of diabetic complications, before dying while I was still at university.

Slightly later in my twenties, I lost a first young friend. Having babies also revealed my own vulnerabilities. At 27, giving birth to my elder son, I had an emergency C-section and blood transfusion. Death was no longer something that happened to the old, it was something that could happen to anyone.

But it isn’t just death that I fear, it’s also complications from 35+ years of diabetes. One day, when a doctor tests my reflexes with his hammer, I expect my bones will sing or play notes back to him. Whether the tune will be a glockenspiel version of “Welcome to the House of Fun…’ or a xylophone variation on the ‘Donnie Darko’ theme music, I don’t know. But it will almost probably be off-key!

Meantime, I swim, walk, have my eyes checked regularly and try to keep my weight at a healthy level. Every year without any diabetic complications is something to be grateful for.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How are hard sounds, unconnected images and pace used in this poem to create a sense of strangeness, fear and unavoidable inevitability?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

What colour would you associate most with growing old? Can you create a poem or story focussed around this colour that explores what you fear about or hope for in middle age or when you reach retirement? (Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ may bring further inspiration.)

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

January 10, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/And When

Reflections/poem biography for And Whenblue for and when 3smaller

“Blue lights sequence incessantly –
LED-blips strung at life’s corners,”

The title for this poem comes from – of all places! – the film Dude, Where’s my Car? There is a hilarious drive-thru scene where the order-taker says ‘And then’ after every item ordered, but keeps going with this phrase at the end of the order: and then, and then, and then… As this poem is in some ways a list of my different medical afflictions, changing this phrase slightly to ‘And When’ seemed an appropriate title.

For me, the poem opens in the feeling of emptiness and depression that may be a separate disease in itself but also seems to be a side-effect of other illnesses. These have included bursitis in one hip, glasses from the age of ten (for myopia and astigmatism) and diabetes – hence the abnormal pancreas.

I guess all of us are aware of death. When I was young, it was something that happened to other people, already old, such as my Nanna. My Grandad, who also had diabetes, lived with us while I was a teenager. He lost his eyesight to diabetes and had one of his legs amputated because of diabetic complications, before dying while I was still at university.

Slightly later in my twenties, I lost a first young friend. Having babies also revealed my own vulnerabilities. At 27, giving birth to my elder son, I had an emergency C-section and blood transfusion. Death was no longer something that happened to the old, it was something that could happen to anyone.

But it isn’t just death that I fear, it’s also complications from 35+ years of diabetes. One day, when a doctor tests my reflexes with his hammer, I expect my bones will sing or play notes back to him. Whether the tune will be a glockenspiel version of “Welcome to the House of Fun…’ or a xylophone variation on the ‘Donnie Darko’ theme music, I don’t know. But it will almost probably be off-key!

Meantime, I swim, walk, have my eyes checked regularly and try to keep my weight at a healthy level. Every year without any diabetic complications is something to be grateful for.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How are hard sounds, unconnected images and pace used in this poem to create a sense of strangeness, fear and unavoidable inevitability?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

What colour would you associate most with growing old? Can you create a poem or story focussed around this colour that explores what you fear about or hope for in middle age or when you reach retirement? (Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ may bring further inspiration.)

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

January 10, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Against the Vacuum

Reflections/poem biography for Against the Vacuum

Against the vacuum

“We leave the shape of our handprints
dark in their cloistered whiteness,”

This poem came directly from diabetes – though I hope that’s not evident from the words – as it was drafted in my car after a low blood sugar. I’d just finished a swim and my blood sugar levels weren’t high enough for me to drive. While I sat in the car, waiting for my blood sugar to rise, I noticed how messy it was. But, in not vacuuming the car, it meant that traces of past events and people travelled with me – a strangely comforting thought.

Vacuum in the poem title is also about the void or feeling of emptiness that I sometimes have. It can be good for me to remember the places I have been, the people I have known, the experiences I’ve had – they are part of being alive, and they form the person I have become.

Electric Questions - lit version smaller

Discussion Point

How easy or hard is this poem to visualise? Do these literal visual details help to anchor the potentially more abstract idea in the last line?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Look closely at the movements involved with a household chore. Notice the tools and appliances used. What do they resemble? What might be realised or discovered while working? What stereotypes are associated with household jobs? What lengths would you/a character go to in order to avoid doing the cleaning? Is there a humorous poem or a dark story hiding in the housework/lack of housework?

 
plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

January 3, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Bagging Up

Reflections/poem biography for Bagging Upline 10 pic 10-001 beach footprints smaller

“You should be grown tall by now.
But I can still hold you: fossilised
fragments from the scan…”

This poem was one chosen by Kate Clanchy for her Guardian Poetry Workshop in 2008. In this now sadly defunct series, poets set a writing exercise or prompt, then chose a selection of the responses for publication.

