Sunday, 29 August 2010

That's not a barbie! This is a barbie!

Have any of my UK chums managed to have a decent barbecue this summer? I certainly haven't - not with the builders next door and the appalling weather.

You know that scene in Crocodile Dundee when thugs threaten our hero? 

  • - 'Mick, give him your wallet'
  • - 'Why?' 
  • - 'He's got a knife'
  • - 'That's not a knife.' (Pulls out massive Bowie knife) 'This is a knife.' 

I feel the same about barbecues. What we call a barbie would be laughed out of the garden in Australia. If you think the Aussie barbie is a bit of cliche - they couldn't possibly barbie all the time - you're wrong. They do! But not as we know it.

In most public parks, seafronts leisure areas, roadside rest areas (I mean pull-ins here, not service stations) and picnic spots you'll find these fab municipal barbies. We were a bit scared of them at first - they tend to be the domain of men and we weren't sure what the rules were or how they worked. But then we bit the bullet and never looked back!

The picture above is me slaving over a hot one in 1770, and we found the one on the right at a look-out point near the Glasshouse Mountains, both in Queensland (click on that link for a pic of the scenery - ours were shite!)

These beauties are stainless steel and coin-operated - pop in a dollar and the gas goes on under the plate for ten minutes. Sometimes there's a metal spatula on a chain (or one of those wall=paper-removing tools), sometimes you bring your own. Because it isn't on a grill but a hot (really hot) plate you can cook almost anything. Etiquette says you clean them thoroughly afterwards and most people do.

Most people stick to steak, chicken, burgers, kangaroo fricasse etc, but it's also great for a stir-fry, full English brekkie or pancakes. On our outback camping trip we even made spag bol on one (oh, alright, the spaghetti was boiled first!). Didn't try soup though.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend, whatever you do! And if you do get near a grill, here's a little song to sing:


Saturday, 28 August 2010

My Mum and the Beatles

It's my parents 50th wedding anniversary today. I wrote this poem a few years ago based on stories my mum used to tell me about when she was a typist at the old Cotton Exchange in Liverpool, just around the corner from a certain Cavern Club.

(This is International Beatles Week, by the way)

She grew up in Waterloo (the Liverpool one, not Belgium  or the station) and was quite racy in her day - she wore red nail polish and was the first girl she knew to wear slacks.

She met my dad in the Ramblers and he pursued her relentlessly. His family had run the Catholic book shop on Scotland Road before moving to Wirral on the so-called 'posh' side of the Mersey - where we live now.

We all have our opportunities. We all make our choices.

My Mum and the Beatles

She heard the music 
but still she walked past
the Cavern in those heady early days
before the sixties came swinging in,
intent on shopping – her bottom drawer
full of linen, not vinyl.

Come with us! Her friends chattering
in the Cotton Exchange typing pool,
then the tap… tap… tap
of her heels on polished floors
and pavements down to Lewis’s,
blushing below the naked statue

all that to come – her mother measuring
her twenty one inch waist, the snip
of pinking sheers through satin
those last Waterloo evenings,
Her friends still hummed
with pop and possibilities:

These four are fab! Come with us!
But she never did go.
All she needed was love
Love, she said, is all you need.


... roll the music


 p.s.  For another poem about my mum: My Mum's a Bond Villain

Thursday, 26 August 2010

10 Punctuation Pet Hates

It's not that I'm pedantic - I'm not going to kill over this. But I like things to be done properly. 

Those who run "rough-shod" over our language - using respectable punctuation marks for their own nefarious purposes - must be found and stopped! Out with their dodgy colons and enough, already, of their superfluous exclamation marks!!!!!

Here are my top ten punctuation pet hates:

1. Like the picture says - if you don't use commas when you should, a little old man dies somewhere. Classic example (of errant comma, not little old man dying): here (thanks, Tony!)

