Speech must remain free
or there is no democracy
Je suis Charlie
Speech must remain free
or there is no democracy
Je suis Charlie
So NASA emailed me to say my haiku had arrived on Mars…
There’s a sentence you don’t read (or write) every day. And what’s great is, it’s true!
Truth is relative, of course. NASA did email, as they do every day; I’m subscribed to their website.
I did write a haiku, however, and it did go to Mars…along with thousands of others submitted to their competition. NASA put all of the entries on to a DVD in case the Little Green Men like Japanese poetry.
According to the website:
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, where it now will prepare to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere as never done before. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.
It doesn’t say anything about my haiku but I guess they’re kind of busy with all the, like, sciency stuff and that. Go figure.
But hey – I can say with absolute truth: my writing is out of this world :)
What a weekend I’ve just had!
Stockport Writers Do It In Church
On Saturday, it was my church’s Fun Day. We invite local community groups to come and share their info with the local community. It’s free and always popular. I represented Stockport Writers.
You may recall that last year I offered free poetry workshops and not one person came. This year, I offered to write poems for people. I asked for their name, age and five random facts, and then wrote something in the style of the birthday poems I have written for you, my readers.
For the first takers I said, Come back in ten minutes. More people signed up; I told them to come back at the end of the day to collect their poem. Eventually it was, I’ll email it to you tomorrow. And finally, You’ll have it by the end of next week, I promise.
Forty people wanted poems about themselves! I’m still busy typing them up and emailing them out.
At the same time as writing the poems, I invited people – at my friend Pam’s suggestion – to write a community poem: the theme for the day was joy, so I asked people to name three things that brought them happiness; and why. Roughly forty people (not the same forty people) completed that form, resulting in a poem three pages long, in fifteen five-line stanzas. I’ll post it at the bottom, in case you’re interested.
I cut out the answers and sorted them into themes and voilà! One community poem! It was a fun activity and easy enough to coordinate; you should try it.
Sunday, I chaired the monthly meeting of Stockport Writers at the Hatworks.
Spud & Mum Do World War One
On Monday night, Spud and I read poems for an hour, to an audience of nineteen. Not a bad turn out for a Monday night poetry reading. It was a commemorative event for the start of the war. I had intended to read poems written only in 1914, but there aren’t that many; I suppose because the war was only a couple of months old in that year.
I chose poems written about the period, and ordered them roughly chronologically in terms of event. I began with an Andrew Motion poem about Archduke Ferdinand between assassination attempts; moved on to jingoistic poems and songs intended to encourage enlistment; followed by first time events e.g. going over the top; and concluded with poems about the effects of the war. I used War Poets, modern poets, and female poets. Spud complained that to listen to poetry for too long was tedious, so I introduced each poem with pertinent information, which also helped the chronological flow. It seemed to go down well.
Spud and I read for thirty minutes and then there was a break for tea – very English. In the second half, we read three of my own poems, to prove to the audience I am a poet (I hope); and then he read poems by Wilfred Owen and I read poems by Siegfried Sassoon, taking turns. We finished with Spud reading two in succession: Anthem For Doomed Youth (my favourite) and Dulce Et Decorum Est (Spud’s favourite). I wanted to close with the war still ongoing, as it was, 100 years ago to the date we read.
Spud was good. When he shouts, Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! it sends shivers down your spine. When his voice breaks on we were young at the end of Houseman’s Here Dead We Lie, you get a lump in your throat. His plaintive Why don’t they come? at the end of Owen’s Disabled is pathetic in the best sense of the word. To paraphrase I’ll Make A Man Of You, it makes me oh so proud to be a mother.
Almost a quarter of the audience was made up of Spud’s friends, and I was under strict instructions not to say anything embarrassing. That’s usually a forlorn hope – at the award ceremony when he won the Drama prize, I managed to confuse his First Year tutor with a rugby player we know, asked about his wife (he’s not married), and compounded the problem by explaining my confusion was because he had ‘a rugby face’ i.e. broken nose.
This time, however, I was good; though he did tell me off for roping two of the girls into Stockport Writers and suggesting they friend me on Facebook.
I think Spud’s poetry performance was helped by appearing in The Tree of War. You may recall that he was amazing in that. Not that I’m biased or anything, but his a cappella singing of Pack Up Your Troubles was a moment when, according to X Factor thinking, he made the song his own. Not bad for a song that’s a century old. He played drunk pretty good, too; and I fervently hope that’s not based on experience. But it was the moment he was huddled at the bottom of the trench, terrified, crying, that made me realise he had something special.
