It’s a funny thing, looking back at poems I’ve written several years ago. The poem of this week is one I wrote for my daughter, and now reading it again I find that it’s the secondary theme of this poem that strikes me first.
Both my ‘children’ now live in London, and I always look forward to their visits home. This weekend, it was my daughter who came with her boyfriend. There were a couple of things on their itinerary which we managed to achieve on Saturday – the first was a guided tour of her dad’s allotment.
It was several months since I’d been down there and I was overwhelmed by the amount of vegetables still thriving and demanding to be harvested. Of course, I knew about these, as he’d been bringing samples of them home for supper week after week.
The other was on the request of daughter and boyfriend: a trip to Imran’s in Birmingham’s Balti Belt. It was getting on for two years since we’d been there and it was even better than we’d remembered. I was glad that the honour of Brum was upheld!
So where does Dublin come in to this? It’s not even mentioned in the poem below. Daughter and boyfriend have been together for two years now, and the poem dates from about six years ago. This is a mother and daughter poem, so yes, it is about her, but it has a more general significance, in that it’s about the state of being in love. She looked so glowing with happiness when she arrived that it brought it all back to me (but not, I hasten to add, the previous cause of her joy) .
Take a look at the poem now, and if I tell you that I was at Trinity College in Dublin, and met my husband there, you might get the Dublin connection.
She’s a sunlamp! Her voice on the phone
emits a radiance that fills the hollow space
behind my breastbone, filters down
to where she used to prod and ripple
under my skin, strange little engine,
humming and growing.
Now, if I should touch the screen
when I download her emails
they’d scorch my hand.
I go to meet her at the station
and people step aside to let her pass
as if she’s ringed with flame.
My headlights seem redundant -
it’s her eyes triggering
the cats’ eyes on the road.
Her words are morsels of joy that she
feeds me like crystallized ginger
or Turkish Delight.
She’s reached that place I visited
so long ago I’d quite forgotten
how I used to tuck my left hand
in the small, back left-hand pocket of his
Levi’s as we trod the air
an inch above the pavement
and my heart, a supernova,
flaunted itself on my face with such dazzle
that passers-by would flinch and shield their eyes.
Unlike some of my other poems, there’s nothing in this one that I’d want to change. It’s also a good one to read aloud and I find that most people who hear it seem to be moved by it.(It’s funny how little things like a back pockets of a pair of Levis can be forgotten for years, and then make such an impact when they suddenly surface.) Ah, youth!
I’m now in my fifth month of blogging and I’m still revelling in the learning curve. It’s a mixture of past and present – looking back on the ups and downs of my own writing development, and venturing into some wonderful on-line other worlds that’ve been opened up for me by other bloggers.
I wrote last week about the Bookcrossers, and in a way, they’re the ones who inspired me to start this blog, as they’ve been so kind to me in their responses to The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, my first published novel.
Another amazing organisation that I only discovered a few weeks ago is the LibraryThing.
Anyone who enjoys reading anything and finds it hard to let go of a book they’ve enjoyed is likely to jump at the chance of organising/cataloguing their real books in a virtual library, where they can rate each book and/or write reviews.
This means, of course, that they can check out numerous reviews from other members, and join in lively discussions on a book they’ve just finished themselves. I still haven’t got my head round all the intricacies of it, but it’s a site I visit often – and not just to see if anyone’s sent me a message!
I was thrilled when I’d seen that someone had given my book 5 out of 5 stars . I left a message to thank her for this, and I had this lovely message back – (It also gives a flavour of the friendliness of this site.)
private notice posted by Agade at 11:07 pm (EST) on Aug 23, 2009
Welcome welcome, it’s an interesting place, isn’t it. And there’s just so much here! I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve not stumbled across myself yet.
And I gave your book five stars because it’s bloody fantastic :). Very human, funny and real in the right amounts and the right places. I shall be avidly reading anything else from your pen that crosses my path in future. Thank you for writing :).
As you can imagine, that’s a real boost to an author, four years after publication. The LibraryThing must be one of the biggest book-based clubs in the world – it calls itself that, and with its community of 850,000 booklovers, it’s probably true. (Someone reading this might be able to put me right here and tell me that there are more Bookcrossers than LibraryThing members. Whatever! Take a look at this site – if you’ve not come across it yet, it’ll blow your mind.
