As a follow-on from the Part 1 Blog, Art of Insomnia Revised for Reprint (Part 1) here are the details of the five revisals made in the reprint of Art of Insomnia, each explanation accompanied by a photograph showing the revised version of the poem as it now appears in the chapbook.
Revisal 1: ‘HELENIUM ONE AND ONLY (Helenium sui generis)’ is the third poem in Section 1 (BEAUTIFUL/TERRIBLE) of the chapbook. It is a tiny poem, written in response to a prompt to compose a poem of no more than 10 lines, describing a person/event as if describing a flower/plant in a seed catalogue. As you’ll observe from the photograph just one word was changed, replacing the word ‘warned’ with the word ‘aware’. The sole reason for this was to avoid unnecessary and pointless repetition, the word ‘warning’ having appeared in the immediately preceding line. Had I not had a much better reason for revisal [Revisal 5], I’d probably have left the poem as it was. This is the poem.
Like Revisal 1, the reason for the minor amendment in Revisal 2, to ‘NEARLY NOT GOING OUT SYNDROME’ is partly to correct unnecessary word repetition in successive lines. In the original version the word ‘effort’ appeared in lines 11 and 12 and worked fine but, as there was going to be a necessary revisal elsewhere [Revisal 5], I took the chance to replace ‘effort’ with ‘battle’ in line 12 because I think ‘battle’ better expresses what is going on in the mind, as well as avoiding repetition. This is the new version of the poem from Section 2 (FRENCH RETREAT) of the chapbook ‘Art of Insomnia’.
As with the previous poem in Revisal 2, Revisal 3, of poem PILGRIMAGE, is from Section 2 of the book (FRENCH RETREAT) and relates ultimately to a promise I made to myself. Unlike the two previous revisals, this one is not about removing an unnecessary repetition; it is about a decision to remove a phrase and, in replacing it, name the destructive demon ‘overthinking’.
Like Revisals 2 and 3, REVISAL 4 also relates to Section 2 of the chapbook (FRENCH RETREAT). Once again the original reason for the revision was the wish to avoid inappropriate repetition. I do very much approve of good repetition. However in this poem, ‘FOUND IN FRANCE’, I noticed that in the list of things my late wife would have found off-putting about the French place to which I had retreated I had unwittingly mentioned bees twice. I decided that I’d remove the first mention of them and emphasise the inescapability of the dogs by inserting the word ‘doorway’. Helen liked, but was afraid of, dogs and in the French getaway there were three dogs, usually present at one doorway or another! Just one revisal to go now. In the meantime here’s the revised version of ‘FOUND IN FRANCE’ as it appears in the reprint (over two pages).
Finally, there’s REVISAL 5, the one absolutely necessary revisal that led to the opportunity to make the other four less necessary ones which, though less necessary, do – I hope – clarify and improve what they replace. Anyway, Revisal 5 is the really embarrassing one. Originally, I loved the sound of the word ‘enervate’ as it originally appeared in line 25. I loved reading ‘energy to enervate’ and I thought I knew the meaning. However, some time after publication of the chapbook I saw a tweet in which someone referred to former Makar Jackie Kay describing in another poem a mistaken use of the word ‘enervate’. I checked and was distressed to find that the word meant pretty much the opposite of what I thought! Using ‘energise’ would not have worked with energy in the same line, and I did not like any of the synonyms I could find. So, I thought about a word that meant the opposite of being brought down and ‘elevate’ was ideal to convey that meaning. It also sounded similar to the word it was replacing, and that pleased me because I felt I was retaining as much of the sound of the original as possible while correcting the meaning and purpose of the line. This final revisal is of the poem ‘AFTER THE ENDING’ which appears over two pages in the chapbook’s Section 3 (RETURN TO WHAT REMAINS).
To purchase ‘Art of Insomnia’, this is the page with all the details Art of Insomnia
As some of you know, at the end of May 2021 my debut poetry chapbook Art of Insomnia was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press, a matter of great importance to me, especially as it was dedicated to and largely inspired by my beloved wife Helen, whose unexpected death broke my heart exactly one week before Easter 2019.
