Wednesday, 22 October 2008

I swore first. Wednesday 15 October 2008

Presumably we all have monster egos or we wouldn't be doing this course. The natural plate boundaries of the group are emerging; cool kids/losers, crack poets/dilettante meddlers, usual stuff. This week we were to bring a first draft of the free verse we started last week; how it works is that each person distributes and reads their piece and the others provide feedback and suggestions. That bit of the session happens in the second half after our break, seven to eight minutes being allowed for each. As this was clearly not going to be adequate there was a barely suppressed anxiety as we careered between not wanting to be pushy and being frantic to read our own stuff,
Yes, yes that's fine
Now listen to mine
half believing that the feedback will comprise 'that's faultless! Nothing could be changed'. Or maybe that's just me. I was desperate not to be deperate so was one of the two not to get to read. Transpired that's fine because we get to go first next week; except, our first exercise before the break was to make notes for our next poem. One good piece was about finding a piece of chalk and (with accomplice) writing fuck off on the playground. My dead baby poem features fuck so now I'm thinking that the others will think I've copied, when really I broke the fuck barrier. In my sixth decade and worried that people might not realise that I swore first. Pathetic.

The theme of my next free verse is a magical person. When I was small in the 1950s Jimmy Woods lived in a little cottage with his mother. He looked like a character from an Alison Uttley book, like a Hedgehog in old fashioned clothes. He spoke with a broad rural accent, Faather for Father watter for water, and couldn’t read or write. He was very small and brown and wizened and I imagined he was ancient, although he was probably not much older than my Dad who will have been in his mid 30s at the end of the1950s. Jimmy might have been 40 but could have been 100. Legend had it (or rather my mother said) that he contracted meningitis as a child, before the introduction of antibiotics, and when he recovered his mother was so protective that he never went to school. He cycled everywhere, did gardening jobs and dug the graves at the village church. Whilst he was weird and unusual he was a sort of organic part of his rural setting. I wanted my poem to reflect the view I had about him and the times we were living through. 1950s, the Lancashire countryside, a farming community with three or four main land-owning families and everyone else beholden and subservient, Jimmy’s old fashioned clothes, speech and gossip, digging graves, his house without electricity and (I think) running water. He used to cycle for miles and you could pass him late on at night, his handlebars piled high with boxes; stuff he’d collected form rubbish left out at the back of the market. I’m keen to reflect the weirdness (sort of Alison Uttley crossed with Laurie Lee) but I don’t want to sound sentimental or nostalgic. However, he did have a place in the society he was part of and I wonder how that might be different now. Maybe he'd have been given antibiotics, back at school in a month and be at Bolton now doing media-studies.

The poem has gone through dozens of incarnations; I can’t stop myself trying to rhyme – although at least now I know there are half rhymes. I was on a hiding to nowhere with meningitis, Uttley, hedgehog and antibiotics though. I bought a book in Blackwell’s at Manchester yesterday, How to write a poem, so things should look up. My first official draft looks as if I found all the thesaurus terms for rural, chucked them up and left them where they landed, I’ve also co-opted Pan, which isn’t entirely disingenuous because Jimmy Woods and Pan do both personify rural weirdness and improbability in my mind.

My friend is in the road crew for the Wishbone Ash tour. Ellie came with me to see them at Blackpool on Sunday evening. The Hamsters were also on the bill, after their first tune Ellie, who is rather musical, said ‘well at least they’re good’. Yet again my cue to say, ‘how on earth do you know that?’ She said, ‘well imagine they’d given you and me a guitar and drum kit and put us up there on the stage’. I’ve bagsied the drums. The Hamsters are good if you get the chance and you can buy a Hamster Head t-shirt. Wishbone Ash were very fine at important guitar playing too. As indeed were many of the nicely behaved Wish Heads, or Ash Heads; some in leather jackets and AC/DC tops but mostly in car coats and leisure wear. Before I went I asked my friend if there were any nice fitted Wishy t-shirts, he said no, no ladies t-shirts, in fact not many ladies really. There were a few actually; they just didn’t make a big thing of it.


Wilcool said...

I didn't think you had copied with the Fuck. I don't think it crossed anyone elses mind either. It was a powerful poem. I found it difficult to say anything about it, good or bad. You definitely made everyone think about loved ones, death etc.

I think our group is comming together, I know I have made quite a close friendship already with Mike and Helen and a close group means that we can have more thoughtful discussions like tonight.

Just another thing I noticed. Last week when I read mine, I read it last, and it was creeping up to home time. I felt as though not as much time was spent on mine. I think you have to get the timing right when you want to read your work. Thats what I've learned anyway :D

Keep writing these by the way, its interesting.


kim mcgowan said...

Golly Joe, that’s was really weird! After the first week I'd stopped supposing that anyone might be reading and it was as if I was sitting mumbling away to myself and then found out someone was listening to me.

No, I know nobody really thought that I was copying. I’m trying to be acutely honest. So there is the rational grown-up part of me which knows that it didn’t cross the mind of anyone; and then murmuring away in the background is the insecure childish part that won’t shut up. I was just trying to reflect that inconsistency.

I actually feel completely differently (again) about the group after last Wednesday. I had read and read and read the baby poem out loud on my own to talk out the emotion, and I was absolutely able to read it without reacting. It was quite different in a room with the others. As you said, we’ve all been affected by grief and it can surface easily with just a little prompt. I feel a lot more part of the group as a result of (nearly) reading it and the discussions afterwards.

Yes I thought we didn’t give your poem enough time. It’ll pay to be judicious about when we read in future! I’ve been thinking and thinking about you using dove in your poem; I said that maybe it was a bit of a cliché. The more consider the more I think I was wrong. Doves are soft but in addition when you hold them you can feel the heartbeat and life and the vitality in them so in the context you used the term it was perfect.

I’m glad you’ve been following. I’m hoping it’ll come in useful for the life writing too. Thanks for your comment. Now I know someone is checking it out I’ll have to extra careful about being honest and not just writing what I think will reflect well on me.