Out-of-time Advent Blog Day 9: Bridget/Brigid

Should this dogged determination to complete a task continue so far beyond the long-expired days of Advent, I ask?

And straightaway I give myself an answer in the form of the following post, knowing that when it is published, only seven more are required to represent the missing days 10-16, all others having been recorded in their own haphazard order.

As I have said before, everyday is part of an advent to something. Indeed, sometimes a route to adventure. So these will continue to completion, after which I shall post only once per week in this Blog. 

Before February is over I plan to post one or two reviews of other people’s work, which will take things in a different direction once again. To get in the mood for that you may wish to check out two reviews I have already posted here:- Review: Venus in Pink Marble by Gaynor Kane (published by Hedgehog Poetry Press) and https://peterawriter.com/2020/10/19/review-keep-on-spinning-a-debut-chapbook-by-jen-hughes.

In the meantime this is a post with a personal feel. As usual I shall keep its content brief and easily readable but have an ambition to build its premise into a larger work of greater depth and research, accompanied by poetry inspired by its subject matter.

The photograph which heads this post is of my paternal grandmother, whose first name was Bridget. I started to think of her a lot as February got under way when I found my Facebook Timeline inundated with references to St. Brigid whose feast day is 1st February. This happened partly because I follow a Proud to be Irish Facebook Account but also because I have a few Facebook friends who have their origins or cultural roots in Ireland.

The Facebook links associated with St Brigid/Bridget took me to poetry, old and current, and I was delighted to find that she was regarded as the patron saint of poetry and creativity. I also noticed that one Facebook friend, the poet Raine Geoghegan, referred to her as goddess, which made me think she must have a pagan origin.

Sure enough, a little further research confirmed that 1st February originally marked Imbolc or Imbolg, a pagan festival associated with Brigid, goddess of fire, inspiration, poetry and crafts and that this was subsequently Christianised. Historically it was a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of Spring, lying midway between winter and spring equinoxes. Originally it was celebrated not only in Ireland but also in Scotland and the Isle of Man.

So what’s all this got to do with my Gran?

Well, it has much to do with the way my mind and heart operate. 

By way of background, for her own reasons Granny stopped using the name Bridget at a fairly young age. When she was confirmed she took the name Cecilia and insisted on being addressed by that name. As a child, I was quite pleased with that, knowing that St Cecilia was regarded as the patron of music and musicians. While I have found no personal talent in that area, as a child I had hopes I might develop in that beloved art.

In any case, I was always romantic about Ireland and it was her husband, my grandfather and namesake, who was Irish. I did not associate Granny with Ireland at all. She, like me, was Scottish.

However, getting all this input about Imbolc/St. Brigid’s day got me thinking. 

I now have Irish citizenship, as indeed my Gran would have been entitled to acquire from her marriage to a Wexford man or because of her family’s origins in Newry.

I have in recent years achieved publication as a poet, and though I have not gained musical skills to deserve the saintly patronage of Cecilia (which was not Granny’s birth name anyway), it seems I have some entitlement to the patronage of Bridget, goddess and saint (and my Gran’s real name) for my literary efforts.

Frankly, I’m pretty chuffed with that and, as well as cherishing fond memories of my Gran, the Bridget in my bloodline, I am hoping an early spring in my creative step for the rest of the month.

Advent (Retrospective and Brief) Blog Day 8: Mum

Had I been up to date on December 8th, when the post for Advent Day 8 should have been written, it would have been very brief. So it will be now.

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

This date marked the fifteenth anniversary of the death of my Mum, a day when she joined my Dad lost four years earlier. I miss her. I miss them both.

Advent Blog Day 2: Caring

I begin with this confession. I did have a Second December rough draft post at the ready, which I decided not to use. The problem is that its main feature is the first draft of a poem with the working title Second December. Unlike the doggerel piece featured in yesterday’s post, this is a poem with some potential – one which I might consider submitting somewhere in the future. Publishing it here may prevent me submitting it to certain places so I dare not risk doing that. As a substitute I offer you what would probably be considered a piece of creative non-fiction which was published on a Scottish Book Trust site a few years ago

Photo by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com

Caring 

It’s summer 1990. Fate has uprooted Annie in her ninetieth year of bloom.

