Stir Crazy – A Bit

We are not quite in lockdown, but for someone who likes to spend as much time outside as possible, it feels a little like it.

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We are more fortunate than many, in that we are a short walk away from woodland, and then a limited amount of open countryside. But I yearn to walk the hills, the truly open places like moorland and marshland. I wonder whether to take a bus or train the comparatively short journey to these places. I could be up on the South Downs in two hours, and their pull is almost painful at the moment.

And my reading and writing have been affected by all this, too. I was halfway through My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk, which I was enjoying then but suddenly I have lost all interest in it. It is set in Istanbul in the sixteenth century but my heart yearns for the English countryside. So much so, that I can no longer bear to read it. So I have set it aside for now and begun to read The Moor by William Atkins; stories of myth, history and literature connected with the moorland areas of England.

And likewise, my enthusiasm for my current writing projects has dried up, and for similar reasons. I am in the middle of re-writing one novel, and over halfway through writing another, but I cannot currently drum up any enthusiasm for either. One is set in sixteenth century Persia, the other in Northern India in the 1980’s and yes, I just want to be outside, here.

I have been writing notes, though, for another idea I had intended to start only after completing one or both of those novels, but I have now decided to allow myself to begin it. I need a project I can really enthuse over, and this one will be set in the wildness of Southern England at some point in the past (I know what it is, but I’m not telling you yet!). I hope this will both give me some sort of pleasurable focus for my writing and also allow me to wander, in my mind, in those places I yearn to be.

Lost and Found in Translation

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I have read many novels, short stories and poems translated into English from other languages, but I wonder how much of what I read is true to the original intentions of the authors?

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote many short stories and poems, all of them in his native Spanish. Although I did buy one collection in Spanish, my own knowledge of that language has always been too poor for me to do anything other than read it slowly and laboriously and, undoubtedly, to miss many of the nuances in the writing. So for that reason, I’ve had to read them in translation.

And in any case, even if I spoke Spanish well I could do little more than read it as translation in my head. Unless I spoke it like a native speaker, I would still likely miss much that the author intended to convey.

And so I buy translations.

Zima Junction by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a long poem that tells of the poet’s visit to his home town in Siberia, having left some years before to go to live and work in a city. It is a beautiful depiction of rural life in Russia at the time, seen afresh after a gap of several years away, and describes the poets now ambiguous relationship with it.

Long poems can be good vehicles for describing journeys; my own poem The Night Bus does just that, and was written because in that instance I could not find any other medium that worked as well to convey what I wanted to say.

Another favourite of mine is Dart by Alice Oswald, which describes a journey from the source to the sea along the River Dart in Devon, England. She gives voices to the various people encountered along this journey, and to the animals living there…Since it is written in English, I am not left with any worry I am missing things the poet wanted to say, other than perhaps my own occasional inability to understand her.

I have a book of poems from North East India. It is an anthology that I bought in India, with contributions from a huge number of poets. A few of them wrote in English, but the majority of them wrote in other languages – some in Bengali, but the majority in one or other of the plethora of languages to be found in the North East States. And, sadly, most of the translations appear to have been done as a straightforward translation word for word, with no thought given to the feeling of the poem. Any rhythm the poems may originally have had seems to have been lost. The sentences are often clunky and uncomfortable to read. Their meanings have become lost in translation.

But Zima Junction has a natural and comfortable rhythm

The translator of a poem has, to my mind, a task that is more difficult than the translator of prose. Yet, paradoxically, they also have more freedom. More difficult, because they have to get across to the reader ideas or meanings that may be partly concealed in idiomatic language used by the author that perhaps we have no parallel for in English, and hence they may have to completely alter the structure of that part. This will affect a line of poetry far more than it would a line of prose. Immediately, the rhythm of the poem is disrupted, the word count of the line changed.

Yet the reader of a poem has a right to expect a poem. And so, strangely, the translator has the freedom to re-write the poem. In the need for the end result of their translation to be a poem, they may have to completely alter much of the structure to enable the translated words to reassemble themselves as a poem. And so the translators of poems must, by essence, be poets themselves.

So to return to Borges and Yevtushenko, when I read the poems I do wonder whether I am actually reading their poems, or someone else’s?

The Oddness of Time – 2

I was eleven, and it was my first year in secondary school.

I don’t remember the day or the date, which in a way surprises me, since everything else was so vivid. But I was walking with Chas, a sometime friend, and we had just finished a maths lesson and were on morning break. The day was overcast, and I suspect it was early summer.