2. Errant apostrophes - also known as the Grocer's Apostrophe. Or the Grocers' Apostrophe. Depending on the number of grocers, which is the whole point really. Many fine examples at apostrophecatastrophes.com, but the one pictured (right) was discovered by GrammarBlog.com in the "illustrious" Daily Mail

3. Unnecessary quotation marks - make you sound sarcastic even when you're not. e.g. Nice "blog" Clare. There is also something vaguely nudge-nudge wink-wink about them which implies that what you're saying is a euphemism for something filthy.  Go to unnecessaryquotes.com for more examples than you can "shake" a "stick" at.

4. Too many full stops. This might be a personal view - feel free to dash me down in flames - but I think we've gone beyond needing every acronym interspersed with dots. It may have been S.W.A.L.K. in the old days but it's SWALK now. Save your stops - you might need them one day. Soon.

5. Too many exclamation marks!!!!!  I know, I know - I do this too!! I must be found and stopped... oh there I am. Stop it. OK!!!

6. This isn't punctuation per se, but it's still annoying: Random letters Capitalised for no good Reason. We're not German You Know.

7. I'm being really  picky here, but I was picked up once on this one and it hurt: too many dots in your ellipses. There should be three. No more... no less. Any other number is an abomination - unless it's a full stop, in which case I'll let you off.

8. That little ~ symbol. I mean, what's it called and what's it for?

9. worst of all people who dont use punctuation at all maybe because they dont know how and just leave it to you to work out what the hell they are on about

and finally...


...that brings us to number 10 - which is your chance to join in. What else should be on the list? Tell me your punctuation pet hates?

Come on..... "Spill" the ~ Bean's!!!


p.s. Do you have great examples of bad punctuation, grammar, spelling? Send them to the lovely Grammarphile at RedPenInc

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Armitage Shanks

I'm cat-sitting for my brother this week in rural Staffordshire. I mean for his cat. My brother isn't a cat. He's a solicitor. (Not the cat. She's a cat.)

The cat is skittish and sixteen - which makes me nervous - and I'm more of a doggy person anyway, but my brother does have an extensive DVD collection and no builders next door.

Anyway, he lives in the little town of Armitage which is famous for one thing only - it is the home of the Armitage Shanks factory (it's name has now changed, but not for the purposes of this post), where all the toilets and wash basins come from.

It's about as far as you can get from the coast (nearby Ashby de la Zouche claimed it was, until the Ordnance Survey declared that Church Flats farm up the road in Coton in the Elms claimed that distinction). How far is this? our American friends might ask. A whopping 70 miles. That's right - you can't get further than 70 miles from the sea in England.

But there are many local canals and if you go walking along them you come across the curious sight of rows and rows of ceramic basins ready for delivery, and for the ablutions to come.

It's time for my toilet poem.

Yes, I know - another post involving toilets. But I'm done after this. 

Please note the complete absence of poo in this toilet poem*

I'd be the first to agree this isn't a great poem, but it was recently one of those with a Staffordshire connection commended (out of 700 entries) in the Stafford Poetry Prize. I'll quote the judge, Michael Hulse: "...these poems had real strengths, and stood out by virtue of their clear individuality from Staffordshire poems that merely touted the county as the best (etcetera). This competition is for poems, not for tourist board slogans!"

I sense the organisers liked it less than he did!


Armitage Shanks

This is toilet country, basin land.
There's nowhere else in England
further from the sea.
Outside the canal-side factory 
ceramic stockpiles wait
on the stagnant banks
at Armitage Shanks.

Like mouths of pearly teeth,
swarms of albino beetles,
the Empire’s storm-troopers white helmeted,
shoulder to shoulder, the bowls are
fired up, ready for action
waiting in ranks and ranks
at Armitage Shanks.