Replanted in a Coatbridge care home, she’s napping on a padded commode chair within the allotted bedroom. A silent television flickers monochrome ghosts on yellowing wallpaper. For a few moments the setting sun rose-tints the room. Annie’s plump little silhouette squirms in the chair. Teary cataractous eyes open. Above her stubbled chin, lips tremble. Dust motes floating in the dying damask light are scattered by a sigh and thoughts become words.

The surgeon at Monklands General said replacement joints are a modern miracle. He promised I’d be able to dance the cha cha. That would’ve been a miracle … I couldn’t dance the cha cha before the hip broke!

Annie chuckles to herself, setting off a phlegmy coughing spasm. She takes a couple of draws on an unlit dowt; no smoke to inhale but the taste of tobacco seems to calm the attack. You’d approve of this, Joe; they don’t allow matches in the room! You wouldn’t let me smoke even though you had your pipe; I had to slip into the scullery for a fly puff…

 [A further confession: I apologise to anyone who wished to read this as a complete piece if I have spoiled your enjoyment. I mistakenly stated above that it was published previously on a Scottish Book Trust site. In fact I discovered almost immediately thereafter that it is an unpublished piece, an unsuccessful entry submitted some time ago to a local newspaper short story competition. So it might require a bit more editorial work. In any case, with apologies, I was able to publish here only the beginning of the story as a short extract or ‘taster’; so there is still the possibility of submitting the complete piece, after further editing, either as fiction or CNF to a competition or other publishing opportunity]

Review: Venus in Pink Marble by Gaynor Kane (published by Hedgehog Poetry Press)

 

I am glad I delayed writing this review. When I first received a copy of this poetry collection a few weeks ago I dipped in and out of it, savouring individual poems for themselves, not attempting to take in the effect of the whole collection. On a more recent day I sat down and read the work cover to cover, while taking the occasional break to read a Novella in Flash (of which I shall post a review shortly). That’s just the way my brain sometimes works! The delay however has made me appreciate Venus more.

I had already viewed a couple of videos and attended a number of online events in which Gaynor Kane read poems from this collection before I decided to purchase a copy, and having now seen the entire context on paper I realise that there is even more to her work than these recitations promised. Venus in Pink Marble is a substantial collection containing 61 poems covering a breadth of subject matter which work well and sit well alongside each other. 

Although it comes relatively early in her poetry career, this publication feels like an attempt to set down an opus for future reference, a work which will reward study by others. For the author, it must give a sense of satisfaction that she has succeeded in including so much she wanted to document and opine.

As well as the warmth and humanity infusing many of the poems, there is research and authenticity in those which portray technical matter or historical episodes. There are word lists and word pictures which take the reader with ease of authority to a period or a place. Many of these are poems to inhabit or at least to visit frequently. There are stories of people, notable, mythical and everyday but all are given equal care in Gaynor’s skilful hands. 

In order to encompass the broad subject matter the collection is divided into three sections – The Lock, Letter to Me and A Life Drawn

It is invidious, and would anyway take too long, to select particular poems for praise, especially as I keep spotting ‘new favourites’ when re-reading. Some of your favourites will differ from mine in such a varied selection. However, in an attempt to give a flavour, I shall pick a couple of examples from each section.

From Section 1, Dead Short on the System, Belfast, 1923, just four stanzas long, recounts the story of a rat chewing through power station cables bringing trams to a halt throughout the city. Some of the text suggests a nervous humour about the incident but the killer words are found in verse two –

Those tram-trapped, fear the curfew more than the rain

Whereas most of us would think about the inconvenience of getting home on a New Year’s night that was ‘dark, damp and sticky like a new born’, in the midst of a civil war other considerations apply.

Also from Section 1, From Benin to Belfast sets out a quite unique perspective and is a remarkable and original piece of work which took my breath away on first reading. I still get a chill when the ‘ivory masks’ to which we are introduced in Benin (modern Nigeria), having travelled the bloody way of Imperialism, in another form are represented in a Belfast church in troubled times. The significance of the word mask and the colours ivory and red in this piece, which I see was long listed in the 2018 Pendle War Poetry Competition, create themes holding together a work which otherwise may have had to be explored in three separate poems. 

From Section 2, the poet’s more personal pieces, I have picked The first time I saw him cry and Polyester. 

