Friday, 27 February 2009

Good night cohesion and bad tooth. Wednesday 25 February 2009.

Drove home feeling idiotically happy after last night's lesson, even despite seriously losing my glasses, twice, during the day. A Serious Lose is when I clear out the car and then rationalise that I must have had the glasses almost two and a half years and, although they cost as much as a small second hand car, at price per wear they represent good value for the money. And they’re dated. And I start to concoct a cock and bull story about what’s happened to them to tell to Ian.

We seemed to get on well during the lesson and we all said confident stuff about each others (conjunction conscious) work in relation to the cohesion created by reference chains, lexical continuity and ellipsis. This despite (if I'm representative), feeling like frauds because we were making it all up.

Fiction writing is hard. I like my ideas but when I write them they sound juvenile, earnest and crawling with cliché. I’m reading Ernest Hemingway, Ali Smith and Susan Hill short stories so I can copy how real writers make words sound grown-up. But it’s like learning to drive again. I start out thinking narrative stylistics and next thing I know I’m thinking: “that was a good sto…Shit!" and I’ve finished the story and I completely forgot to look out for incongruity discourse (or whatever). I've just finished reading Career Move by Martin Amis and it might be better if I just content myself with being a mediocre academic librarian and pretend-proper kind person. Or maybe I should forget about writing grown-up sounding fiction and work on my looking-interested expression for when people are telling me about animals; that might be more managable and it certainly needs working on.

Last week the Writer with the Writerly Name read extracts from each of us to the whole group to see if we could identify the writer (there was quite a bit of sneaky bluffing going on). We guessed every one of us correctly. Then we wrote in a disguised voice, mine was wearing short white socks, and Writer with the Writerly Name repeated the exercise. This time it was much more difficult to identify the author but I was rumbled immediately – me dratted tricky-tinker verbiage again I think.

I had a 56 inch nerve taken out of a tooth today. It wasn’t the most agreeable 45 minutes; but by far the worst bit is at the end when the Dentist says: “chatter your teeth together hard until I say stop”. My coordination is bad enough at the best of times but with a head full of anaesthetic it’s none-existent. I feel like one of those sets of clockwork false-teeth that isn’t going nicely. And then I was spaced out on novocaine all afternoon, the Dentist tells me it’s only local anaesthetic and it won’t make me think I’m a Womble. But it does, every time. Rather look forward to it now.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The marks and unacceptable use of determiners. Wednesday 18 February 2009.

It was very like Jenny Diski’s cat in the box motif. Until you open the box there might be a cat in the box or their might not be a cat in the box or both things might be true. Right up to getting the two portfolios back and turning them over to look at the marks it might have been possible for me to get 70% or over for all my MA modules. But now I’ve seen the marks and it can never happen. I’d clawed my way up with one submission and but I didn’t with the other. I know they’re what I’ve earned but I’m still sad about the poetry, sad that I never really got it.

My feedback sheet had gone astray so I was convinced that the poetry mark reflected the effort I put into the commentary rather than the poems. But the Poet emailed me my feedback the day after and he used lovely terms like powerful and fine; who could ask for better than powerful and fine? Me, I’m deluded and I wanted 70. The criticism relates to my overuse of verbiage, too many adjectives and adverbs. And to the way I allow obsession with form (villanelle, I think rather than my best-sort pantoum) to interfere with what the poem is saying.

How true, how frustrated I am with myself, and who the hell do I think I am to deserve 70 for me peavey poems, Rimbaud? My sage friend urged me to fail better next time.

If I’d calmed down at the time I’d have stopped trying to make a villanelle out of my eldritch list - hedgehogs, giant clockwork, ziggurats, labyrinths, migraine, warts, Poll na bPeist,
all that scary stuff, and just done something else with the words, insread of overwritting ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ with my verbiage and hoping it might work.

Jenn Ashworth has been picked by Waterstone's as one of 12 new writers predicted to dominate the literary landscape in the years to come. Bloody Hell Jenn! How Wonderful.

Now Flo has been poorly too. Get well soon my mother-in-law Flo.

This week’s homework is to submit a stylistic analysis of the impact of language and grammatical decisions through a series of drafts. It is very difficult - but I’m enchanted by the notion that:
‘Unlike adjectival modifiers, determiners in the narrower sense are mutually exclusive, (really - no wonder I’m muddled!) ie they cannot co-occur with each other therefore, “The my new car”, is unacceptable in English.

Maybe unacceptable but I'm thinking powerful and fine and now I can’t stop trying to formulate other unacceptable phrases,
‘a your glass of tizer’,
‘that his tartan jacket’.
Perfect displacement activity.