A canal slinks past:
sluggish, barely washing
the painted barges stately slow
dribbling, land-locked, nowhere else to go.
Its patient algae clothes
each broken sink that sank
near Armitage Shanks

How lavatories dream on chilly rims
how sinks and bidets yearn
for pedestals and plugs
for running water, urgent and thorough
a rush of liquid traffic
flushing pipes and tanks
from Armitage Shanks

Only rain sets cisterns tingling
a gentle benediction
of wet anticipation
maddening the shift-workers inside
with the plink... plink... plink
of their chattering thanks
at Armitage Shanks.









* If, however you want a pee poem - try here



Monday, 23 August 2010

Gone with the wind

I showed you some of the publicity pics for previous Wirral Bookfest in this post  but I have since got my mitts on 'the one that got away.'

The idea of the campaign was to have people reading books relevant to their situation e.g. we got the head of the Special Initiatives team (no - I'm not making that one up!) to pose in a Pie Wagon reading 'Life of Pi' and a library officer to stand on a chair reading 'Of Mice and Men' with a little white mouse on the floor nearby. You get the idea.

When James, the graphic designer, suggested this chap on the toilet reading Gone With The Wind  I had misgivings, but the library people were unequivocal in their response: No way!

I was away the following year so James tried - and failed - to slip this picture under the parapet again. 

He still wanted to do it this year and doesn't seem to grasp that it doesn't promote reading, books or libraries in a positive way. Despite the fact that it looks like the guy has one enormously inflated gonad and the book is far too slim to be Gone With The Wind, what advertiser would want 'poo' to be the first thing you think of when you see their publicity? But most of all - do we really want to be pushing the fact that this guy might have been the previous borrower of the book you just took out?

If you're local - or even if you aren't - here's a link to details of this year's Wirral Bookfest (11-17 October). The publicity material isn't out yet, but I can pretty much guarantee this man won't be appearing in it.

I don't know who he is, by the way. But I hope he got time off in lieu for taking part in the shoot. 

Saturday, 21 August 2010

All by my shelf

My probationary period as a library assistant is now complete - so it's time to relax.  

If they want to get rid of me now, they have to kill me. (Don't tell them that - it'll give them ideas.) I was the last person to get a job in the UK - ever. I'll be a hundred and four and still saying: 'I don't know - I'm the new girl.'

I wasn't sure about the idea of working in a library at first - I had my reservations. But now that I've sorted my shelf out, this job might be just the ticket.

Today I spent some time sorting the health section, musing to myself how cruel it seemed to have all the books about backache on the bottom shelf and the ones about arthritis on the top, and how very neat and ordered the section on OCD was.

In between 'borrowers' I browse recently returned books so now I know all sorts of  things I never expected to: how to resuscitate a dog, muffin-making, Beatles ephemera, five minute yoga, and making your own crop circle using string and a piece of board. I'm getting my head around the Dewey Decimal system too. I found the Doomsday book in the 'letting your property' section. Well - you have to put it somewhere. 

Books go missing sometimes, of course. We can't seem to find Lord Lucan's Biography, that book about the Bermuda Triangle or 'Shergar - the Wilderness Years.'  

But by and large it's going well. But I've been stirring up a few ghosts. Not actual ghosts, but:

  • Woman who was part of group I was writing a play with
  • Man I used to chat to on the way home x 2
  • Ex's friend’s sister who ended up going out with my other ex
  • Dodgy poet
  • Local artist who wants erudite conversation when I'm sorting books into alphabetical order
  • Wirral News reporter
  • Dead Cat Woman
  • Meditation guru who had me exploring my own liver from the inside and alwasy stands too close
  • The poet from the fort
  • Old school chum not sighted since 1982 – who still looks exactly the same
  • Two of my ex volunteers
  • Big Brian
  • Chief Executive (but sadly not in full biker gear on this occasion)
  • Ode Show compere
  • Mr Hankey (not the poo from South Park. Real man. Real name.)
  • Crafty woman (not crafty as in cunning – she does crafts)
  • Boring jobless bloke who used to shark me
  • The cyclist who used to work for Dixons but packed it all in to be an artist and grow his hair

These are trying times for libraries. 'Big Society' might be the death of them. Visit your library this week and take out your full complement.

