Archive for April, 2010

Fine words

Much of my time has been taken up with production of the student anthology recently. I spent 12 hours today on it, punctuated only by a trip to the dentist. Portfolios for my degree course (which need to be handed in next week) haven’t had a look-in. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.

I’m rather pleased with the note from the editor I wrote this morning, so I thought I’d share it with you:

We are Creative and Professional Writers, and Fine Artists.

Not content with that, we continually strive to become better writers and artists. We learn from our teachers, those who have walked further along our path and are willing to show us the way. We learn from other writers and artists by appreciating their work. We learn by noticing everything around us and by making connections between abstract concepts and concrete objects or events. And most importantly, we learn by doing. We write. We draw, paint, take photos. We create words and images that are increasingly effective at communicating a vision, a story, an idea, a person, a landscape.

As we practise and improve our skills, we naturally want to display the results. In the autumn of 2009 a group of students came up with what seemed like a far-fetched idea at the time – to publish a professionally-produced anthology of students’ work. A very steep learning curve and a lot of hard work followed. We called for submissions, we selected and polished the pieces to be included, we recorded the writers performing their work, we created a website, we planned and rehearsed several live performances, we typeset the anthology and had it printed. All that work turned the idea into the reality you hold in your hands today. We’re proud of what we have achieved so far, not only our writing and art, but also the anthology itself.

It is our job to create powerful images and pieces of writing which will convey something meaningful to you. We want to make you laugh and cry, reflect on your own experience in a new light, gasp and say, ‘I hadn’t thought of it like that.’ Most of all, we want you to be glad you’ve taken the time to read this book.

We hope you will enjoy our work.

The blurb I wrote for the back cover this evening wasn’t nearly so fine – I shan’t inflict that on you.

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I made a discovery today. I predict it will be responsible for the frittering away of more hours than Mahjongg Dimensions on Facebook (how do they score more than 14 million on that? I thought I was doing well to get 5 million). It is the natural successor to Wordle – Tagxedo.

And I think it’s kind of enabled me to create something that almost meets two of this month’s daily poetry challenges on Eireann’s blogthe one where you have to use the geography of somewhere special, and the one where you have to create a lexicon… ok, so I haven’t actually got a poem, but I do think this image is very poetic.

Lundy Lexicon

Pip's Lundy Lexicon

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The Fourth Rule

OK chaps, I find myself still up at 1am, still haven’t done my daily poetry, and haven’t written a blog for three days. Not Good Enough. Must Do Better.

So, here’s a story I’ve been working on recently. It’s at slightly-less-shitty-second-draft stage, but I quite like the way it’s shaping up. And I read it out at my writing group this evening and was told it’s poetic, so it’s not totally inappropriate for National Poetry Month.
The Fourth Rule

The path I am walking on slashes between the birch trees. They reach for each other, delicate branches trying to find the strength to defy gravity. Failing, but pulling the papered trunks behind them so that eventually, close to the sky, the heart-shaped leaves can dance together in the early morning sea breeze. My leaf-shaped heart thuds in its predictable rhythm, a dour counterpoint.

Sunlight skitters across the waves and penetrates deep into the wood, scattering jewels among the dewdrops so that I am a shadow walking through a chandelier. Worker bees buzz off to their daily tasks and blackbirds sing to their brown mates. The headland across the bay calls dive from the cliff, swim to me, climb my chalk-white slopes and dry yourself on my grassy belly. It knows I cannot swim that far, but the thought of crushing fresh grass under my salty rolling body twines with the longing already in my mind.

I am drawn to a riot of roses, brash pink against the subdued shades the trees have clothed themselves in for this sombre spring. Admiration for their daring briefly flickers inside my chest, is extinguished by the cold heart that reluctantly beats there. Why should they be permitted to challenge the decaying rules that bind me?
And what are those rules, Anna? the doctor asked me, yesterday. His thin red lips twitched underneath that ragged blond moustache and black half-rimmed spectacles slid slowly down his sunburnt nose. His pen ready to write down the rules, he waited for my answer.

I didn’t think he really wanted to know, but then he asked again. So I told him, and he wrote them in a list, like this:

  1. I will always fail.
  2. Hope is the king of betrayal.
  3. I must become my surroundings.

After the third rule, the doctor stopped writing, so I stopped telling. I was relieved, because the fourth rule doesn’t have any words. It is the city wall dividing lovers, the kidnapper who takes a baby girl from her parents, an old dog lying beside the dead body of his master. It is the strongest rule of all, the rule that cannot rot and crumble away, through which no chink will ever allow light.