The first time I saw him cry – a title which is a narrative in itself. In less skilful hands this might have been a cheap effort, building the image of a strong male just to describe his vulnerability. Instead, it is a matter-of-fact telling of receiving news of loss within the context of everyday events. It is made all the more authentic from its accurate placing in an earlier time when telephone landlines were not universal, mobile phones non-existent, and there was great dependence on public transport and walking.  Told from the point of view of a child hearing one side of a conversation, nothing is said within the text of the poem about her father crying but only implied in his curt imparting of sad news to her.

Polyester is a Christmas-related story of near-tragedy prevented by the quick-thinking and actions of a mother. Like The first time I saw him cry this poem is written in first person from a child’s point of view and I assume it is autobiographical. The first stanza lulls the reader into a cosy state ‘Slippered…/feeling the glow’ but the second stanza travels from ‘drowning in heat, like a Christmas /pudding drenched in brandy’ to ‘fire /licking my hair, hugging my back’. By the end of the third verse the child is rolled in a saving mat and, referring to earlier metaphors, ‘brandy-snapped and smoke-smothered’.

The poem concludes with a calm Christmas morning, almost as if nothing untoward had happened, but presents include a replacement dressing gown of cotton rather than the flammable material.

From Section 3, relating to art, I have selected A Life Drawn and The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio.

A Life Drawn is inspired by the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition – A Life in Drawing and is told from the perspective of a naked artist’s model, standing still in a room in a man’s world kept cold deliberately, being exposed to an artist kept warm by ‘tunic, robes, headscarves’. Her position is due to poverty, lack of opportunity and necessity rather than choice. He does not appear to acknowledge her living humanity –

Our eyes do not meet. He inhales me.

The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio is an exercise in beautiful expression, tenderly cadenced, expressive poetry with a Gothic quality which suits the subject matter. It is a joy to read and re-read and I am delighted that the poet was able to achieve this atmospheric work, inspired as her Notes reveal by hearing the story of the discovery of a skeleton with a brick lodged in its mouth on an Italian plague island. Just a couple of extracts here (from verses one and three) to provide a sense of the quality of description –

……sailing to the sanatorium

in the white boat. White for the uncontaminated

the blessed and clean.

Rancid heat retreats at dusk, the sick wards weep

like religious statues, infecting the air with howls for help.

At the end of this review, it will come as no surprise to you that I recommend this work without reservation. If I was the sort to indulge in puns I might call it a Venus in Pink Marble-ous first full collection.

Instead I’ll just say there’s still time before Christmas to secure your copy as a gift for you or someone you know who appreciates honest and skilful writing. For your copy go to Gaynor Kane at http://gaynorkane.com/bookstore

11.11.2020: different kinds of Remembrance

November is a month which has a special significance for many people. It is also a time of contrasts – thoughts of those lost to us often take place in rooms infused with exceptional light, of a quality seen at no other time of the year.

The following poem is a Tanka, the shortest of my four contributions to Words from Battlefield – an anthology featuring exceptional poet A.C.Clarke – launched on 24 October 2020.

For some, remembrance relates more to matters of war. This year the focus has been mainly on World War 2 but I am going to finish off with a poem which relates to one of the horrific battles of the First World War. The message is the same. This was one of my contributions to the 2018 Dove Tales Anthology A Kind of Stupidity and is also featured on the Dove Tales Scotland website.

memorial (passchendaele 100)
 
 bugle notes intone
 the hundred millionth earthly post 
 
 commemorating
 how easily 
 men who would not wish to 
 be enemies
 become
 cannon fodder
 in the cause of power
 
 muddied and bloodied and mostly youthful 
 conscripted or seduced by words untruthful 
 lambs slaughtering lambs as they are slaughtered
 all as ordered, all as ordered 
 
 dignitaries come
 from ivory towers
 
 commemorating 
 hundreds of 
 thousands of mud-swamped 
 casualties 
 sacrificed a hundred days under boot 
 as trade for five miles 
 so-called advancing 
 
 muddied and bloodied and mostly youthful 
 conscripted or seduced by words untruthful 
 lambs slaughtering lambs as they are slaughtered
 all as ordered, all as ordered 
 
 inherited wealth
 and ceremonial garb
 
 commemorating 
 loss lest we forget,
 always knowing 
 that those who govern 
 will once again choose 
 the farce of war
 as the way forward  
 
 standing by the latest of a hundred million wreaths
 into the horn the solemn bugler breathes
 what is nevertheless 
 never the last
 post

Awful Audio-Visual

Pre-Pandemic I was one of many poets, and a fair number of prose-writers, who enjoyed performing work to a live audience. I even had the gall to think I was fairly proficient at it. I’m now putting that down to the generosity and common feeling of others in the writing community who appreciate how hard it can be to expose yourself in that way. 

