Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mr Fixit - aka Isaac

I am looking for poems about seasons to share with a poetry group on Monday night.  It has nothing to do with writing poetry although some of the members might be prolific writers.  They share their favourite poems with others in this group.  This month’s theme is “Seasons”.

I have just about settled on one poem by Isaac Watts the hymn writer.  He’s moist famous for his hymns writing and I daresay we have all sung at least one of 750 he wrote.

As well as reading the poem we are expected to share a little bit about the poet.  I clicked on to the biography part of the website.  I didn’t really read that far as the opening few paragraphs caught my imagination

“From an early age, Watts displayed a propensity for rhyme. Once, he responded when asked why he had his eyes open during prayers:

“A little mouse for want of stairs
 ran up a rope to say its prayers.”

Receiving corporal punishment for this, he cried:

“O father, father, pity take
 And I will no more verses make.”

I might share his propensity for rhyme but I cannot do these things swiftly.  The concept of talking in rhyming couplets impresses me possibly almost as much as it frustrates me.

Let’s talk about Thursday.  It was new-oven delivery day and my husband took the day off work to be there.  Seeing as he was at home he invited a friend, a recently retired friend, a recently retired Mr Fixit friend, a recently retired Mr Fixit friend who was feeling just a little bored.  He has probably fixed everything in his house that needed fixing and was looking for new adventures.  Our house qualifies.

So what did he fix?  Aka Isaac..

The garden gate was in a state
The hinges broke and busted
Others fitted shiny new
The first task done and dusted

Note to reader – I had long stopped using the garden gate, the quick way to get to the path to the field to the short cut to work.  It wasn’t just the lifting of the gate but the spiders and webs that seemed to get spun overnight.  The various collection bins had been relocated to the front patio to avoid the garden gate.  Please imagine my delight at bins and short cuts being back in their proper places.

A kitchen light no longer worked
The fitting came apart
Another fitted shiny new
For bright light to impart

Note to reader – the house is not old in terms of really old.  Fifty years house-wise isn’t really old.  Mr Fixit suggested we might want to have the house re-wired.  A long time ago a light fitting in the front room crumbled.  I was much younger then and full of optimism and we had the Reader’s Digest DIY manual. Let’s just say that they book presumes basic knowledge which I didn’t have.  The explosion overhead was a small one.  I wasn’t injured but rather shaken.  A man who knew what he was doing fixed it later than afternoon.

The whirly gig had sadly died
Leaning on its broken side
Another fitted shiny new
Whirling gladly can be spied

Note to reader – I don’t really like whirly gigs.  A previous house we rented had the most magnificent washing line and prop.  The garden was awfully long and the line happily accommodated two washing machine loads! I think that whirly gigs speak to me of confined spaces and small garden space efficiency.  Incidentally the confer tree was hacked at the make way for the new whirly gig.

It’s not a complete list of mendings by any means.  Mr Fixit has left his tools here as he has spotted a number of other things that didn’t appear on the list I gave my husband on Thursday. 

It is the accumulation of fairly little things that aren’t working – those little foxes that damage the vine – that a person can live with, and does, that silently and slowly sap away the spirit. Big things have to be dealt with, small things not so much.  Getting the small things fixed has a bigger effect than you would imagine!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Clear Iraq Strategy

Not from the volley of gunfire
A staccato of bullets
Tearing into concrete and bricks
Pulling down the framework of homes
And ripping into flesh and bone
Dismantling the fabric of family
In war all things are inherently fragile

Not from a howling lament
A heaving of the shoulders
Grief stripping away strength
Nursing the
Smashed shell of a son
No safe place to shelter
From shrapnel rain

Not from the whirr of cameras
On satellites floating in space
Feeding pixel patterns on
A wide screen HD TV
With a scrolling commentary
The hybrid child of entertainment
And atrocity

That lack of audible sound
That absence of any
Significant communication
That long pause
That embarrassed stillness
When the appeal for help goes out

And no one answers

Concerning Agents and Publishing

During the holidays I have met regularly with two poet friends.  We have spent a couple of hours each time drinking tea, or coffee or hot chocolate, eating shortbread biscuits or colourful macaroons, reading and critiquing our poems. 

I am not sure when poetry took centre stage.  It used to be a back burner thing for hours and minutes left over from other activities.  Now it is the other activities that vie for my attention after the poetry cup has been drunk right down to the dregs.  The only activity which refuses to move to the back burner is time spent with Joe.

Having said that, Saturday morning was spent scratching the poetry itch at Eden Court in the company of Isobel Dixon.  She was tall, slim and willowy and dressed elegantly in black - everything I will never be.  She was being interviewed about her life as a poet and a literary agent. 

