January 30, 2008

Spam–based poem

A poem featuring words generated randomly from spam - one spam word per line - and some phrases from the free writing we did in class. Feel free to play Spot The Spam if you wish. 


With Caucasian commitment I stand

At the Budapest fish bridge, dress in hand;

Toes gruff on gravel, settling beyond land.


Recall the buffed demigod of my youth,

Think of glinting, shallow dress rehearsals:

Green blades degumming sweet-cut sun-baked teeth,

Convulsive sheets promoting dispersal,

Watching cradle sisters loop, scratch and spell

An ashen story, combated with gall.

Soon minted escape was centennial.

Pyroclastic tufts arranged in sheaves

Refurbishment wrung me like a wreath.


Mixed bus-passes boost my diabetic advance,

In the boot memory’s carcass curdles,

Mossy beams traverse the way; as we planned

I’ll upturn the couch in Ireland.


Inventing a new poetic form

Inventing a new poetic form eh? Piss easy! All in a day's work!

We're onto the poetry section of the course now. Works different muscles, but the pain's the same. I think I'm by nature more of a poetry person than a prose person - in that I have a fondness for ridiculous adjectives and not making sense.

Without further blurb, I present this! A poem, interrogating a flower, in the Grid form.

I

pop

each

cupped

carpel

under

my

nose

have

you

steel

enough

to

fire

truth,

aside

seen

a

thing

slipping

the

heat

naked

guilt

succulent

pill

will

muck

air

up

and

you

vows

kept

spark

my

dredging

purging

skint

mind

mask

within

bearing

child

seed

now

grow

numb

your

brazen

heavy

root

and

crisp

tough

tongue

forge

buds

fruit

raw

self

cries

husk

eater

The rules are these: the poem must read down the columns as well as along the rows, and it must have eight words and ten syllables per line. The interrogator words are presented horizontally, and the flower's reply is vertical.

I suppose I was thinking about hardball corrupt-cop films. Endless cyclic conversations in the interrogation room, where you won't get anywhere until you say what they want you to say. I like the idea of the answer lying in the question. Good concept, but the execution needs some work...

Problems: You can't punctuate it - there's no way of delineating the punctuation of the vertically-read poem from the horizontally-read. This is a major disadvantage because without punctuation some parts look like a random string of words. When I read it out in class it sounded pretty abstract. Towards the end (the bottom right hand quarter) it gets desperate. I had these tricky syllable quotas to fill in both directions and in the end I had to compromise sense for form, and it shows. I am currently trying to rewrite it without the syllable restriction. Without it it will lose some of the tightness and attack, but it will become vastly more sensible and accessible. The trick is to make form seem like it isn't there.  At the moment it reads laboured.

Here it is written out more conventionally, with punctuation, just to give a sense of how it sounds in my head.

The interrogation. 

I pop each cupped carpel under my nose.

Have you steel enough to fire truth aside?

Seen a thing slipping the heat? Naked guilt.

Succulent pill will muck air up, and you.

Vows kept spark my dredging, purging, skint mind.

Mask within, bearing child seed, now grow numb.

Your brazen heavy root and crisp tough tongue

Forge buds, fruit. Raw self cries, ‘husk eater!’.

The response. 

I have seen succulent vows mask your forge.

Pop you a pill, kept within brazen buds.

Each steel thing will spark, bearing heavy fruit.

Cupped enough slipping muck, my child? Root-raw

Carpel, to the air, dredging seed and self.

Under fire heat up, purging now crisp cries.

My truth, naked and skint, grow tough husk,

Nose aside guilt, you mind-numb tongue-eater.


November 28, 2007

Writers on writing

The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned [oxygen and sulphur dioxide] are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected: it has remained inert, neutral and unchanged. The mind of the poet is like that shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.

- T.S. Eliot, from ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’


You write from a wound… There’s a place in you that won’t heal.

- Jeannette Winterson, in a book club discussion of her novel ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’. Guardian Review 10/11/07


Well, there are a couple of quotes that got me thinkin'. Yeah, I know we were supposed to find like four or whatever, but I didn't come across any others I approved of. Plus, these two go together, after a fashion.

If it were up to me, I'd choose to be a shard of platinum. Nobody wants to be walking around with great fat wounds smacked everywhere!