I was grateful that the book resonated with so many readers and, as it proved more popular than I had expected, the matter of printing additional copies had to be considered.
By this time I was working on further chapbook ideas and preparing for a larger collection but decided, before going ahead with a further print run, to look at the poems afresh to ensure I was entirely happy with them.
Thankfully, I found that most of them conveyed their messages exactly as I wanted those messages to go out and I was content to leave those. However, I was disappointed to discover from a tweet I saw by chance on Twitter that one of the twenty two poems contained a word often used to mean the opposite of its actual meaning, and that’s an error I had made.
No one had brought this error to my attention, and I may have got away with it, but knowing that a reprint was in the offing made me look critically at the whole manuscript. As a result, I found four other minor matters which, if changed, might improve the work. Thankfully, my publisher agreed to all five changes which have been incorporated in the reprint currently available for purchase. This is the link for purchase – Art of Insomnia
I do have mixed feelings about all this.
On the one hand I am delighted that the copies now available at Scottish Poetry Library, and at a number of libraries local to me, contain these revisals. Similarly, this will be true for copies now being placed with independent book shops and those I take with me to poetry gigs in 2022 and beyond.
However, there’s a fair number of folk who have the original version, without the small changes to five poems, so I do feel it necessary to publicise the changes as widely as I can.
Coming up in Part 2 of this blog – ‘Art of Insomnia’ Revised for Reprint (Part 2) – you’ll find details of the five changes and the reasons for them, so I hope that lots of those who have purchased the original chapbook will find this helpful.
Further, all members of The Hedgehog Poetry Press’s ‘Cult of the Spiny Hog’ will be able to download an updated digital copy of the book free of charge.
I have also alerted followers on Facebook and Twitter to the changes, and will now link them to this blog (parts 1 and 2)
Finally, I am about to send out to those purchasers for whom I hold addresses a bookmark which contains details of the changes on its reverse.
By this means I hope to get the information out to anyone who may be interested.
If you already have a revised reprint, this blog and -link- will probably be of less significance, unless you have an academic interest in the rarity of a post-publication editing process.
Following a break from blogging I shall return to posting fairly regular blogs this month. In the meantime, I take this opportunity to Reblog from my Drop-in with Nigel Kent published this morning. Next Saturday his review of ‘Art of Insomnia’ will appear on the Nigel Kent – Poet website
Drop in by Peter A
Today I have great pleasure in inviting Peter A to talk about a poem from his moving Art ofInsomnia (Hedgehog Press, 2021)
My debut chapbook Art of Insomnia is personal in a way that is not very typical of my poetry to date. That said, in much of my previous and ongoing work I have tried to deliver an emotional punch where it is justified by the subject matter or theme of the poem.
Art of Insomnia comprises 22 poems written in the nine month period following the unexpected death of my wife; in it I attempt to express the impact of incomprehensible loss and signal the potential for a bearable way forward. The chapbook is divided into four sections and the poem I have selected is the second poem of the third section. Following the second section, which describes a temporary escape from familiar surroundings and people, this section [RETURN TO WHAT REMAINS] is about coming back to the inescapable reality of loss.
In the poem selected here, I mainly use a fairly conventional, uncomplicated, almost-conversational form of address direct to the reader, with many of the same words repeated in each of the nine-line stanzas.
The words which are unique to each stanza set out two issues which may arise when well-intentioned people try to offer comfort and praise at a time when the recently-bereaved person is at the stages of grief where he feels only guilt and powerlessness. These lines of the stanzas arrive in a form which is more poetic or dramatic in style leading the reader to pathos at the end of each stanza.
The title comes from the word ‘better’ at the end of the first line of the poem, and the word ‘fail’ at the end of its last line. Any resemblance to Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fail Better’ is fortuitous but also somewhat fortunate.
Thank you, Peter A. Next week read my review of this exceptionally powerful collection.
Today I have to depart from my general plan to post weekly. For various reasons, I feel compelled to include an extra short one but make no apology for that. At the end of a week which included International Women’s Day, I think Mother’s Day is as good a day as any to do this.