I took notes.

Any kind of writing, whatever the genre, is a solitary occupation.  Meeting my two friends so regularly to share poetry has made it less so of me.  One of the poems that I recently shared with them was a poem that was quite personal.  I was asked if I had shared the poems with some of my family.  I haven’t.  Most of the family have my poetry book – either by them choosing to buy it, or by having it thrust upon them.  There are many poems that never made it into the book.  Many poems written during the year my brother and sister died are quite dark and quite raw.  They are not pretty poems and perhaps even step on a few toes. 

Isobel shared a couple of poems about her father (now dead) and her mother (still alive) and glimpses of the rest of the family.  I don’t think I have written many family inspired poems apart from the illnesses and the deaths.  That is maybe my next challenge – some family inspired positive poetry!

Isobel talked about becoming friends with other poets and writers. She said, “If you love writing you should love other writers and support them by buying their books!  I have a very small collection of poetry books from poets that I know.  A writer needs to provoke and be provoked by other writers in a stimulating exchange.  That doesn’t happen if you lock yourself and your computer in the attic and only come out for meals at set times.  (Are you listening, Mel?) My friends and I are meeting and chatting  – we indulge in a lot of stimulating exchange.

I have just about got to the stage where I know I write good poetry.  A certain amount of resilience is needed in the publishing world.  I have to admit that I possess only one rejection letter – not because everything else has been published, but because I have only ever sent one short story out.  It was a long time ago.  I thought it was an ideal story for “Women’s Weekly” but it didn’t measure up to their requirements.  You’re always told to read the magazine to see if your kind of writing fits.  I go on record as reading lots of Women’s Weekly.  My mum used to get them and keep them for me.  Holidays from university were spent reading them after organising them according to dates.  I thought I had Women’s Weekly sussed.  I was heartbroken to hear they didn’t want my story.  I was also quite seriously knocked back and decided not to try again.

I have entered poetry competitions – the ones you pay to enter as well as the ones you don’t.  I am bemused by what passes for a first prize and wonder if I’m missing something.  It’s a bit too high brow for me.

I was very glad to hear from Isobel that no one looks down on self-published books the way they used to.  My poetry book was a collaboration between self (a very reluctant self), my wonderful church family and a local publisher. It was a book just itching to get out into the world.  It may never have gotten onto the shelves at Waterstones, but it has gotten into the hands of people who have been blessed by the poetry.  God wanted it out there.

She talked about book submissions and query letters.  You may be a good writer, but if the first page doesn’t catch the imagination it will fall at the first hurdle.  Maybe some agents will read further than the first page but if they are not excited by the writing they will not stay the course when it comes to persuading the publisher to take it on.They have their other clients to consider.

Clever social media marketing is another thing she encouraged.  It is on my To-Do list.  It’s also on my sister’s To-Do list for me to do – not a website on her writing but on her equine therapy business.  I did a website building course a year or two ago.  It didn’t really float my boat.  It seemed that I was always a screen or two behind the rest of the class and copying the work of the girl sitting next to me!  Yes, I was a cyber cheat,  A website for the book is on the back of the back burner. 

A lot of what she said was about hard work.  Nothing just happens without it. She was told, when she complained about being already busy to SLEEP LESS. Get up earlier or go to bed later – salvage the hours from somewhere.  I shall give up housework and invest in a cleaner!  If only I didn’t need my wages to pay my bills I could give up work!  We are closer to retirement than we were last year.

On a personal poetry note she uses notebooks – not remarkable I hear you say.  She uses the front of the notebook for business stuff and the back of the notebook for poetry.  I shall put that one into practice.  However one organises one’s notebook it makes no difference is one isn’t writing anything.  The word discipline is a good word here.  I am an erratic and spasmodic writer.  I write when I’m inspired to write.  I need to develop the discipline to write when I am not inspired.  Discipline!

Isobel talked about being commissioned to write poetry. That is so cool.  Someone asking you to write a poem and paying you to do so has got to be so cool. Having their deadline and not wanting to let them down acts as a motivator.  I am open for commissions!  I think back to the time of Dicken’s when most people didn’t read or write and had to employ someone to write a letter or read one.  In my dreams people come looking for someone to write a poem…and there I am pen in hand with the rhyming dictionary accessible.