I’m grateful to Nicola Morgan or alerting me to the Biggest Coffee morning in the world in aid of the Macmillan Cancer Support. I’m of to drop in to her bloggoffee herestrong>, now!
Like most things in my life, I only get round to making a major change when I’m more or less forced into it by some outside intervention. In this case, it was having double-glazing installed in my lovely little writing room – not just the door and the big window overlooking the garden but also the French windows that we’d never opened in the twenty years since having this room added to the back of the house.
So most of today and all yesterday, I’ve been rearranging everything in this room. It opens onto the garden and is full of light on sunny days, so, with the doors and windows open it almost felt like being outside.
I hadn’t realised quite how long this would take me, and once I’d piled up all my books from the three bookcases onto the floor and every other available surface, I had to carry on. And it wasn’t just the books. The knee-hole desk I’m sitting at now has nine small drawers, and the tiny table I was using as a desk , also has a drawer, and then I’ve got a large carved camphor wood chest, and all these were crammed with accumulated papers and other odds and ends that had to be sifted and sorted.
I feel very pleased with myself now that it’s all finished, but I do regret not being able to catch up on other things I wanted to do, such as writing a post about R.J.Ellory’s inspiring talk to Bookcrossers on Friday night at Hudson’s – but that will have to wait.
Meanwhile, here’s my poem of the week:
His mother’s fur coat sleeps under their bed.
Each night she listens as another stitch
that binds those skins together snaps.
There’s barely room to navigate the back-log
of newsprint, stacked on the carpet
like dry-stone walls.
Beneath a camouflage of photo frames
and bric-a-brac, the clenched piano
chokes on silent chords.
One winter, on the edge of Lovers’ Leap
He’d lectured her on limestone crags,
fossils of crinoids from aeons ago.
To her delight, she’s found them on the net,
sea-lilies, feather stars, swaying
and feeding in tropical seas.
Now sun slants in between the blinds
jostles motes of dust, and something
like a boulder is worked loose.
This is a poem that I first wrote at least seven years ago and was published in my small collection, Single Travellers. In spite of it also winning a place in the Ragged Raven Anthology, Writing on Water, (2005) I’d never been quite satisfied by that version (see below) so I’ve spent the last hour chopping and changing it. At the moment, I think this version is more effective, but when I read it again tomorrow,
I’m very likely to want to make other changes. (I’ve just read it again, and am not sure what I think now!)
I’d be very interested in your comments about these two versions.
There’s barely room to navigate the decades of newsprint,
calcified narratives stacked on the carpet like
dry-stone walls. Does he believe
they can shore up the present? Beneath accretions of
photos and bric-a-brac, the clenched piano
is choking back old tunes.
Her mother-in-law’s fur coat sleeps under their bed.
At night, lying above those stitched-together
skins, she feels them stir.
Years back, on the edge of Lovers’ Leap, he
told her about limestone crags, billions of
fossils from aeons ago.
Now she’s found them on the net, sea-lilies,
feather stars, swaying and feeding in tropical seas.
All that life!
Sun edges in through smears of condensation,
its slanting shafts jostled with motes of…dust, is it?
or particles of
something more ingrained, intangible,
worked loose at last
from the boulder in her throat
Becoming a published writer has opened windows onto all sorts of amazing new communities. If it hadn’t been for LyzzeeBee’s review of my novel for my publisher’s website, I might never have heard of one of the book-world’s most fascinating and subversive organisations: The Bookcrossers. If you click on this link you’ll find what they say about themselves and their activities.
I use the word ‘subversive’ because of the way they’ve spread themselves across the globe, discussing and recommending the books they’ve enjoyed (and those they haven’t), both on-line and in groups, face to face, distributing their treasures from hand to hand in a wide range of inventive ways, beyond the reaches of the orthodox book-trade.
OK, you might say, so they leave their books on park benches for someone else to pick up. They actually give books away! So why would any author want to encourage more people to pass books on to total strangers instead of getting them to part with their money and buy the product of their months or years of labour, their un-put-downable novel?
Firstly, authors want their books to be read, and to stumble across a recent review, long after your book has disappeared from the book shops, gives a shot of delight and adrenalin that spurs you on with your latest writing project.