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We had just walked down the half dozen steps that ran down to the Lower Quad from the strip of asphalt beside the cloisters which connected the two main school buildings, and separated the Upper Quad from its lower cousin. At that point, I know I had not yet realised that ‘Quad’ was short for ‘Quadrangle’ – why would I? I was in my first year there, all was relatively new and there were more than enough new things to get my head around and cope with, without adding any unnecessary ones into that particular stew.

At the bottom of the steps I looked to my right at the large building that housed the dining hall and the geometry room, among others. There was nothing unusual or special about it that day, I just looked at it and had a powerful realisation – an understanding – that I would never again experience exactly what I was experiencing in that moment.

I might view the same view again, and perhaps the weather would be the same. Maybe even every boy in the school might occupy exactly the same place as they occupied at that moment, either outside where I could see them or elsewhere, unlikely though that might be. But it could never actually be the same again.

The universe would have changed; in one year we would occupy the same position relative to the sun, but not to all the other bodies in space. That would never be repeated. The Virginia Creeper on the dining hall wall would have changed – grown larger, grown new new leaves and lost many of the older ones. So too the other trees and plants.

We would never occupy the same point in time again.

I did not discover anything new that day. I did not add anything to the sum of human knowledge. But what I did was actually experience my existence in a way I had never done before, and have done only a few times since.

It is tempting to look back across that huge gulf – over fifty years, more than half a century – and fill my eleven year old head with profound thoughts that were not there at the time. But I knew I would never experience that moment again, yet I understood instinctively that I would forever be able to recall it. In a way like a snapshot, but a snapshot that included physical feelings and a strange sense of wonder.

Time is sometimes described as an infinite series of moments – because only the present exists – much like an old-fashioned cine film where the perception of movement is supplied by viewing a rapid sequence of still images, each one a gradual progression between the previous ones and the following ones, yet in a way this idea negates the whole concept of motion, since if that really was our experience, we should lose the consequences of motion; just think of the effects of a car crash, or a punch to the jaw, for example.

This was a snapshot in time, but it was anything but frozen. I felt it not only as a moment, but as part of continuous stream. I could still feel the rest of the world flowing past me as I stood there.

Buddhists speak of ‘Little Enlightenments’, which are moments when one has an almost overpowering feeling of existence, a strong sense of being connected to the whole world, during which that person experiences a heightened awareness – they seem to hear what is around them more clearly, see unusual detail and find that even colours appear more vivid than usual. At the same time thought seems unusually profound. This only lasts a short time, perhaps a couple of seconds, but leaves behind a powerful impression. I have twice experienced this, and each time I was somehow reminded of my experience that day at school.

And I wonder if the connection there is that I had an unexpected understanding of time for a few moments at the foot of the steps below the cloister.

 

The Barrow

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On wind-sucked Sussex chalklands

Rises a barrow older than itself;

A mock-maternal swell of earth,

Long overdue.

 

O my land!

Let me hug you close and put my ear to your bump!

I will listen for the sounds within!

 

But tell me,

If it is true that it only contains

The remains of the dead,

Then why do I hear a heartbeat?

Why You Should Buy Books (especially mine!)

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Hours of pleasure for the price of a cup of coffee in Bigbucks.

Like any other worker, you pay for my time. Only unlike the decorator, say, you only pay for a tiny fraction of the real time spent creating your book.

And what do you get for this investment?

Why, I bring you a whole, newly created world to explore!

I introduce you to people you never expected to meet, without the inconvenience of having to make small talk with them.

Heroes and villains, fools and wise men.

Perchance I will take you on a perilous voyage, yet you will return safely to the shore.

Encounter your deepest fears, and overcome them.

Know love, and disappointment, happy ever after and abject failure.

See through the eyes of the cruel and the eyes of the kind.

And all this for less than the price of a coffee.

And unlike the decorator, I won’t come and tread paint into your carpet, disappear for two weeks to do another job, leave your kitchen a complete mess, eat all your biscuits or drink all your tea.

I mean, really, what have you got to lose?

Review of Walk Away Silver Heart by Frank Prem

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This is a collection of love poetry, with each poem inspired by a line or phrase from the poem Madonna of the Evening Flowers, by Amy Lowell.

If I hadn’t already read some of these poems on Frank’s blog I don’t think I would have approached this collection, since love poetry is not something that usually appeals to me. Poetry is a medium of emotions, but love poetry can sink all too easily into banality or cloying sentimentality, something which is best written privately for an audience of one. Frank avoids this trap, though, by writing about the lives of the lover and the beloved – the gardening, the brewing of the coffee, the shared music – rather than the more intimate details of the relationship. Sometimes these are little more than snapshots of shared moments, at others there is more of a narrative.

