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.

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