Flash Cricket

As I mentioned in another post earlier this week, I’ve been trying to conquer my weaknesses in writing, lately. Among those weaknesses are:

  • dialogue
  • finishing things
  • the boundary between romantic and shlocky.

So in the spirit of finishing things, I’ve been focusing on short stories. In the spirit of improving dialogue and romantic writing, I’ve been writing mostly about couples.Since I often struggle to actually come up with ideas in the first place, I used the following exercise, which I found here (and which is for flash fiction, I realise, despite having written a 3000 word story):

Flash Cricket:

Here is a list of twenty random words. Don’t read them too closely – but cut and paste onto a fresh document, save and close. When you have twenty minutes to spare, make a cuppa or something stronger, and get ready to write. Only when you are ready, open the document, glance at that first word, and start writing, immediately. No planning in advance. And every few sentences, pick up the next word, incorporating that into the flow. Make it happen – make those words fit – it will feel absolutely nuts, but it is only a bit of fun – and you will end up with unplanned, surprising twists and turns, strange connections.

I didn’t like what I produced with that first list but I found the exercise really productive, so tried it again with another random list of 20 words from a word generator website. The result was as follows. As with the last post about building on weaknesses, any feedback on endings, dialogue and avoiding SHLOCK will be received warmly. Apologies for inconsistent formatting: things seem to happen in the transition from Microsoft Word to WordPress and I don’t have the wherewithal to solve them.

Enjoy!

Emily x

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A fine egg from five years hence.

Jodie and the Great, Flashing Countdown Timer

             When Jodie and Doug were on their first date, Doug noticed that Jodie had a great, flashing countdown timer floating above her head, independent of her body, counting down minutes. Everything else about Jodie though had been completely normal. Breathtakingly beautiful, in fact. On that fateful first day, the number on the countdown was well over four million, and Doug was renowned for his courteous demeanor. And so it was that the couple had been married for five years and had a one year old son by the time Doug happened to bring the timer up in conversation.

“Have you ever wondered what it’s counting down to? I mean, what’s going to happen when the timer runs out?” Doug gently tapped the side of his boiled egg with his knife and watched with great satisfaction, as the crown of its as yet undipped yolk wobbled. “This is a perfect boiled egg by the way, Jodie. It’s got wobble but not too much wobble. Know what I mean?”

Jodie didn’t answer. Doug looked at his wife and found that she wasn’t listening: her glance was shifting instead between her phone screen and the cryptic crossword on the back page of The Times.

“Maybe it’s quicker to just ask you Doug. Is a ‘lipa’ a type of pulse?”
“No. ‘Lima’ is though. Did you hear my question?”
“It’d be better if lipa was, because I’m sure 6 down is epilate. What was your question?”
“Could it be emulate?”
“Oh. Yes! But it’s not really a very good clue. That’s annoying, I’ve already written in epilate now. What was your question?”
The sleeve of Jodie’s jacket trailed in her coffee as she attempted to turn the ‘p’ of ‘epilate’ into the ‘m’ of ‘emulate’. Doug asked the question again and caught his wife’s attention at last. She looked at him with the expression of someone who very much does not consider herself to have a great, flashing countdown timer floating above her head, independent of her body.
“What the hell are you talking about, Douglas?” The question had stopped Jodie in her tracks; she held a slice of marmite on toast in limbo between plate and mouth, staring at Doug as though his face were a particularly difficult ‘magic eye’ puzzle.
“There’s no need to Douglas me, Jo. If it’s a private reason that’s fine, you know me, it’s your timer, after all.”
“No Doug, it’s not my timer, the timer is completely new to me.” Jodie furrowed her brow. “I think the timer must be your timer.”
“Well sorry Jo, that seems pretty unlikely to me. It’s on your head and it’s always on your head, I’m almost 100% sure it’s your timer.”
“Ok. I’ll call your bluff. If you genuinely can see a great, flashing, countdown timer over my head, why wouldn’t you have mentioned it on our first date?”
“Well I didn’t want to make you feel embarrassed about it, or make myself look uncool by not knowing what it was for.”
“What did you decide it was for, then? My timer?”
“I didn’t know! I thought Maths might be one of your hobbies, and it might be like… a Maths tattoo. But floating above your head, independent of your body.”