More dreadful puns and fun about working in a library, here: Why Are There So Many Songs About Librarians? and Stupid Questions People Ask Librarians

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Feelbad Factor

I was thinking of writing something encouraging, but I changed my mind. 

One tries to keep cheerful but sometimes you notice that actually the world is a Very Bad Place and you're not sure what you're doing with your life.

I was reading '101 Ways to be Happy' in the library the other day. At the time I thought: 'Yeah, yeah! I know all this stuff - 'enjoy the moment', 'change your parameters'... blah blah.'

But despite knowing this, sometimes I feel I may be deeply, deeply depressed. Come and join me! Here are 10 ways to really depress yourself:

  1. Watch a really harrowing film: I vote for Threads - which nukes Sheffield then takes you on remorselessly through ravaged generations.
  2. Books can be great ways to depress yourself. Cormac McCarthy is particularly effective. I've written about The Road previously, but No Country for Old Men - just as depressing and a lot more violent.
  3. Make a list of all the things you can't do anymore – physical activities or clothes that spark mutton/lamb conundrums
  4. Stuff your face and then go and weigh yourself
  5. Seek out the most miserable person you know and have a good long chat with them – preferably about third world politics or the AIDS epidemic
  6. Get hold of an expensive holiday brochure. Set your heart on somewhere – then look up the prices (they'll be in the small print)
  7. Soundtrack: Leonard Cohen? Although strangely he doesn't appear on this list of the 10 Most Depressing Rock Songs. Morrissey does - obviously.
  8. Attempt a  delicate, artistic task with the wrong tools to make you feel really shit about yourself
  9. Browse through a medical encyclopedia and consider all the things that can - and do - go wrong with the human body
  10. Make two lists – one of all the people you have known and really liked but have lost touch with, and another of people that really get on your tits but you see on a regular basis.

 p.s. Or promise to do something and then fail to do it, make excuses, and let the guilt and self-chastisement go to work.


I think we've all learned an important lesson here.

The Liver Birds

No not those The Liver Birds - the 1970'2 sitcom by an up-and-coming Carla Lane.

(Not the Liver Bards, either - a new poetry open floor starting in Liverpool next month. ...I don't think all the poems have to be about liver.

The might even be a folk group in Merseyside called The Liver Beards. Not them either.)

These Liver Birds.


The symbol of the city of Liverpool (also the City Council and a certain football club), the 18 foot copper plate birds face opposite directions - one looking over the city, one over the Mersey estuary - from the top of the Liver Building at the Pier Head.

I live 'over the water' from Liverpool. Not as in New York or Ireland, but just across the river, so it's fantastic to see how well the city is doing since being European Capital of Culture in 2008 - there's a new since of energy and optimism. Swanky new developments like Liverpool One were built just before the credit crunch and are doing well - but those old birds are still keeping an eye on everyone...


Liver birds

We're held up by wires like
threads of giant spiders webs,
look down on cranes and construction sites
the dandruff dust on Pier Head,
the city struggling back to life,

bald headed businessmen,
in Matchbox cars, red stop, green go,
the tide coming and going in great gulps.
We love these new buildings – they are
mirrors where we preen ourselves.

We are gritty and ancient, wings
spread like rumours across the city.
We make a nest in history,
but two beats of a wing and we could fly
on thermals rising up from heated streets.

It's hard to perch so long, so still,
but we have a bird's eye view;
anywhere you see us, we see you –
across the city, the suburbs, the water,
every movement, everything you do.

(c) Clare Kirwan

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Excuses, excuses

In my last blog I mentioned the time-honoured (and in this case true) excuse of 'the dog ate it.'

We all come up with excuses for our failures, omissions, bad behaviour, stupidity, delayed action, clumsiness, laziness or sin.

