Keeping the Butter On Your Poetic Potato

a baked potato with butter

Image via Wikipedia

If you feel like I do about the untying of your poetry,  (military boots really have more sizzle with spider lacing) – or ya know your eyes slit when shifts of splatterwords shuffle into recess lineups.   If mashing  ‘publish’ sends Mary Poppins clapping order into a Jackson Pollock phrase – and your poetry’s spacing means as much as that one inch butterchunk, cayenne pepper and chili powder, crunch of sea salt on thought’s potato –  means potato should align to the right of mashing as a highlight to chaos caused by organization!  If you feel like I do, without actually saying what you feel, about a cascade otherwise known as the formatting of poetry on wordpress, I found the proper lacing, splatter, and butter here.


Be Brave and Other Things You Tell Yourself

like it’s popular to be tan and you white as death

think how time could earn you a darker shade if spent it out red

and blistered for a slip span

just in time for the popular to shift -and you damaged

pulled out by tide

washed up by tide

bleached of all know how and want –

like so much sand

idling for want of a horizon

best to pulse courage ain’t rely on borders so far

you can pinch its strait

-with one pull unravel

best to pulse courage

a gravity shaping the tide and you and all you stand on

Work in Progress for the Holiday

Here’s an unpolished section of my book as I near the first lap split, if writing it was a mile race on a 440 yard track. I’m sure you can do better, so grab a pen or keyboard and write something over the holiday break.

Happy solstice to one and all.

Friday moved as slowly as a Friday. The air filling King Offa’s school was more opaque and viscous than usual, probably because the De Genneville family were yet again threatening to sell the surrounding land in Edgbaston for development as a red brick amusement park. Duncan sat at the back of the science lab and contemplated his classmates. He concluded they were lazy ingrates. Doctor Honclebriff worked, as was his inclination, to elevate them to a higher plane, and yet they seemed unchanged. ~Teaching is a thankless task; I wonder if he finds any consolation in being told he has increased our potential. We don’t exhibit any outward signs of increased energy.~ He jotted some words of wisdom in his notebook concerning the raw materials from which ethanol could be made. ~Here he is: A professorial Sisyphus doomed to push a classroom of rocks up a hill–except this mass of stone stops moving whenever he stops pushing. They sit there barely able to hold themselves up against gravity. How can he measure the height of their achievement when it is so low?~

The dinner bell rang more slowly on a Friday, an entire two octaves lower than usual. He met Habib in the corridor beside room 72 and they took a long cut to the dining hall in preference to standing in the queue.

“Who did you have?” Habib asked, as they slid along the bottom corridor’s mahogany block floor like speed skaters.

“Pedro Honclebriff, he’s pretty good but he has a funny accent.”

“Honk-ul-brief? Where’s he from?”

“I dunno. Probably somewhere exotic like Scunthorpe or Leeds.”

They turned along the master’s corridor and passed the medical room. This nudged Habib’s memory:

“Sorry about missing Wednesday night. My mum took me to a neurologist. She was worried I might be developing metempsychosis. He assured her that it was probably a side effect of the medicine I was taking for my, you know, seizure thing.”

“Yes, but we’ve got to plan the Windmill Fair trip. It’s a great chance to ask a bird out, and I need as much time away from our house as I can get. Dad’s got the blues again. It happens every time he tries to give up whisky.” They took the steps to the Guild Hall two at a time.

“Are you sure about the blues thing?” Habib asked without sounding as if he cared. “I mean, he’s sort of a bit celtic for the blues.”

“The blue devils, the demented trembles, jimjams, DTs, snakes in the boots, the empty bottle shakes, he’s been seeing the screaming meanies. Alcohol and being celtic go together like elephants and being pink.”

There was a crowd at the sport’s notice board checking the team selections for the next day’s rugby fixtures. Duncan took the noisy interlude as an opportunity to decide which girls they might invite to the fair. ~Not that one he used to sail with. Her grandmother was killed was in a car crash. Hit an oak tree at fifty miles an hour. As drunk on beer as any of Hogarth’s gin drinking models. There you go,~ he thought, ~Habib was right to break-up with her.~

Out through the main door they went, in front of the porter’s lodge, and across the Sacred Sod without batting an eyelid at the cries of foul from some senior boys on their way to some not-so-secret rendezvous by the girl’s hockey field.

“What about that Sheila Langland? The one that says,” Duncan adopted a voice like a parrot, “‘My dad’s William, never Bill.’ Then she says it as one word, ‘Willyneverbill Langland.’ Can’t you call her?”

“She’s from way away, from the Malvern hills above the Vale of Lunt. You know, near Ledbury. If she’s in town for the fair, she’ll be draped across Mitt Healey’s shoulders like a feather boa.” The dinner queue had receded and they were within ten feet of the steaming steel vats of nameless meats and tasteless vegetables. Habib suggested, “What about Kath Linton? She’s getting to be a looker.”

“Her dad says he is going to buy her a riding crop in Liverpool during his next business visit.” Duncan grabbed a tray and drummed it on his knees. “You know what that means, and I don’t want to be involved. If he promises her gifts like that, he’s probably got a girlfriend and Kath’s half-brother in hiding up there.” He closed his eyes and tried to recall a girl, any girl, with whom there was the remotest chance of a conversation without being mocked for his efforts. The hall vibrated with indecipherable chatter and the clang of serving spoons in metal troughs. “Do you know Becky? I dreamt last night we were in Menabilly again, that Elizabethan house in Cornwall near where she lived before her dad moved to Birmingham. Funny how my dreams all have happy endings. I think I control them; That’s why I don’t have nightmares. We were chasing some thieves who had stolen an urn from the crematorium. They ran out of the house and through the woods but there was sudden cliff they didn’t see and they fell over it and the salt wind from the sea blew the ashes towards us.”

