Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Martin Stannard

Just a small interruption to direct you to a poem sequence by Martin Stannard at Stride magazine, which is funny, profound, and entertaining. George Szirtes, I think, said that poetry is partly about saying complex things in a simple way, which is always much harder than it appears (it’s much easier to say simple things in a pseudo-complex way). Stannard succeeds well here. You need to read all 5 sections for the full effect.

Monday, January 30, 2006

How (not) to Write a Poem: Part 3

…again, continued from the previous post.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that every poem I write goes through such a tortured process, although most poems do start off in the way I’ve described. It’s just that some of them, like this one, require a lot of revision over a long period of time before they begin to work, and others (more rarely) work almost immediately. The Hedge Artist, for example, was written in about 40 minutes, and it was more or less a complete poem. I made a change or two later, but nothing major.

Anyway, back to the poem I’m discussing. Now that I had the ending, I felt (wrongly) that the poem needed only a few tweaks, and I didn’t plan any more major revisions. I went through the last draft and decided to cut lines that weren’t pulling their weight. So out went:

“…And when I think about it” and “… that night was typical of the man.” (S1)

Getting rid of these phrases helped the syntax which was unnecessarily complicated. Also these phrases don’t communicate anything. They are chatty, but that wasn’t what I was wanting any more.

Also out went:

“We stalked him for a fortnight.” (S2 L1) – there was no reason to have stalkers in the poem. It only begged the question of who the stalkers were and why they were stalking. They were certainly distracting from the poem’s subject.

“…that glinted like carving knives caught in the spotlight.” (S3 L3) – I had the sense to get rid of the carving knives and glinting teeth straightaway.

“Pomegranate pips peppered” (S3 L4) – too many –p sounds. It’s a loud sound is –p, a bit like –s in that respect. I remember Thomas Bates going on about how over-enthusiastic alliteration immediately shrieked AMATEUR about a poet. Of course, I am an amateur, but I like to disguise the fact when I can. I’m not convinced that “peppered” was ever the right word anyway.

“met his quickening silhouette” (S3 L6) – “met” seems kind of lazy. It’s OK but boring.

I changed another couple of things. I moved the line about filling the fruit cocktail cans and extracting cherries to nearer the beginning, as it seemed important to quickly establish the context where the later action would take place.

And in the final strophe, to “His last words”, I added, “as he fell”, so that it was clear when he was shouting the words.

This is the fourth revision:

GIVEN TO EXAGGERATED GESTURES

He rode an apple cart to work though his onion-strung bicycle
would have done. He filled cans in the fruit cocktail factory,
extracted each cherry before sealing. He lay out
on the strawberry patch by the landfill site
to count pigeons in the haze.
One night, in the pub, he aimed his white rum and lime
at the moose head with the bottle-cork eyes and plastic antlers
and swore he’d shot it clean through the nose first time round.

On the morning of his death, he sucked
a pear drop he’d stuck, half-eaten, to the dashboard,
twelve hours before. He picked up a tramp, dumped him
blindfolded under a date palm on a roundabout
island in a far-flung corner of the city; sent him into orbit.

Given to exaggerated gestures, he strutted along
the factory balcony, peach skin caught between his teeth.
He spat. Pomegranate pips grazed uncovered heads,
and seconds later, the scrubbed concrete of the shop floor
pillowed his diminishing silhouette sixty-eight feet down.

His last words as he fell –
a glorious death is bolder than life
half-lived,
or some similar gripe. His last request –
a burial in the radiated strip by the power plant,
where the apple tree withers and neon-bright rodents
gnaw on roots grown soft as old carrots.
Instead, too mean to buy a stone, we cast his ashes
to the wind. Now, with every breath, a part of him slips in.


This was a decent enough interim revision. It cleared out some of the dead and careless phrases that had cluttered up the poem before. Of course it wasn’t enough. I had persisted in hanging onto too many images that weren’t needed.

I sent the poem out to editors a few times along with other stuff. It soon became clear that even editors who accepted some of my poems weren’t picking this one. I wasn’t clear on what the problem was. Sometimes it might be that editors don’t like a poem, but that doesn’t make it a bad poem. I wouldn’t change a poem because an editor asked me to unless I felt the poem was improved as a result.

So more months went by and I ignored it. I got on with other stuff. Then I had another look, and I remember it being suddenly clear that, however much I liked the images of the pear drop under the dashboard and the tramp orbiting a roundabout, S2 had no reason to be in this poem. What difference did it make to the poem if it disappeared? None. In fact the poem was improved, because S2 wasn’t slowing it down any more.