Thinking about his character Bert, he imagined what it would be like at eighteen – his age now – to go blithely off to war; and then to learn of its horrors and sacrifices. Some of that informed his poetry reading. For someone who dislikes poetry, he did an incredible job; although not according to one critic, who told him, ‘You murdered that Ivor Gurney poem, didn’t you?’
Those who can’t, critique those who can, is my motherly response.
Spud and I dressed in vaguely period costume to enhance the mood; and I wondered how women managed on summer evenings in long skirts and hats. The church was warm and I felt a hot flush come on. I thought I was going to faint at one point, particularly when the poetry folder on the music stand in front of me began to recede. Then I realised that it wasn’t the menopause so much as a not-screwed-tightly-enough bolt: I was merely glowing but the stand was slowly lowering. I had to bite my lip to stop myself giggling during Spud’s moving rendition of A Dead Boche.
Honestly, I don’t know why he finds me embarrassing.
St Matthew’s Community Poem:
Happiness is a Serious Business
The smile of a child when they find something funny.
Seeing other people smile.
Seeing people smile when I’ve baked them a cake.
Cuddles and tickling.
A good laugh with anybody.
Miles of sandy beaches. The smell of the sea.
Looking out over Kent Estuary and Lakes –
mountains meeting the sea. Going on holiday.
Sunshine, because you can go out with friends.
A sunny day. Sunshine.
Being in the garden.
Growing my own veg in the garden
(shared with many, many slugs).
Being outdoors in the fresh air.
Getting caught in the rain. The seasons.
Bus rides on the top deck of a double-decker.
Going to Cornwall to see Nana.
Spending time with Grace (granddaughter).
Running around after my daughter.
Happy daughters playing together. Daughter.
To see my Sarah smiling and full
of energy all the time –
my greatest gift from the Almighty!
My greatest blessing!
Sons – utter happiness, contentment.
My sisters and my brother make me feel
really warm inside. Children.
My beautiful children. Kids. Family –
people I am close to. Spending time with my family
makes me feel happy because I feel loved.
Auntie Alison! Mummy. Memories about the bond
I shared with my Dad – love for my family.
Seeing my Mum and Dad happy makes me feel
very happy. My two parents make me feel calm
and loving. My family. Smartie the cat; she plays with me.
My two teddies are my only best buddies
and they make me feel less alone inside me.
Sweets, sleepovers and playing with friends.
Seeing my friends. Having good friends.
Big network of lovely friends.
Facebook – you can keep in contact with people
you normally couldn’t. Christmas, when we see everyone.
Church. Reading in church makes me feel I utilise a gift,
a talent God has given me – makes me fruitful.
Having time with my church family.
Jesus – joy, peace, fulfilment.
Four hundred voices singing a song
they really love, in collective worship.
Singing – the joy of it. Singing.
Singing: it puts nice pictures in my head.
Music. Music cheers you up.
Finishing a fantastic book.
Walking the dog. Knitting. Walking –
I like to ‘breathe’ in the hills.
Riding my bike in the sunshine.
Driving – I’m in charge. Painting – I’m good at it.
A day in my sewing room.
Baking cookies…and eating them.
Eating real food (especially love green smoothies!
With avocado, coriander, spinach and berries).
Chinese Buffet in Stockport – I always go for comfort food.
Cricket: it’s fun. Alex Park.
Clouds of pink blossom on cherry trees in Edgeley Park.
Rainbows. Rainbows make me happy:
I love the colours.
New York. The Statue of Liberty.
Minecraft. Chocolate. Football.
Friends. Friends. Friends.
When all around me are settled and content.
Kindness to others.
Sharing. Random acts of kindness.
This weekend it’s the Heatons Arts Trail – a bunch of artists in Heaton Moor open their galleries and invite you to look around and, hopefully, buy their work.
Write Out Loud members are supporting the event by tweeting poems. I’ve written a cycle of 26 haiku – we call them ‘twaiku’ – about the individual artists, based on the information in the flyer. I’ll be honest – it’s not my greatest work; but it was fun to do.
I would say check me out at @laughwife and @heatonstwaiku but the first two twaiku I posted have not appeared. Not that I’m a technept or anything…
There’s just one annoying thing (no; not the Hub): I have had an earworm all week. I think ‘Heatons Twaiku’ and I hear ‘Eton Rifles’. What a Jam!
Look what I won in a For Books’ Sake competition!
Free books – life doesn’t get any better. :)
At the moment, I have no words. It made me smile, then, as one of life’s little ironies, when I received an email announcing the launch of a new poetry ezine containing one of my poems – a poem about censorship, in which most of the words have been removed.
