Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Beauty in a Tree

I thought my love affair with autumn was done with. Then I saw the beauty in a tree, golden leaves falling on white frosted grass.
It said, "Paint me!"

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Sow Words, Harvest Poems

Poetry in Motion and the theme was harvest. The venue was Inverness Cathedral. The poets – eight or nine were ready to weave words.

Is it just a memory of mine? Churches stuffed with produce, celebrating harvest? Or were we a month late? I remember school and its links with a parish church, collecting stuff and handing it over to the vicar. I remember singing, “we plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.” I remember thanking God for His almighty hand feeding and watering. There always seemed to be a lot of fruit and vegetables, fresh and tinned stacked at the front, and loud celebrations of God’s goodness. We were a rural community and someone had woven corn dollies. I think we celebrate too little these days.

A clutch of violin and cello players practiced at the front of the cathedral. They weren't always in harmony. That's why they were practicing, The statue of Jesus might have turned his head just a little to hear better.

I began a four-line verse of a farmer at one with nature, conscious that the harvest was a gift. I remembered watching a documentary about environmentally friendly farming. A man and his tractor begin in the centre of the field working slowly outwards. Anything that lived in the field, the hares, the field mice, the shrews and voles were chased safely to the edges rather than herded to the centre.

He lives at one with nature
Land and soil a precious gift
Seeds to plant in crumbled brown
A harvest given, his to lift

I added a second verse

He raises eyes, gaze fixed above
Praise on his lips, so much to say
Takes not for granted natures fruit
The yield that comes his way

We live with intensive farming. Every ear of corn collected. Nothing left behind. We exploit the soil and forget that we share the planet with others. We are always told that there isn’t enough. The truth is there is plenty to share. And there you have it, that word we don’t like – “share”.

A softer poem emerged. Not a third person poem. Not a poem observing the action of someone I’m not. This poem spoke to the greedy, grasping heart in me.


Do not reap to the edge of the field
Do not grasp every last stalk, every final ear
Do not count and count again and
Conclude there isn’t enough
Nature gifts fruit and flowers
Seed, source and substance
Receive gently with an open palm
Stretch generosity like the long autumn shadows
Abundance is there for
Birds and beasts, vast and small
Yours is only a slice, not the whole
Leave enough to meet another’s need
The yield that comes your way is for sharing

Another poem, not my own, spoke of the seeds we plant that we don’t leave long enough in the soil to see the harvest. We are left desolate and unfulfilled because we won’t give time for something precious to emerge. As she read her poem, a first draft, missing a line or two, she wiped a tear away. We have so much potential. We have the capacity to change the world, not always for ourselves but for others. Things, people, dreams – they don’t flourish and bear fruit, because we don’t give them the time they need.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Poetry Basics - Rhythm, Rhyme and Form

I think I have caught up with all the missed video conferences for my UHI degree course in creative writing. I started late and have been trailing behind the rest of them. Yesterday I waded into poetry, not the technical terms but the basics of rhythm and rhyme.

I confess that I don’t read enough poetry. Yesterday I sat in Ashers café near the bus station reading war poetry. A friend, from the Spectrum centre writers’ group, had mentioned she was doing a history course focussing on conflict and resolution. I’d bought the book second hand and thought she might like it.

War is sad and there’s no getting away from it. What is really sad is about who pays the price in real terms. There’s a ruling class who don’t suffer the same kind of losses. They direct their forces but, too often, they themselves are safe.

I also confess that there’s a lot of poetry that I don’t understand. I write for content, not for form. I don’t think about whether the form matches the content. But then, do readers think about the form when they are reading? I understand that choosing the right form adds to the impact of the poem and that there is something going on at a subconscious level. The form is underlying the message.

Having said that I wrote a poem for the Spectrum writers’ group, for homework. The prompt was “limits” or being on the edge of something. We had listened to a section from a book “Touching the Void”. An injured man, presumed dead from a fall, drags himself across a snow filled landscape. He pushes himself to the limit to survive. My poem was about the edge of scientific research, about pushing the boundaries dishonestly, perhaps for the wrong motives.

The Edge of Science

Fools! They must see the fault in their ways
Science and knowledge  – there are no delays
They’re coming – those aliens – we must be their match
Foiling the plans that the green men might hatch
I needed the funding and filled out the form
Stretching the truth, lying’s the norm
Pages of data, and who’s going to check
The numbers and letters and all of that tech?
Oh, yes, I cut corners, as scientists do
There’s far too much red tape that needs tiptoed through
I skipped out the tests on the mice and the rats
Bypassed the dogs, the rabbits and cats
I thought of the primates, monkeys and all
Went straight for the humans – that was my call
There’s plenty of people - a few won’t be missed
Bad ones and sad ones and those rarely kissed
A basement with beds and belts to restrain
And drugs by the armful to manage the pain
We’re here on the edge of a medical wave
Based on the work of the bold and the brave
About cutting corners - who’s going to care
When I have the answers ready to share?
And if through the science there’s money to make
That’s a diversion I’m willing to make
Know this, invaders, the battle won’t last
Your green swaying bodies, we’re ready to blast

The form is a rhyming, sing-song nursery-like poem. It really was at odds with the content. Before the lecture, I wouldn’t have given it a minute’s thought. Afterwards I thought long and hard about the form. There was almost something grotesque about it – the nursery-like rhythm and rhyme and the horror of people in beds being pumped full of drugs so research can be sold off to the highest bidder.