Being, as I am, human, however; and far from attaining 'perfect artist' status... I find the latter quote provides a more accessible idea of how one can begin to write. If unpleasant. Perhaps Eliot's ideal is something to aspire to. It's a daunting prospect. I'm not sure it's entirely possible.


Zombie boyfriend

What would you do if you woke up one day to realise your significant other had been zombiefied?


I should have known I wouldn’t have been able to get away with it.

‘Charlie, that’s the fifth fag you’ve had in as many minutes! What’s the matter?’ Laura demanded. I glanced up, and saw that she had turned her face to mine to get a better view. Her eyes looked greener and harder in daylight. Bitch.

‘So?’ Jutting over, lighter sparking in one hand, fiddly roll of tobacco in the other, I freed myself of the bother of maintaining that light tone I had been straining to impose on my voice since I stepped into the office six hours ago.

‘What’s going on?’

I couldn’t get the gas to light. I was probably being far too vigorous with the wheel mechanism. But the heartbeat rasp of skin on metal, the dim warm sensation in my hands, these things brought me comfort. My hair flopped forward. I should get it cut. Maybe then… All I could see was the pink of my palms, the steady stabbing movement of my thumb joint…

‘Stop it!’

My left wrist buckled, falling under the weight of what I now saw to be Laura’s copper-clawed hand. She had batted my arm away. Everything I had been holding tumbled to the floor – pack, lighter, cigarettes.

‘Charlie – ’

‘Alan’s been acting strangely,’ I blurted, ducking down to retrieve, scrabbling dirt into my nails in haste. I felt my eyeballs twinge. I blinked twice, and then again.

Laura shifted her weight to her other leg, produced a lit fag from somewhere about her person and thrust it in my hand as soon as I saw fit to rise. I let the hot smoke crinkle the inside of my mouth.

‘Trouble in paradise?’ She nodded at me, peaks of yellow hair glistening in the afternoon dusk.

I had been silent for too long. I had lost all powers of discernment. I told her everything…

----

I admit it; I’m no expert when it comes to the opposite sex. Alan’s the only serious boyfriend I’ve ever had, I’ve no brothers or anything... Who am I to say what’s normal and what’s not? But I know him. For Christ’s sake we’ve been living together a year! We’ve been friends since sixth form! I know what he’s like. And these past two months – he’s been a changed man.

It started with the accident at work. You just don’t expect it to happen to you, do you? He came home, brown suit rumpled by the stress of it, bandaged round the middle. I leapt from the sofa, guilty for not having known, not having done something. Will and Grace yammered on at my back like a call to prayer. It’s nothing, he said. Bed rest, he said. Don’t worry. As we struggled up the stairs I suggested tomato soup. He insisted on chicken.

Bathing his wound – a strange, round hole with crenellated edges, mottled grey and pink – I reflect. He’s always been a bit quiet, but not silent, not like this. His chest hardly quivers. The books at his side have not been thought of, last Tuesday’s Kakuro suspended, incomplete. Should I check for a pulse? No, don’t be ridiculous.

I wonder – is it me? I lift the mirror off its hook on the wall and lean it against the laundry bin, angled upward so I can see most of myself in it. Is he… is he regretting me, regretting us? I smooth my new jeans over my thighs. I too have changed. My mouth never used to lie drooping like that. When did I start chewing my nails? I should get a makeover. The magazine guides me. I savour the glossy nap of each page. Later, I go shopping.

I am feeding him. Beefsteak and chips, soul food. Each piece is pre-cut. His hunger makes him obedient. He snaps each piece off the fork and chews it with a diligence few children possess. Nothing falls. I no longer remember to bring napkins up in case. For some reason I pause, not bringing the fork back to the plate as quickly as I usually do, dangling my wrist at eye level. His jaws widen, and he snaps again, and again. I gasp and clatter the metal down. His face flushes with something like pain, something like disgust. It is too fleeting to tell.

----

Shooting off some dull excuse, I left work early that day, the memory of Laura’s parting words shuttling though my head like rocket-powered pinballs. Well, she’s a dried-up old hag anyway, couldn’t get a man for love nor money, twice-divorced spinster cow... Emerging from the car, I noticed the peculiar smudged look of the sky, as if a thousand hands had tried to strike the colour from it. A stupid thought entered my mind. I recall its stupidity well. ‘I should wash my hair tonight, it looks like rain… the water had better be on...’

