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.

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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.

Poem A Day Prompt: A Pantoum

No, I hadn’t heard of a pantoum either. I found out about it this morning on this website, which has some great ideas for poetry prompts. It’s similar to a vilanelle, in that it has repeating lines which loop through the poem and which, ideally, shift in meaning slightly when they’re used a second time. My attempt is on the theme of ageing, and the idea that all men must die, in honour of Game Of Thrones returning in NINE DAYS AHHH.

Emily x

Valar-Morghulis

Valar Morghulis

Though it’s never worked for me so far,
I try not to mind about getting old.
No sense in wasting life waiting for death.
Still, the thought of ageing leaves me cold.

I try not to mind about getting old:
try to believe in the power of the internal.
Still, the thought of ageing leaves me cold,
knowing nature prizes youth eternal.

Try to believe in the power of the internal.
But remember, you’ll find your eternity
knowing that nature prizes youth eternal.
Enjoy the brilliance of youth’s brevity.

But remember: you’ll find your eternity
nowhere. So since your expiry’s already cast,
enjoy the brilliance of youth’s brevity
and beware: old age expires twice as fast.

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.