In the last few days the murder of a young woman at the hands of a predatory male has shocked me, but not surprised me. We are living in a world in which incels, players and other entitled males are exercising unequal power damaging society in a way similar to the behaviour associated with white superiority. Both must be corrected but today the treatment of females must be the focus.
It is a matter of shame that women are having to hold vigils in memory of Sarah Everard (and others previously affected), and a scandal that they are being told they have to take additional steps to keep themselves safe, precautions which men do not have to take. Men are to blame for this.
Men have an obligation to address their own behaviour so that women do not walk in fear. Women I know, including my young sister, are afraid to walk alone through countryside or woodland, even in the daytime, and city parkland at night.
I, and all other men, have to accept that apart from possessing greater physical strength, they have been nurtured by a society which convinces men they are entitled to more – whether that be higher salaries or freedom of movement. There is also the trite ‘boys will be boys’ label which starts in childhood and tends to carry on into adulthood. In addition to those features, there is constant male peer pressure fuelling the continuance of toxic masculinity.
In the early hours of this morning – all of these things on my mind – I scribbled this first draft of a short poem:-
That is all
I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
I truly am
- That is all
Not about love
Nor about lust
Not about any
- That is all
I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
I truly am
- That is all
That Feverfew, the sixth and latest poetry collection from Anna Saunders, is laced with quality – at times luxury – is easily evidenced. What is more difficult to explain, though ironically it may be inherent in its stylish packaging, is the exquisite economy and value to be found in this publication.
In large part this may be attributable to the presence of forty one poems within a physical book-space of proportions which seem incapable of holding such an amount of treasure. Yet there is nothing cramped or cheap about its presentation. I guess the publisher Indigo Dreams must be due credit for the practical side of this, the design and typesetting, as indeed must the poet for composing poems which fit so well to the page.
Of greater importance, however, is the discovery that this collection has a literary and sensory quality which (like the divine accused characterised in one of the collected poems, The Prosecution Builds up a Case Against Jupiter) takes various forms. Some clues may be found in the cold and hot of the striking cover design; the proof is found in the assured crafting of words found within the covers.
Mythical references inhabit a number of the poems. Some of the named characters and creatures from Greek and Roman mythology will be familiar to non-scholarly readers, some not. Where I was unsure about the myths associated with a featured character I found it intriguing to read the poem first of all without research and enjoy it for its sounds and feel and discernible purpose; enjoy it purely as a poem. The nature of the myth would sometimes be revealed in a general way by this exercise, subsequent googling being largely confirmatory. In other cases, discovering the mythological root was an essential key.
In all those referring to myth the poet’s skill and imagination re-works the ancient to make it relevant to the modern reader, and to the contemporary message the poem is meant to convey.
As well as those which reference mythology there are works here which use the characteristics of wild creatures to tell the stories of humans, those which feature the nakedness of humans themselves, and those which feature spirits who have thrown off the flesh which formerly clothed them.
It is important to point out that, while this is a collection with serious intent making full use of grown-up literary techniques and devices, it possesses humanity, occasionally shows vulnerability and employs humour too (often in the guise of satire and/or the entertaining titles of certain poems).
Whether your mood calls out for reflections of love, lust, loss or consideration of abuse of power and animalistic instincts, there is something here for you. I have found the collection pleasing, rewarding, surprising and affecting to read and re-read.
Given the space I permit myself for Blog reviews there is not room to give examples of the many poems in Feverfew that touch or tickle my intellect, anima or shadow. So, as a discipline I have decided to look briefly at just four, hopefully providing a soupçon of the flavours of the collection.
What I Learnt from the Owl, the first poem in Feverfew, has something of Emily Dickinson in it. Its unflinching true depiction of an owl as bird of prey sets the reader up for some of the cold reality-checking which will emerge in subsequent poems and is also the perfect appetiser for the collection’s second poem – the first one I wish to discuss here – Time after Time the Same Bird is Born from the Flame.