I left the doctor’s office. The nurse smiled at me, a fiery smile to match her tightly bound auburn hair. How was it today, Anna love? she said. I couldn’t answer without breaking the rules, so I poured all my hope and longing into the wells of her deep brown eyes. Rule 2 was already broken. I could only think of tracing the line of her jaw with the tip of my forefinger and taking the smile from her lips to mine with a kiss.

Sleep did not come last night. The fourth rule stood over my bed and kept it from me. The nurse entered my room in the darkness and I could hear the whispering of her clothes falling from her body until she stood in silence like a naked tree in the winter, her cotton shirt like leaves around her roots.
That did not happen. The fourth rule put it into my head. Then it sent me out to the birch wood on the cliff top.
The roses are speaking with the nurse’s voice. No, not speaking. Gasping as the sun’s rays touch their velvet buds. Groaning as they open their soft petals to receive the wind’s caress. Yes, they whisper. Yes, yes, they scream.

And then the doctor’s voice, yes yes yes, from the sharp hard thorns hidden by the blushing petals, ripping through flesh and blunting their points on the fist-sized rock inside my chest.

The fourth rule welled up inside me and burst out of my mouth in rhythm with the pulsing of ice through my arteries. No – no – no – no – no. This is against the rules.

Her body, naked as she hadn’t been for me last night. Her face, framed by roses. Her lips, smiling. Saying Anna, what are you doing out here, sweetheart?

I run. Away from her, away from the rules. I cannot live by the rules any longer.

The path carries me through the birch trees, through the candles that hang from their illicit dance. Dew and tears soak my skin. I will dry my salty body on the green pelt covering the headland’s belly.

The sea calls me with the voice of the first rule, You can’t swim all the way across the bay. But if at first you don’t succeed…

The cliff calls me with the voice of the second rule, If you leap from my summit I will propel you, you will fly over the waves.

The blackbirds call me with the voice of the third rule, Join with us and we will show you how to become one with the sky.

The fourth rule is silent. It knows it has broken me.

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Reading the News

Today has been less than maximally productive. I have, however, finished reading The City and the City by China Mieville, which is a storming good read. It’s based on the premise of two cities that coexist within the same physical space. The inhabitants are forbidden from interacting with each other, where the cities are ‘crosshatched’ people must ‘unsense’ anything that belongs in the foreign city, while at the same time avoiding any sort of contact. I have to admit the exploration of this premise grabbed me much more than the basic plot, which was a murder mystery, but Mieville’s beautiful and often startling use of language along with the complete weirdness of the setting carried me along quite nicely.

So. Poetry. Today’s exercise from Eireann was to write a poem inspired by a newspaper story. So off I went to search the Guardian website, like a good little bleeding-heart liberal, and could I find anything the least bit inspirational? No, of course I couldn’t. Camilla breaks her leg? Politicians are t***s? People prefer to drink bottled water? hmmm….

Off I went to The Sun website, and found this gem.

US mum sends adopted son back to Russia with note saying: I don’t want him anymore

It’s a desperately sad story, and I’ve no idea who’s to blame. The Sun, of course, vilifies the mother. Yes, she’s a single parent, so she’s obviously in the wrong. QED.

I hope someone is looking after the poor kid.


She gave me paper. One piece.
Here it is. It says something loud.
The jet engines are noisy too,
working so hard they have to scream.
I can’t hear the paper shouting.

New granny’s words hit me in the face
when they came out of her prune lips.
Like old mum’s words, just as strong
smelling of vodka. But new granny
and new mum didn’t hug anyone ever.

If speaking hurts, I shan’t speak.
They call me stubborn. But I am saving
my weapons. One day I may need them.

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Scissors, Paper, Poetry

I have made a poem! I never knew I could do that. I always wondered what poets meant when they talked about making poems… now I know.

Today’s exercise on Eireann’s website was to break and reconstruct one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I took her at her word…

here’s the original:


I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest–
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
and here’s mine:

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all the dashes, but I think they make a pretty border at the bottom.

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Simon's face


I thought you might enjoy looking at a photo of my injured son… it’s a salutary reminder of how robust yet delicate our loved ones are. I believe the jargon for what he did is ‘faceplant’, which is a beautifully poetic term…

Anyway. So. Has Batty Pip managed to come up with a pome today? Well… I’m going to give you not one poem but two! Aren’t you lucky?

Eireann’s exercise was fun – look at pictures of stars and write about the first image that comes into your head. My barely-hidden OCD snuck out and I started counting, so this poem had to be written:

Night Sky

Shhh. I’m counting.
                              Not Mars—red god
at the end of your warpath. I’ll fix Polaris
          Why would I want your dozen roses?
They can’t throw the energy of atoms
across light years.
                            Second: Sirius, doggedly
following its master. Then three, four, five
in Orion’s belt
                      which must have names.
I think number six is hidden. Can you see it
from the dark side of the moon?
No matter.
               Seven to eleven make Cassiopeia,
who knew her words and beauty excelled.