Secondly, Bookcrossers tend to be avid collectors , and will often buy their own copy of a book that they’ve sent out on a journey. I was amazed to find out about Book-rings (I think I’ve got that name right) where fellow bookcrossers are invited to include their names on a list to receive a copy by post. The first thing I heard was that mine had made its way across the Atlantic. That same copy eventually arrived back in Birmingham,via Canada and Scotland. An awesome thought for a humble author!
Thirdly, the Bookcrossers I’ve met are friendly and enthusiastic people and provide opportunities to meet others of like mind in welcoming social situations around the world. At my first ever meeting at a cosy coffee house in the middle of Birmingham on the eve of their Unconvention in 2006, I met people, not just from all over the British Isles and Europe, but also from America and Australia.
The following year I was invited to speak at the Unconvention in Brighton. Up until 2008, the main Convention was always held in the US, but in April that year the venue was London, and I felt very privileged to speak there too, with some other Transita authors, including Susie Vereker,Alison Hoblyn and Adrienne Dines.
A few weeks ago, I was alerted to another journey that my book was making, and I was again delighted to read some more reviews that showed it was still being enjoyed in June this year.
Here’s a flavour of what a Book-ring journey is like!
Journal entry 13 by garibaldisghost from Nottingham, January 13, 2009
I really enjoyed this very readable, somewhat unusual but ultimately feelgood and heartwarming story. A further bonus being that some of it is set in Nottingham - my home town. All in all a fairly good start to 2009.
book rating: ********
Journal entry 15 by jazz-ee2 from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire United Kingdom on Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I know of this through the BookCrossing Convention, where I met Christine Coleman, and had intended to buy the book but somehow didn’t. I look forward to reading it, then passing on to Angellica.
I read this book last week and while it was a little predictable I did enjoy it. There was a bit where it started to drag, and then picked up nicely - maybe it could have been a little shorter? I did love all the characters, and only hope I’m as active as Agnes when I get to her age!
To take to the Nottingham BookCrossers book meet to pass on to another BookCrosser who had said they wanted to read it.
book rating: *******
Journal entry 16 by Beebarf from Sheffield, South Yorkshire United Kingdom on Saturday, June 20, 2009
Passed onto me at the meet, as it is a book from my wishlist.I started reading it on the train home, and I’m loving it so far - really rooting for Agnes! The Nottingham link is good, but part of the book is set not far from Horsham, where I lived for 10 years, so I know all about the (lack of) bus service - no wonder Agnes chose to hitchhike :O)
Journal entry 17 by Beebarf from Sheffield, South Yorkshire United Kingdom on Friday, July 10, 2009
I really enjoyed this light read - I want to be an Agnes when I get old :o)
I’ll take this to the next Nottingham meet, as I think someone else wants to read it.
book rating: *******
I love the sea, but I’ve lived in the middle of England for more than thirty years.
I grew up in a small Sussex village which has its own mini-climate within a ten-mile radius of the family home where my mother still lives, just a few miles from the sea. When I’m at my own home, especially during the holidays, I sometimes find it hard to hear about the glorious sunshine they’re enjoying down there, while Sutton Coldfield is living up to its name, and is shrouded in cloud.
In keeping with Sod’s Law, when I drive down to Sussex after a week of fine weather, the sun usually goes into hiding as soon as I hit the A 23 and the downs come into view. So this weekend, on one of my regular visits to my childhood home, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm breeze and blue skies on Saturday afternoon.
I knew this would be my last chance of the year for swimming in the English Channel, so I took my chance, and the sun was hot on my shoulders as I trod gingerly over the grey stones to the edge of the clear sea. It wasn’t as cold as I’d expected and I relished again the feeling of freedom as I swam out towards a bobbing orange buoy, with the dazzling glare around me and several metres of water below my feet.
When I’d started going to the North Norfolk coast years ago on visits to my husband’s family, it took me a long time to get used to the sea there, with its treacherous currents, and the sun in the ‘wrong’ place, but I grew to love it for the wildlife and emptiness, particularly Blakeney Point with its colony of grey seals.
So this is the obvious candidate for my poem of the week:
Becoming a Seal
Becoming a seal takes dedication.
I’ve time for little else now
what with days in snack bars
accumulating layer on layer of flab
and evenings stretched out in the bath
holding my breath under water.
Night swells with dreams of blubber
light as airships, supple and strong
as branches of willow. Sometimes I lurk
by plastic ponds in garden centres.