In this piece, the phoenix of Greek mythology is transformed for the modern world. No longer is it the positive motif, eagerly adopted over time to represent renewal and in due course Christian resurrection. Anna Saunders’ phoenix is viewed as an unwelcome regeneration. The opening lines tell us that:-
Here it comes, … /a feathered doppelgänger of the last,/ an identical gold-eyed genesis/scattering a surplus of silver plate from his claws.
He is introduced as a privileged creature, a royal bird which feasts on incense, whereas we pick at seeds and stringy meat.
The ‘we’, presumably the ordinary folk, wonder How did he earn the spokes of sun that ascend from his head…?
We ache for change, yet each creature that rules the court/is a rooster’s brother with jaundiced eyes.
Not even death will bring an end to this.
It quickly becomes clear that this poem, which on its surface references the exotic re-generating bird of myth, in its gut speaks of inequality and the apparent impossibility of bringing about necessary change in the cycle, the system.
How wrong we are to think that fire/can cauterise corruption, it continues. That could hardly be more plainly expressed, especially when followed by the line which gives the poem its title, Time after time the same bird is born from the flame.
A number of Ms Saunders’ poems deal with love and relationships, some tinged with eroticism, others with various difficult aspects and issues; each one is worth the reading and imbibing. For my second arbitrary choice I have selected one of the less obvious depictions of a controlling relationship, I come back as a Horse.
Ostensibly, it features a horse (probably a gentle mare) considering how it is treated by its human master and begins with what appears to be a sad acceptance that true freedom is no longer an option: –
My owner leads me in from the cold. /His heating makes my flanks steam, my breath plume and cloud. He shouts/as my skittering hooves crescent mark his shiny floor.
Next, we discover the extent of the horse’s value to the owner: –
He has pictures of the races all over his wall/strained mares taking jumps/ or being brushed down savagely/until their rumps blaze like precious stones. The mares, it seems, are there to win trophies, or be trophies, and the next stanza tells us of further restrictions of liberty –
We have to wear our harnesses all night./It is compulsory and our necks burn.
The narrator horse speaks disparagingly of humans choosing inappropriate names. I am not mine, she says unhappy with her naming, before going on to describe in a similarly sanguine voice the more shocking truth of what happens to horses who do not match expectations: –
A young one never came back. If your legs buckle,/if your back is too weak, there’s a bullet for you.
The implication of controlling threat (and a point where a familiar association may be drawn with hair-pulling abuse and assault) continues in the next two lines –
I love my mane, even when he winds it round his hand/to make a boxing glove.
Finally, following a statement of preference for the freedom of the fresh air, the poem concludes with the subtle but poignant –
Once, a child passed me, said I had kind eyes,/felt pity for me.
The third poem I wish to feature, Floundering, is one of exceptional tenderness, and admirable skill.
In it a poet speaks to her mother, who has recognised the reality that poets do not make money from their art and is offering her poet-daughter money from her purse. But there are other things going on and it is the skill of linking all of these threads and carrying all themes through to the end in a very naturalistic way which shows Ms Saunders’ deftness here.
To explain here the detail of how this is manifest, all its conceits and devices, would in my opinion spoil the pleasure of those I hope will go on to read it hereafter. However, as I must give you something, I’ll give you these two connecting elements as a tease and assure that there is much more taking place in the poet’s mind and in the physical environment surrounding mother and daughter:-
It reminds me of the tulips dad planted/so we’d have colour after he had gone.
This casual observation prompted by the shape of a heron’s head from behind appears early in the poem and is one of the themes echoed in the velvet glove punch of the final stanza, which runs as follows:-
Mum, you have your purse out again,/and that worried frown that dad used to have/when he was looking at the tulip bulbs,/wondering if they would come out in time.
The fourth and final poem I draw to your attention is one which is simultaneous easy and very difficult – So much Blood around my Name. I say easy because it is written in terms which are easy to understand even on first reading, not requiring much interpretation. The subject matter, however – as in many of the collection’s poems – is raw, visceral, uncomfortable, confessional.
