my first ever poem is about to be published


Well, that isn’t actually true. I’ve written loads of poems, but I’ve just had one accepted for publication for the first time ever.

Anyway its very short and a bit silly, but it works – it’s a ‘proper’ poem with a recognisable form. I love writing free poetry but there’s a different kind of satisfaction to be got from the structured stuff,  a bit like a fiendish puzzle, there’s an audible crunch when it fits together perfectly.

Encouraged by the strapline: It’s OK, you’re allowed to be funny I sent something off. So at some point in the next couple of months my tiny poem, The Thirty Second Mariner will be online at the delightfully named Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis site run by Jonathan Pinnock.

On a bit of a roll, I’ve also had a flash piece accepted by Spelk Fiction, and Rising Dawn will be on their site on 20th June.

Pretending poetry, songs of liberty and Ursula le Guin


The thing about running your own business is that holidays become almost entirely theoretical. It’s a holiday to leave the computer for long enough to hang out the washing on a sunny day, it’s a holiday to take the long way to the post office, it’s a holiday to read something that isn’t for work, or to listen to something that requires your full attention on the radio, or to take a day to learn new songs.

The thing about running your own business is that you can build a holiday in anywhere you want to, and around anything you want to, and justify it as ‘work’.

So a week in Cumbria because one of the poets in The Other Side of Sleep had organised a reading in Grange-over-Sands and it’s too far to go and not stay over, and if you have to stay over, well…

A few days with friends in Bath and a stop over with another on the way to Cheltenham.

So I briefly pretended I’m a poet last week. As I said whilst doing so, I am not a poet, I occasionally write poetry, it really isn’t the same thing. So here’s me pretending to be a poet, with one poem and two flash fictions that happen to kind of work as poems.

cherry grange os

If you want to hear how real poets do it you can listen over on the Arachne Press website. I’ll be pretending again at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival on Saturday in the company of Angela France, Math Jones, Bernie Howley, Kate Foley and Jennifer A McGowan.

In the meantime I’ve been listening to Ursula le Guin on Radio4, first an epic 2 hour catch-up with The Left Hand of Darkness, and then a 30 minute documentary, with the woman herself, and various writers who admire and were influenced by her, including Neil Gaiman,  Karen Joy Fowler and David Mitchell. I found myself falling in love with LHD all over again. I read it first in my teens, and again about 5 years ago, and I am in awe of le Guin’s talent and the subtlety of the adaptation for Radio by Judith Adams, everything I remember is there, and the bitter, bone deep cold swells through the recording so, so well. Listening to Gaiman and Mitchell say words to the effect of ‘this is why I became a writer’, I wonder: is this why I became a writer? (and unlike ‘poet’ I do identify as ‘writer’ because even when not writing I obsess about it – think about my characters, interrogate my bad habits, consider plot twists, discover great titles in over heard conversations…) and I think the answer is probably YES.

The Left Hand of Darkness has been one of  my favourite books since I first read it, and unlike many others was even better on the second reading, and still made me cry (and I think another re-read is due). Discovering it so early, probably about the time I began to seriously think I might write ‘for real’, it must have had a huge impact. It is hard to tell, I read voraciously at that point, three books a day at weekends, back to back, swimming in words. I’m sure I amalgamate many of those books in my mind, not sure what comes from where, but LHD stands out from the morass, as do other of le Guin’s books: The Tombs of Atuan and The Lathe of Heaven in particular. They are doing an adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea (My first ever le Guin read, when I was probably nine or ten) on Radio4 Extra next week – LISTEN!

Did you think you were going to get away without a reference to music? Ha! fooled you.

I spent Saturday immersed in songs about making choices and community and freedom, taught by the marvellous Lester Simpson in preparation for the next ‘big idea’, a celebration of Magna Carta in the week of the actual 800 year anniversary of the first draft being signed (if you ignore the change of calendar in the 18th Century). Nearly 50 people turned up and we sounded amazing. Here’s a sample…

You’ll get a chance to hear the songs we are working on in a more polished format at West Greenwich Library, 7:30 on Thursday 18th June. More on that nearer the time. There is a call out for STORIES for the event over at Arachne, you have til Mayday.

Right. Off to my next ‘holiday’, in Bath for readings of Solstice Shorts at Oldfield Park Books, this evening!

