The Art Of Sinning

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Some cows taking over and a chicken fleeing in Treen, Cornwall, June 2016.

Here’s a short, light poem which I wrote this morning in response to the following poetry prompt:

Write a seven-line poem about one of the 7 Sins that only contains seven words in each of the lines.

I ended up writing eight lines, plus I wrote about all the sins instead of just one (couldn’t pick a favourite). However, breaking the rules in a poem about sinning seems appropriate.

Happy Monday!

Emily x

p.s. the prompt came from this list , which has lots of excellent ideas to help combat writer’s block.

 

Trip Advisor Review: Seven Sins Cruises

Four stars. Recommended to those who need

a quick cobweb shake before morality resumes!

Wrath closed for maintenance, frustratingly, but Lust

buffet delicious: took mine to my room.

Envy amazing – wanted it all to myself!

Could’ve done with more Greed, considering price.

Loved Pride – was a natural – (sorry, bragging).

Didn’t bother with Sloth; did Gluttony twice.

Poem A Day Prompt: A Celebration of Self Adulation

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International Women’s Day at Saigon Outcast, 2015

I was at a party on Saturday and was introduced by my boyfriend Pete to a woman called Mel. The conversation went something like this:

Pete: Emily, this is Mel. She’s doing a PhD in Psychology! Mel, this is my girlfriend Emily. She’s starting a PhD in October too.

Emily: Oh, well, it’s not a proper PhD like yours… it’s in Creative Writing!

Mel: Oh, please, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing most of the time and I’m probably not even going to finish it!!

I immediately realised how ridiculous the scene was: two apparently intelligent, hard working women, lucky enough to live in a place and time where their access to education allows them to pursue not just degrees but doctorates … both clamouring to let the other one know how rubbish they were. It wasn’t the first time I’d done it and sweeping generalisation alert: it’s something I see a lot more in women than men. I’ve introduced my boyfriend to plenty of people as ‘studying to be a doctor’ and not once has he said anything along the lines of ‘yeah but I’m shit at it’ or ‘not a proper doctor, I’ll probably fail and kill someone!’ He just smiles and nods. The whole thing reminds me of this Amy Schumer sketch (NSFW warning: it’s a bit sweary):

In my experience, women – myself included – are often quick to undermine compliments or indications of their achievements. Why? For fear of seeming arrogant or conceited? Resisting arrogance has it’s place, sure. But permanently undermining yourself (not just conversationally, but by not putting yourself forward for promotions or assuming yourself incapable of physical, traditionally masculine activities) seems to me not only potentially damaging but also wasteful. Western women living in the 21st Century have more of a voice, more freedom and more opportunity than at any other point in recorded history. That’s not something I want to stifle by selling myself short, for fear of seeming conceited.

With that in mind, today’s poem is a confessional poem of self love. Below is a beautiful poem by Maya Angelou on the same theme. Maya had it harder than me, and she still acted like she had diamonds at the meeting of her thighs, so I think I will too.

Emily x

Self-Love: A Confession

Every day
my inner voice
narrates the story
of my life in
firework fragments
of imagined reactions
to the devastation
my storybook eyes
are wreaking
or to the universe
blooming between
my thighs and
effusions of the
yearning to be
near to me as
I am near to me
and of the longing
to climb in here
and to find out
what’s inside.
.
The impulse exists
to share my
amazement to
startle you
with honesty
to win your respect
by using my outer
voice to tell
you all of this
so you can
commend
my sincerity
outwardly
while shaking
your inner head
and willing me to
get over myself
and be more humble
because you know
I’ve got the casting
wrong and maybe
I’d be better off
knowing that in
your inner world
I’m a bit part.
.
God knows
I’d do the same
for you.
.
But your script’s
not worth reading
in fact nothing
ever is or ever
will be worth
so much as
being ever
loved like this.

*

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou - Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Poem A Day Prompt: Write a poem about AUTHORITY

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Is natural authority learned, earned or innate? I don’t know, ask this cat. His name’s Toffee. – Nottingham Kitty Cafe, April, 2016.

The Authority Suit

I found it at a flea market
on a bright cold Saturday.

A gleaming, peach monstrosity:
not my style at all.
Perhaps a size too big
or a size too small.

But not a blemish on it.
And only £50.
And the vendor crowed that
it was worth a grand.

I have the eyes
of a magpie
and the grace
of a magpie.

So I took it.
Cash in hand.

The first day I wore it
was a confetti of compliments.
I bought new tights
and wore six foot heels
accessorised
with the confidence
of a cuckoo.