After a little practice, Koi carp
slip down smoothly as noodles.
My place of pilgrimage is Blakeney Point.
Those massive bolster shapes basking
on sandbanks barely glance towards me
as I wriggle inch by inch a little closer.
Now that I’ve tuned in to their grunts and barks
I understand their conversations.
Lately I’ve noticed changes in my skin -
it’s thicker now and turning mottled grey.
Each plunging struggle against
North Sea tides creates a tingling glow
though I still have to coat myself with grease
before I slide into the waves.
When my legs have fused together
they’ll propel me faster. I’ll have no need
for arms – the sinuous seals caress
from head to tail. Soon I will smell
as they do. They’ll nuzzle me gently
gliding around me along the sea-bed.
This is not an autobiographical poem, but I have swum in the shallow channel at low tide ,while the seals’ heads bobbed around me,staring with their spaniel-like eyes.
An early version of this poem won 5th prize in the Poetry Life (2001) competition - since then I’ve tightened it by cutting out at least one other stanza and re-organising some other parts that I later felt were a bit clumsy. I still do like this version - it reminds me of those experiences and it’s fun to recite to an audience - it seems to go down very well at readings.
I guess that lots of other published novelists would agree with my sentiment: the main delight of having a book published is not the financial reward (just as well in my case, as this was miniscule). What delights me is the knowledge that several thousand people have read and enjoyed my first published novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
I had a fantastic time at the launch of my book, and relished every single minute of that evening in October 05. It took me a few days to drift back down to earth – but even at the time, I was aware that this was a one-off experience, and wasn’t going to set the pattern of my life from then on.
I’ve been thrilled to come across recent evidence that my dear ‘baby’ is still out there, making its way in the world, and still being appreciated.
The most recent was a wonderful review from Rhapsody in Books (a fabulous site for thoughtful and inspiring reviews of a huge range of books). You can imagine how I felt when I got home from an exhausting day at work to find this glowing report:
Like many other authors, I check my book’s progress on Amazon and was delighted to find this review posted in April this year. (Thank you Mungo – whoever you are!)
Couldn’t put it down, 21 April 2009
By Mungo (Surrey) *****
Absolutely brilliant. I really could not put it down. Totally rivetting and a lovely read. One reviewer complained about the co-incidences. I can tell you that they do happen in real life. Christine’s characters & co-incidences are totally believeable. For me the story was a lovely reminder of what can happen and how life can unfold in remarkable ways — IF you have time to let it happen.
And a big thank you, also to Sue K who posted this one, only a week ago.
A gas, 2 Sep 2009
By Sue K (Sutton Coldfield) - ****1/2
I took Dangerous Sports on holiday. It came back to UK with me well thumbed and embelished with splodges of wine and suncream after 3 in our party read it in the space of a few days. We all found it an excellent read. It was fun to follow the adventures and transformation of Agnes from a depressed, rather repressed, trapped 75 year old to a very whacky, vibrant, physically, emotionally and socially adventurous woman, capable of so much. The plot motors along at a good lick, fuelled by a fair number of implausible cooincidences, but somehow that doesn’t seem to matter. I recognised many aspects (not all them of them so attractive!) of myself in most of the characters Agnes encounters en route. I live in Sutton Coldfield so also enjoyed the recognition of familiar places …in fact I am sure I live right next door to Dianne Lockett, Lucy’s mother!
It’s insecurity, not vanity, that’s the source of my extreme excitement when I come across this, and similar, reviews. I’m sure I’m not the only published author who still needs reassurance that their books are being read and enjoyed.
Another source of vital encouragement for me has been (and still is) the wonderful organisation: Bookcrossers – but I don’t want to squeeze them into third place, so I’ll post more about them very soon.
In recent years, the sheltered patio in my south-facing back garden has been dominated by large terracotta pots of leafy fuchsia plants. As with onions, my gardening husband has a tendency towards excessive zeal when it comes to growing things.Unfortunately, it’s usually September before the flowers show themselves in their full glory – by which time, I’m back at work.
In spite of my return to work last week, I’ve still made time to browse through more book/writing-blogs. I particularly liked the title of Fiona Robyn’s writer-and-reader’s blog for the way it connects writing to gardening – it’s also interesting in its own right.