There is much blood and guts within Feverfew but what we have here is quite different. This is not the remote blood and guts of mythology or that associated with the regular behaviour of the animal kingdom.
In this poem the first mentions of blood arise in a specific recollection, written in past tense, of a blood commitment symbolised by a fresh tattoo of the narrator’s name on her former lover’s arm (How deeply I’d been etched into your skin,/you bloomed blood.), a commitment which ended (…we needled each other,/until I left). The second reference to blood is in the present tense and comes with consideration of implied guilt which some would wish to place beside her name. It also echoes skilfully the blood which formed around her name at the time of the fresh tattoo :-
‘Years later I hear about your death.
He couldn’t go on without you. I am told.
I imagine your pale limbs under the earth. Those four letters extinguished by the dark.
Can love ever be perfect? Can poetry about love be perfect? Can two people living together for a long time be perfect?
In my humble view, those are time-wasting questions because answers to them are virtually impossible.
It would be more useful I suggest to dip into the approach adopted by Darren J Beaney in his debut pamphlet for Hedgehog Poetry Press, HONEY DEW; in a series of twenty one poems he sets out, in a sometimes self-deprecating way, to find ways (some of them very original) to encapsulate in words the various stages of a continuing love relationship without which he feels his life had been, and would be, pointless. That realisation is hinted at elsewhere but disclosed in plain sight in the eighth poem in the book, 32 to the power of 22.
This debut is infused with sincerity as much as it is with originality and vivid Punk-style colour. It is also very relatable.
The opening poem, though it carries the title LET YOUR HEART DANCE, moves with a deliberate lack of steady rhythm, chucks in an occasional internal rhyme – but don’t expect that to happen in a predictable fashion – and employing these devices captures the awkwardness of unexpected love-at-first-sight during a first dance. The designed chaos only reaches an end in the poem’s sublime conclusion:-
As we gasped/ without resting and kissed without breathing and fell without landing.
This is followed by the title poem HONEY DEW, a short but vivid expression of the sweetness of new love :-
A smile/ … that tempted with low hanging kisses/ ripe and ecstatic
The reason for the poem’s brevity appears to be summed up in the final two words – ‘tongue tied’.
The theme of combined shyness and disbelief at the suddenness of what is happening reappears in the reference to his belly hosting ‘a soulful band of butterflies‘ in the third poem, PLAYING BANJO ON BRIGHTON BEACH.
By poem five, LETS START SOMETHING WE WON’T WANT TO FINISH, there’s an admirable statement of ambition reflected in text which combines unconventional with conventional, even old-fashioned, and a little tongue-in-cheek without destroying the sincerity of its intention. For example, Beaney writes: –
Let’s learn to dance – foxtrot, tango/… I’ll …collect/ your falling blushes. When I have them all we will paint/our town, leaving our mark, creating a legend/ bigger than Terry & June.
Let’s take tea at the Ritz. I’ll get dressed up/to the nines with odd socks and no shoes…../You can slurp from your saucer/while I protect you from those uptight stares.
Where Shakespeare would write ‘If music be the food of love…’, Beaney writes and concludes the poem ‘We’ll wake each morning to … an eternal love powered by the energy of three chord guitar riffs’.
In a sometimes uptight world it is good to remember that romance can be fun and rebellious, and Darren Beaney’s writing conveys that in abundance in some of his work.
He is also capable of expressing unabashed praise of continuing love in more lyrical terms while maintaining his personal style, as in YOU AND ME, US TWO:-
Our love is driven by neat engines of persistence/shuddering to the twitch of our touch, firing the luscious/laughter and locomotion of a lifespan together.
I’d happily quote every stanza of this poem in full but will confine myself to the following further few lines as a taster:-
…Our relationship simple/as a new Puritan. Sustained without effort, lazy,/ as wonderfulas bunches of late May daffodils.
Our passion is as exciting as Caxton’s/very first page, printed with a love song for Cupid. Each day/is Valentine’s Day stuffed into our Christmas stocking.