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 1st


Aemelia (or her sister Angela) Bassano

A new month, but no birthday to celebrate. I’ll have run out of people whose dates I haven’t found soon and then where will I be?

Ok, never mind. Today we are composing birthday odes for Emilia Bassano Lanier aka Aemelia Lanyer 1569–1645

Emilia was  Jewish, the  illegitimate daughter of Venetian musician Baptista Bassano and Margaret Johnson, her father worked as a court musician to Henry VIII. She married Alphonso Larrier, another musician when she became pregnant by her lover Lord Hunsden. The portrait here (by Hilliard) is almost certainly of one of the Bassano sisters, and even if it isn’t Emilia, gives us some idea what she may have looked like.

Emilia was a feminist and a poet – the first woman in England to publish a book of original poetry, Salve Rex Deus Judaeorum; in it she works her way through just about every woman in the bible, pointing out how important they are to Judaism and Christianity.

She has been claimed as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, (you know, – my mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun? – that one) and even more delightfully and controversially to have written or collaborated on some of his work… Her family certainly knew people Shakespeare knew, and there is a reasonable likelihood that her brother-in-law and Shakespeare worked together at some point. It’s an attractive idea, but let’s stick to what is certain.

But surely Adam cannot be excused,
Her fault though great, yet he was the most to blame;
what weakness offered, strength might have refused,
Being lord of all the greater was his shame…
… If Eve did err, it was for knowledge sake,
No subtle serpents falsehood did betray him
If he would eat it, who had power to stay him?
Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love,
which made her give this present to her dear,
That what she tasted, he likewise might prove
Whereby his knowledge might become more clear…
…Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to your selves no Sovereignty;
You come not into the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty;
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?

Eve’s Apology.

[men…] Forgetting they were born of woman, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all, do like vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 22nd February


Vincent

Today’s birthday girl is

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950)

also known as Nancy Boyd when writing prose, and who called herself ‘Vincent’.

Vincent was an American poet and playwright in 1923 she became the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, her first poems were published when she was in her teens, and already a bit of a ladies woman.

She first came to attention when she was passed over for a prize, and (to their credit) the men who had ranked higher than her protested that her poems was better, in one case handing ver the prize money. Nothing like a little controversy to launch a girl’s career, and she needed help the family were living in abject penury, and one of the pluses of the fuss was that Vincent attracted a wealthy patron who paid for her to go to college.

Her poetry was feminist and pacifist (during WWI). She had affairs with both men and women,  notably Edith Wynne Matthison, a British actress.

Edith Wynne Matthison

Edith Wynne Matthison

letter to Edith Wynne Matthison

You wrote me a beautiful letter, – I wonder if you meant it to be as beautiful as it was. – I think you did; for somehow I know that

your feeling for me, however slight it is, is of the nature of love…When you tell me to come, I will come, by the next train, just as I am. This is not meekness, be assured; I do not come naturally by meekness; know that it is a proud surrender to You.

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

But you, you foolish girl, you have gone home to a leaky castle across the sea to lie awake in linen smelling of lavender, and hear the nightingale, and long for me

I do not think there is a woman in whom the roots of passion shoot deeper than in me

One things there’s no getting by,
I’ve been a wicked girl,
Says I…
But, if I can’t be sorry I might as well be glad !

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried

Sense, Sentences and Sensibility – building poems from scratch


I’m running a poetry workshop on Friday.  I keep quiet about poetry most of the time, but the opportunity came up (through Spread the Word), and I’ve been flexing my poetry muscles at the Poetry Cafe’s Poetry@3, Poetry at Mr Lawrence’s and the Towersey Festival recently, so here I go!

I’ll be exploring how poems work and finding your own voice through use of as many senses as possible (very possibly using props!)  Suitable for novice and more experienced writers of poetry.

Join me at

Donald Hope Library
Cavendish House, High Street, Colliers Wood, London SW19 2HR
Friday 21st February between 1-3pm. FREE!

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 11th February


Karoline von Günderode 11 February 1780 – 26 July 1806  romantic poet, her works often had strong heroic women in the central role, and was critical of traditional gender attitudes.

I have to say she behaved a bit like an opera heroine, and this doesn’t strike me as entirely a good thing – Jane Austen would have had comments to make about sensibility.