That night
I undressed
in the temple of
myself
and hung
the peach monstrosity
with abject reverence
a shroud
over my former
wardrobe.

I walked on a cloud
for a week.

No one questioned
the suit in re-use:
it was rude
to look the suit
straight in the eye.
It was frowned upon
to speak
in more than
hushed whispers.

Once, a passer by
implored me for the time:
the suit laughed like a drain
and kicked dust in his eye
for the imposition.

But.

That Saturday
I decided to wash her.
She had started to smell,
and bore a baked bean stain.

But I know as much
about laundry
as a magpie.

Only the best, I thought,
for my Authority Suit,
and I cleansed her
in the restorative waters
of the 80 degree cycle
with bath towels
for cushioning.

(And because I needed
to wash my bath towels).

She recovered, sure.
She was resilient like that.
But a size too small now,
and fraying.
Pilling in places
and a sag
in her hem.

Passers by still turned away
but less now in reverence –
more collective shame
at the fall of an emperor.
At the laddered tights
and the sags and frays

of a queen
who’d outlived
her reign.

Poem A Day Prompt: GO OUTDOORS

highfields-boating-lakeSince I’ve moved to Nottingham, I’ve fallen a little bit in love with Highfields Park and the lake, which sits at the edge of Nottingham University campus.

Over the past six months, we’ve been on plenty of walks and runs around its perimeter (and hired a rowing boat once), but the past couple of days have been so gorgeous that I’ve been able to sit in the sunshine and write.

Part of me feels a bit hypocritical, after having always considered people writing on laptops in public to be a bit wanky. But one thing I’ve learned this year – having so much self directed time – is that spending every day in your own house, with no need to change out of your pyjamas, is not as brilliant as it sounds. In fact, you can end up feeling a bit stir crazy, and definitely not so motivated to write.

So this morning I got up and out by 8am and headed to the lake. I sat with my wanky coffee and wanky laptop and started writing, expecting to come out with something Wordsworth or Blake might be happy with, reflective of my verdant, tranquil surroundings.

Instead, I spent an hour staring at a little island on the lake and thinking about the scary geese that lived there, and wrote the following poem about the goose mafia that I imagine run this joint.

Emily x

Highfields Park Waterfall, Nottingham

Goose Island

Fuck off mate,
this is Goose Island.
No duck-heads allowed.
Tell me: which part of
‘Goose Island’
suggests we welcome
your crowd?
.
We earned this place.
Won it, fair and square.
So go on, sling yer
ducky hook,
take yer begging elsewhere.
.
You chancing mallard bastards:
you’re all the bloody same.
Green headed hooligans,
the lot of yer. Yeah,
I know your game!
.
And why should I care, exactly,
if you saw a tufted duck
stopping by?
.
Not that I feel obliged
in any way to tell you,
but it’s a business thing.
Right?
A protection racket,
if you will.
.
They pay their bills.
We watch their backs,
and that’s it.
.
See, Tufty’s bright.
He keeps himself to himself.
Him and the grebes,
I don’t mind them.
They know what side
their bread floats.
They’re alright.
.
Not like you mallard wankers!
Now get out of my sight,
before you get
the sharp side of my tongue.
.
My ganders are roosting;
they need some peace and quiet.
And if you disturb our goslings
you’ll have bigger fish to fry.
Sorry, mixed metaphor.
Yeah, the Barnacle Boys, that’s right.
.
Go on, shake a tail feather,
before the lads shake it for you.
.
Protection for you, mate?
Are you yanking my beak?
Not to state the obvious pal
but right now, as we speak
you’re waddling in
the nest of the beast.
.
If you’ll pardon the expression.
You’ll need an ambulance,
not protection,
if you keep on with this quacking.
.
The SWANS?!?!
Bruv you’re tripping,
you’ve been on the flippin’
pond-water again.
.
Swans and geese
look out for each other pal.
No, I wouldn’t say we’re friends
but it’s an arrangement,
understand?
.
It’s what you’d aim for
with the coots, mate,
if you had any sense.
Try some ducks your own size,
lower your sights.
Try the riverbank by the café
You’ll get a few pity bites.
Toddlers and OAPs,
that’s your target group.
.
I mean you ever see a human
cower from a bird your size?
Well get this: the other day
I hustled curly fries
AND a meatball sub.
Just from one well-placed hiss!
No there isn’t any left, pal.
Are you takin’ the piss?!
.
Now go on,
I don’t wanna see your type
paddling round here again.
And from now on,
just you remember
the pecking order,
my feathered friend!