As I now feel I’m in danger of giving too much of the book away for free, I shall curtail my notes and end this review with a brief reference to the last poem in the pamphlet THE MISSING BIT which, amongst other things, touches on the point I made at the start of the review. (A similar point is made by Beaney in the short poem THIS IS A LOVE SONG which appears a little earlier in the pamphlet.) In THE MISSING BIT, he is again concerned that he cannot sufficiently express all elements of the love he feels in order to be convincing. He writes,
And that is the bit/that is missing
And I want our love to mean/as much as Dr King’s dream/with as much passion/as a catalogue of first kisses
because we are so much more/ than love bites and candlelight
If you are looking for an original but relatable, generally schmaltz-free, story of a love relationship in 21 poems, HONEY DEW is available in various formats from Hedgehog Poetry Press http://hedgehog press.co.uk or from Darren’s own site http://djbeaney.wordpress.com . Prices direct from Darren are: UK £7.00 (inc. postage), Overseas £11.00 (inc. postage) and e-book £3.00.
I am now nearing the end of this ludicrous task of 24 days of Blogs in the form of an out-of-time Advent Calendar. With this calendar, when you open the box you don’t get a chocolate, but in its place a random thought or two, this time on the subject of luck, good and bad.
Typical of my random approach, the opening of boxes has moved from the outwards in so that, including today’s there remain just four Blog Day Numbers: 16, 15, 14 and, if you’re superstitious, the unmentionable one.
Now I don’t regard myself as superstitious, but you may conclude that I have proved cowardly in the numbering of this Blog. Though genuinely not triskaidekaphobic, I ask myself what is the point of tempting fate? Not only is the dreaded number due to be applied to today’s blog but I am writing it on the eleventh day of the second month (11 + 2 = ??).
So, no chances will be taken
Like a hotel which avoids having room Thirteen
We won’t say which Advent Blog it is today
And instead of using that cursed number
We’re going to call it Blog Day 12A
On a more serious note, the issue of luck is on my mind.
Currently I am working on a longer poem than the ones I usually write. The initial inspiration arose from a tourist attraction visited during the last few days of holiday I enjoyed, in October 2019 on the island of Ireland.
At the quayside in New Ross, County Wexford there are contrasting but related exhibits side by side, the one relating to the ships which carried those forced to escape famine in mid-19th century Ireland, the other celebrating the visit of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States of America, in 1963. JFK’s great grandfather had made the journey from Wexford to Boston and Kennedy was marking that with his visit.
But this starting point has set me on a journey of research which will take me to many destinations before it is over and it will finally come ashore in modern Britain and America. Although it’ll be a human story, it cannot avoid the impact of British and ultimately American Imperialism and Capitalism, and how certain aspects of good fortune are not down to luck at all but depend on wealth, power, property, access to education and belonging to the acceptable family, race or colour.
On a more positive note, the poem will attempt to balance the cruelty of the negative impacts with a contrasting narrative demonstrating the kind of good fortune we all like to witness. Love, happiness, overcoming obstacles and the other kinds of ‘luck’ which come from hard work, community and kindness.
It is truly amazing how, from viewing a tourist attraction, one’s mind can travel thousands of miles and begin to consider the respective situations of the many very different human characters involved.
Perhaps more to the point, I have set myself a difficult task which will require getting the tone and pace of the poem just right. It must not veer towards the overly didactic, must hold attention, yet have historical accuracy as well as drama. It will have to convey emotion at points but not become sentimental.
Though getting it right may be difficult and I may fail, I shall learn much in the process. They say you learn more from analyses of your failures than your successes.
I consider myself lucky to have had the inspiration and to be alive to do some work on it.
That kind of luck is sometimes where you choose to find it.
Similarly, when I refer now to Unblocked Plus, I do not wish you to have in mind the crude and off-putting suggestion of diarrhoea, a nasty and generally unwelcome affliction. On the contrary I refer to an unexpected bonus which I am sure would not have occurred but for the final unblocking.
You may have gathered quite accurately from the previous posts that, with some recent measure of success but still some frustration, I have continued my attempts to deal with apparently inexplicable breakdowns in communication. In particular, I have struggled with the sense of discouragement that such blockages raise in me.