I’ve often had the unfeminine desire to throw myself into the wild chaos of battle and die. Why didn’t I turn out to be a man! I have no feeling for feminine virtues, for a woman’s happiness. Only that which is wild, great, shining appeals to me. There is an unfortunate but unalterable imbalance in my soul; and it will and must remain so, since I am a woman and have desires like a man without a man’s strength.

Sounds good doesn’t it, but she had an affair with a married man Georg Friedrich Creuzer, who divorced his wife to be with her. Unfortunately, persuaded by his friends that Caroline was unsuitable, he left her. (Or depending on which version you go by,  he wouldn’t divorce his wife).  As a result of the stress he got ill, and Caroline, believing he was dying (or furious he wouldn’t divorce his wife…), killed herself… Georg survived the illness (if there was one).

Actually, not sure why I’m including her, I’m writing this and thinking, idiot! But there you go, idiots abound, and sometimes they can be fun to be around, briefly.

I think I would be delighted if she declined the invitation, I’d be having to keep an eye on her the whole time, and keep counting the knives: not restful.

 

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 8th February


elizabeth bishopToday’s birthday girl is multiple award-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979) “one of the most important American poets” of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth was great friends with Marianne Moore who mentored her while she was studying at Vassar. Elizabeth  travelled widely, often with female companions, one of whom Marjorie Stevens, she lived with from 1943 until 1947.

All my life I have lived and behaved very much like the sandpiper just running down the edges of different countries and continents, looking for something.

In 1951 a further season of travelling, on a fellowship, took her to Rio de Janeiro where she met  Lota de Macedo Soares with who she lived until Lota’s death in 1967.

I was made at right angles to the world
and I see it so. I can only see it so.

After 1970 she then travelled again this time with Alice Methfessel.

Close, close all night
the lovers keep.
They turn together
in their sleep,

Close as two pages
in a book
that read each other
in the dark.

Each knows all
the other knows,
learned by heart
from head to toes

Elizabeth was an alcoholic so it would definitely have to be a tea party.

Well, the cat is flourishing and gets more spoiled and more beautiful every day. His whiskers measure, from tip to tip, including his mouth and nose, of course, ten inches, pure white whale bone.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 9th January


January 9th – Simone de Beauvoir‘s birthday, but she’s not invited to the party. Sometimes you know too much about a person to find them appealing.

Instead, let’s have Aisha bint Ahmed al-Qurtubiyya I’ve no idea when her birthday is, as she was born in Córdoba, Spain in 965 and died in either 999 or 1010. A famous Arabic poet and calligrapher of her time, she rejected a great many suitors, sending  one of them off with this delicious poem:

I am a lioness
and will never allow my body
to be anyone’s resting place. But if I did,
I wouldn’t yield to a dog –
and O! the lions I’ve turned away

and never married – I think she’d be better company than Ms Beauvoir.

Remember


popping poppy copyright Cherry Potts 2011

For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

Strange Meeting, Wilfred Owen

For the past week we have been asked to remember:

Remember, Remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder Treason and Plot;

and to remember the fallen of the great war.
So what is memory, what is memorable, and what is remembrance?
As a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist I take exception to the brutality underlying the demand to remember Guy Fawkes; the burning in effigy of anyone is deeply suspect and whilst the anti-catholic fervor of these celebrations is largely forgotten these days there are pockets where it is enacted with determination (Lewes springs to mind.)
For most people Guy Fawkes’ Night is an excuse for pyrotechnics, and for the first time in a very long time, it seems to have been limited to the actual night and the day before.