Yet this makes it no less a love poetry. Each poem speaks of feelings, sometimes telling overtly of love, but sometimes this emotion is reached by a more circuitous route. In each of them, though, there is gentleness and patience. This is a mature poetry, a poetry that recognises love is something that needs to endure.

Frank describes himself as a storytelling poet, and his three previous published books all work on that level as narrative. This collection manages to do the same, only without the timeline.

One poem shall suffice as an example: Tell me everything (about you), inspired by the line You tell me these things.

tell me everything (about you)

You tell me these things.

talk to me

tell me things

you think

I need

to know

pour the yellow liquor

hot

into my shot glass

speak of love

talk in tongues

of fire

tell me of your anger

of the passion

that is the same thing

shout aloud

all the things

that you believe

hold meaning

I will turn them

on my guitar

into a song

ta-da ta-da-da

throw your glass

into the fire

then

start dancing

tell me

all these things

I

would know

everything

and all there is

about you

Although, as I mentioned earlier, I rarely read love poetry, I have to say I really enjoyed this collection and will certainly award it 5 stars out of 5.

The ebook is released on February 14th, and paperback on March 14th. It is available on Amazon, and can be pre-ordered before those dates.

A Re-vamp

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I’ve had a bit of a tidy up on here, the better to reflect where I am at the moment. Don’t worry, it’s quite safe to come in! I won’t ask you to grab a broom or a dishcloth or anything like that, although if you’re any good at writing advertising blurb, I’ve a couple of books here that could do with some professional input!

I’ve updated the My Writings and About pages, and added a page for My Published Books.

You may also notice I’ve tidied up the sidebar a little.

This has nothing to do with spring cleaning or new year’s resolutions, it’s more about attempting to present a reasonably professional impression to any new visitors to the site, as well as to my regular follower, of course.

And now I’m going to take a bit of a break from all social media for a little while. Hence I’m turning comments off for this post.

Storm Light

It’s time for me to take another of my breaks from Social Media. For my sanity, as much as anything else. I’ll leave the comments open, and promise to answer anyone who leaves a comment, sooner or later.

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I will not be idle! I have some work to do on this site, as well as a lot of writing to catch up on, but I need to find a bit of time for life in general, too.

I’ll leave you with this poem.

Snapshot.

 

Thin, wind-threaded branches:

Spilled black ink against storm light

Rook-song echoes from cold rocks

Patches of rain-lain foot-snaring nettles

In wind-rolled grass

 

My luck,

Emerging from the holloway just then,

From beneath wind-whipped trees

Into involuntarily sucked breath of

Wind-ecstasy.

 

My luck.

 

If you liked this poem, you may like the poems in my new collection The Night Bus, available here.

The Christmas Post

For my Christmas Post this year I’m going to do the environmentally correct thing and recycle a post from a four years ago.

The First Christmas Present

The old fellow with the white beard and the red jacket leaned queasily over the side of the sleigh, watching the snow-covered fields passing below. For a while, the moon was peering out between the clouds and he travelled over a scene of sparkling silver, although the sight did nothing to cheer him up.

He hated heights.

He hated elves, now, too. He’d never met one before today, but he knew now that he hated them. The smug little tossers sat right at the back of the sleigh, eating the mince pies that had been left out for him, and tittering whenever he took a wrong turning.

And he hated children. He especially hated children.

Ever since they took away his benefits and told him he would now be better off, he had struggled for money. Now it was November, and he had decided he had to get a Christmas job. Not that he was looking forward to long nights at the sorting office, or lugging a bloody great bag of Christmas cards from door to door. But it seemed he’d left it rather late, and there was nothing left. At least, nothing for someone of his age. Eventually, he found himself in a tiny little room on the second floor of a run-down office building in a backstreet, the home of an agency that he’d never heard of and with a staff, it appeared, consisting of one gentleman who he initially took to be a caretaker and who introduced himself as Mr Nicol.

‘You’ll do nicely,’ he said. With time-shift, it meant that there was no need to cram all the deliveries into a single night; they could be spread out over the whole year. In fact, they tended to use two of them, these days.

‘Two of what?’ His mind reeled.

‘Why, Santas, of course. But even then,’ Mr Nicol went on, ‘it’s difficult when one goes sick for two weeks. And so this is where you come in. What is a problem,’ he explained, ‘is E.U. Working Time Directive number seven. This rules out night work for anyone over the age of fifty. So you’ll have to do the deliveries during the day. Still, time-shift takes care of that.’

He still didn’t entirely understand, but he took the job.