I may not be writing much but I do know how to make a short story long, so here goes.
My poem In The Tradition of ‘The Star’ appeared in the anthology In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights last year.
Earlier this year, one of the anthology’s editors contacted me, asking for permission to use it in a new ezine she and another editor were starting; and inviting me to read at the magazine’s launch in London at the end of March.
I gladly gave permission but had to refuse the invitation, commenting that I wouldn’t know how to read it aloud anyway.
She replied that she quite understood: her employer (a charity fighting female genital mutilation) had held a memorial meeting for Nelson Mandela and my poem had been read out at the meeting – with difficulty.
I sent a garbled reply about poems being like children and taking on a life of their own without you, once you’ve sent them out into the world.
I didn’t hear from her again, but that’s hardly surprising. If you’ve read this far you’ll be in the same dazed state.
Anyway, to get to the point, here is a link to the new magazine, Writing in the Blackout.
Here’s a bit of the blurb, for the political amongst you:
‘Writing in the Blackout’ is an anthology of poetry and art work that explores the theme of arts censorship and freedom of speech:http://www.ideastap.com/Partners/keatshousepoets
Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation you weren’t supposed to? Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?
It wasn’t eavesdropping so much as my first ten minutes in a new job in Johannesburg. A secretary walked into the office in great distress, crying her eyes out and complaining that ‘he threw my elephant ears off the balcony!’
Hillbrow flats are small and their balconies are tiny and I wasn’t interested in the argument – instead, I was consumed with a desire to know what exactly were elephant ears? If they were ornamental elephant ears, how huge were they? Did he have to use a tool to tip them over or was he so adrenalin/drink/rage fuelled that it was like a mother lifting a car from her child’s pinned-down body?
Or were they genuine elephant ears? If they were, they’d still be pretty big but surely they’d have shrivelled to mankiness; and where would you buy something like that anyway? You could buy legal ivory because elephants weren’t protected in South Africa in the Eighties but I never heard of anyone buying wrinkly skin flaps before.
I felt quite sorry for her distress and empathised with her experience of that terrible creature known as ‘man’, but I was cripplingly shy in those days, kept my head down and never stuck my nose in where it wasn’t wanted. I went all day without knowing what the argument was about but, finally, at 16:29, one minute before leaving, I had to ask: what on earth are elephant ears?
She laughed and replied, ‘A plant.’
How mundane. Eavesdropping: it’s really not worth the ear-burning it causes.
Tell us about a situation where you’d hoped against all hope, where the odds were completely stacked against you, yet you triumphed. Be sure to describe your situation in full detail. Tell us all about your triumph in all its glory.
I really hoped those ears were real.
That was back in the days when I wasn’t animal-mad; or unselfish (no kids yet).
I triumphed because I plucked up the courage – in the face of twenty-four years of terror at the thought of asking questions of a complete stranger, especially about her personal life – to satisfy my curiosity.
A song comes on the radio and instantly, you’re transported to a different time and place. Which song(s) bring back memories for you and why? Be sure to mention the song, and describe the memory it evokes.
Nellie the Elephant…some of you may have heard of it. I’m transported to church at half-past seven in the evening and the recollection that I forgot to tell you that I’d had a spicy dinner that day and had to clench my butt cheeks the whole time I was on my knees practising CPR, in case the evidence seeped out.
Don’t mock: I could save your life one day.
You’re 12 years old. It’s your birthday. Write for ten minutes on that memory.
I can’t remember it. I’m not an elephant.
What giant step did you take where you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break?
You never take giant steps when you have a wind problem like mine.
When was the last time you were embarrassed? How do you react to embarrassment?
Did you not read my last answer? How easily embarrassed do you think I am?
Okay, you’re right: I am very easily embarrassed in real life; blogging is fairly anonymous so it removes my inhibitions. If I were to break wind in your physical presence, I think I’d be embarrassed beyond measure. We both would.
Publish a post in the style of a favorite author/blogger or photographer.
A nonsense poem for you, written in five minutes, as an homage to Ogden Nash, Roger McGough and the city of Chicago.
In Praise of Gas
There’s an art to the fart, I’m sure
(just follow a wild beast’s spoor).
But if a pump makes you jump
stay away from the elephant’s trump.
He who has gas laughs last (and usually alone).
He capers at vapours and gels with smells;
but he secretly prays there’s no belligerence
caused by his intense flatulence –
he feels embarrassment
but masks it with merriment
frequently sprayed scent.
Apologies to my audience:
I feel I ought to rescind my words about wind –
I suspect I am less sinned against,
than I have sinned.
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