Monday Musings on grey Novembers and recalcitrant computers.

This morning started very well with tasty porridge and well brewed cups of tea. I have IMG_0151recently taken to using a cup and saucer for my morning cuppa in the manner of a civilised person. It also has the advantage of making every cup as hot as the first- note the niftily knitted tea cosy…

Next came the unrushed, hot shower… and to begin writing something for Barbara’s Virtual Tea Towel Museum as challenged yesterday. I was in a really creative, mellow mood. Maybe a sonnet to the teetering tea towels in my airing cupboard? Perhaps a villanelle on the joys of washing up by hand… maybe not. But all this was brought to a halt by the spinning rainbow on my Mac.

Now, I generally think of myself as quite techie, clued up about computers; I am the solver of problems in our household when it comes to Windows. My trusty Mac, however, has never refused me or sulked. It sits ready for me, doesn’t sulk when I use its baby brother, the Air, or my phone. So when nothing responded, I must admit I panicked. Resorting to the tried and tested method of turning it off and on again resulted in a frozen screen. Help! I hadn’t backed it up for months, I thought. I hadn’t counted on the wonderfulness of Apple ( I know this sounds like an advertorial) and the online help. Suffice it to say, within minutes all was well, and all was well, and all manner of tech things were well. I have learned a salutary lesson, not to be so complacent and neglectful.

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Which brings me back to… this blog. A grey November day , and the view from my window. Seal is singing about smiling,

“When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by…
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shin-ing thro’ for you…
Altho’ a tear may be ever so near, That’s the time
You must keep on trying…
You’ll find that life is still worth-while”
( A plug here for Seal’s new standards album)

And I’m smiling too.

And here’s a first draft of something that occurs to me:

Blackbird

Slow light fringes the hills, early mists rest on lawns

makes gems of daisies, softens the tree’s bark.

leaves breathe and sing, blackbird bubbles its throat,

its song is for itself. In the thickening light

it flicks out wings and waits.

 

So let it out, begin, this breathing in and out,

this putting down of a foot

this straightening of spines and muscle stretch,

this head opening and  unwanted light,

this day that will take its own pace into dark,

that does not care about your plans,

this looking out with lids that will not close.

 

 

 

 

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Falling Off The Bike- or, keeping on writing with scraped knees.

You knowall-sport-green-bikew when you learn to ride a bike and you manage to balance, pedal and move safely for the first time? It feels fantastic, doesn’t it? You imagine that there will never be a time when you feel freer, that you will always be able to do this amazing thing. And you could.

But then you have to drive a car because it’s more practical and faster, you have to get to work, pick up the kids, go shopping. And the bike is gathering dust in the shed. One day you decide you’d like to go cycling again. You take it out, polish it and oil it. You get on. But you find you have forgotten how to do it. The wheels seem really big, the seat is hard and no matter how hard you try, you wobble and fall off. You hurt your knees and shove it back in the shed, and, annoyed and frustrated , give it up.

Well, that’s how I feel about writing at the moment. I have not been on the bike enough, and now I’m wobbling. I’m not sure if it’s worth carrying on trying when I don’t seem to be getting anywhere, despite all my efforts. I know I can’t be the winner of any Tour de Poetry, but I would like to feel all the hard work is going somewhere. And I’ll admit I have not been practising as often as I should, because life sometimes takes me down dead ends and detours.

So, I will be that girl who picked herself up, dusted herself down, slapped plasters on her knees and kept going. Because nobody taught me to ride a bike- I just got on and persevered until I could, falling in bushes, riding a bike too small so that I could reach the floor, until I could do it. I will write something every day for the next month, not criticise myself for falling off if I do, and aim to get rid of the wobbling.

So here’s one I did earlier:186d88dc4ddcf249b9e0f44839a482aa

Last year in Whitby

 

The cliffs hold tight, despite the rain, but breathe out,

scatter drifts of stone and bone onto  cottage roofs, leave

in the dawn an offering, a finger or thigh bone on the doorstep.