But why admit to anything if we can blame someone or something else, put it down to forces beyond our control or rationalise our way out of it being in any way our fault?  It wasn't me it was the the weather / chemical imbalance / market forces / somebody - anybody - else.  Early Apple Mac's used to come out with a whiny American voice when certain Bad Things happened saying: 'It's not my fault.' Seriously. 

With imagination there are plenty of original excuses you can come up with, and the more far-fetched and unlikely-sounding the more believable - with-in reason. 'I couldn't come to your soiree because my grandmother was abducted by aliens' or 'my homework ate the dog' might be pushing it a bit. 

There are some whacky excuses for missing work here including; 'I've been taking ex-Lax and Prozac. I can't get off the john but i feel good about it' and 'The dog ate my car keys. We're going to hitchhike to the vet.'

But for your basic error there are two excellent catch-all excuses:

1. Persian carpet-makers always leave one mistake in their patterns to acknowledge that only Allah may achieve perfection.  I used this extensively during my banking years where it generally fell, to borrow another religious metaphor, on stony ground

2. 'The Cartographer's Folly'  I am indebted, as ever, to the Inkyfool blog for alerting me to an equally catch-all but more prosaic general excuse for error. Map-makers, he tells us, have often put a deliberate error in their work so they can prove whether someone has plagiarised their work. 

"It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one."    George Washington

For other occasions where you may be looking for an excuse, I have provided a Top 40 Excuses in the form of a poem below, but what's the best (or maddest) excuse you've ever come across?

Excuses, excuses

The dog ate my homework.
All my friends do it.
I left it on the bus.
I forgot.

I'm new.
I'm ill.
I have a headache.
It's in the post.

I didn't get your message.
I thought it was tomorrow. 
It was an administrative error.
This has never happened before.

The voices in my head said to.
It just came off in my hand.
I only took my eyes off him for a second.
She had it coming to her.

It is destiny.
It was inevitable.
It just… happened.
It was the beat of a butterfly's wings

It goes against my principles.
I was under pressure.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
If we don't do it somebody else will.

I only had a pint.
I was only doing 30.
He just came from nowhere.
There was nothing I could do.

All my friends were doing it.
We knew no better.
I wasn't thinking.
I was only obeying orders.

(c) Clare Kirwan

Monday, 16 August 2010

The dog ate my library book

Would you believe some friends of mine never darken the doorstep of their local library? 

'I love the smell of new books," says Bambi*. "That's why I never go to libraries."

It's a common misconception that library books are as  tattered, torn as a tart's tights. Not true! Here in Wirralia we get new books in all the time - and those that stagger back to us having fallen foul of the rougher type of borrower are resuscitated using special, librarian CPR:

  • Cleaning
  • Pritt stick
  • Re-labelling
A lady brought a book back the other day which had been savaged by a puppy. Strangely, she wasn't the same lady who has a note on her account when you scan her card saying: 'Check books for teeth marks'.

(Did I mention? Vampire books are almost as popular as serial killer books in Wirralia.)

I've written before about some of the fates that can befall the written word.  Old library lags tell of books being returned having shared bags with fish or dirty nappies. And a good blockbuster makes an amusing coaster for your drinks, don't you think?  Or a goal for an impromptu game of football? Or a plate?

We do our best to keep things clean. But are pristine books what we should be striving for? Does that not imply they have never been read? At home, I'm forever buying books and then not reading them - I've had books for thirty years and never opened the covers. 

I'm reading Best of Myles just now - an anthology of Flann O'Brien's early columns in the Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. He suggested a solution to books looking unread: "Why should a wealthy person...be put to the trouble of reading at all? Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much a shelf?"

He proposed a graduated scale from 'popular' ("four leaves of each to be dog-eared, and a tram ticket, cloak room docket or comparable article inserted in each as a forgotten bookmark. Say £2 17s 6d. Five per cent discount for civil servants") to 'Le Traitment Superb' which involved passages underlined in good quality red ink, notes in margins ("Yes, but cf Homer, Od., iii, 151") and forged inscriptions from the author: "From your devoted friend and follower, K. Marx")

I can't help wondering if some of our borrowers may have employed similar services. Perhaps they think we'll look down our noses if we think they haven't thoroughly read  the books they borrowed?