So now I’ve seen the marks and it can never happen – unless of course, one of them was a mistake.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Premodified noun phrases and Martin Amis. Wednesday 11 February 2009.

Right. I’m starting to get the hang of premodified noun phrases. It was a bit like Ali once said in reference to never losing any weight: “When I though about it - it’s because I’ve never dieted.” (She went on to add that she didn’t wish she was anorexic exactly (obviously) but occasionally some anorexic leanings would be welcome; or at least the tendency to be a Little Bit Picky).

So, instead of continuing to say: “that’s rubbish - with all those messy sentences; it’s too hard”, I looked at the coursebook (Wright and Hope), did the exercises and read the answers (called solutions in the book but I’m allergic to the term solutions) and I got it, it’s not bad.

Now for postmodified noun phrases. I suspect it’ll be like learning to drive. You think you deserve a Mexican wave and a dedication on Steve Wright Sunday Love Songs for getting up to third gear, and then the Man tells you to check your mirror, signal right, brake, move down to second gear and change position on the carriageway. “What?! Can't you see I'm driving (reading)? I can’t do all that at the same time. Can’t we just go to where this road is leading?”

I wrote 25 things about myself for an egotistical Facebook exercise (a meme I believe; maybe I could say the greenstone leilira blades are meme conduits too). The only thing that excited any comment was my hint that, despite Martin Amis not having his own teeth, I still would. What an over reaction, Ali telephoned El to discuss what they might be best to do, both my friends were appalled. It’s not as if I’d said I’d do it with Gary Barlow.

Just discovered that a conference review I wrote in the Summer is published online. It was written before I started the creative writing MA and I'm a bit ashamed of it now, Allis Conference: Engaging your Community .

I nabbed the library's Guardian/ Observer dinosaur posters. Only one undignified scuffle with a mother of two small dinosaur-mad sons; soon cleared up, she was gracious when I explained I needed them.

I am practicing my non-belligerentthankyoufortheconstructivefeedback-face for this Wednesday's session because we might get our assessed portfolios back. I've got form and tend towards sullen in feedback situations. I'm mostly very anxious about the poetry. Al cried when she read the dead baby poem, but a day ago she was completely bewildered by my hominin pantoum (sounds a perfectly reasonable response when I say it like that). My hominin pantoum was my absolute favourite, I used to think it was great. Maybe I've been deluded in my pantoum and my hominin devotion. Oh God oh God.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Fiction Writer with the very writerly name. Wednesday 4 February 2009.

Started the fiction module led by a short story writer with a very writerly name. There was an almost instant ulrika moment. When I redrafted my life writing piece from first to third person I was annoyed at myself because of all the: 'she recalled's and 'she remembered's, I managed to splatter around the text. Well. Transpires I was needlessly filtering the images through the observing consciousness, as in: “she had imagined that he was ancient”, when “he seemed ancient” presents the thing seen and removes the filter between the character and reader; I’m glad I know that now.

We were cautioned to avoid abstraction and generalisation and to include specific detail to increase credibility – in yesterday’s Guardian Review John Mullan writes: “such details are there to win the reader’s confidence”. When I was thinking about my poetry portfolio commentary I remembered how much I liked the precise geological and medical references in Robert Browning’s poetry.

We wrote a bit of credible detail so that we could introduce an impossible thing, for example a talking dog, and make it seem plausible.

Then we chose a photograph each and started to construct a character for our photo-person. What was remarkable how proprietorial people became about their characters immediately. And how much detail they could instantly produce about someone that doesn't really exist; surgical procedures, dodgy spouses, all kinds of stuff. My photo is a lady who looks like what I’d look like if I wasn’t on a perma-diet and I still smoked and drank to incontinent excess. The photograph was taken in a 1950s-looking front parlour; she is staring straight at the camera and has a broad, fleshy face and a serious gaze. She has curlers in her hair above her forehead but not the hair at the sides. I think she’s clever but has never had the opportunity to develop her intelligence. She’s a hospital cleaner called Betty. I recounted how Betty refused to shake the hand of Princess Diana when she visited the hospital she cleans at because she was appalled that the mother to the heir to the throne had just been on her third skiing holiday of that year and children were sleeping rough on the streets. The story is true, my mother in law did and said just that when she was the Lady Provost of Dundee.

Now my photo-lady, Betty, is going to feature in a short story if I can make one up, I think she might have been a prostitute in her teens and twenties.

Over time my sentences have shrunk because I want to avoid ambiguity. I’ve noticed that when doing the artist’s sketchbook field work exercise - recording still life and movement I am going to have to come to terms with longer sentence structure again – like the long messy sentences in the Stylistics coursebook.