Poem A Day Prompt: Writing About Nature

When I lived in Saigon, where I never once needed to ask myself the question: ‘will I need a cardi?’ when I left the front door, it was difficult to remember why I or other British people got excited about English summer weather. We spend so much of the year in the dark, trapped inside by rain or cold, moaning about how grim everything is. And even on the best of days, you’d be a fool to leave the house without emergency layers.

But yesterday was one of those days, weather wise, that restored my faith in the seasons of England. I can’t deny I loved the constant warmth and humidity of Vietnam, but there’s another kind of loveliness to weather that makes you wait, and the palpable glee in the air that it’s finally here, the warm weather and long evenings are here at last.

I’m lucky to live right next to Attenborough Nature Reserve, and so yesterday I went there (twice) to enjoy the good weather. So did a whole host of other runners, cyclists, families and bird watchers, not to mention the countless birds they were watching.

I decided to write a poem today which attempts to recreate the atmosphere of yesterday, because I find nature poetry difficult but often love to read it. Also, because it’s not often we get a day that feels like that – the communal joy of summer weather – and I wanted to find a way to make it last.

Emily x

attenborough
Attenborough Nature Reserve (credit to Lorna Griffiths).

Cruel Winter, Cruel Summer
.
It arrives unannounced, one evening in April.
One day ago we’d sworn we were leaving for good.
Now we wonder why we lamented the endless winter:
nothing could make us turn our backs on this.
.
The first kiss of summer. We first walk then run
along the canal path dovetailed with the river Trent.
We aren’t alone. For once, the geese and swans
leave the fishermen to enjoy the golden hour bliss.
.
The daffodils hold buttercups to their smiling chins
at the Marina. Chromatic tulips queue for ice creams.
Olympic midges weave and dive in pub garden air
barbecue thick with play park shrieking and amber ale.
.
We press on along the gravel path, latticed with butter light,
past the pale, patient moon; the defiant, blazing sun.
Plovers and oyster catchers wade in evening baths.
We pass a heron, shadow still. A cobalt kingfisher flash.
.
T shirt runners and cyclists are out of hibernation
and the sand martins pilgrimage is over at last.
We pause at a kissing gate to breathe a sigh of relief.
The cruel winter is over. For now, summer’s back.

Operation Mincemeat: The Pen Is Mightier Than The Machine Gun

Have you ever read about Operation Mincemeat? If not, give the Wikipedia article a quick read, and if you want to hear more, this Stuff You Should Know podcast is fascinating.

In a nutshell though, towards the end of WW2, the MI5 came up with a plan to trick the Germans into thinking they’d found some secret documents about an impending attack from British troops. The documents were put into a briefcase and attached to a corpse, for whom MI5 created a detailed, fictitious identity.

Part of the identity was a fiancee. They included a receipt for an engagement ring, two letters and a photograph of the fake man’s (Major William Martin’s) lady love. Though the photograph was of a clerk called Nancy Jean, the letter was written by an older woman – Hester Leggett – the most senior woman in the office and jokingly referred to as ‘The Spin’. Hester herself never married, though her letters (which you can read here) were full of girlish romance and longing.

My poetry prompt for yesterday was ‘write a historical poem’, and I decided to write from the perspective of Hester Leggett. It’s still a bit scruffy, but here is the product so far.

Emily x

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The photo of Nancy Jean which was included in the ‘pocket litter’ of Major William Martin.

 