The SatNav was crap. It took twice as long. The first time he tried it, he was terrified to find the sleigh suddenly hurtling between buildings that seemed to be no more than a couple of feet apart, at what must have been close on three hundred miles an hour. It then banked and turned in a tiny back garden, subjecting him to a force of about a hundred g, and then shot back down the same terrible alleyway. It then parked itself on the rooftop next to the one that he had just left.

The elves tittered into their hands.

He quickly found it better to just leave it to the reindeer to sort out. They obviously knew what they were doing.

And then it was impossible to tell how much time had gone past. If he noticed the time in any of the houses they visited, it never made any sense. One clock said ten fifteen. Some while later, he noticed one that said nine forty two. The next said four thirty. For a while, be began to check the time at each house, but quickly gave up when the times appeared to be completely random. He shrugged. More of this time-shift stuff, he supposed. It made it very hard to decide when he should be on lunch break, and he made a mental note to speak to a union rep. at some point.

Another house. Impossible to know how many he had visited. After the thing with the clocks, he was even wondering whether he still had to visit some of the ones he’d already visited.

No, that was too confusing. He shrugged again, and stepped out of the sleigh. The elves followed him with their sacks, and then they all stepped forward, and next thing they were standing in a hallway, just inside the closed front door. Yes, that was weird, too. The elves obviously knew where they were going; he followed them into a darkened front room where a little glass of liquid stood on the table beside a plate with two mince pies. There was a little note that said ‘For Santa, love Benjy’.

He dropped the mince pies into the bag that he wore around his waist for the purpose, and poured the sherry into the flask. He hated sherry, anyway, so the little tossers were welcome to that. With luck, they’d fall out of the sleigh at some point.

The elves trooped noisily out of the room and up the stairs, reached the landing and opened the first door on the right. Inside, a child was asleep in the bed, a large pillow case draped across the duvet.

‘Greedy little bastard,’ he thought. He picked up the pillow case and held it open, while one of the elves seemingly poured in presents randomly from his sack. And then he froze. There was someone coming up the stairs; that wasn’t supposed to happen! All this time-shift stuff was meant to mean that everyone would be asleep from the moment he entered the house until he left again. It all happened in less than a fraction of a nanosecond, in any case.

The footsteps came nearer, and then stopped. A small child appeared at the doorway, but all that he noticed were her sad eyes. She did not seem surprised to see him, nor did she appear overjoyed.

‘You never come to me,’ she said in a quiet, flat voice.

‘I visit all the children!’ he replied, struggling to sound jovial.

‘No. You never come to me. You never have.’ He felt himself squirming under her steady gaze.

‘What’s your name?’ he said at last.

‘Mary. I live with my mother. In one of those flats over there.’ She pointed out of the window towards a few yellow lights that seemed to randomly puncture the darkness.

He glanced at the elves, who shrugged unconcernedly, then sighed and pulled a list from his back pocket and put his reading glasses on.

‘I’m sure we, I mean I, do. What’s the address?’ She stepped towards him and gently took the list from his hand, looked at it for a minute and then pointed.

‘There. But you don’t go to our flat; number three.’

He ran his eyes down the list, clicked his tongue irritably, and then looked a second time, certain he must have missed her name. But no, it definitely wasn’t there. He looked up, to meet her gaze again. Oh, hell. He could take one present from, say, three or four others. They would never miss them, and no one would know.

‘We’d know!’ The first elf glowered at him.

‘You can’t do that!’ the other one pouted. He looked from one to the other, and then back to the little girl, and came to a decision. He reached into Benjy’s pillowcase, picked out a couple of presents and held them out to her. She did not move for a moment, but then she gently smiled, reached out, and took the nearest one. Then she turned and left the room, and he heard her footsteps going down the stairs. He darted out to the landing, but already she had vanished.

‘You’ll be in big trouble,’ a spiteful little voice behind him said happily. He said nothing but did the thing with his fingers he had been taught, and they were back in the sleigh again.

It had been their last call. Now he was watching the elves smirking and whispering to each other, as the reindeer ran smoothly through the clouds. Casually, his hand strayed towards the SatNav, and he pressed the ‘over-ride’ button. The sleigh stopped immediately, and spun round a hundred and eighty degrees, catching the elves completely by surprise and throwing them out of the sleigh and into the night sky.

He hated elves.

I Am The Wind

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I clatter dry leaves along dusty footpaths

And bear burdens far greater

Than mere birds and clouds.

 

On high, cold, moors I blow

In the hollow eyes of sheep, inert and prone,

And ruffle the hissing grass over barrows

Of long-dead chieftains.

 

From the fading fires of the sick and the dying

I blow prayers in the smarting eyes

Of disinterested and uncaring gods.

 

I steal your thoughts.