I recognise that this is occasionally quite irrational and often obstructive to creativity. Although, thankfully, I have never (yet) experienced writer’s block, I do become particularly distracted when awaiting outstanding replies, details of outcomes, and responses generally. So distracted in fact that I sometimes cannot get on with new work, wasting time instead checking and re-checking email etc. in an obsessive manner.
I have spoken of the ways I have attempted to retrain my mind to overcome this sort of time-waste, and in my previous post on this topic reported some limited but encouraging success.
Though I cannot go into the details of the significant unblocking which took place on Sunday I want to say something of the ‘plus’ or bonus unexpected happening.
On the creative side, I received an email which explained, in a way that made me ashamed, the very serious reason that one matter had not moved forward as expected. In a separate email hope was offered about how this might be resolved. That got me off to a start that was a mix of reflective and positive.
Following attention to another matter of personal importance to me, I then took the bull by the horns in relation to a non-creative matter which I knew was going to be time-consuming. It became more time-consuming when telephonic communications were lost for technical reasons, and face-to-face became the only option. I went ahead with some trepidation, double-masked in the current circumstances of pandemic, and did achieve the outcome I desired though it took a large part of the day and early evening to resolve and get home.
Once home, I was hungry and tired, so went ahead to prepare dinner with the intention of settling down in front of the telly for the rest of the night. Though I had wine with dinner, which can make me drowsy when I dine alone, at 10.00pm I made a decision to attempt something I thought would be impossible.
There were a number of deadlines for poetry and other submissions on Sunday 31st and I had submitted nothing whatsoever during January. Contrary to common sense, I chose to put together a submission that involved finding and compiling multiple poems rather than going for a single poem, or a couple of single poem entries which would have been much more do-able.
Having decided it was likely impossible to complete, I approached the task with a mix of urgency and relaxation. If, as seemed likely, I did not compile and send the themed submission by 23.59, that would simply mean I had not done the impossible (as expected).
However, with a minute or two to spare, the submission was delivered electronically. And that is my plus, the unexpected. Even if the submission is not ultimately found acceptable, I can take that rejection knowing that I completed a kind of Mission Impossible, something I did not have the wherewithal to do the previous day.
Having consumed three measures of Malbec
The work may not be up to scratch
On the other hand one’s best often comes
When one is completely relaxed
Whatever transpires, and I won’t know for a while, today was a good day!
It’s when you’re waiting for news, not just about one thing but about a number of things.
You’ve done your job. You sent whatever you had to send. You’ve made an enquiry about something else. You’ve sent a reminder in relation to something where a reply is overdue.
And if you’re a writer, you’ve probably got outstanding submissions and the day for notifying successful parties, or short-listed writers has arrived. No matter how often you check your inbox there’s nothing there. You become hypnotised by the mantra from email checks every few minutes:
Checking for Mail….
Updated just now
Nothing. Nothing new there, or if there is something new it’s spam or a scam or notification of a regular bill; anything other than what you want to read.
There is nothing you can do about it, other than sending useless reminders or follow-ups which are more likely to have a negative than positive impact upon the health of communication. You might actually draw yourself further away from a successful outcome by aggravating the situation.
What you must do, and I speak from experience here, is do something else. Move forward with something you have the power to move forward. Accept that some days are non-communication or misunderstanding days not just in your little world but in the universe.
On such days, I am convinced, nothing moves forward. Anything exchanged on these days is likely to be misunderstood. I suspect wars or minor skirmishes break out on days like these, perhaps unintentionally on occasion!
From the point of view of people like me, in my little micro world bubble, there is true irony to be found. By nature I am a procrastinator, always putting decisions off, setting work back, generally sending out ripples of delay all around me. Yet, I am capable of getting very impatient with people I deal with who do not act or respond quickly. Perhaps there is a hint of karma in these days when things I want to happen, simply do not.