Now,  I like fireworks, despite having one drop on me when I was stewarding a display once, fortunately a good thick coat was ruined but that was all; but what is it we are asked to remember?
That some people felt strongly enough about a protestant led government they were prepared to attempt to violently disrupt it? The barbaric (to us) brutality with which the would be perpetrators were executed? Yet another magnificent failure? The family loyalty that prompted one of the conspirators to warn his cousin and thus betray the whole team to torture and death?  It’s a pretty bleak story, 400 years old, and but for the publicity machine of the time would have been long forgotten.  But there are still places where Catholic and Protestant hate each other enough to want to blow each other up, places where brutal regimes inflict horrific death on those that don’t agree with them, yet we forget, ignore, dismiss all of this as though it were commonplace; and celebrate a four century old nine-day-wonder every year, around bonfires, with shrieking and banging and cascading explosions lighting up the sky, baked potatoes and toffee apples.
The war to end war:
What a contrast, one week to the next.
I wonder what it was like for traumatised soldiers to experience Guy Fawkes night?  Did they cower and hide and wail like our cats do as the barrage of rockets explode all round them?
Remembrance Sunday, and 11th of the 11th have been hard to ignore this week, the media have been in full swing, and I’ve listened to some interesting radio programmes about the history of Remembrance, from the first unveiling of the cenotaph (empty tomb) in 1919, the burial of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey in 1920, the resurgence of a 2 minute silence on the 11th as well as on the nearest Sunday since the 1990’s… and a neatly put explanation of how the death of a soldier in war is now exceptional, unusual, noteworthy; compared to the decimation of an entire generation 90 plus years ago.
I also listened to a programme about the Forester’s House at Ors, where Wilfred Owen sheltered as his wrote his last letter home, a vivid account of cooking potatoes for around 30 soldiers crammed into a basement. The house is now an art installation with Owen’s poems and that last letter projected, broadcast in English (Kenneth Brannagh bringing a magnificent warmth to the readings) and French, and embedded throughout.

I was force-fed Owen’s poetry as part of my education, and it put me off a bit, I found his restraint unappealing, I was with Siegfried Sassoon, raging in protest: it’s time to go back and review that.

On Holiday in Belgium a few years back I turned down the opportunity to visit the war graves, feeling that I knew enough, didn’t need my nose rubbing in it, would find it distressing; I think this Owen memorial would be worth a visit, and if I was there, I might also go to the Menin gate. I’m not sure, I come back to that Stalin quote, about when it is a single individual, known to you, it means more than all the thousands; too many to comprehend, to encompass. But one of the special things about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the effort that went (and still goes) into finding the story of the individual behind every one of the graves, and the names where there is no grave. Their website is a marvel of vignettes.  No one in my immediate family died in either world war (a statistic that surprises me) but tracing family history back, I found a few distant relatives, and I was truly impressed with just how much information had been garnered for some records.
Flicking through TV channels we stumbled across the Royal British Legion’s ninetieth anniversary service at the Royal Albert Hall.  I watched to the end, hypnotised by how regimented it was, men in busbies and cheesecutter caps, swaying involuntarily having been stood stock still for at least an hour, with thousands of poppy petals drifting like bloody snow to lie at their feet, on their shoulders, on their headgear.  I found myself wondering how many poppy petals, and thinking not enough; the petals to represent the dead of two world wars would fill that space, and reminded of the Beatles song A Day in the Life (Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall); and thinking about who we should remember: combatants yes, on both sides, and ambulance crews, and nurses, and fire crews, and civilians and those shot for ‘cowardice’…  and thinking, but what is this for?
Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Those who lose track of what and why we are remembering, ditto.
It is my intention this evening (energy permitting) to go to the ‘sing around’ at a local pub, and at some point to sing. A and I have been talking about what we might sing. It being Remembrance Sunday has influenced our repertoire, so we will be singing some of the following, depending on how many slots we get and whether someone else has the same idea: Only Remembered (John Tams, used in War Horse), No Man’s Land (Eric Bogle), I want to go home (Oh what a lovely War), and Down by the Riverside.(traditional spiritual) anda version of Three Ravens an ancient song picked up by Thomas Ravenscroft in the 1611.
The reasoning being that they are all wonderful tunes, poignant words, and are in keeping with the original intentions of Remembrance day, apart from the Ravens, which is my own personal take on what war is all about.
I willingly remember the dead of world wars and believe to forget would be dreadful, but I have no intention of celebrating war or military might.
And memory?
Every time I listen to, or sing, No Man’s Land I remember as a child when visiting relatives, dropping in on an old lady who lived nearby, and the faded photograph of a young man in uniform, which she reached down from the mantelpiece and put into my hand. 

My man, she said, and cried.

I expect she told me his name, I expect she told me how he died, if she knew.  I don’t remember; but I remember that photograph. He would have been dead sixty years when we met.
Evey time we walk round the local cemetery we read aloud the names of the dead, in among them the individual war graves scattered among the ivy and wild flowers, and the inscriptions, in particular one that stands out from the prescribed text:

I who loved you most, miss you most.
Remember,
Remember.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011