Archive for January 2018




Wednesday Reflections/Past Sacrificial

Reflections/poem biography for Past Sacrificial
past sacrificial smaller

“Twelve eyes of flattened metal,
hole-punched with night.”

This poem was drafted at a time when I was feeling very aware of the fact that current poetry trends favour the specific, and often the (apparently) real. If you don’t have a particularly exciting or interesting life, then this means looking hard to find or adapt specifics that will make good poetry.

Right up until the very last moment, I wasn’t sure about this poem as a whole. I was happy with the sounds and punctuation effects in the first stanza, and the overall imagery, particularly the eyes ‘hole-punched with night’. I had tried to make 12 ordinary sprats extraordinary but, at the end of the day, it was still just a poem about fish!

This is where Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Fish’ comes in as an influence. Her poem which is at one level ‘just about a fish’ is actually a wonderful poem about so much more. Linking into her poem with the rainbow hooks (recalling, hopefully, the Bishop lines that epigraph plenty-fish*), I hoped to set my poem in a wider context.

I also hope that placing it next to the fish of ‘Losing Faith’, its title ‘Past Sacrificial’ and the number 12 (like the apostles) might bring some connotations of faith, without hammering this aspect home.
There was still something that was missing, something that didn’t quite click in the poem. I could sense it, feedback suggested it, but neither I nor those commenting had pinned down what it was.

A last-minute flash of clarity brought me a new ending, one that seemed to capture the shadow that had been in the back of my mind while writing but had taken a long time to rise to the surface – “the slipperiness of life, | and death’s strong stench.”

For me, this is still one of the more modest poems in plenty-fish, but then, sprats are quite small, modest fish, and most of us live quite modest, unshowy lives.

*“… – until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.”

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

Are all the little details of precise description necessary in this poem and used to good effect?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Pick a shop that you know well, whether it’s a high street independent, artisan boutique, national chain or supermarket. Imagine what secret life is hidden beneath the shelves, what might happen there after hours or the journey one of the items on sale might have taken before it ended up there… 

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 31, 2018

Wednesday Reflections/Losing Faith

Reflections/poem biography for Losing Faith
losing faith version 2 smaller

“Give them a bigger tank to swim in:
a glassed reality of gravel and weeds.”

I was brought up with a relatively strong Christian background. We went to church every Sunday right through my teens, I was confirmed, in the choir and almost went to a church school.

When I got to university, I began to question how much of my faith was belief and how much was habit. After I got together with my later husband in the final year at university, I began to consider the possibilities of a pantheistic god. At first frightening, the thought of us all being part of one bigger whole soon began to feel more natural. But did I believe in such a god or just living as part of a community where we’re all connected in some way?

Buddhism also seemed to have many appealing qualities. But I was still aware that these might just be ways of trying to escape from reality and neatly explain the inexplicable.

When we had children, I wanted to give them some kind of spiritual background to start from, and, for a while, returning to church seemed the right thing to do.

These days, I don’t believe in any one particular faith. If I’m asked if I believe in God, I’ll also hesitate. I’d like there to be a god, but realise this may just be wishful thinking. One thing that doesn’t go when faith is lost, at least not for me, is the need for there to be meaning. Maybe this is the greatest thing that any faith does – give some kind of sense to life and death. Stronger than my belief in God is the belief that somehow everything must have a point or purpose. Is this because I once had faith and lost it? Is it part of what some may label the God gene? Or does it go deeper than that, does an essential part of being human include the need for meaning, hope and purpose? I don’t know. But I do think my depressions have been linked to this need. When you start to challenge a deeply held belief that this world has meaning with the possibility that life is just completely random and unfair, then I guess bleakness is not a particularly surprising response.

As I’ve got older, instead of fearing the unknownness of not having faith, I’ve tried to take comfort in it. The state of not knowing, or not being sure, is actually one where all things still remain possible.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How effective is the goldfish analogy for making an abstract loss (faith) more tangible? Is this more or less effective than focussing instead on a more direct specific example of this loss?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Think of an abstract loss – faith, innocence, hope, love… Try to write about it in a way that makes the abstract notion more tangible, be it using an analogy or a specific example or examples that typify such a loss.  

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 24, 2018

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.

January 17, 2018

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

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

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

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