But dogs?  As Myles points out: "Novice handlers, not realising that tooth-marks on the cover of a book are not accepted as evidence that its owner has read it, have been known to train terriers..."

What do YOU think?

Do you only really love a book that is still unsullied by human hand/eye/other parts of the anatomy?  Do you want to know others have enjoyed it or is a desirable slim volume dead to you once its spine has been bent, it's corners fondled, and there is herbage growing out of it? 


Related posts: Don't touch the sticky books.

* Names have been changed, but this friend was once described by another as 'like Bambi on ice' which immediately became one of my favourite similes.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Hey you! Yes YOU with the haiku!

I feel guilty.

I'm not a big fan of the haiku poetic form the haiku, so I left it out of my recent Teeny Weenie Poems post.

The haiku is a Japanese concept which classically has quite specific rules. Three lines, with 5,7 and 5 syllables respectively, they are supposed to capture a moment with resonances within the wider world or, indeed, life itself. There should be a seasonal reference. The syllable count matters, but it isn't an end in itself. 

What is my objection? Just because you write something 5/7/5 doesn't turn you into [insert name of famous Japanese poet here]. If it isn't evocative, illuminating or moving, then it isn't a poem and whatever you do with your syllables I'm still going to say 'sayanora.' Sushi's just cold rice and raw fish without the salt of the soy and the whaaa-hey! of the wasabi

Maybe it's just the poor haiku I deplore. For example, why The Guardian chose to applaud a CEO's resignation in a very ho-hum haiku earlier this year, I have no idea. If you choose to resign on Twitter, as Jonathan Schwartz did, you're not going to have space for a sonnet. I'd say to him: 'Don't give up the day job,' but it's a bit late for that.

Having said all that, there are some modern poets I admire who manage to step into the ornamental pond of haiku without getting their toes nibbled by the koi. They understand that you can mess (a bit) with the line length but you have to be saying something - you have to have heart.

I'm sure Manchester-based Tony Walsh - festival poet and slam champion - wouldn't mind me posting a three of his gems from Seventeen Haiku here... and if he does, all he has to do is say so.

In the 10 items or less queue
with twelve items, thinking
'punk's not dead'

She pulled petals from daisies
and thought that he loved her.
He loved her not.

Anyway, haiku are branching out. There's an entire magazine and website called Scifaiku (which I've been published in) devoted to Japanese short forms on science fiction themes. Not to mention the zombie haikus I may have alluded to earlier. Dammit! I wasn't going to mention them.

Oh, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the British Haiku Society seem keen in on the old 5/7/5 too. And I do like the haiku that won their international Haiku Award 2009:

in the silence
before the dreaming
the warmth of a paw on my hand
 

Claire Knight, UK

Apart from the sci-fi ones, over which I will pass a discreet veil, the only haiku I've ever had published was this one (which, yes, before you point it out, has no sense of place, seasonal reference etc etc etc):

Just before he died
he told me his palms had changed -
some lines were shorter

I have to finish with this one - which I believe to be a tribute to Spike Milligan by Bill Taylor, which is why it's called a Spaiku

Haiku's inventor
must have had seven fingers
on his middle hand

You can share your own or favourites, but only if they are profoundly moving or at least slightly funny. I'll get no comments now, but like I said - I'm not that keen on haiku.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Freeze! It's the Grammar Police

Help! I've been caught by the Philological Fuzz

I've had an anonymous comment picking holes in the grammar on my blog. 

It's from an Andrew M (it said 'Anonymous' in the header but then he signed it Andrew M) regarding the use of both 'learnt' and 'learned' in my That certainly taught me a lesson post a few days ago. 