Doug definitely wanted to start dipping his soldiers into his egg yolk, but it would be rude to turn from Jodie’s gaze at a moment like this. He could spy the egg out of the corner of his eye, slowly congealing. In a few more moments it’d have solidified, and he’d have to spread it onto the soldiers instead. A complete waste of an egg. A premium egg, perfectly soft boiled. Frankly, he regretted mentioning the great, flashing countdown timer at all.

“So, let me get this straight. You met a girl with a flashing countdown timer above her head, came to the conclusion that it was a sort of modern tattoo, accepted that as normal and then kept your mouth shut for over a year of courtship and five years of marriage. Then one day you just thought, I know, I’ll ask Jo about that countdown timer, while she’s eating her breakfast and about to go to work?”  Jodie had intended to project a calm demeanor, gently leading her husband to recognize his delusions himself, instead of accusing him directly: a trick of the trade she used on some of her patients. But – perhaps because it was not yet 7.30am or perhaps because it was her own husband that was deluded – the trick was not working. She could feel her throat tightening; her voice becoming more shrill.
“Well yes… because whatever you’ve been counting down to is imminent! It’s exciting really! I wondered if it might be a baby countdown, but then obviously the numbers didn’t work out with Theo and n-”
“So what was the time on the timer when we met, exactly?” Her voice was calmer now: her mellifluously reassuring doctor’s voice. You are a consummate professional, Jodie, a consummate professional, she intoned inwardly.
“Well I can’t remember exactly. But it was well over four million for the first while.”
“Aaaand what does the timer say now?”
“Now that I can tell you, babe! Nine thousand, four hundred and seventy two minutes, thirty two seconds. Well, thirty now. Twenty nine actually. Tw-”
“Ok, ok. So to clarify: on our first date, the first time we had sex, when you proposed to me, when we got married, as I was giving birth to Theo, every day when I come home from work, every morning when I wake up, right now. On all of those occasions you’ve been able to see a great, flashing countdown timer floating over my head, independent of my body, and you’ve kept it a secret until now, and only because it’s going to run out soon?”
“It wasn’t a secret Jo, I don’t keep secrets from you. It’s not like I was lying about it or anything. I thought it was just one of those things, you know? An unspoken thing. You’ve never mentioned all the moles on my balls but I’m sure you’ve noticed them.”
“Doug, of course I’ve noticed them. It’s hardly the same though, is it? The moles on your balls aren’t as noticeable or as big a deal as a flashing countdown timer.”
“Yes they are, there are eight of them. I’m probably really susceptible to skin cancer.”
“Right. Well. I’ve never counted. And as far as I’m concerned there’s no timer, it’s not about to run out, and if it is I don’t know why. And that’ll have to be the end of it for now, because if I don’t get off soon I’ll end up hitting the bad traffic.”
“Time’s up in just under a week, actually. Next Tuesday evening.”
“Doug, I love you. But you’re starting to sound a teeny bit like one of my patients.”
“Which one? The one that thinks sweetcorn kernels are sea creatures and keeps trying to release them into the wild?”
“No. A new, even wackier one. One that I’d be telling you all about, if it wasn’t you that was coming out with it. Look, I’ll be late if I don’t leave within sixty seconds. Give Theo a kiss for me when he wakes up. We can talk about this later, ok?”

Jodie popped the final morsel of toast into her mouth and raced out of the front door before Doug could protest, the great timer flashing 9468:27! 9468:26! as the door slammed behind her.

*

      Jodie decided not to bring the timer up that evening, after work. Theo had gone to sleep quickly and without complaint, and Doug had made a curry. Though the light was almost completely gone, it was warm enough to be outside. They ate from steaming bowls and rocked lazily on their garden swing, Doug’s head in Jodie’s lap. Why bother bringing it up, thought Jodie, if he doesn’t? Why ruin one of the only evenings of the year where it’s warm enough to be in the garden? Be peaceful like Doug.