Behind The Lines

Dear Darling,
No.
Dear Love,
No.
To my one and only,
No.
Dear William.
Bill.
Billy.
.
Will they let me pick?
.
Dear Billy,
They chose me.
As you never did.
The lucky gal in the office
with the right penmanship.
.
It seems strange, I know,
to write to a man
who doesn’t exist.
Stranger still
to write this –
for your eyes only.
Missives kept secret
even from MI5.
.
But I’m writing myself in.
.
So – nice to meet you,
it’s a pleasure
and my name
is not Hester
but ‘Pam’.
.
I always liked that name.
.
But when they find my picture
– tucked among your pocket litter –
I will look exactly like Nancy Jean.
I’m not the face of the operation:
I just write the script.
.
Nancy Jean is my junior
– in more ways than one.
I myself am too plain
to be a heroine.
Too old,
so they say.
.
Though I must admit:
I was never that pretty
back then, anyway.
.
In fact, confession:
I’ve never even
owned a bathing suit
or gazed coyly
from the shallows
at the pointed lens
in my sweetheart’s hands.
.
In fact,
I’ve never had a sweetheart.
Until you.
.
They chose me, they said
for my elegant script
and my impeccable grammar.
.
‘The Spin is married’
they laughingly said
‘to her paperwork’.
‘No matter that she’s
embittered about men:
her attention to detail
is exquisite.’
.
The rose pink paper
and the Wiltshire address
of the letterhead
are not my own.
.
June lent me the perfume
with which each page is imbued.
I, myself, never saw the need for scent
But, supposedly,
Chanel No 5
is beloved by GIs
and Tommies
who dream of taking a bottle home
to their sweethearts
or wives
.
when they return in one piece.
.
A luxury, my sweet martyr,
that you have been deprived.
.
Perhaps we might have got along,
you and I.
Been of value to each other,
In some simpler life.
.
Perhaps we really might
have had trips to the coast.
Perhaps, seasalt whipped,
with sunlight in our eyes
you might have looped
that dream ring
about my ice-cream sticky finger
.
And perhaps I
might have skipped at your side
on your trips to Savile Row
and tucked your arm in mine
and called you ‘Major’ with a giggle
as we stood in line
at the Adelphi
for The Dancing Years.
.
Perhaps I might have leaned in
and whispered in your ear
‘take me dancing later’
And you might have spun me
in the air and promised
‘You’ll be dancing with me always
and always as my wife’.
.
Another life.
.
For now, Bill,
We’re too busy, hmm?
Stopping wars?
Saving lives?

For now, let it suffice
to say your silent tomb excites me
more than any living Major
(though I’ll lament
your absence girlishly
In every tacky line).
.
I’ll write with
lightness and haste
as though commas don’t matter
though we’ll both know,
you and I:
.
this pen’s more deadly
than a machine gun,
stuttering from the front line.
And this ink’s stronger
and more heady
than Chanel No. 5.

Thursday Poetry Prompt

Hello!

This morning’s prompt was: write an invitation poem. For some reason, an invitation to my funeral sprang to mind.

I think I first fantasised about my funeral at the age of about 11. I used to walk to and from school every day, and the walk was a little over a mile. Over the months and years, that left a lot of time for my adolescent, Pre-Smartphone-World brain to fill with imagining. Mostly, I imagined some ongoing novels, short stories and soap operas which I plotted in daily, Dickensian episodes (and thankfully, considering their awkward subject matter, never wrote down). But – if I’d had a particularly frustrating argument with a friend or my parents that day – I would imagine my funeral. I’d imagine everyone crying and wailing to each other ‘OH THE REGRET, WHY WERE WE EVER MEAN TO HER’. Pretty self indulgent, I agree, but I’ve met plenty of adults who confess to doing the same thing. I also used to imagine myself murdering my enemies after delivering grand, Jules from Pulp Fiction style speeches. I’ve not met anyone else with this kind of fantasy yet.

Anyway, with this fun little insight into my psyche, please enjoy my poem. It’s named after my favourite Britney Spears perfume, which I’ve been wearing religiously for 8 years.

Emily x

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No thematic picture available for this one so here’s a lol one of Pete at the top of Win Hill in the Peak District.

Midnight Fantasy

Dear Love,

You are cordially invited
to my funeral
which I sincerely hope
you will attend
and which has been designed
with your greatest
sympathies
in mind.
.
I am not dead yet.
Far from it.
In fact I’ve never felt more
excruciatingly alive
than in these days
since your presence
has ceased to be a given
.
since you have endeavoured
to avoid me
and since my hoping
to pass you on the street
and say ‘oh hallo,
how nice to see you
you look good, I’ve been well’
has become an exercise
in disappointment.
.
So I hope you will attend.
.
My ex boyfriends and ex friends
are planning on sitting
in a row at the back
and sobbing tears of regret
.
and my mother is giving a eulogy
about how I always had
a good heart
deep down
and how any cruelty
or thoughtlessness
or reckless behaviour
were all in fact products
of my simple desire to
love
and be
loved.
.
And I think nobody would mind
if you stormed towards the lectern
with fire in your eyes
and boomed
‘stop it, all of you,
stop all these lies –
yes she was cruel
and thoughtless
and reckless
and she doesn’t need you
to apologise
for it.’
.
Then, if you like,
you could run out of the church
with hot tears in your eyes.
.
And it might not be until later
side by side
at the buffet table
over plates of sausage rolls
and triangle sandwiches
that you’d see me
and I’d shyly smile
and say
.
‘Hallo you,
I heard everything
you said back there.’
.
And from then on
I might find
fewer reasons
to be thoughtless
and from then on
you might find
fewer reasons
to care.