I also got rid of the phrase, “Given to Exaggerated Gestures”. It seemed too lightweight a phrase for a poem about someone’s death and his friends’ betrayal of his wishes after death. So I changed the title too – to Every Breath.

That was one of two bad decisions I made for the fifth revision. Giving away a key phrase from the final line of a poem in the title is just plain daft. The other bad decision was an inexplicable change in the linebreaks in the final strophe. I have no explanation for this, and I can’t remember what possessed me. It didn’t last any longer than this revision though – number 5 - pretty much revision 4 without the second strophe:

EVERY BREATH

He rode an apple cart to work though his onion-strung bicycle
would have done. He filled cans in the fruit cocktail factory,
extracted each cherry before sealing. He lay out
on the strawberry patch by the landfill site
to count pigeons in the haze.
One night, in the pub, he aimed his white rum and lime
at the moose head with the bottle-cork eyes and plastic antlers
and swore he’d shot it clean through the nose first time round.

On the morning of his death, he strutted along
the factory balcony, pulp caught between his teeth.
He spat. Pomegranate pips grazed uncovered heads,
and seconds later, the scrubbed concrete of the shop floor
sucked up his diminishing silhouette sixty-eight feet down.

His last words as he fell –
a glorious death is bolder than life
half-lived,
or some similar gripe. His last request –
a burial in the radiated strip by the power plant,
where the apple tree withers and neon-bright rodents
gnaw on roots grown soft as old carrots. Instead, too mean to

....................................................................................buy
a stone, we cast his ashes to the wind.
Now, with every breath, a part of him slips in.

Almost there now. But with one key change to come, a change that would have saved me a lot of trouble if I’d thought of it earlier. If you look at the poem now, where’s the dead wood? I sent this revision as one of the poems in the manuscript (perhaps with the linebreaks improved in the final strophe) for HappenStance Press. The editor, Helena Nelson, wanted to do a chapbook with me and wanted to use this one in it. But there was one big problem, easily fixed…

Saturday, January 28, 2006

How (not) to Write a Poem: Part 2

I’ll start off from where the last post finished. The second draft wasn’t much good. Partly it’s these phrases “high on the scent of wildness”, “drunk on the sensation”, “But for the grace of God go I”; the first two are awful: vague and unconvincing, and the third is a cliché. I had the idea that I might redeem the cliché through the irony of his approaching death, but it doesn’t work.

As well as that, I didn’t tackle the problem of the ending. The first 3 strophes concerned a weird personality, but the surreal nature of the fourth strophe can’t work. The giant tangerine is too ridiculous. The idea that the tangerine should burst and drown the factory-floor workers has the virtue of being imaginative, but there are two problems with it.

First, the surrealism of that image isn’t really prefigured in the rest of the poem. The guy is odd, but there’s no sense of things being anything other than what they seem. The idea that he really is, or becomes in some way, a tangerine, with real juice, couldn’t work unless the poem had earlier hinted at such an unreal world.

Second, there’s no obvious motive for him to want to take out everyone in the factory. True, he hates his job and signifies this by spitting in the cans. But to kill himself and everyone else strains credibility. The earlier images don’t paint a picture of a tortured man about to kill himself and others, but of a colourful, flawed human being with an odd view of the world.

I shelved the poem for a while, maybe close to a year. I couldn’t find any way forward. Then one night I got a new idea, a new conclusion. I’d been reading about the death of Myra Hindley, who had helped to kill several children on the Manchester Moors in the 1960s with Ian Brady. She had been cremated, with almost no one in attendance, but the media frenzy ensured that her life and death would continue to attract great attention. The image of the smoke rising above the crematorium into the Manchester atmosphere provided me with the way to end this poem.

I also decided I’d have to make more of the fruit cocktail, so that everything the character does would revolve around this love/hate relationship with fruit.

And I lengthened the lines, thinking to speed up the narrative, make it more cinematic, and I added the third strophe detailing his movements up until the fatal jump. I gave him a one-line speech too, an attempt to make sense of his suicide. And I introduced a withered apple tree (in contrast to the apple cart of S1) and a wish to be buried in as weird a place as he occupied in life. But he doesn’t get his wish. That seemed fitting too.
So here’s the third draft:

GIVEN TO EXAGGERATED GESTURES

He rode an apple cart to work though his onion-strung bicycle
would have done. He liked to lie out on the strawberry patch
by the landfill site to count pigeons in the haze and get high
on the scent of wildness. He filled cans in the fruit cocktail factory,
extracted each cherry before sealing. And when I think about it,
that night in the pub - when he aimed his white rum and lime
at the moose head with the bottle-cork eyes and plastic antlers
and swore he’d shot it clean through the nose
first time round – that night was typical of the man.