Since the Pandemic Zoom boom and my taking part in written/spoken word events by this medium, I have become more self-conscious and self-critical. Hearing and seeing myself back in some of these events has been revealing and made me question whether I even have the capacity to step up my game.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Though I haven’t yet pursued this option (and probably won’t) I seriously considered getting a voice coach or tips on controlling one’s facial expressions during video presentations.

At the other extreme, the simple solution would be to restrict myself to the page, safe from potentially awful audio-visual. However, it appears to be the reality that, unless one is already a well-read writer with a large and loyal following, there appears to be only one way at the moment to promote new literary work.

So, here I am; continuing to brave the lesser-known cyber-byways, trying to convince myself that it will all come across okay.

Currently, I am involved in two Soundwalk Projects, which at least avoid the visual aspect of performance.

The first of these is a Langside, Glasgow Soundwalk project featuring the untold stories of some locals involved in World War 2. Many of these, including my own What Doesn’t Go in the Letter, are pieces of Creative Non-Fiction (Prose or Poetry). This Soundwalk can be experienced on location at Langside or can be accessed from anywhere via this link https://www.guidigo.com/Web/Langside-Walk–Untold-Stories-from-WWII/gt0rISHO_LA/Stop/1/Welcome-to-Our-Tour

My prose piece is the third contribution at Stop 21 of the walk (introduced at 5 minutes, 44 seconds in).

I understand this will be available for a limited time but am not sure how long.

However the second project to which I contributed, the Grenfell Soundwalk, is a permanent installation. I provide a link here which gives some information, including a list of the contributing poets and brief biography Giovanna Iorio, the sound artist commissioned to complete the installation. Unfortunately the audio from this installation is geolocated so that it can only be accessed by visiting the relevant location.

https://explore.echoes.xyz/collections/R551kid3kYG3Ex4k

In these circumstances, I’ll finish off this blog post with the text of my poem Carnival as it appears in Poems for Grenfell Tower (The Onslaught Press)

(Note: the Notting Hill Carnival is celebrated in late August on the streets of the London Borough which includes the site of Grenfell Tower. In 2017, just two months after the tragic fire, the organisers of the 51st Carnival decided to proceed but held a respectful minute’s silence on both days of the event)
Carnival
 

 Enjoy but
 

 samba slower
 

 passing the Tower
 

 Briefly remember when 
 softly beating samba drum 
 not the crematorium become
 but the wretchedness of this destroying
 the lost and damaged, all deserving more
 

 Black box skeleton looms
 (no more photos please today) 
 charcoal-sketched into multi-grey 
 darkly-etched against the blue of summer  
 contrasting with your brightness and colour
 

 When a festival 
 becomes a tribute
 on an out-of-season
 dia de los meurtos
 

 just samba slower
 

 past the Tower
 

 samba slower

Dance Jealousy

Hey, I watched the introductory Strictly Come Dancing show!

As usual for me, there’s lots of folk there I don’t know, including someone from Made in Chelsea (shrugs shoulders) who was in Strictly before but departed prematurely due to an accident or something. Didn’t know him then and still don’t know him now. Sorry but I don’t think he’ll last long this time either (though I reckon he won’t be the first to go). But that’s not what this post is about.

It is however partly about a general jealousy which grabbed me as I watched in the context of Covid-19 and the following details unfolded. 

All the professional dancers got together for four weeks, subject to very strict testing, to rehearse and record their group dances. Then another testing procedure got them together with their celebrity partners. So these guys, because of their admitted talent (or celebrity), have had the opportunity to do what the rest of us have not and cannot – be physically close with people. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What, you may legitimately ask, is my interest in this, as a writer? I have to admit that my interest in it goes beyond writing but there’s a couple of things I can say in response to such a perfectly fair question, so here goes.

First of all, a big reveal – as a teenager I learned, and even competed in, Ballroom and Latin! Please don’t tell anyone I disclosed that – it would shatter any ambition I may have had to be treated as a serious writer! 