“I love being in the garden at night time,” Doug said, “particularly when it’s a clear night. If we stay out long enough we might see some stars.”
“Yes, can you see the timer in the dark?” It was out before she had chance to think about it.
“What timer?”
“The countdown timer! The great, flashing countdown timer floating above my head, independent of my body!” As difficult as it was to be angry at someone as gentle as Doug, it was extremely easy to become frustrated by his resolute passivity.
“Oh, I didn’t think we were going to discuss that anymore.”
“What?! Why not?”
“Because I didn’t think you believed me!”
“Does that matter!?”
“Well, I thought we just had divergent opinions. You’re entitled to your opinion, babe! What kind of monster would I be if I didn’t respect that? But yes, since you asked, it’s glow in the dark.”

*

            It took four days for Doug to convince Jodie that the timer existed. It was not that he had tried in any way to convince her: in fact, he’d attempted to steer the conversation onto different topics whenever she brought it up. But every time he did, she managed to steer it back. And every time she steered it back, his stoic insistence that the timer existed remained. Jodie tried being grumpy, then angry, then weepy. Doug’s responses were sympathetic, apologetic, unwavering. She cross referenced his theory with Theo who – being barely a year old – responded with a mixture of garbled non-sequiturs and nondescript gurgles. Doug politely asked his wife to drop it, even suggesting that he might have imagined the great, flashing countdown timer, but Jodie had a tenacious nature. The seed had been planted. Eventually she tested him, making Doug read out at random intervals and comparing them with the clock on the kitchen wall behind his head. After the forty-eighth correct response in a row, Jodie burst into tears. Doug scooped her into his arms and began stroking her hair, his fingers grazing the bottom of the number two every time he raised his palm.

“I’m going to die aren’t I, it has to be that,” she whimpered into his shoulder.
“Jodie Albright! In six years of knowing about this timer, that idea has never crossed my mind once. Don’t be silly. I’m almost cross that you suggested it.”
“What else could it possibly be, Doug?!”

Doug was silent. He didn’t want to admit that he had never really interrogated the possibilities of what the timer might represent. The first time his curiosity had been piqued enough to actually mull on it had been at the breakfast table, four days earlier.
“It’s probably to do with your income! You’re probably going to get a promotion on Tuesday! Some kind of huge, exciting pay rise!”
“Why would I get a promotion and a pay rise at eight o’clock in the evening, numpty?”
“You could do anything, Jodie! You’re wonderful!”
“For God’s sake, Doug, that’s not what I mean. I mean if it was about a promotion it would be during my work hours. And I haven’t even applied for a promotion!” A pang of affection made her reach for her husband and wrap her arms around him. “I’m sorry I called you a numpty, I feel guilty now. Calling you a numpty feels like punching a puppy in the face.”
“How did you find out what it feels like to punch a puppy in the face?” Doug grinned as his wife laughed and shook her head, despairingly. “Come on Jo, we can figure this out.”

*

            They discussed it all night, until Sunday had become Monday and dark had become light. They bullet pointed reasons for the timer on A3 paper, then systematically ruled each one out in turn. They discussed the possibility of Jodie’s impending death; of conceiving a second child; of conceiving a second child and that child heralding the second coming of Christ, or the first coming of another holy being, a girl this time, perhaps. They talked about why Doug might be the only one able to see the timer: whether it might be indicative of a specific task he had been set by a higher power, in order to teach him or Jodie some kind of life lesson. So they bullet pointed higher powers and possible life lessons too, but the later it got, the more the ideas seemed to blur. By 5am, every bullet point on the list seemed both absurd and possible.

“We can’t really be contemplating whether God brought me into your life with a countdown timer so that I could teach you a five year long lesson about recycling and reducing your carbon footprint. We can’t, Jodie. We need sleep. And there’s no way you’re going to work tomorrow, either. I’ll call Charlie in an hour or so and say you’ve got a vomiting bug. But let’s try and sleep a bit first.”