We stalked him for a fortnight. He sucked
a pear drop he’d stuck, half-eaten, to the dashboard,
twelve hours before; he picked up a tramp, dumped him
blindfolded under a date palm on a roundabout
island in a far-flung corner of the city; sent him into orbit.

Given to exaggerated gestures, he strutted along
the factory balcony, peach skin between his teeth
that glinted like carving knives caught in the spotlight.
He spat. Pomegranate pips peppered uncovered heads,
and seconds later, the scrubbed concrete of the shop floor
met his quickening silhouette sixty-eight feet down.

His last words –
a glorious death is bolder than life
half-lived
, or some similar gripe. His last request –
a burial in the radiated strip by the power plant,
where the apple tree withers and neon-bright rodents
gnaw on roots grown soft as old carrots.
Instead, too mean to buy a stone, we cast his ashes
to the wind. Now, with every breath, a part of him slips in.

I workshopped this version at PFFA’s High Critique forum, and I got some excellent feedback from Jee Leong Koh and Paula Grenside – only two critiques, but two useful crits are much better than ten slapdash ones.

There are still problems with this version, but it’s significantly stronger than before. However, not all the details in the first couple of strophes seem necessary, and the carving knife simile in S3 has two problems. The introduction of carving knives doesn’t make any sense. Why carving knives? And it’s not true. Teeth don’t glint. Except in horror movies or toothpaste adverts / commercials.

One more thing - I was hanging onto some of the images - the tramp orbiting the roundabout, the moosehead in the pub - because I liked them as images and didn't want to give them up. I'd like to think I'd be more merciless with myself these days and would scratch them out immediately for the good of the poem. Whether I have become more merciless or not, I don't know. The images do eventually disappear, but not in the next draft.

End of part 2…

Thursday, January 26, 2006

How (Not) to Write a Poem

This isn’t to be recommended. Write a poem my way and you’ll probably wonder why I bother.

I know poets who know their beginning, middle and end before they start writing. For them, it’s how they get it down that matters but they know exactly where they are going. That must be a great feeling.

I thought I’d examine the birth and generation of one of my poems, a piece I started a few years ago, known then as Given to Exaggerated Gestures. I don't know whether this will interest anyone other than me, but that's the nature of blogging - send out a post for anyone who wants to receive it.

When I start a poem, I hardly ever know where I’m going. I get an idea, an image, a thought, and I start writing at the first opportunity. Some times (usually) I only get a few lines. In the case of this poem, I got:

He drove a dump truck to work
though his onion-strung bicycle
would have done. He liked to lie out
by the landfill site to count pigeons
in the haze.


Once it begins to get difficult, I stop. I think about the poem when I’m not at my computer, and when/if an idea occurs to me, I start writing it again. I had a few lines about a clearly eccentric character, and I felt he was now dead, and I was reading Simon Armitage at the time, so it seemed natural to switch the action to a laddish pub. And so I did:

And thinking about it -
that night in the pub, when he slung
a dart at the moose head
with the eye-patch and plastic antlers
and swore he’d shot it through the nose
first time round
(despite being vegetarian),
was typical of the man.


At some point, I keep going to an end, even if the going gets difficult. I decided to introduce a mysterious “we” who follow the character around, a giant tangerine, and a factory workforce who appear to drown in the tangerine-juice. Where did that come from? Well, I don’t often know what the ending will be until I get there, but sometimes it comes to me in the process of writing. Here, I knew the ending the minute my imagination gave me the tangerine (the tangerine disappears in later drafts, as does the ending). So the first draft gets completed:

For the last fortnight we’ve dogged
his tracks, and today we clock
the suck on the half-eaten orange spangle
he stuck to the dashboard
twelve hours before,
and the quest for cones to flatten
or for a lost boy to boot out
at some far corner of the city,
and finding neither,
the parade through the factory
dressed as a giant tangerine on stilts,
only to topple fifty feet,
burst open on broken machinery,
and hail stones on uncovered heads
that strain like stalks above the juice level
rising fast from the shop floor.