Graves yield treasures to the call of the storm.

Houses sag, undo corsets of brick, lath and plaster,

sigh down, tired of holding in the weight of years.

Foundations built into layered ground,

weary of the burden , yield to a simple fault.

This is how it is.

A bit of a confession- in praise of Page Poetry

What to write about in order to keep my pledge to myself to write a blog entry every week? I have to confess something dark and dangerous: sorry, peeps, but I have had to finally admit to myself after much struggling, soul searching and sorrow- I really don’t like spoken word evenings. OMG I hear you shriek. How can someone who writes poetry, loves poems, and enjoys meeting poets, not enjoy spoken word sessions? Easily.

I should say that an evening spent listening to a poet reading poetry I have read, whose work I am aware of, and perhaps hearing that person presenting new work can be a treat. Mostly, however, I come out, not remembering anything of what I heard, and with a vague feeling of exhaustion from the effort of listening to someone read ( often not very well) work I am not familiar with. There also seems to be a steady creep in the learned manner of reading poems, with unnatural pauses, and a weird, what I think of as  a “Roger McGough in Poetry Please on Sunday”, precious manner.  Worse, I may have to sit in silence at the end of a good poem and not applaud. This carries overtones of church or school assemblies, an air of reverence and respect. They are performing, for goodness’ sake. Why not a bit of polite applause at least?  It might make the person who’s signed up for an open mic night feel a bit less jelly-legged. Applause is lovely: silence is laden with disapproval.

I should say that my listening skills are not the most developed- I am not an auditory learner. I dodged lectures for three years, realising that I came away with little sense of what had been said, relying on friends and their use of my trusty cassette recorder to fill the gap. Chalk and talk was anathema to me. I recognise I am in the minority here. But at my age, I no longer feel the need to do things because they are expected, usual or good for me. I will continue to go to see poets I love who read their work well, like the sublime Liz Berry ( Her wonderful poem, Birmingham Roller  is on this link Birmingham Roller Liz Berry)  or Jacob Polley – plug here for “Lamanby” on Iplayer- whose performance skills make their poetry even better. I will swerve spoken word evenings unless in excellent company, or unless I have managed to read a bit of the work before so I am not entirely lost.

And finally- I realise that poets have to promote their work, and that it is probably the only way to get readers. But I will again rely on the kindness of friends, on reading reviews and magazines, and the occasional foray with pleasant people into pub back rooms to fuel my knowledge of new poets.  There. It’s said. What a relief!

Good Morning

In a fit of conscience, and put to shame by members of the writing group , I opened this blog this morning to realise I had not posted anything since March this year. I then noted I had not posted anything before then since the previous Spring. Perhaps I’m subject to a kind of rush in March, sap rising, etc etc, but since my son tells me it can take about two months of daily repetition to create a real habit, I am now attempting to do exactly that by posting each week for two months in the hope that I might actually continue.

I apologise for any upcoming banalities, irrelevancies, tedium that may emerge- but here I go.

Dear Reader,

In the time since my last post, much of joy and some of sorrow has happened , as I am sure is true for many. I have been on two fabulous writing courses: the first was at Lumb Bank, led by the ineffable David Morley and the unexpectedly wonderful Sarah Howe. David’s workshops terrified and excited in equal measure, stretching brain cells not exercised since my years at Uni. Trying to truly inhabit another mind or essence, wandering through woods listening to the birds, experimenting with form and voice flowed into Sarah’s workshops where I rediscovered the joy of dramatic monologue, cut and paste and generally let myself free. A particular joy was connecting with old and new friends.IMG_4016

 

This wood stretches down from Lumb Bank: I plan to come back here next here when the bluebells are in flower.