For me, the poem was initially written as a personal acknowledgement that, with two boys, I was unlikely now to have a girl. Although I was never bothered whether I had girls or boys, for the first few weeks of pregnancy with my elder son, I thought he was girl. I suspect this is because I’d no experience of boys then, and just couldn’t imagine how to talk or react to a boy. (I have no brothers, just a younger sister and knowledge of my elder sister who died only hours after her birth.) In essence, I was probably talking, or writing, to an imagined version of myself as a baby.

Anyway, the ‘you’ in the poem was my baby that I’d imagined as girl and then later found out was a boy. But the poem is also tinged by the early days of my first pregnancy, when I had various scares. This included an incredibly early scan after I was rushed to hospital in France (in a fire engine of all things)! I was diabetic with food poisoning/gastroenteritis, and I couldn’t stop throwing up. Fortunately, my son and I were okay. Just as we finally emerged healthy and (comparatively) undamaged from later precautionary heart-check scans and an emergency c-section. But both pregnancy and early motherhood were particularly anxious times.

All of this put together though is quite a complicated experience to share, and perhaps very personal to me. The workshop feedback made it clear to me that readers were more likely to react to the poem as being one about the loss of one actual baby, something which still sadly affects many people. I’m quite happy for readers to interpret it in that way. If that is how it resonates, then it has a purpose.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Which is more important – the writer or the reader’s interpretation of a poem? Does it matter if the two readings of one poem are very different?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Imagine you are clearing out and can only keep five things. What would you hold onto, and why? Which would be the hardest thing to get rid of?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

December 27, 2017 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Coffee Break

Reflections/poem biography for Coffee Break

IMG_8428 double version 2emallercopyrighted

“Flutter-fingered, my son drops
an unopened sachet of sugar
into his cappuccino froth.”

This often feels like one of the most debated poems in plenty-fish. Professional critical feedback was that I could develop this poem more. Yet audience reaction to an early airing of it at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2013 reading was very pleasing. It was commented on as a favourite from the set, published on Nutshells and Nuggets and also picked out in a Mad Hatter Reviews’ review of plenty-fish.

Initially confused by such different reactions, I have since found a way of resolving the conflict. They are all right, in their own way. Partly, it is a question of audience, partly it is a question of intent. Some poems loved by critics will fail to move a more general audience. Others that are easily enjoyed by the public in performance or the screen environment (rather than printed page) may not meet the tastes of a more poetry-on-the-page palate looking for more layers. But, as collections are often sold at readings and to a variety of readers, a book needs some poems that will hold a listening audience’s attention and meet the criteria of easy accessibility.

In terms of intent, yes, a very different, strong page poem might be achieved by developing this starting point further. But it would be an entirely different poem.

‘Coffee Break’ with its haikuesque style is a snapshot, a short reflection, a pause in life’s flow. Inspired by a real instance in a café with my son, at a much younger age than he is in the poem, its lightness is symbolic for me. It marked my recognising the need sometimes for a light touch and that the time would come when I would need to be able to step back as a parent, so that my son could become independent.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

If you were developing this poem into something longer and more involved, where would you start? And why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a food or drink that you enjoy. Savour the flavour and experience of it. What does the taste evoke – feelings, memories, dreams…? Follow the thoughts and see where they take you. 

 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

December 20, 2017 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Coffee Break

Reflections/poem biography for Coffee Break

IMG_8428 double version 2emallercopyrighted

“Flutter-fingered, my son drops
an unopened sachet of sugar
into his cappuccino froth.”

This often feels like one of the most debated poems in plenty-fish. Professional critical feedback was that I could develop this poem more. Yet audience reaction to an early airing of it at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2013 reading was very pleasing. It was commented on as a favourite from the set, published on Nutshells and Nuggets and also picked out in a Mad Hatter Reviews’ review of plenty-fish.

Initially confused by such different reactions, I have since found a way of resolving the conflict. They are all right, in their own way. Partly, it is a question of audience, partly it is a question of intent. Some poems loved by critics will fail to move a more general audience. Others that are easily enjoyed by the public in performance or the screen environment (rather than printed page) may not meet the tastes of a more poetry-on-the-page palate looking for more layers. But, as collections are often sold at readings and to a variety of readers, a book needs some poems that will hold a listening audience’s attention and meet the criteria of easy accessibility.

In terms of intent, yes, a very different, strong page poem might be achieved by developing this starting point further. But it would be an entirely different poem.

‘Coffee Break’ with its haikuesque style is a snapshot, a short reflection, a pause in life’s flow. Inspired by a real instance in a café with my son, at a much younger age than he is in the poem, its lightness is symbolic for me. It marked my recognising the need sometimes for a light touch and that the time would come when I would need to be able to step back as a parent, so that my son could become independent.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

If you were developing this poem into something longer and more involved, where would you start? And why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a food or drink that you enjoy. Savour the flavour and experience of it. What does the taste evoke – feelings, memories, dreams… Follow the thoughts and see where they take you. 

