To Read And To Write; The Creative Life

I spent the morning finishing The Innocents by Ian McEwan.

I felt a great sadness when reading a letter contained within it, suggestive of other lives and other alternatives.

Literature, art, has the power to do this.

I find myself more and more subsumed into the creative life.

I’m currently on the second draft of a novel. I’m not a very disciplined writer. I don’t put aside set times to write. I just decide to go over a chapter when I have a window in time. Although this may seem a quite casual approach, from crude, rudimentary beginnings the book is beginning to take shape.

And yet, amidst this deliberate foray into fiction, poetry is beginning to call to me again. I have long had an eye on a second collection. Not one to multitask, I intended to turn to this after the completion of my novel. But words are beginning to nudge their way in, filter through. Single words, combinations of words, predatory lines demanding attention.

Inspiration doesn’t pay respect to timeframes and schedules.

I have a few new poems written: Judas Kiss, Boathouse, My Father As Child, In Brigantia and others. I’ve not posted much poetry recently on City Jackdaw as I’m holding them back for a possible next collection.

At the moment I’m still deliberating the order of my creative endeavours. My procrastination was given a nudge recently  when I received a letter in the post from a great writer and poet that I gave a name check to in the foreword of my debut collection Heading North. Now in his 81st year and still as creative as ever, he wished me luck on my own foray on this open and crafted path.

This path of conjured words, and alternative worlds, that exist long after the demise of their creator.

The Soldier And The Painter

A few months ago I read The Noise Of Time by Julian Barnes, written from the perspective of the composer Shostakovich in Stalinist Russia. I remember thinking at the time how difficult it must have been for creatives living under such regimes. Often it is the writers and the poets who are the first among the disappeared.

Anyway.

I woke in the early hours of this morning with the remnants of a dream clinging to the shirt tails of my emerging sense of self. The dream was of an artist-a painter, who was living in a country that was under some kind of communist or military rule. He had been called to be conscripted into the army, but his passion was for his art. He was stood before a desk being questioned by a seated officer, a strict disciplinarian, who was giving him the party line about what his duty to his country was, and what an honour it is to serve the ‘leader’ and to give your life for the cause. 

The young man replied that he had no intention to die for the cause, but rather to live for his art.

This provoked a concerted effort from the officer to bring the young man around to the official way of thinking.

The artist replied “I’m not going to be a soldier anymore than you are going to be my psychologist.”

That was it. I woke up with that last line rattling around my brain, a film with no closure, a story with no end.

It has been some months since I read The Nosie Of Time, and haven’t really thought of it since, so I’m not too sure if that was where the seeds of my dream were sown. And to be honest the storyline was not really the same as that in my dream.

But I feel a little cheated. I was filled with admiration for my conjured character, whoever he was. Maybe he served as an archetype for all of those creative types that I spoke about at the start of this post. I feel like I really need to know what happened to that young artist, and what price he paid for his courageous stance.

I probably will never know. Perhaps I should write it myself.

Songs Of The North

These three books constitute the (current) Songs Of The North poetry series, of which my book Heading North is a part.

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These words are from my editor Michael Kobernus:

‘I am proud of every book we put out, at Nordland Publishing. However, these are special. While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they elevate the written word into art, and that is amazing.’

My book, Heading North, is available here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heading-North-2-Songs/dp/8283310097/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491035913&sr=1-1&keywords=heading+north

All three different takes on the inspirational north can be discovered here on Nordland Publishing’s website:

http://www.nordlandpublishing.com/titles/songs-of-the-north/

Isn’t it time you journeyed North? 🙂

On Poetry:Inspiration

For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.

The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.

The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?

We writhe 

with a rage to know 

the unknowable,


blind to great masses

that dance in dark orbits. 

And a soft, summer wind 

on a night beneath stars 

is no balm.

While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the night, the stillness was broken by the sound of somebody passing by the front of the house, their presence announced by their whistle as they went.