“Ah! You’ve gone back to using too many ands. We’re not thinking hard enough. I’m sure some stronger impulse vibrates here. As I keep whispering to you, my friend, to find a kindred heart you have to go abroad.”
Duncan nodded his disagreement slowly. “You’re mad. It’s a bad idea, this going to Rome to pick up women, and I suspect there is some risk in simply knowing you. Tell me, is this European flirting an Indian trait?”

The line shuffled grimly towards their gastronomic fate. “The only other Indian I know is my dad.”

“You don’t know anything about your father.”

Habib pursed his lips, caught on his own off-hand.

Stealing Home from Martial’s Third Base Epigram

I admit to this peculiarity: I read one thing and a completely different thing pops into my notebook. I recently finished Martial’s Epigrams. They’re out of copyright since they were composed in c.40 – 104 CE, the pre-book days of publishing. Several of them made me laugh out loud, which probably shows my wit is old-fashioned. Most of the jokes I know are certainly from that era. I’m working on a very big book and my method is unusual, not to say novel–’cause you’d all groan at such a pun. I am writing the whole thing at once rather than working from end to end.

As I devoured Martial’s clever quips, I would sometimes stop and read the Latin (badly) and a transformed version would make its way into the draft of my book. Here are several widely dispersed scenes, all caused directly or obliquely by my Roman friend:

Doctor Willard, recently a physician, now has a job where he’s a mortician: same clientele but a slight change of condition.  (Parody of Nuper erat medicus)

You know, Keith, when you freely allowed everyone to touch your sister there were no takers. Since you appointed Tim Healy as a body-guard, she’s had a randy horde on her heels; You’re an ingenious fellow. (Parody of  Nullus in urbe fuit tota)

     “You do insults. I’ve heard you. But have you ever tried to do compliments?”

     “Don’t be silly, we’re boys.”

     “Here, give it a try.” Megan though a moment, “Habib is naughtier than Catullus’s sparrow. Get the idea?”

     “I like this,” Habib said, sitting up with a nefarious smirk.

     “What are you doing with your face?” Duncan asked, a hint of defensiveness dusting the fringe of his words.

     “It’s a wicked smile with a pinch of derision because I though of a good one: Duncan is more seductive than any bird, and Megan is more pure than a dove’s kiss.”

     “Habib is the most precious Indian treasure,” Megan joined in.

     “Bollocks,” Duncan lost the thread, “he’s a fake dog poo. Put him side by side with a real dog poo and nobody can tell the difference.” (Parody of Issa est passere nequior Catulli)

Mrs. Iqbal-Nash shrouded herself in the tinted darkness of the car. Mister Iqbal read her good-bye note, his hands frozen in place and his voice shivering in the heat, “Into the care of my late mum and dad, Ron and Cilla, I commend the soul of my little loved one, Habib.” He stopped a moment, the slightest catch in his voice. His lips hugged one another until they were ready to move on. “Look after him in those shadows we can’t see through. He’d be seventeen in four months if…” The silence flowed back into the red bricked hall. His father looked down and decided not to forsake his son’s eulogy. “I hope his word games don’t annoy you too much. I hope the leaves fall gently on his ashes in the Water Wood that he loved so much. It’s the one where his feet fell gently on the leaves every Autumn.”  (Transforms Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, geneterix Flacilla, puellam)

He remembered an advert for the Job Shop: If you want to make some money, join a band. If intellect isn’t your thing, we have openings for auctioneers and architects. (Vaguely related to Cui tradas, Lupe, filium magistro)

     “See, that’s why we don’t bet on no races. That number three dog dropped back on the last curve; he was winning a bribe for losing the race.”

     “What’s a dog gunna do with money?”

     “Buy hisself a rabbit. He knows they ain’t ever going to catch the one in their race.” (Suggested by Vapulat adsidue veneti quadriga flagello)

If you’re stuck for a big story idea–that plot thing that creative writing teachers seem to think is important–try grabbing some small ideas and seeing if they fit together to suggest a story. What have you got to lose? Apart from an evening reading Latin jokes and dirty limericks.

Ask not for whom the writer writes

It’s in all the books; you hear it at clinics and in class: Who are you writing for? I usually fall back on claiming that I write for myself, sales be damned! However, a funny thing happened on the way back from Atlanta. I was listening to a lecture on Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, as one does on such expeditions, when Professor Greenberg noted that the trumpet part was written with a single performer in mind, a virtuoso player by the name of Johann Ludwig Schreiber. The trumpet part is still considered one of the most difficult in the entire repertoire even with the change from valveless to valved instruments.

This gave rise to a question: What would a story or book look like if it was written for a virtuoso reader? Poetry might be one answer, a story that makes you think about the texture and construction of the language might be another. No matter. This was the genesis for my new answer to that ever recurring question I started with.

My writing is scored for the Virtuoso reader. I refuse to dumb-down my prose to make it accessible to the average reader. This isn’t snobbery; it’s that I like the baroque complexity and structure that I produce. Thus my excuse takes me back to the answer I have previously given–I write for myself. If a publisher pushes me to define my target audience, I now have a term I can give them: the virtuoso reader.