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.
I’m gonna use soccer as a metaphor for poetry Now poetry is like soccer in some ways and very different from soccer in other ways but it will be useful as a tool for talking about poetry Soccer is a team sport and there are lots of people to blame Poetry is a singleton sport and you have no one to blame but yourself Both require heart Both require a combination of conscience thought and gut level reaction Both require discipline and practice Both can be sooooo very satisfying when you win and kinda nasty when you lose not as nasty as a fight to the death, but then we are civilized, are we not? Most people write poetry and don’t really care if it is good or bad You are not one of those people It is good to care about whatever you're playing at When you play soccer you need to be serious about the game But can a player be too serious? Yes, they get so frustrated that they start missing shots that would be easy for them if they would just relax a bit (not all the way, just a bit) They lose focus and start grumbling about how wet the field is Or sweat got in their eyes When you play soccer there must be some ‘play’ to it You must be playful Same with poetry You must be playful with it sometimes If it is not for fun then what is it for You must find a balance between seriousness and playfulness Either extreme is OK but you will never be very good at the game Now soccer breaks into two parts Craft and Heart The craft of soccer is how well you get your foot around the ball How well you can turn a ball How well you know where the other player is and how well you can guess what they are thinking The craft of soccer is what you improve through practice And practice is very important You make your mistakes in practice and you learn from them You watch other players in practice and you learn from them You think about your game at practice and you learn from it You do not think about making your foot get around the ball If you are thinking about exactly how to position your foot you will miss the shot You tell your foot “Get the ball” and then you think about something else, if you over think the process you will take too long What’s funny to me is that when you do this in your poetry you call it a ‘blurt’ The way your foot goes around the ball is best known by your foot The way your words go around your poem is best known by your hand not your mind All poetry that is good is a blurt Now about Heart Practice can take you far but it will never take you to a win For that you need heart What does it feel like when you are right in the grove And the ball is lined up perfectly and the goalie is asleep and you have that perfect shot And you know, even before your foot hits the ball that it going to be perfect You feel this in your heart and you must let the heart get to your foot It is the most satisfying feeling in the world It is perfection Its what all the practice was for and it is more You asked > How do you know what your reacting to when you write > something? I would say that you probably don’t know what your reacting to in your mind But in your heart you know And you feel that you have lined that sucker up perfect And you kick that poem right past the goalie into the net (computers are great nets for this sort of thing) I know something I’ve written is good because I can feel its in the groove And I really can’t see the meaning myself until much later But I know its good ~ SCORE! Take that sucker, go home and tell your mama she dresses you funny (or whatever you say in your head, because they will give you a card if you say it out loud) Now if you want my input on craft Then you must tell me that you want it No problem, just kinda boring But hey, that’s what practice is for So Good poetry has good craft and good heart Craft is something you can practice and improve Heart is something you are born with I have seen great heart in you and that is why you can’t get rid of me so easily I will talk to you about your craft but the heart is so much more interesting When I go to a soccer game I never blame the craft of the players, that’s their problem I just figure they didn’t have enough heart I think you want to do good poetry right off the bat Without practice (I was the same way about piano, remind me to give you some of my music) And that’s OK but your craft will not improve very quickly that way Poetry must flow from you on a regular basis if it is going to improve There is no perfect poem There is just perfect poetry craft I also think you want to hide your heart because sometimes your work is very cryptic I have to work hard to unravel the meaning, but hey, I love working hard to unravel your meanings because they are usually worth it and I love the challenge You work makes me think (I always refer to poems as ‘work’, because its not the poem it’s the process, the crafting of the poetry that I like) So here’s the wrap up Practice your craft by writing a bunch of stuff as often as you can in small black books Pry your hands off you heart and let it run free in your words say all the stuff you’ve always wanted to say but were afraid Let’er rip