From somewhere a whistle

casts a line,



a fragile camaraderie 

in a world

fell silent,



where white moth-wing

is riotous



and a spider's touch 

carnal.

That faceless person, whoever it was, initiated the close of this poem. Sometimes we go about life oblivious of the effect we have on others, positive or otherwise. And writers can be voyeuristic vampires, stealing in secret what they need from those around them.

I had half of another poem entitled Old Town.  When writing it I had the idea of an American-type run down town in the middle of the desert, with people eking out a life in a place where unknown others lived long before them.

As is their wont,

the ancestors speak of nothing,



just leave their handprints

on rock, drying in shadow.



In sterile dust

we kick

careless trails,



tracks opening up

in animal minds.



In towns

we lay our markers down,



watering holes

within arid charms.



The rats have our number,

wait us out,



sandstorms filling our lungs

like egg timers.

 

I wanted to add a second part to the poem.

Regular readers of City Jackdaw will no doubt know of my love for old photographs. There is one in particular that has featured on my blog a few times before.  It bears the  legend Mary and her Grandfather Jasper. Around 1900. In many cases we never know who the people are in photographs such as this one, but with this we know enough to give it a personal dimension.

I wanted to somehow include this in my book, and so for the second part of this poem I envisaged somebody using it as a bookmark, reading a Truman Capote book (I had The Grass Harp in mind) while, in contrast to the whole ‘heading north’ theme, thinking of the south where the author came from and set his stories.

image

On the porch 

she reads Capote.

Turns her face to the south.



Her bookmark is an old photograph

of an old man; a girl; a dog:

'Mary and her grandfather Jasper, around 1900.'

He: sat, stern and saturnine, wearing the dust. 

She: stood, hand lightly on his shoulder,

glaring at the camera,

facing down posterity:

Not yet. Not yet.




The dog is unnamed.

The birdcage in the window, empty.

In the book there are voices on the wind.

Here, just the parched whisper

of turned vellum.

 

Just weeks before Heading North was to be published I went to stay for a few days in Sweden. It being the furthest north I’d ever been I thought it an ideal opportunity to write something as a last minute addition to my collection of poems.

And thus was born Three Poems In Stockholm. 

The first poem came about when I was staying on a boat that served as a hostel and I was woken early by the sound of a foghorn. On looking out of the cabin window I was greeted by the unexpected sight of a Stockholm blanketed by thick fog.

Anchored mists hold down 

the grey waters

of Saltsjön.



The mournful baritone

of a foghorn

splinters the hull,

grinds the bones,

raises us up

from our slumbering 

wooden berth,



to climb high above

the city's fitful dreams.

 

I got dressed and went for a walk. Wandering around there was hardly anyone else around: it was a Sunday morning and the shops were still closed, even in this capital city.

I found myself on an empty street, myopic in the cataract effect of the fog. Suddenly a girl came into sight. Perhaps in her twenties, she wore a bright chequered dress, and beneath her arm she carried around half a dozen sunflowers.

The contrast between her and her surroundings struck me, and I immediately knew that this encounter would feature in the poem I was writing.

In Södermalm,

shining in a multicoloured,

chequered dress,

a girl breezes along with an armful

of sunflowers,

creating a fissure of brightness

in the milky gloom,

ploughing a passage of light

right through to 

the warm facades of Gamla Stan.

Blind to all else,

we follow her down.





 

Although another two Stockholm based poems followed, this is the one that reminds most of my time there. It was that image I can still see now: within a fog-bound scene a flame-haired girl in a bright dress, clutching yellow sunflowers. A centre of colour in a colourless landscape. It was like a painting.

Of course if I’d have approached her and said I was going to write a poem about her I could have been hit with a restraining order or something much more painful.

So somewhere out there, probably still in Stockholm, there is a girl who inspired a poet and is immortalised in a poem that featured in a book.

And she will never know.

I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s kinda sad.

 

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heading-North-2-Songs/dp/8283310097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486389824&sr=8-1&keywords=heading+north