At this point, if I think the poem is worth working further on, I might let other people see it, and take note of their comments. Or I might leave it for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes. With this poem I workshopped it – not to rapturous applause. People hated the line in parenthesis about being vegetarian, and they hated most of S2, especially the cones, the lost boy, and the ridiculous tangerine. And they hated the ending.

I shelved it for a few weeks and decided that, with a reception like that, it had to be worth working on. I redrafted it but made it even worse. You want to see the second draft? I should warn you that six drafts of this poem that have survived, so this post has some time to go. I’ll finish off just now with the awful second draft that I didn’t let anyone see for reasons that will obvious. I didn’t need anyone else to tell me it wasn’t working:

He rode an apple cart to work
though his onion-strung bicycle
would have done. He liked to lie out
on the strawberry patch
by the landfill site to count pigeons
in the haze and get high
on the scent of wildness.
He filled cans in the fruit cocktail
factory, spat in each one before sealing.

And when I think about it,
that night in the pub - when he slung
his gin and lemon at the moose head
with the eye-patch and plastic antlers
and swore he’d shot it through the nose
first time round -
was typical of the man.

We’ve stalked him for a fortnight.
Today he sucks a pear drop he’d stuck,
half-eaten, to the dashboard, twelve hours before;
drunk on the sensation,
he picks up a tramp and dumps him
blindfolded, under a date palm on a roundabout
island in a far-flung corner of the city.
But for the grace of God, go I,
he whispers, as the tramp begins his orbit.

And given to exaggerated gestures,
he polkas through the factory
dressed as a giant tangerine,
only to fling himself fifty feet down,
burst open on broken machinery,
and hail pips on uncovered heads
that strain like stalks above the juice level
rising fast from the shop floor.

Uuuurgh. Second drafts like this often seem to go backwards. More on this over the next few days. I promise you it does get better and I, at least, was happy by the time my sixth draft took shape, an almost unrecognisable poem that appears in The Clown of Natural Sorrow.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Terra Vista

I dislike reading poems off a computer screen. I much prefer old-fashioned paper, but I’ll make an exception if the poems are good enough. That’s certainly the case with Terra Vista, an e-book featuring poems by Paula Grenside and photographs by Jay Patel.

I’ve heard that Sony are soon to release an e-book reader, which aims to make e-books as readable as the printed page, but I suspect the price would have to drop considerably before it could become popular.

Until then, I’d still recommend Paula and Jay’s book, even if, like me, you can only read it a couple of poems at a time.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Achievers

I took this Are you an Over-Achiever or an Under-Achiever? quiz.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that I was an under-achiever, and I wonder if that is true of most poets.

Also I wonder if poets who have considerable achievements in the poetry world e.g. Seamus Heaney, Charles Simic etc, do so partly because they have an over-achieving personality to match, quite apart from their talent. I was reading earlier on about how Carol Ann Duffy, winner of this year’s T.S. Eliot Prize, applies herself with rigour and discipline to her writing – two key characteristics of an over-achiever.

That said, the creators of the quiz make it clear that "understanding your tendency to overachieve or underachieve can enable you to better manage your small business. Both types of people are equally able to attain the goals they set for themselves as long as they learn how to manage their tendencies."

So perhaps I'm wrong.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Poem about Poetry (and other things) - Draft

Cutting

To forge a place at the cutting-edge
of literary fashion, you must chop
words, letters, even notions past their prime,
and give birth to a lexicon of redundancy:
phrases whose raison d’être has lost
its tussle with historical fact or cliché –
like EEC, God-slot, socio-poetic effing
and blinding, thee and thou, sex toys
and A-bombs that once had power
to shock a poem’s notional public.
I jettison J-cloths after one day;
that might be pushing a poet
too far. But L-plates certainly.
Simon Cowell, a name surely no one
will mouth on a deathbed. Ozone, woodchip,
pressure cookers, antidisestablishmentarianism,
peashooters, tripe, queues in the new
Europe, are you following me?
Swastika tattoos, afternoon tea – you must
move on to caffé latte. Close down the museum
of analogue TV, the debate over double u
or double you, ingénue, the vandalised tomb
of yesterday’s celebrity, the one who played Christ
stillborn in the revisionist Nativity. And ditch
the letter z, unless you are a bee
or asleep.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

First Review

Several people have written and emailed me with their reactions to The Clown of Natural Sorrow (thanks!), and Martyn Clayton wrote about it on his blog (before all the material on his blog disappeared without trace! Good to see you up and running again, Martyn, even without the lost material), but I didn’t know whether to expect public reviews of a debut chapbook.