I decided to leave it as it was. The impact was there in both content and form. Dissonance is the lack of harmony between musical notes. I’m not sure why musicians do it, or composers. My poem had dissonance. It was not an easy read. It got under the skin – which is what poetry is all about.

I am into a month of the degree course. My husband asked if I thought I was getting my money’s worth. It’s too early to tell. I haven’t done anything that I couldn’t already do. There is nothing that is stressing me out. The unit is an introduction to creative writing, so I assume we don’t go deep into anything as yet. It’s a gentle way to ease me in.

I’m struggling to find a balance between spending time writing and spending time on housework. That was there long before I began the degree course!

It’s all about discipline – that thorn in my flesh that won’t go away.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Missing It

The decision to start walking home was a balance between a number of things. On the one hand, it had been raining and I didn’t have a brolly. I was carrying a bag of shopping that wasn’t heavy but with an uphill journey it wasn’t light either. On the other hand, there were roadworks in the town centre. Sitting on a bus waiting for our turn with the lights didn’t appeal. There was also an art exhibition at a studio, and a new coffee shop to explore on the road home. The walk home won. A bus stop further along the road was there if needed.

The coffee shop, named “Two Sisters” was run by two men which made me feel like I had been mislead in some way. Maybe they were the husbands or the sons of the two sisters. The scone, which I shouldn’t have been eating anyway, had raisins in it. We joked, the man at the counter and I, about which one of us would get the most pleasure from picking out the raisins when I asked if there were any plain scones. The music playing in the background was a saxophone blues thing. There was a pile of reward cards next to the till. I could have claimed a free coffee after drinking a dozen others. I didn’t pick one up. I had no plans to regularly return.

The exhibition was showcasing the work of the students in the art academy. The building in a previous life had been a school, and then a college, and then, seeing as it was a listed building and not available to knock down and build flats there instead, had become a space where artists could rent bits of it. I have swithered about renting a bit but the rent is too high and the artist in me is too fledgling for me to justify a studio space.

Across Land and Sea – it would have been nice to have seen a picture perhaps of a ship upon the high seas – the Two Sisters café had one on their walls. It was all a bit too modern for me. Perhaps I should have picked up a catalogue at the table at the entrance. Maybe that would have given me clues as to what the pictures were. There were lots of dark and earthy colours – the land. Were they real earth packed into the frames?

The sea was represented by a hanging. It looked and felt like the dried skins from fish sewn together with black twine. The person would have had to have eaten a lot of fish, and been careful not to damage the skin, to have enough skins to make the hanging. It must not have been real fish skins but it looked real enough.

On one shelf there looked to be paper squished into balls. I’m not sure if you are supposed to touch these things. There were no warning notices. They were not paper but hard clay painted white.

My curiosity about the exhibition was satisfied. I could tick it off a to-do list. I’m not sure I had learned anything or had been inspired by anything that I saw.

Sometimes you need someone that knows what it is all about to tell you. There are some kinds of learning you don’t get by just being there or seeing something. Someone needs to say what the artist was thinking, or why they chose that shade of grey, or what they want to stir in you. Otherwise you just miss it. And perhaps in the missing it, you decided that all art is real earth packed into frames and dried fish skins sewn together and deem it not worth bothering with in the future. 

My early days of church attenance were kind of like that. I had become a born again Christian when I was eighteen. I'd grown up in the Roman Catholic Church and never knew that I could have a personal relationship with God. The young Christians I knew worshipped at the Brethren Church. As I went off to university, I found a Brethren Church in a nearby town and began attending. Being there is in the church, sitting in a seat, listening to prayers and sermons - none of it helped me to understand what my commitment to Jesus meant. I didn't know enough about anything to know why I was there or how being there was supposed to impact my life. In those days a Brethren Church person reeally needed a letter of introduction from a previous church and church minister and I didn't have one. I suppose they presumed a Christian maturity I didn't possess. I needed someone to tell me what church and faith was all about. I didn't get that. Amazingly enough, the seed that that been sown during that summer, that led me to a commitment, did not get snatched away. I just struggled needlessly. I moved churches to somewhere smaller, somewhere nearer, somewhere not Brethren and got taken under someone's wing and nurtured. Once I was learning, I was flourishing. I knew what Christ had done for me, the direction my life was going in. I knew why church mattered and how important it was to know what the Bible said, and how to live by what it said. There is no clulessness anymore.

In term of writing, I’m reading a book, dipping into it really, about what makes a good story and what holds a person’s attention. The man says there is a formula. The best storytellers don’t mess with the formula. Maybe, though, in messing with the formula you hit on something extraordinary, that does the capture the imagination. Maybe this is what these artists are doing – messing with the formula to see the extraordinary things that emerge.