New Year, New You: Creative Resolutions

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Is January 12th too late for a New Years Resolutions blog post? Maybe. Never mind. George Eliot wrote that “it’s never too late to be who you might have been”. Lovely Mary-Ann Evans: she gave me so much to think about for my undergrad dissertation, and she’s still teaching me now. Homegirl was a trailblazer, no doubt, as a writer and a feminist. But she also championed the right to change one’s mind. Evangelical Christian one minute, atheist the next,  a writer who sought to challenge literary stereotypes of women but who rejected women’s suffrage, Eliot’s/Evans’ life was anything but a straight line. When I was eighteen, and for some time after, I believed in the straight line. I knew everything about my life and the path it would take, and I was anxious and impatient to get going. If you’re an ex-boyfriend and I was sure about where your life was going too, sorry. Now, at 27, I’m less sure than ever what the right direction is. But I’m also less anxious. I think the paths probably overlap, and reconnect, to paraphrase Robert Frost. I think it’s not too late, to be who I might be. I think it’s not too late to be unsure. I think it’s never too late to be unsure.

Anyway, I like January. I like resolutions. I enjoy the monastic celebration of sobriety and the optimism of new beginnings. But I’m a realist, too. Fuck abs, man. I like carbohydrates and Netflix too much. My resolutions this year are about reading and writing. ‘A writer’ is the current version of me I’m enjoying trying to be. And because you can take the girl out of the secondary school but you can’t take the secondary school out of the girl, these resolutions are all written in the form of SMART targets: i.e. they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Timely. That means that when NYE 2018 rolls around, I can accurately assess if I stuck to them.

  1. Blog twice a week – to achieve this, I intend to include book reviews, records of literary achievements and reflections on the writing process.
  2. Write daily – A minimum of 500 words or a poem. Every writer worth their salt advocates for this habit. In the morning, preferably.
  3. Get an agent – All I can do is write to them. All they can do is say no!
  4. Enter competitions – At least one a week.
  5. Complete another manuscript – pressing save on my first one was up there with crossing the finish line of the Amsterdam Marathon.
  6. Read 30 books – I read 23 last year (that I can remember), so this seems manageable. I’d like to set a more ambitious number but I’m not the quickest reader and these targets are supposed to be Achievable. Six of last year’s reads were re-reads (usually for teaching purposes). I’d like to avoid that as much as possible, this year. There are plenty of never-read books already on my bookshelf, patiently waiting their turn.

Emily x

 

 

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Lost in Translation – A Villanelle

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Here lies inebriated Emily, NYE 2015.

A villanelle is a poem form with some strict rules. It has 6 stanzas, each with 3 lines (except the last which has 4). The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the final line of the second and fourth stanza. The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the final line of the third and fifth stanza. Then they both get repeated in the sixth stanza. Oh, and they have to rhyme. I only learned all of this today, when I had to write one for my poetry class tomorrow. It was, as with all of the poetry exercises I’ve been doing, at first frustrating, then restrictive, then fun. And the results are… I’m not sure.

So here’s my own example and, underneath, a beautiful villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop. It’s a poem which I’ve liked for a long time but only just discovered was a villanelle (seeing as I didn’t know villanelles existed until today.

Emily x

Lost In Translation

There’s no poetry in sobriety,
only the algorithm of being clean.
Only the cold mirror of chastity.

I inspire your animosity.
You find me now too prim; pristine.
You see no poetry in sobriety.

Your Merlot mocks my earl grey tea.
By spilling. You wish to make a scene.
Confront the cold mirror of chastity.

I mop the mess with efficiency.
You find my earnestness obscene
and see no poetry in sobriety.

I wait. Hands clasped. Sit matronly
as you take to the streets for nicotine.
But the cold mirror of chastity

awaits. And I watch warily
As you light up: daring me to intervene.
To prove there’s no poetry in sobriety;
To crack the cold mirror of chastity.

*

One Art – Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
 .
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
 .
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
  .
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
  .
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
  .
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Song of January

P1010513
Amsterdam, 2012.

And here’s another poetry exercise. I like the results of this one less than yesterdays, but the premise was pretty interesting.

  • List 10 verbs at random and then perform two rhyme operations on them. These could be full rhyme; however, I encourage you to try slant rhyme echoes using assonance, alliteration, syllabic similarity (the way the words “window” and “finger” share the syllable “in”). You now have 30 sound shaped words at your disposal. Use as many as you care to include as you go along.
  • Include a reference to pets, food, or cigarettes.
  • Write a “song” or name your poem “Song” or “Song of . . .”

I can’t remember what my 10 verbs were, exactly, but most of them are in the poem below. Again, this is a rough draft (20-30 mins writing). I should probably start spending more time editing.

Emily x

Song of January

You prance and glance around the living room
Restless
you sit on your hands
shy away from the fingers
that last month
held the cigarette.

You tie logic in knots
Cold turkey.
I am stern
As you upturn my reminders:
This was your idea
I’m not overruling you
I’m not being cruel
This was
your
idea.

Remember?

Just one won’t hurt
I’m afraid I might snap
If I don’t slip once
If I don’t let go
I worry for my health

Your smile is wry at this
Your overt motives
fooling no-one
But you’re into your flow now –
Skipping or slipping
toward the amber amulet
in your mind.

Poised to fall,
Poised to fly.