I’m pleased to see that it has attracted its first review

It’s interesting for me to see how someone has reacted to it, particularly the comments on the book’s formal aspects. Perhaps more reviews will happen as time goes on, although I’m not holding my breath while waiting.

I wonder how I’d feel if someone really panned it!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Traffic Jam (revised)

Inside the sky
a long arch of leaves

and inside the arch
four lines of cars.

Inside a black Mercedes
behind a partition

a man protects
what’s left of his life.

*

‘Too young by half,’ Joan says.
He is thinking about

Sue’s depression, and finding it
lacking in logic, raises

a can of Bud and drinks in
the news that his wife knows.

What difference does it make?
he thinks out loud.

*

…Till all thy living altars claim
one holy light, one heavenly

flame.
The mourners
mouthed embarrassment

to their chests. Hymnbooks
flapped, ovens whirred, and still

the awful crem harmonium
squeaks psalms in his head.

*

When does a lie become
a reinvention? He adored Sue

in his way. ‘I’m an architect,’
he told her. Lies worn lightly

are easy to field. ‘What’s wrong?’
she’d ask. ‘I love you’,

he’d reply. The sun flings pins
at the wound-up window.

*

Cause of death, liver failure.
‘To avoid the stigma,’

the doctors confided.
He slides the verdict

into the mausoleum
of his brain; a half-truth

to each cell. It took Sue
three weeks with paracetamol.

*

When Joan smiles, her wrinkles
harden like leaves stiffened

in frost. Bullets of light
crack the ceiling

of summer branches. He grieves
for the certainty of a room

rented by the hour, for Sue’s
mild breath. Joan smiles.

*

He told Sue he liked things
as they were. She showered,

locked the bathroom door
for hours until he promised

a long weekend in Dunoon,
the weekend he opened

the Barolo and made love
to Joan, thought of Sue.

*

If he tries, he can hold
the dead at a distance

the precise length
of the pastor’s tribute,

or the funnel of trees
that frame the sky ahead,

or the span between love
and rage, short as breath.

*

Death; he blanks it out.
Cocktails on Monday

at the Clarkes, then home
to twenty-four-hour TV,

feelings blocked in scheduled slots.
Joan says, ‘We’ll manage.’

He has a mind to wipe
that tear off her face.

*

The leaves are thick,
but thin strips of light

spindle down his black tie.
When the road opens up

to the sky’s vacant glare,
he fears losing

himself in so much space,
in white and boxless air.

*

Beyond the partition
outside the car, the trees

draw back their branches,
and the sky waits

for a cloud, for a haircut
on Tuesday, for a man

it doesn’t know to step out,
to dissolve in light, in pain.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Used to be a Poem Here

There was a poem here, but I've had to delete it, as I've entered it for something. I'll leave the painting up, as there aren't enough pictures on this blog.

The painting is The Three Ages of Man by Tiziano Vecellio (1490-1576)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

John Ash

No, not John Ashbery, but John Ash, a poet born in Manchester in 1948. I had read poems by him before, but only a few from anthologies.

I picked up John Ash’s third collection The Goodbyes from the Scottish Poetry Library on loan. It was published in 1982. I’ve only read a few poems so far, but already I’m hooked.

The first poem, Great Sonata I, begins with a fantastic image:

The pianist commences the sonata about the angels and the rain.
It is slow, so lingering we will soon be fast asleep

dreaming of pink rooms filled with musical animals and roses
while our teeth rot in sympathy, and outside
the autumn air grows dense as a preserving oil.

It’s the “teeth rot in sympathy” phrase and the description of autumn that follows that hooks me in. The description is so dynamic. The pink rooms aren’t a look back to innocent childhood, but something sickly and cloying, a mawkish escape from reality.

The poem continues:

We must start now on the long road back
to the ‘evidence of our senses’ but it is hard –
we may have to unlearn as much as we learn,

besides, we distrust all the approved maps and signposts…
So the threat arises of a sojourn as long as a life
in some commonplace purgatory
of cacophonous motels and braided intersections. Yet
these are not all that modern life has to offer us
and the town is not a monster to be run away from,
screaming into headlights and blank night: thus, escape
from one dilemma only lands us in the swamp
of another, and the smell is worse than ever…

So we have the dilemma that not to follow the approved maps is to end up not knowing where you’re going. The evidence of our senses involves unlearning, not an easy thing to do.
But escape is no answer. That only leads to more questions.
The thought is clear yet intriguing. The poem itself resembles its “cacophonous motels”.

The conclusion?