In August I went To Moniack Mhor to write for a week on a course led by Ann and Peter Sansom who never fail to inspire and encourage. It amazes me how much I can write when I’m put under pressure, and how many of those first drafts become something I am proud of.  Moniack is a very special place; snug and intimate, it fosters sharing and conversation. You can be on your own if you wish, but I revelled in curling up on a sofa in the company of other writers, gaining energy from sharing what is usually such a solitary process. The isolation of the Centre is complete. On a walk, a hare levered itself up from its form as if to examine me and I felt blessed. I felt equally blessed to be sharing a room with a friend I had met at Moniack some years before, and a generous group of new friends was made which hopefully will last as long.IMG_1266

This kind of sums it up for me-

 

What Can I say

Eight o’clock in the kitchen.

We’re all sitting at the table,

not quite lost for words.

There’s toast and poached eggs,

coffee and orange juice,

the remains of last night’s cranachan.

Suitcases are gathering in the yard

a haiku of departure.

Jon takes out his fiddle, starts to play.

 

This place has sent us reeling

twirling words across the page

slipsliding along, the formal dance of ballads,

jiving through memories,

taking an invitation to step out with an old friend

counting the beat. No one is a wallflower here.

You can freestyle if you like

or tap-dance through stanzas,

the music of words sing you to sleep.

 

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One from me for World Poetry Day

Having been playing with triolets , I thought I’d post one here for World Poetry Day.

A poem from me for World Poetry Day 😊
Nocturne
At dusk we wander down the lane

content with silence, hand in hand.
A blackbird takes up its refrain

at dusk. We wander down the lane
for now; we need not feel the strain

of keeping words and faces bland.
At dusk we wander down the lane, 

content, with hand in silent hand.

Getting back on the bike

For me , writing is sometimes as easy as riding a bike- uncomfortable, unbalancing and inclined to wobble . Other times it’s more like going for a walk- just put one foot in front of another and keep going. And at the moment it’s exactly like being a level crossing waiting for the train to pass- you really want to get going, you can see the other side, but you just can’t get there. So I’m limbering up and will be on my way again soon. Meanwhile, here’s a picture and  a poem to be going on with.

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Hope

Field morning.

Levered legs raise hefty body

above the stubble. Ears laid back

along your length, you face me, gloves off.

No madness here, despite your white ringed eye.

Later I lean on the fence, strain eyes to find you

in the thinning light, watch for the ground

to breath out, betray you.

Along the hedge,

a flicker.

Excited and rather intimidated about my poetry masterclass with #CarolAnnDuffy and #GillianClarke at #TyNewydd

ty_newyddMuch to my delight and amazement, I was selected to attend a poetry masterclass at Ty Newydd, the National Writers Centre of Wales. When I applied, I never thought they would think I would be up to it. Now, looking at the participant list, I keep wondering whether they’ve mixed me up with some other Jan Norton…

Nevertheless, I must try and believe that they know what they are doing and be positive for once about my own ability. I often seem to approach such things with an ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not good enough’ attitude, so this time I’m determined to be more like my marvellous daughter and her can-do approach to life.  I can go, and I can improve, and I must be good enough if they say I am. So fun times ahead.

In the light of that, here is something I have been working on – still in first draft stage. Hopefully I will come back energised and with a quiverful of poems, new born and gestating…

Aunt Megan’s Bag

That last Christmas, she sat by the range,

neat ankles beneath American tan.

The handbag squatted on the rug, close mouthed.

Its silk lining flirted through the wicker.

At last a narrow hand dipped in to present

a lollipop, fragranced with face powder.

I tucked it into my pocket to savour its sheen.

Its shards splintered on my tongue, secret-sweet.

Next spring, outside the cottage hospital

I stood on tiptoe at the window, gripped

the flaking sill, peered in. I glimpsed the bag

next to the empty bed before I fell,

grazing my knee. When Mam emerged, the bag

came with her. I did not ask, but watched it,

waited for the snap of the lock, rustle

of silk and the promised familiar scent.