I found the corpse under the blanket, Alan cradling it to his chest. A snake of crimson wreathed his lips.


November 10, 2007

Professor Marchant's dream

I decide I have been in this position for some time: motionless, upright, one arm flung at ninety degrees against the panel of an open door. There are people streaming past. None say thank-you.

I find myself burdening their collective multitudes with the most poisonous of glares. The muscles round my eyes tighten and my neck juts. Rolls of skin compress under my chin. I must be really cheesed off. I am not a tall man, but I have a sense of looking down from a great height, the subjects of my gaze far, far removed. My head feels large and airy and vacant. I expect it is trying to escape.

I cannot maintain this. My eyes relax, sliding inevitably away like pancetta off a greased pan. The impression I get of the people is curiously watery, and I begin to fear that what I see, this haze-tinged pastel dribbling of human souls, is not an accurate representation of what is in fact going on. Somehow true sight is barred.  

I pitch my chest forward, substantial with accumulated layers of fine dining and biccies before bedtime, marking my intent to move. My free arm butts the body of the crowd and bounces aside. I watch with the detached interest of a man reading the newspaper of a country in which he does not live, where the satirical cartoon prefacing ‘Comment’ is in black and white and makes no sense.

Filaments of pain begin to creep up from my elbow. I am still pinning the door open, spread-eagled, an anatomist’s carcass. What if one of them was suddenly to lunge at my throat?

I advance another inch, this time holding my arm across my belly. But a wave crest of forward momentum catches me unawares, and within seconds I have become part of the crowd. The insides of my nostrils prickle at the familiar tang of sweat. We acquire planes, our flesh pressed insistently against others. This feels like a warm bath, a long hug, caramel on the tongue. I do not mind that I am drowning.

We surge through the door, where a room replete with faux-wood panelling materialises. Music thunders from aloft. Machines flare alluringly. I recognise this place! It’s the campus pub. Students loll everywhere, part of the furniture. Amidst the dandruff of youthful conversation I feel like an impostor. Cheerily, the pub confides that it too is a master of deception, except in those few golden hours – after it has been vacated by staff and patrons, but before the cleaners come. Then it is finally free to be itself. It spent five hours with a discarded Dover Thrift Hamlet yesterday; doing all the voices, being scandalised by shoddy editing, giggling when Ophelia goes mad. I ask whether it plans to write a letter to the editor, but I soon wish I hadn’t: rounding the corner to order, literary witticisms cloy the air.

I am buying a round for my second year Modernity and Globalisation group. A soft-edged list in my hand tells me they drink Guinness and soda gins. The latter reminds me of my ex-wife, and when I pivot my neck to the table it does not surprise me that a nineteen-year-old version of her is ranged among the rest, teasing Jeremy to pinkness about his broken glasses.

I talk to a girl behind the bar. I say something like, ‘do you find my choice of tie alarming?’ but she smiles and dispenses drinks without comment. Maybe I am not wearing one today. Fingers jammed at a greasy shirt collar confirm. Watching her deft movements in the cavern of bottles and pumps, hair coiled in a basket at her nape, I know whatever I attempt she will not alter her course.

It is unwise to buy wine here, yet I find myself gazing into the oily bottom of a glass of white. Something whiter flashes into the bottom. It is a tooth. Perfectly formed. ‘Someone has spiked my drink!’ I declare, grasping the glass’ stem and raising it to general view. By this time, several more have appeared. They are efficient as microwave popcorn. As they overwhelm the upturned tulip of glass and scatter to the ground, I catch a glimmer of disgust on my ex-wife’s face.


At first I was chuffed that I had to write in the style of a dream for the week 3 assignment. I thought to myself: 'I know dreams. I've had dreams. How hard could it be?' Compared to some of the other styles being bandied about class, I reckoned I got off lightly. Ha ha ha.

I chose to write it from the perspective of an academic, mainly because I had recently re-browsed through J.M. Coetzee's 'Disgrace'.

A lot of people dream about teeth. Classic anxiety dream. A friend of mine was telling me she has a recurring one about her teeth continously tumbling out of her mouth, which sort of inspired the end of this piece. Horrible! I was going to have the Professor's mouth bleeding everywhere, as if the teeth were disappearing from his gums as they appeared in the glass, but I thought that would be just needlessly gory. 