Jodie looked at Doug forlornly, wanting to argue. Deciding that she hadn’t the energy to resist, she flopped onto the bed instead. Doug closed the bedroom curtains and coiled himself around her, their sleeping arrangement as familiar and cosy as a favourite pair of jeans.
“I wish you’d told me when we first met,” Jodie said quietly, before they slept.
“Why? Would you have decided not to marry me?”
“Of course not, that’s not what I mean, silly. I love you.” Jodie took Doug’s hand and kissed it by way of demonstration. “I believe you. But if you’d told me back then, we would’ve had bags of time to discuss it. We could have told people. Figured it out. Two days isn’t long enough.”

Doug soothed his wife with reassuring words and soporific tones, until her responses became shorter and her breathing steadier.  For over an hour he watched the timer, until it ticked below the two thousand three hundred mark. It was Monday morning. The countdown would finish at 8:30pm on Tuesday night.

*

      It was almost midday before Jodie emerged from bed, already dressed in a black trouser suit and red lipstick. Doug was sat in the kitchen with Theo, feeding him chunks of banana and singing along to Queen on the radio.

“Femme Fatale!” Doug announced, rubbing his eyes in mock disbelief.
“Toothsome”, Jodie replied, smiling.
“Sorry?”
“Tussum!” Theo interjected, gurgling happily.
“Toothsome,” Jodie repeated. “It’s the answer to two down in yesterday’s crossword. ‘Difficult Maths problem Northerner says is tempting.’ I think I must have been solving it in my sleep. Such an ugly word for delicious, isn’t it?”

Doug smiled and stood up to make some breakfast for his wife, hoisting Theo up onto his hip.

“Impressive stuff, Jo,” he said, spreading peanut butter onto a bagel with one hand and bouncing Theo with the other. “You look like a new woman! The power of sleep, ay! I think we got a bit silly about it last night. We were tired and started taking it too seriously.”

Jodie smiled and tossed the newspaper down onto the kitchen table. She kissed Doug’s and Theo’s foreheads in turn, so that the former smiled and the latter gurgled with satisfaction.
“I agree. Definitely silly! Listen, Doug, I’m feeling a load better after that sleep. If I get off now I’ll still be able to make all my afternoon appointments. Do you mind if I take my bagel with me?” With cheerful efficiency and without waiting for a response, Jodie wrapped her bagel in foil, planted two more kisses on the foreheads of Doug and Theo, plucked her car keys from her bag and left. The final bars of Bohemian Rhapsody were still playing as her car pulled off the drive. Doug watched her from the window, the number 1948 becoming smaller and smaller until she was gone from the street.

It caught Doug’s eye as soon as he returned to the kitchen: an envelope emblazoned with ‘DOUG & THEO’ in bold, red, felt tip. As though he’d been expecting to see it. As though Jodie had asked it to keep quiet until she’d left and, now that she had, it was announcing itself with alacrity.

“There’s a letter, Theo,” Doug murmured, as though Theo might be capable of offering some kind of reassurance or advice about the letter’s contents.
“Ledaaa, fee-o! Ledaaa!” Theo suggested, amiably.
“It’s obvious what it says, isn’t it?” A note of panic had crept into Doug’s voice. Maybe I should check to see if her passport has gone, he thought. Or if she’s packed a bag. Maybe I should just drive to the clinic. That might be easier than reading the note. “Maybe I should just check to see if her passport has gone? Or drive to the clinic?” He asked Theo.
“Pahpuhhh! Pah! Go!” Theo countered, lifting his arms and waving them at his father, clenching and unclenching his chubby fingers into fists the size of apricots.
“Sorry littlun, I’m worried if I lift you at this precise moment I might faint and drop you.” Doug fumbled behind him for his chair and sat down heavily, his chest tightening, his thoughts whirling, feeling unsure as to whether he might pass out or throw up.
“Numma! Numma! Ma!” Theo squealed, giggling, clapping his pudgy palms together in apparent glee. Doug turned his attention to his son: the joyful innocence of the boy, his happy obliviousness to everything besides bananas and the music of Queen and strawberry jam. Something about it made him burst into tears.
“Whatever this is, little man, whatever this timer thing is, and this note here, and this thing with your mum, we’ll sort it okay? We’ll figure out a solution together, you and me, team Albright, the Dougstinator and Theopotamus, we’ll get through it. Okay tiny?” Doug sniffed a little and wiped his eyes, his son’s face comforting him, calming him, reassuring him that nothing had changed.