Her daughter, Andromeda
                                          is uncontained
she has birthed a galaxy.
                                 one hundred and twelve
six thousand, seven hundred and fifty-three
So many stars
                       I have lost count, but you
you can’t even see the sky.
I’m not sure about the title… we’ll see what it changes into over time.

The second poem I shall offer to you is one I wrote in the Nottingham Poetry Series workshop this evening, also run by Eireann (see, told you she’s incomparable!). I particularly liked this – we had to write down two nouns and swap them with each other, then write a poem joining the two. I got Guernica and Andrew Mathers. I don’t know Andrew, but he is now forever sitting alongside Picasso in my mind…

Art During Wartime

In some art gallery
Picasso sits and stares
at the destruction of Guernica.
He is invisible
but Andrew can hear his sighs
Andrew can smell his sweat

and feel the heat
from the burning buildings.
A shopkeeper screams
Andrew! Andrew Mathers!
Why are you watching us die?
We need more than another picture.

Andrew places his ass
next to Picasso’s
and sits and stares.

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False trails

OK, yesterday’s poem-a-day exercise was hard. Today’s was even harder. I have to admit failure so far.

I guess I have the excuse that I spent a few hours in A&E with my #1 son, who managed to come off a pushbike and hit the road face first. He’s OK, battered and scraped a bit but he’ll be fine.

So I got as far as a Grand Plan which involved writing a lot of beautifully poetic words arranged around a map of Lundy. I even got as far as finding a suitable map and working out how to arrange words around it in Word. And then I wrote some words.

Wish I hadn’t bothered.

That’s a couple of hours of my life I’ll never get back.

So, I’m afraid I don’t have a poem for you today. I’ll have another go at it tomorrow.

Oh. Actually, I have written some other poems today, at the Nottingham Poetry Series workshop this evening. Which was really really really good fun. But the poems I wrote are also not fit for human consumption.

So. Will do better tomorrow. Promise.

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This exercise was difficult…

imagine you’ve come home and someone has moved all your furniture

At first I had no thoughts. Then I had lots of thoughts but none of them were interesting. Then it was nearly tomorrow so I thought I should get on with it…

This Morning

A bible lay on that chair
next to a candle
half burnt
in a brass holder.

The book and the candle
are still there
as solid as your breath
but the chair is not.

A rose lay in that bed
next to you
glowing skin
in a cotton nightshirt.

The flower and the bed
still tight in slumber
and you
you are gone.

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OK, so I cheated

Eireann’s second poem-a-day exercise was a little harder than the first. Take public transport? ME? but I don’t DO public transport! Besides which, I’m busy this weekend, visiting a friend, staying up half the night playing stupid games and drinking v nice wine.

So I drew on my most recent experience of public transport. For reasons too complicated to go into I was without a car for a couple of days recently, so was forced to use buses. Which are mostly horrible. But the university hopper bus, which ferries students for free between University Park and Jubilee Campus isn’t too bad, so I still use it occasionally, just for fun. In fact, I used it last week, and overheard a phone conversation with the most amazing line…

unfortunately the other bit of the poem is purely wishful thinking…

Hopper Bus

I am the oldest person in this tin box

a tiny oriental woman falls
into my lap
leaps up
            sorry sorry
flits off chattering in french
to a skinny lad whose eyes
haven’t seen sleep
for a week

the girl behind me is very definite
absolutely no talcum powder on the chips
her boyfriend hides
behind a free newspaper
and a brittle laugh

I am the oldest person in this tin box
and still I don’t understand

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National Poetry Month

Well. Well well well. I’ve been meaning to start writing here again for a while. Now I have to… our American friends have declared April to be National Poetry Month, and the incomparable (took me ages to decide on the right adjective) Eireann Lorsung is celebrating by setting a writing exercise each day on her blog. I strongly recommend you all get on over there and exercise your poetic muscles.

This is my response to the first exercise.
Please let me know what you think…

Monday’s Child

after Cesar Vallejo and Donald Justice

I will die on Lundy, stolen by a force nine gale,
on a day I don’t remember yet, a spring day
like yesterday. It must be a Monday, I was born
on a Monday, screaming louder than the west wind.

Today I pull these words from the thoughts
they cling to, force them through the nib of a pen
onto an expanse of paper rough as the granite cliffs
where yesterday I flew with guillemots and razorbills.

Pippa Hennessy is dead. One Monday on the edge
of an island, the wind took her notions and screams,
broke them on rocks and fed her flesh to the ocean.

Razorbills and guillemots watch from their nests
stilled in respect, nestled in pairs with fledglings
which, some Monday soon, will leave to fly free.

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