November 07, 2007

Cat's eye view

I've been a bit remiss about updating this Blog thing. I don't like it much. (Don't tell anyone). It's probably doing me the world of good. Like eating celery does you the world of good. But I'll not let that stop me from complaining about it. That would be giving in.

Here's the piece I wrote for week two's ICW class. Ages ago now. It's a cat's eye view of Kristen's snippet from week one, which you can find here. I'm not going to say too much more about it, because since then I have been on the re-write train. And once you've been for a ride, you look back and realise where you've come from is shit. It's embarassing.


The cat sneezed. A chill pervaded his bones and danced upon his tongue. Blinking into consciousness, he saw the cause – it was later than he’d thought, and the fall of warmth that lay here, where he did, on these early afternoons, had moved on.

With measured ease, he slid his limbs into a standing position, sleep-time stiffness shearing off his limbs. Every tendon and muscle splayed in an exquisitely comprehensive yawning stretch. His tail unfurled, claws unsheathed, curving away from his feet. Waves of luxuriant purrs rumbled from his chest.

He tripped down onto a box, then onto the cool linoleum floor. The cavernous space hung at his back, vacant and orange. Yes, the tall ones had gone away. Their pervading noise and fuss absent, only that peculiar admixture of scents and scattered debris remained. Crumbs of bread and skin tacked the pads of his feet, adding crunch to his every step.

The overhead beams had been extinguished too. Their warmth gone, there was no recourse but to find another source. He sniffed. Sunlight was this way. So he went.

Not all had left. Two remained. The cat could hear the rasp of their tongues now; the flapping beat of their bird-wing wrappings as they moved; the thrill of hair swept aside, colouring the air with sharp sweet odorous tastes.

They stood in his way. He approached with insouciance. Beyond, outside, he knew, stood a burnished thin structure; and it was there he aimed. It was the colour of old blood laced with a pattern of ash. It had been built by them, painstakingly, like so many others, of blocks and paste. It was hard, and had hard edges. At this time it was a familiar haunt, secure and safe, within sight too of the low square place from which meat would be deposited. 

They were different indeed, these two: one long, one small; one fair, one dark; one yammering and vigorous, one a watery echo of herself. The afternoon glow beyond lent them radiant mazy haloes of light. Curiously, the long one stank of fear. The cat paused. No uncommon smell in this place, yet one that always merited caution.

He watched. The petite’s bony hands jabbed and stung as they moved. The rituals of power and menace. All the taller wanted to do was get away, yet she was held there like an injured mouse, spinning by its tail from some high place. The cat understood.

His tail swished, and he bent low, nose prickling at the dust of the ground. He could feel his ears easing back. When the move came, he would be ready.

Such exchanges baffled him. It was communication of a sort, yet nothing ever happened. Their jaws would clatter up and down, their hands flail, and they would drift apart. What had been achieved? What was it for?

The balance had shifted. The taller girl’s defences baffled the other one, who, smashed up against a glass pane of coolness, seemed unable to move for herself. Tension whined; the cat could feel it sing through the smooth nap of his amber coat.

Then, with a twang it was done for, and the tall one loped away. The smaller lingered, staring after her with a disconsolate stoop to her shoulders.

Nothing would come of nothing. The cat resumed his advance, sauntering past the dark-haired one, leaning to slip his sinuous little body against the taut tower of her left leg. She had bent to stroke him, and he felt the tremble in her spread fingers as his back coursed by. 

Within a few meters he had stepped out into the sun-burnished afternoon.
His lids lowered as he savoured, senses lolling in gratitude at the change in scene. Here was a myriad-faceted world, where the salt of a baked asphalt road could twine the delighted cry of a satiated cuckoo. He leapt to the crown of the wall and sat, neatly arranging his limbs.

The cat’s tag was pavement-coloured and pendulous, cold against his breast. It read ‘MILO’. This meant nothing to him, though read aloud he recognised the sound. He had learnt to. The tall knew him by it, and called to him by spitting it into the wind. When their hands fell upon him, a stream of beating warmth, they whispered it into his ears.
  


Onwards and upwards, as they say.


October 14, 2007

'Elephant in the corner' prose snippet

This is the first snippet of prose I’ve produced as a result of the ICW class. Read on!