As this is the time of year I tend to associate with the delicate drooping heads of red, pink, and mauve, I didn’t have to think too hard about my selection of the Poem of the Week.
The Head, who is not fond children,
has chosen for his office the small round room
at the top of the tower, where he cannot hear
the shrill recitations of tables or psalms or
into the valley of death rode the six-hundred.
He has no time for fairy tales and never wonders
about Rapunzel or the Lady of Shallott.
Few people know that he was married once.
His passion is fuchsias.
Not the wild Cuchulain’s Blood
that flaunts its riots of scarlet tassels
by the winding roads of Galway,
the simple flowers his wife had craved
in memory of home. The ones he cultivates
are petticoated mauve, or pink and lilac,
veined in purple – plants that he
can grow in pots and regulate
by pinching out their early shoots.
He’ll tell you that he never dreams at night.
The closest that he lets his own mind drift
into that shifting region at the back of the north wind,
is when, after the final bell, his room in the tower
is the only one in the echoing school with a living soul,
and he fills his head with pictures of his hothouse
crammed with cuttings from his favourites, his darlings.
When he sees the first faint lines on his curved white wall
he thinks they’re cobwebs, tries to wipe them off
but they grow bolder. Scrawl themselves in tendrils,
stems, leaves, petals, calling out their names:
Fairy Cheeses, Cluckweed, Boneset, Larkspur,
Tetterwort, Clockdindle, Ripple Grass.
Rooted to the rug, he blocks his ears against the chanting:
Beggars Button, Cushy Cow, Rags and Tatters,
Foxes Cloat. Then colour emerges, and texture
and the smell of waste ground and damp woods.
Bad Man’s Oatmeal, Eldrum, Devil’s Milk.
As earth begins to fill his shoes
he shakes them off and stumbles to the door.
Kathleen, Kathleen, Kathleen
I wrote this a few years ago (2005?) when I and a few other local poets* were invited to take part in a project at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. We went round the different art exhibitions, absorbing the pictures and the atmospheres they created.
*I can’t lay my hand right now on the names of some of the other poets and artists, so instead of leaving anyone unmentioned, I’ll include them all in a later post.
The picture shows the exterior of the Ikon Gallery itself. I was intrigued to learn that it had started life as a school for deprived children, and that the room at the top of the tower was actually the Headmaster’s office.
Inside this small room with its rounded walls, there were raised beds of earth, filled with samples of weeds and wild flowers, while in a different part of the building, there was a complete data base of all the common names for these plants.
I couldn’t resist those wonderful names – and the mini-story-poem took shape.
It was published in 2006 in The White Car, the eighth anthology of poetry from Ragged Raven Press
At the end of a long and exhausting week at work, it was lovely to leave it all behind and settle down at my own computer, where I can get back to Writing Matters. I felt I deserved a treat this evening – the first week of returning to work after the summer break, is the one week I least look forward to of all the fifty two. I’ll tell you about the treat that was waiting for me, once I’ve got this rant off my chest.
Nothing changes, when it comes to preparations for the autumn term in Adult Education – it’s always hectically busy, and there’s always new information that we, the middle managers, must explain to the hard-pressed tutors at pre-enrolment meetings, with little or no time to digest the implications of the increased complexity of the paperwork they’ll have to use. And, as usual, the printed versions of all the documents they must learn to use and love, are not yet ready for distribution.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose - I had to look up the second part of this, because once someone knows that saying, the first three words are usually enough. And that’s enough of my (very long ago) school-girl French.
The biggest difficulty for me at this time of year, is trying to shunt my brain back onto the right track, so it can deal with everything I have to accomplish before next Monday. My memory of all the tasks I had planned for so clearly and carefully at the end of July had dissolved into dreamlike mist, as if a decade had passed, instead of just one month.
That’s definitely enough of that. And anyway, it’s not really all that bad. Just that I’d far prefer to be writing a novel or a poem, and for the next few weeks, I’ll be up to my eyes in ‘work’ work.
It feels like a long time since I’ve mentioned anything about my own novel writing. The last time was in my post
Transita and a Change of Title
The treat I’ve come home to was clicking on to one of my favourite writing sites - Essential Writers - and there it was, the article that Judy had invited me to write. It fills in the few months between having my book accepted by the publisher, and the actual publication date.
(There’ll be more about the launch itself soon - and the joy of getting so many lovely reviews from lovely readers.)