It really was a pleasure meeting Isobel.  It was nice to have some of the myths I had built up about agents and publishers debunked. I may just brush myself down from the bashing I got from Women’s Weekly magazine all those years ago and climb back on the publishing wagon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Talking Hands

My right hand would like to boast
About every generous gift given
And every gracious deed done

It would love to see them listed
Neatly in some leather bound ledger
With all the numbers carefully added up

If only it could climb
High on a rostrum
And bask in the glow of the crowd’s approval

My right hand would like to present
Some kind of medal to itself
Something tangible to show it’s not taken for granted.

My left hand would like to tell
My right hand that God has missed none of
The gifts given and the deeds done

It would like to remind
My right hand that God weighs the thoughts behind the gifts
And measures the heart beneath the deeds

My right hand would love to ignore
My left hand and the truth that wounds pride
It only wants its five minutes of glory.

My left hand wants all the glory to go to God.
My right hand deep down wants the same.
Both hands are lifted to the heavens in praise to God.

Without God there would be nothing to give

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” (Matthew 6:3 NIV).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dice Prayer

In finding new and creative ways to engage in prayer I found “Dice Prayer” on the web.  The numbers 1-6 are assigned topics and then roll the dice.  Whatever number comes up is the topic you pray about. There is no specific list attached and you simply pray what’s on your heart.  A friend and I played Dice Prayer for an hour or so today.

Roll a 1 - Thanks For…

There are always lots of things to be thankful for.  Earlier this week I had spent a couple of hours one evening with a couple of poet friends.  We have been meeting together once a week or a fortnight to share our poems.  It is not just a performance – reading the poems and getting a pat on the back, but trying to give honest critique.  One of my friends confessed that even though she writes down the comments we say, she is very reluctant to change anything she has written.  The poems themselves reveal so much about the writer and even though it may not be their personal experience they write about, something of them leaks in. With many of the poems being about the Christian faith we sometimes end up gently preaching to one another which is so good too.

Roll a 2 - Personal Petition

Work situations can be quite stressful at times.  I have been doing my job for over thirty years now – in different towns and cities and even countries.  I have been thinking about either some kind of wind down scheme or taking early retirement.  I am feeling a little like an elastic band stretched to its capacity.  Sometimes I think I am close to snapping.  Other times I manage to unstretch through prayer, worship or knitting.  I am just a little bit cowardly when it comes to making life changes. We all have a tendency to hold on the familiar reluctant to dismantle the tent and move on.

 Roll a 3 - Family and Friends

It seems all too easy to dismiss the existence of God when the world looks to be in a mess.  How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?  When the suffering is not at arm’s length, in someone else’s life or in a country the other side of the world it becomes a more urgent issue.  God doesn’t seem to step in when a family member is diagnosed with cancer.  Maybe people of faith find some consolation in God giving comfort, or the knowledge of a next life that is so much better than this one – but that doesn’t mean God is real.  For some people the debate about whether God is real or not is just an interesting conversation.  Other people really need to know.  When I needed to know, God put people into my life to drop seeds and nudge me closer to Him.

Roll a 4 - The Church and Outreach Projects

Our church is a small church.  We meet in people’s homes.  It’s a not church for hiding behind anyone.  We are not listed anywhere.  Trying to explain to other people what we are about can be difficult.  There is not huge worship band and not long sermons.  We share life in all sorts of ways.  We have created a very safe environment and very close friendships.  We have a number of fingers in a number of pies that cross church walls like Healing on the Streets (taking prayer out into the community), Prayer Spaces (Taking prayer opportunities into local schools) and Street Pastors (being available late at night in the town centre serving the night time community).  We are being equipped and encouraged to get involved with evangelism – trying not to make it a scary word.
Roll a 5 - The Community

This particular number didn’t come up in our game.  I know that many people are struggling with bills.  The newspapers talk about growth in industry and the end of austerity measures – but we are not seeing any light at the end of our various tunnels.  People on welfare have been hit particularly hard.  The balance between helping the work-shy back into work and protecting the vulnerable is always going to be a difficult thing.  Too often compassion is being taken out of the equation.

Roll a 6 - Governments and the Wider World

We had both been waiting for the six.  We had been following the stories of people caught up with the Muslim extremists in the Middle East. IS (Islamic State) seem to be marching through Iraq almost unstoppable.  The world seemed to look on in silence just waiting to see how bad things might get before they step in to help.  I know enough about Islam, something of the example of Muhammed and the teaching of the Qur’an to know that this is Islam at its warped worst.  Doesn’t almost every Surah in the Qsu’ran begin with the words “Allah, the Compassionate and the Merciful”?  There is nothing compassionate or merciful about the IS response to other faiths. If ever a group of people needed to recover their humanity – these people do.  Christians seem to shine brightest in the darkness of persecution.  Let not their testimonies go unheard.