Secondly, if you seek a direct connection between dance and writing, it’s complicated but a good starting point may be found in one of my earlier posts, ‘Humans and Dancers’. Check it out!

I had considered finishing this post with a WIP poem in Glasgow dialect called Dad Dancin’ but will spare you for the moment, partly because it needs a bit of finessing (even for a work in progress) but mainly because it is the kind of low-quality semi-humorous doggerel that works better in performance at an open mic (with an inebriated audience) than on the page. 

If you’re really unlucky it’ll turn up as a video on this site…or somewhere else…and perhaps you’ll start thinking that, by comparison, Strictly Come Dancing is fairly high-brow after all.

As indicated earlier this little blog relates to jealousy, not so much of dancing per se, but of a group of people having physical contact, something which seems so alien to the rest of us these days. 

I have written a couple of dozen poems relating to Covid-19. Four of my short poems on this topic were published in Pendemic, an Irish site for writers on the topic, and I shall finish off with a couple of those which relate to the loss of physical closeness (the first slightly tongue-in-cheek).

 
CV-19: sexual distancing 
 
 O what a time to be alive!
 To appreciate platonic
 Resist relations intimate
 By order of the government 
 
 Assisted by technology
 To do your loving best
 Transactions during this time
 Confined to contactless
 
Father’s Day
 
Sunday witnessed a miracle
 Previously unheard of 
 In this time of plague
 Though small mercies
 Rare have sometimes
 Been distributed and received 
 This Father’s Day my son
 And family could let me come
 Visit them within their home where
 Legally-permitted hugs may be

Humans and Dancers

In a recent creative writing class we were given a prompt based on a misquote from an Adrian Mitchell poem. I thought – but probably just misheard – that the line we were given Just look at your beautiful hands was the title of the poem. After I had written my rather sentimental effort (which I have attached for your perusal) I took time to find out about the Adrian Mitchell original. I was delighted to discover it was called Human Beings and fell very much into the category of anti-war poetry with which he is often associated – and importantly very pro-human-get-on-with-life inspiring. I also enjoyed the fact that it ended with a reference to dancing as encapsulating the positive things we can usefully do (rather than all the negative stuff) –

lets try to be human

dance!

I don’t have the rights to reprint the poem here but it is easily found online and I recommend it with enthusiasm. My reading of the Mitchell poem triggered a related thought. There was a piece of music in my head which mentioned ‘human’ and ‘dancer’; it was ‘Human’ by The Killers. Unlikely as it seemed, I wondered if Brandon Flowers had been influenced by Adrian Mitchell’s poem. I had misgivings, particularly as ‘dancer’ in the Killers’ track seemed to be a negative reference. And so it proved. Flowers explained in an interview that he was inspired by a Hunter S Thomson quote – 

America is raising a generation of dancers, afraid to take one step out of line

So that blew my theory right out of the water!

Undeterred, I now move on to make an another quite random connection. Just read a New York Times article about the association between walking and writing, which reminded me of an online writing course I completed a few years ago. It covered lots of genres and I suspect I learned more useful practical tips than this but one of the most unlikely elements of the course remains lodged in my brain clear and immoveable – dancing. Yes, dancing as a cure for writer’s block. You heard it here first…unless of course you did the same online course as I did, in which case you heard it here second.

P.S. there were many other activities recommended as a break from unproductive writing effort, some of them physical and mostly involving fresh air and moving – as in the New York Times piece I just read – but, because it seemed so ‘outside the box’ dancing is the one that sticks in the brain. Although the writing course didn’t mention this – nor did the New York Times feature – I think remembering to be human from time to time also helps.

Finally, as promised the sentimental WIP inspired by a line from ‘Human Beings’

Look at your beautiful hands

Look at your beautiful hands

No longer little podgy sausage fingers sprouting

No longer the sole instrumental modes of communication 

pointing at what you wanted when

you didn’t know the word

No longer the dirt-bearing

snot-encrusted trowels

held up at tearful eyes

when the time came to return indoors

at sunshine day’s adventures ending

Look now as your beautiful hands play

upon instruments of transcendent universal communication

Propel magical notes from wood and metal

Fill listening spirits with heightened feeling

Words composed in your beautiful soul laid

down in script by the same beautiful hands

Just look at your beautiful grown-up hands