 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

December 20, 2017 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Imprints

Reflections/poem biography for Imprints

imprints smaller

“Absence is required at the school gate;
my kisses less than a wisp
of mist on the morning’s
laughter-strung air.”

As a fledgling, this poem did exactly what toddlers often do – dressed up in Mum’s jewellery. For jewellery, read symbols here. I love symbols – metaphors, analogies, conceits – albeit that they don’t seem particularly fashionable right now. Of course, as a mum, I do advise my children not to pay too much attention to fad’s fickle foibles. (Yes, that might also be pushing alliteration past current taste levels!) At the same time, this poem was hugely overdressed in its earlier drafts. I had to let go of some of those embellishments, just as I’ve had to let go of my children, so they can discover their own feathers and flight path.

It’s hard not to see children as tiny birds loosed by tree branches, or a mother’s hug, into the big, cold world. But as well as softness, children do have claws, with which to stand alone and grip on when necessary. As my boys grow older, the love is still there, even if sometimes in a form that has to be looked for in order to be seen (window-sill flowers and claw-mark kisses).

As a mum, I hold onto the good memories for those times when fear has me in its grasp and options seem frozen. I also keep them close for the days when the sky is darkened by those inevitable differences of opinion that exist between teenagers and their parents.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How do the images presented in this poem work together to evoke emotion and hidden narrative?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

What has been the hardest person, habit or desire that you’d had to let go. When and how did you do this? How did you recover afterwards? Write a poem or story about being trapped, letting go and/or freedom. 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

December 13, 2017 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Evolved

Reflections/poem biography for Evolved

evolved smaller
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Pikawotsit’s an electric creature. This much
I’ve gleaned, I think. I’ve asked –
but Pikadespeak’s faster than light-speed.”

Pokémon is an internet game, a television show, a collector card series and many other things that companies can make money from. It was also a fad that my boys went through – briefly, but intensely. I knew nothing about these cartoon characters, and still can’t claim to be hugely informed about their exploits. What interested me was the language, the fact that overnight my children had started talking in words that made no sense to me.

Of course, now that they’re 12 and 14, this is not uncommon. Only the other day, I learned for the first time about rickrolling – duping people into clicking a hyperlink for something that seems logical and relevant but then turns out to be Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. (On the plus side, it was relief to know that the reason they knew this song from my teenage years was not because they thought it was great!)

But Pokémon was the first time this different language phenomena had happened to me, so I thought I might as well have some fun with it, and language more generally.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Does the use of word play humour in this poem help to stop it from becoming too nostalgic or didactic?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take an area of modern life that has developed its own slang – text speak, tech terms, cool kids’ chatter… Try contrasting this with everyday or even old-fashioned language for humorous effect. Is there a poem or story which can be created from such juxtaposition, or from the space that jargon might leave for confused communication or misunderstandings?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

December 6, 2017 sarahjameswrites

Wednesday Reflections/Wired Flesh

Reflections/poem biography for Wired Flesh

wired flesh smaller

“I pick up my machine, black weight
of electronics, and slot myself in.
Electricity ticks unheard, sparks ignite.”

I am wary of nostalgia – though that may not be obvious from this poem about a modern family life.

When my children were toddlers, I limited the television that they watched. As they developed their own minds and opinions, this stance became harder to maintain. That their father also works in I.T. is not the only reason that they now lead fairly high-tech lives, though it does help to have home I.T. support for the many questions which are over my head.

Like it or lump it, we live in a high-tech world. The chances are that whatever career or lifestyle my children’s generation go for when they’re older, it will require them to be au fait and comfortable with technology. And the easiest way to learn anything is through play.

Nearly 15, my elder son has known more about computers than me for years now. My twelve year old isn’t far behind. And, to be fair, though I’m not up on gaming and gadgets, I do spend a fair amount of my own time on my laptop word processor or researching from the internet.

This poem then was inspired by one of those moments when my boys were younger. I suddenly looked up and saw our life from the outside. Instead of talking or playing with toys together as we had a few years earler, we were all hooked up to computers. The boys were still interacting, but through their machines.

Because of this, as a family, we do make an effort to spend some time face-to-face in conversation, old-fashioned board games, at the dinner table. But, yes, we have also been known to call them down using skype rather than shouting up the stairs!

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

There are three people in this poem constructed in three-line stanzas. Is this significant or just coincidence? Consider the different effects that may be created using things in threes (crescendo, uneven completeness…) or twos (balance, stark contrast, sense of indecision…).

Inspiration/Writing Prompts

1) What can’t robots and machines do? Is there a poem or story that can be generated from this?
2) What is the strongest connection in your life? How do you maintain your connections? How and where do you most connect with people? What would happen if you suddenly lost this connection/these connections? Use the answers to these questions as the outline for a poem or story.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

November 29, 2017 sarahjameswrites

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