----------------------------------------

‘What are you doing here?’

Bitterness gummed her tongue, though the question had long left. It hung between them. She marvelled as the harried snap of her voice became like rain on the sea’s surface; wordlessly absorbed into the whole. If she had reached up and tapped a fingernail to her cheekbone, like she so often did in bathroom mirror tiles, would she have recoiled?

‘Oh, Darren told me. You know Darren. He’s come with Eri – Eri Jhan – he’s come a few times.’

Hair flipped around Tamar’s face, punctuating what her bag-laden arms could not. She wished she would look down and meet her presence at least, if not her eyes. Her eyes seemed everywhere else but on her, but perhaps the bulb light was misleading. She could see the outline of a camera case, the suggestion of a notebook, in amongst her baggage.

‘Really? Well it’s a great space isn’t it,’ she blurted, leaning her shoulder to the wall, arms braced against the banister. ‘Shadow in spades. And at the right time, the damp’s nothing!’

She found her voice increasing to a shout. Even this was not enough to hold the other’s attention.

‘I quite like the damp,’ Tamar replied. ‘I like the texture of it, though it’s difficult to capture. See here.’ She advanced a step and gestured to a flourish of florid grey-green.

Her stomach lurched, forcing her body into a sort of sideways leap. The battered floorboard whined as she shifted. Why was she so nervous?

‘Can’t… I can’t say I agree with you.’ It took effort to speak.

‘That doesn’t surprise me.’ Plastic grumbled under various strains as Tamar rearranged her burdens. ‘Uh, may I get by? I take it you’re finished…’ she murmured delicately. There was a trace of amusement in her voice.

‘Certainly! Of course!’ She advanced a step or two, almost at a run. Tamar started at the movement, which contained all the vigour of a fencer’s parry.

‘You should go down first.’

‘No, no, there’ll be space! I’ve done this before!’

The hollow echo of her words rolled up and down the dank stairway.

‘Have you?’ she returned. Her tone was insinuating, as was her needle-dark gaze as it finally, lazily, lingered over her.

She flushed, regretting wearing the green hat today – its brim squeezed her temples like murder. And she knew it looked ill in harsh light. She reached up and plucked it from her head, shoots of soft hair spraying from underneath.

‘Let’s go, shall we? I’ve got an appointment.’

‘Oh.’

The women began to move, one ascending, one heading downwards. Tamar swung herself and her bags lightly to the left, forcing the other’s cheek and chin to the wall. Several seconds’ of jostling ensued, plastics and fabrics rustling for release, brittle floorboards shrilling. Their hipbones jarred.

Finally, thankfully, they were past. Mounting the stairs two at a time, appropriating lungfuls of sweeter upper air, she welcomed escape. The door was ajar, admitting a milky light at that suffused its surface with paleness. There was greenness in the gap, the gleam of a passing car, a sign the colour of hornets busy with arrows.

‘Bye,’ Tamar’s voice wafted to her ears.

‘See you,’ she agreed, approaching the door. The air possessed a cold snap akin to the clack of dog’s teeth. What a difference a few metres’ depth made! She placed the hat back on her head and tossed a look downward, detecting the sweep of heels and a mustard-coloured coat hem rounding the corner and passing from sight. Picking a particle of brick grit from the edge of her eye, she made her way out.

----------------------------------------

My thoughts? I regret making it so creepy. Especially since in last week’s class we had to give our work to somebody else, who had to then make judgements of the author based on the writing alone. Last time I checked I wasn’t _all _ that psychologically suspect… but maybe I’m biased.

Neither am I entirely satisfied with the way I ended it. For most of the way I felt I was building up to some grand revelation, but then I bottled it. Perhaps this was due to laziness, or lack of ideas. To be honest, the constraints of the exercise were tricky to deal with – I ended up pretending that this was a fragment of some bigger story, and I’m not sure how good an approach that was. It’s turned out somewhat vague.

It’s awfully serious too. I should lighten up.

I find myself obliged to end on a positive: I am pleased with the location. You can do a lot with stairs. They are a suggestive place. Dangerous too. I fell down the stairs in our house the other day. You can’t really trust stairs.

Hmm. Anybody else got any comments? You can even be mean if you want, I don’t mind.

Gemma xxx


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