We could invoke tradition, speed up the film of the flower
or imitate the procedures of music, in the hope
that these evasions might lead us, by way of doors
casually thrown open as if nothing were at risk

back to the dim point of departure. But how
can this appear as it was? It is only a confusion
of inclined planes, corridors and theatre boxes –

a fake painting called ‘Melancholy Of The Set-Square’.

I was with him until the last line. Then I did a little research and found this article, which includes a paragraph on Durer’s painting, Melencolia I:

The picture is at once immediately legible and deeply ambiguous. Seated on a step outside a narrow building with a ladder leaning against it is a winged angel...
...Strewn about the ground are a variety of tools and instruments – a self-feeding furnace, or athanor, a polyhedron with a hammer lying beside it, a sphere, a set square, a pair of pincers, a plane, a handsaw, a ruler, three nails, and some sort of syringe...
...In the background is a stretch of coastline overlooking an alarmingly calm lake or sea, and in the sky a comet, a rainbow and a batlike figure brandishing a streamer with the inscription “Melencolia I”. The scene is steeped in a lugubrious grey twilight.
What makes Dürer’s picture so enigmatic is precisely this superabundance of objects: it is “overdetermined” – has too many clues and signposts pointing in similar but not quite identical directions.


That could be the answer. I wonder if it spoils the poem, as it’s quite an obscure reference (of course, I realise there probably is a simpler solution, and if anyone knows what it is, I'd be interested in any suggestions).

However, the rest of the poem is so intriguing that I’m almost prepared to forgive him. I’ll certainly keep reading the rest of the collection.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Trouble with Poetry

I should perhaps say that this post isn't about the "poem" below, so much as the link to a New York Times book review. If you've never read any Billy Collins it will mean nothing to you.

Some days, all you can do is
pick up a book by Billy Collins
and wonder what life might be like

if you were in his shoes, the easy
comfy slip-ons a poet tends to wear
at readings, when a glass of water

placed strategically on a table to
one’s left becomes the one thing
worthy of desire more than words.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bathtime at the Apocalypse

I published this poem years ago, and probably no one reads their old copies of Ambit issue 169 any more. So I thought I'd give it another airing.

Bathtime at the Apocalypse

Grey scum skirts
the rim like the remains
of a burnt-out halo.
An old man summons
the world’s demise,
prays for hail to stone
the steamy windows
and break the tension.
He’s quit roll-ups
for the day, clutches
the empty ashtray
to his ear, like a child
with a beached shell,
eager for sounds
of trapped life;

A dog-bark answering its own
echo from the centre of the shopping
mall car park, a letterbox
chopping gas bills like a guillotine,
a last kiss blown under the counter
at the supermarket checkout.


He scans the ceiling
for cracks, openings,
but it’s all whitewash.
Could be nothing beyond.
The fear that angels
and demons congregate
in corners, kick up dust,
yet remain invisible
to the naked eye, wait
for the last sud to pop.
He’s hedged his bets;
the Lord’s Prayer
by heart, the Devil’s
music in his soul,
post-modern fever
on the brain. Soon
he’ll plug a cigarette
between his lips,
tap a demon for a light,
a last request,
to leave like an angel,
in a puff of smoke.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Christmas Thank You

Strictly for laughs, I entered a competition at the BBC News website to write a Christmas “thank you” letter, with a twist.

The BBC, in association with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), challenged readers to write, in about 100 words, two thank you letters with opposite meanings. But you had to use the same words in each letter - or words that sound the same - but change the punctuation (and so change the meaning).

This was far trickier than it sounded. Try it if you’re not convinced. I got several headaches while composing my entry.

But, amazingly, my entry was one of five chosen, and you can read it if you like at the BBC Magazine website. Mine is the fourth entry down.

Now all the entries go to the SfEP, which will choose an overall winner.

What they don’t mention is prizes. This seems to be the way things work. My modest successes in the world of literature always tend to come whenever no one is going to send me anything, not even a plaque.

Of course the feeling of success is sufficient compensation, but it would be nice to combine that with a few thousand pounds once in a while. I have a family to feed. I have a rack to fill with bottles of good Italian wine.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Rob Mackenzies

The number of Rob Mackenzies in the world who write poetry keeps increasing. If readers know of any more Rob Mackenzies, or indeed are Rob Mackenzies themselves, you might want to take advantage of the generous offer at the link.

Although if you click on the photo-link there, the first photo that comes up isn't me - just in case anyone is confused.

Monday, January 02, 2006