But Theo was silent now. His hands were still raised in the air towards Doug, his round eyes rapt by the empty air above his father’s head.

 

 

Verbatim Poetry

The first time I heard the word ‘verbatim’ used to describe an art form was in reference to theatre. A drama teacher I was shadowing in my PGCE year was encouraging her A Level students to produce pieces of verbatim theatre by reading through transcripts of historic court cases and shaping them into performances. *As a side note, a shout out must now go to Alessandra, Bao Vi and Yeon Kyu, my former AS Level English Lit students, who may or may not still read this blog. All three of them got an A in their English A2 result (so another shout out must go to my friend and their teacher, Emma). If you’re reading this girls, CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT! And let me know how you got on in your other results!!* Ok, side note over. The definition of Verbatim Theatre is as follows:

a form of documentary theatre in which plays are constructed from the precise words spoken by people interviewed about a particular event or topic.

To be honest, I didn’t get the point of it. To me, it seemed lazy: a way of spoonfeeding students a ready made story line and script in the absence of real creativity. But then I saw my first piece of Verbatim Theatre and changed my mind.

In 2012, the National Theatre staged a production of ‘London Road’: a verbatim MUSICAL, no less, about the Ipswich murders. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it: a script drawn entirely from interviews with the residents and prostitutes living and working on London Road, and which aspires to be both hilarious and tragic. Every um, every er, every accidentally misspoken word would be preserved in the script. I went because I loved the National Theatre, but I wasn’t expecting much.

To my surprise, it really worked (and not just for me – it’s since been revived, transferred to other theatres and even turned into a film). The moment though that, for me, really crystallised the value of verbatim came towards the end. After a busy, cheerful string of show tunes about flowers, town hall meetings and other innocuous aspects of suburban life, the lighting dropped to a single spotlight and a single woman, alone on the stage. In a wavering falsetto, in a tiny circle of light surrounded by all that darkness, she sang:

“I mean, sounds awful, doesn’t it, but they’ve. They’ve um, done us all a favour, haven’t they, really?”

The ‘they’ she referred to? The murderer Steven Wright. The ‘favour’ he did them? Improving the class of her neighbourhood by murdering five prostitutes.

After that line, the spotlight cut to black and three women (representing the prostitutes who lived on to mourn their friends deaths and fear for their own lives) stepped onto a balcony, their faces lit from below. They stood for maybe three minutes, utterly silent. No one in the theatre made a sound. Three minutes of silence to reflect on whether you’ve ever felt like that spot-lit woman. Three minutes to realise that those words were really spoken, by a real human. Three minutes of silence to remind you that these women’s voices were never invited into the conversation, so there are no lines to give to them in a piece of verbatim theatre. That was the moment that this art form first made sense to me. Sometimes, the power of art is not in creating something new but in casting fresh light on something which already exists. Verbatim theatre can do just that.

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The National Theatre, London in July 2012 (summer of the London Olympics AND London Road: what a time to be alive!)
P1010644
A bad photo of the staging of London Road at the National Theatre, 2012.

So is Verbatim Poetry a concept? Why yes, yes it is! Although it’s often called Found Poetry instead, as sometimes the art is in noticing that the poem already exists, whole, if you look at it the right way (as opposed to constructing something artificial from things that already exist, as with the London Road script). Google Poems are a great example of these, in which Found Poetry lovers screenshot Google’s predictions from half typed searches. The results are sometimes hilarious, sometimes profound. Here are some fun examples…

So this morning, for my poetry writing warm up, I decided to write some verbatim poetry after getting the following poetry prompt:

Grab the closest book. Go to page 29. Write down 10 words that catch your eye. Use 7 of words in a poem. For extra credit, have 4 of them appear at the end of a line.