Most of the children were home over Christmas and I was reminded about remembering rememberings and Jenny Diski and the Australian greenstone leilira blades; (the blades are produced in a sequence of ceremonial steps and exchanged with distant groups but never used or curated. Robert Paton believes the blades aren’t utilitarian items at all but are the vehicle of information transmission. At each ritualised stage of their production and circulation the Aboriginals involved get stories straight). Over Christmas my daughters rehearsed childhood accounts: Convincing the youngest that the plug-end of the communal bath was the pole position and the competitions to see who could get a sodden flannel from the bath into the loo. The stories have their own energy now and the retelling and reordering of them is more animated if there is an audience.

When made the final redraft of the Funeral for my life writing portfolio I misremembered the chronology of some relatively recent events. It was only when I reread an earlier commentary that I realised that I had been dishonest. I though I was becoming much more cavalier about the permeable borders between fact and fiction; but it transpires I’ve always been that way.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Back with Stylistics and the Pantoum is Queen. Wednesday 28 February 2009

I’ve learnt about syllabic metre and iamb iamb iamb – but I’m still not sure how to hear the difference between iamb and trochee. I’ve become entirely addicted to pantoums I’ve gained weight, mostly because I’ve been so engaged writing piss-poor pantoums that I haven’t moved around at all. I like pantoums because I’m a rubbish rounder-offer and with the pantoum form once you’ve written your first line you’re sorted with your final line. And I enjoy the way that unexpected collocations of lines seem to make the poem say something profound that you’ve only just realised that you think.

I’ve delivered a ‘poetry’ workshop. I had to give a 30 minute presentation at the culmination of a library orientated Training and Learning course. I’d every intention of reviving my web evaluation set-piece but an evil shoulder-demon was whispering: “pantoum” in my ear when I was sleeping. Once the idea was planted there was no hope of shifting it; setting myself up for maximum humiliation and I was powerless to intervene. We’re British librarians; generally speaking we’d rather eat own nasty liver than participate in the most innocuous of ice-breaking exercises, let alone render our soul. I went into a session promising 12 librarians, well 11 librarians and a conservator, that in 30 minutes they’d leave with the first draft of a poem (a pantoum). I didn’t give any prior warning as I presumed I’d fail automatically if no one turned up; at least if everyone just fainted I’d get marks for trying.

We did it in three stages (and I gamely modelled each stage as we went along, wot a trooper):
First: a childhood remembering, a room, a teacher, a den, anything, and the senses and emotions associated with the memory – scary carpet, fingerless gloves, cheesy wotsits, muddy smell. Then they talked that memory to just one other person (essential that it was as discreet as possible) for one minute;
Second: they noted down 8, 4/5 syllable phrases used in their description. This was the bit I was most terrified of; I reasoned that if they’d spoken about a topic for a whole minute they’d easily have 8 phrases but I’d absolutely no proof of that or contingency plan if they didn’t; but they were a match for me and they’d plenty to say;
Third: they reordered the 8 phrases in pantoum form. Two people allowed me to read theirs out, bloody fantastic – two tightly coiled memory-bombs, really moving. So now the Pantoum Appreciation Club has 13 members – 14, if you count my tutor’s 10 year old daughter; my tutor took the notes home for her to use. She’s like me – ideas, but a weak finisher – not any more.
The irony of me, Tin-ear Tamara with a portfolio of piss-poor pantoums and a whiney piece about not being understood, isn’t wasted on me. But 11 British librarians and a conservator and the tutor’s little girl came out happy and I’m happy.

Stylistics is very hard; metalanguage encompassing language. It seems ok – identify the adjective, adverb and noun premodifiers in a noun phrase. For example in: “my new friend from Mars”, ‘new’ is the premodifier.
Then there’s a test. Identify the premodifiers in the noun phrases in a given text. And the text contains phrases like: “was furnished with voluptuous grandeur in approximations of various styles, predominantly those of several Louis, with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century additions”. Well. I’m sorry, that's just messy, you can’t write that. You’ll just have to make do with one or two simple premodifiers – otherwise it’s just going to make me cry and probably faint.

We’re going to start fieldwork; keeping an artist’s sketchbook to record still-life and movement in language. I’m very taken with the idea of sitting outside Bruciani’s recording life with my gimlet eye and my Moleskine. I’m a bit concerned I’m going to look a just a tad shifty and risible and I suspect I’ll keep catching myself writing my birthday wish-list, but I’m off uptown as soon as I’ve posted this.