I did not complete a poem about this but, as has become my wont, I wrote down a few lines, while still in bed, which may form the basis for a poem at some time in the future. I’d normally keep such early workings secret but, just to give a hint of the way my mind works, I’ll reproduce my scribblings, with the working title Blockage.
Actually, this will also illustrate a point I meant to make at the outset. Although I regularly experience these days of communication blockage with which I do not deal well, I tend not to suffer writer’s block. Even this type of minor frustration may set in train a thought process with the possibility of a creative product at some later point.
Remember, there is hardly anything which cannot be given a creative outlet.
Can become an obsession,the need for welcome news and progress.
This morning I stayed two hours extra in bed
much more than my required rest,
simply because I was so obsessed.
To rise from pillow I decided to refuse
until my phone brought me good news.
However in spite of regular checks,
nothing extraordinary by email or text
No call to brighten my childish mind.
Then I rose and drew the curtains to find
sunshine streaming through every pane,
good news twinkling on every beam
(Please don’t judge. It’s a bit clunky but just an idea in first draft.)
Post Script: This blog was originally written representing frustration in the period 24/25 January but overnight 25/26 January the communication blockage took an unusual turn, which I cannot go into in detail.
But I’ll reveal this. In a dream I was visited by a person who has passed, who chose to communicate, a message freely given but not initially understood by me. It led me to get in touch with someone I had not contacted for some time, and have reason to believe that some good will come of this.
That’s all I can say for now. Look after yourselves and each other, and try to communicate.
I got all the traditional stuff in and have enjoyed a stay-at-home on my own, pandemic-infused Burns Supper, accompanied by Scottish Whisky.
Recollections from my childhood flow.
I haven’t written poetry every day of my life, though it’s an almost daily event these days. At ten years old I only ever wrote poetry in my head, though I loved writing essays at school. I knew very little of Robert Burns at that age but can’t help feeling that the only very short poem I remember writing (in my head) was influenced in some way by him. It’s not Ayrshire Doric but it’s in a Scots vernacular which I certainly didn’t use in my everyday speech.
A wilnae gae oot in the powrin rain
No e’en fur a king’s ransom should ony wee wean
A ken it’s guid fur the floo’ers an’ a shouldnae complain
But a wilnae gae oot in the powrin’ rain
When I was fourteen, I was one of a group of child actors from Glasgow who performed on TV as part of an improvised acting competition, which we won and got the chance to perform another play (live on tv) a couple of months later. One of the other actors, Joe Macdonald, visited me some time later and gave me a tiny book of Burns Poems as a present.
After all these years, it is still intact but very much the worse for wear. It used to have a metal medallion representation of Burns on the cover but that has become detached.
There was always an ambivalent attitude towards Burns as I grew up. People were generally proud to have a National Bard but concerned about promoting to their young people a man with such a lascivious reputation.
In my childhood days I was certainly transported by the representation of the bard by the fabulous actor, John Cairney.
Many years ago, I wrote a very rough-and-ready tongue-in-cheek poem which at that time attempted to sum up my relationship with the man.
To a Mouse
Twa watter-cairtin bairnies we were,
Baith poet an’ me dark and curly.
When ah wis wee ah loved his verses,
ma faither shocked and pale wi’ worry.
Wid his son be an Excise mannie,
Wi’ gypsy soul and long dark lashes?
Wid his wee laddie chase the lasses
An’ bed them in the swirlin’ rashes?
Or poetry be his son’s undoin’?
He didnae ken the wiles o’women,
The more accepted ways o’wooin’;
Wid poets’ sangs send women rinnin’?
Sic lengthy lives await the canny
Ye first pay dues and then stay restful
Faither thought o’ what he shid be
But wis never that successful.
Each year he prayed on Rabbie’s birthday,
‘A poet’s life can be fulfilling,
Sae fu’ o’ incident and intrigue,
My son be saved frae that, God willing!’
Before signing off, I’ll make a recommendation that you go to Soundcloud and listen to a fresh rendition of Robert Burns’ love song Red Red Rose by Linda Jaxson. That would be a lovely way to round off tonight’s celebration of Burns!