Since I’m in the library with Pete today, the nearest book to me was ‘Principles and Practice of Surgery – 6th Edition’. And page 29 is all about ‘transfusion of blood components and plasma products’. Yay. As I was reading through to pick my ten words, trying to think how ‘immunoglobins’ or ‘coagulation’ could be embedded into a poem that I might be able to both write and understand, I decided to make that the focus of the poem: applying random scientific phrases to the topic poets normally seem to write about: LOVE. As a result, I ended up with these: two short, silly verbatim poems which list commonalities between blood components/plasma and love.

Hopefully the informative nature of this post will make up for the flimsy nature of the poems. =]

Enjoy! If you’d like to try some verbatim writing, why don’t you try writing your own poem listing commonalities between love and something? You could use any kind of non fiction book: a recipe book, a text book, a travel guide… as long as it’s page 29!

Happy plagiarising!

Emily x

Ruminations on The Principles & Practice of Surgery (6th Ed)

1) Commonalities between Love and Fresh Frozen Plasma

Most important
Complex
Available for use in children
Can be removed
Can be removed from a unit of whole blood
Associated with severe bleeding

*

2) Commonalities between Love and Human Albumin

No compatibility requirements
Burns
No clear advantage
There is increased vascular permeability
There is a risk of acutely expanding the intravascular space and precipitating pulmonary oedema

In Memoriam

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A Little Wave

I didn’t know that it would be the last

time that I’d see you. In that living room

 

where South Pacific droned to fifteen down-

cast silver heads. You receded as we

 

approached you, all six foot and eighty-six

years of you shrinking, the heavy blinks of

 

a napping cat. I saw blood on your mouth

that was only jam – a practical joke

 

gleaming on your lip, undetected for

the hours since breakfast. South Pacific

 

still blared on as we left. You acknowledged

us for the first time to wave a small goodbye.

 

Ours the only three names in the guestbook.

Ours the only tyres on the gravel outside.

Poem A Day Prompt: A Celebration of Self Adulation

11073276_10206491111662350_969055614419487653_n
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.

Desperate attempts to avoid rhyme

Emily and Granddad 2
My granddad and me, Nottingham, 2011.

Apparently, writing rhyming poetry is extremely passe and if you write poems that rhyme you’re basically Ronald Macdonald with a pen. No forget about John Betjemen and Anne Sexton and William Shakespeare, they’re all dead. Shut up, Simon Armitage and Carol Ann Duffy are… shut up. If your poetry rhymes, why don’t you just admit that you’re a *dirty word* children’s author or something, frittering away your meaningless hours writing Please Mrs Butler doggerel, rhyme is stupid.

So I tried, with today’s poetry prompt, to avoid rhyme. Not actually for the reasons above but because I realise I might rely on it a little as a crutch and it may be masking other failings. And also, I guess, because you should try and be open minded in life.

The poetry prompt I picked today was:

A poem of four quatrains that contain no adjectives, no adverbs, no similes, and the word “wren.’ Alternating lines of eight and ten syllables.

Ok, four quatrains, check.Alternating lines of 8 and 10 syllables, check. The word wren? No, it felt crowbarred (wrenbarred?) in. I managed no adverbs or adjectives or similes until the final quatrain, at which point I broke all the rules and RHYMED TOO, YEAH SO WHAT.

This is a poem about my granddad, the tone of which is probably a little discordant with the tone of this intro.

Emily x

 

Departure

I go to see her now and then
to have the kettle on by six pm
to share an hour in chattering
presided over by the mantle clock
.
which forms a timeline that reaches
back in quarter hours chimed since I was small
when Nana heard and walked and laughed
and my Granddad’s presence still warmed the house.
.
Sooner or later, he comes up.
‘When we went to bed that night, he was fine!
He woke up. Arm ache. Ambulance.
Touched his hand. Bye love. That was it! The end!.’
.
I quietly admire the truth:
my granddad’s departure was smoothly done.
He spent no time waiting for death,
but went to bed still living; woke up gone.

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

UK_National_Archives_-_WO_1065921
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

P1080061
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.