(Andrew M.  It couldn't be.... could it? ... Our former poet laureate wouldn't stoop to sniff around other people's suffixes in his spare time would he? ... Nah!)

Anyway.

"One should try to be consistent," he says and: "...in a non-American context as I assume you to be, learnt, leapt, leant, spelt, dreamt should be the preferred spelling. (See the online Style Guides of the Telegraph, The Economist etc)."

Ah yes - the online Style Guide of the Telegraph. 

I read little else.

Never having had a critical comment before, I'm not sure of the protocol. I'm irritated by the unfriendliness and could be provoked into a knee-jerk reaction. But I'm nice and always try to see the other person's side. Nevertheless, it's difficult not to veer immediately into sarcasm or defensiveness.

"So nice to have a visit from such a learned gentleman." I replied

I admitted that yes, I had erroneously used 'learnt' once in the post - erroneous in the sense of lack of consistency at least. But I naturally use the 'ed' ending and, I pointed out, most replies from Brits had also used 'learned' and language is a living thing. Then - aha! I went to the Guardian online Style guide* to see what they said!  

You'll like this.

  • learned
    not learnt, unless you are writing old-fashioned poetry

As we have established, I'm not a great reader of the Telegraph, so far be it for me to compare it to old-fashioned poetry (out-dated? pompous? jingoistic?) but it's not surprising there is the confusion when multiple uses are acceptable at the same time until one dominates. 

Grammar police are everywhere - check out the excellent Unnecessary Quotes blog or Red Pen, Inc. - but at least they don't come into your home and nitpick.

Why pick on me? What did I do? I  could direct Andrew M to much more fertile ground - he could check out my ex-husband's Twitter account for starters - but we'll come back to that. Or he could go and teach people who really need to learn to read and write in his copious spare time.

What do YOU think? Has this happened to you? How did you deal with it?

p.s Meanwhile, terrible things are happening to hedgehogs and if something isn't done about it - next time it will be you!


* I'm not being inconsistent with my style guides here. The Guardian's is Style guide (no cap) and  I assume the Telegraph's is Style Guide as he stated - a pedant would have checked)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Small packages - poems that punch above their weight.

I blogged yesterday about short, short stories but as a writer of fiction and poetry I'm here to tell you that it's a helluva lot easier to write short, short poems instead... or is it?

Stories are supposed to have a plot, character development, conflict and resolution. You can get away with anything in a poem. The basic aim of a poem (I believe) is to make you look at something slightly differently than you otherwise would, or to provoke some kind of emotional reaction.

I'm going to ignore haiku's for now, because you'll be expecting them (although you're probably not expecting zombie haiku's so I'll let you have them.)  I'm talking about really, really, really short rhyming poems that stick in your mind forever.

Here are some of my favourites. First, one for writers everywhere from the intriguing Hiliare Belloc:

On His Books

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'

Hilaire Belloc

Ogden Nash, an old favourite from the wonder years of the The Penguin book of comic and curious verse has many fine examples of tiny rhymes including this early examination of the proliferation of advertising and its impact on the environment:

Song of the Open Road

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Ogden Nash

And, even more pithily, on lounge lizard methodology:

Reflexions on Ice-Breaking

Candy
Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker

Ogden Nash

I'm sure Oscar Wilde will have had something to say in this form, but not going to quote him here, because he is overly quoted, as Dorothy Parker points out:

Oscar Wilde

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Dorothy Parker


I particularly admire the work of Wendy Cope who isn't afraid of brevity and even named an entire collection Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems 1979-2006 for a two line poem that says reams and reams about romantic love:

Two Cures for Love

1. Don't see him. Don't phone or write a letter
2. The easy way: get to know him better  

Wendy Cope

I have written one on a similar theme, so I'll just slip it in here while no-one's looking:


Relationship Trouble

I don’t know what it is with me
I haven’t got the knack. 
First of all you wouldn’t leave
And now you won’t come back!

Clare Kirwan

I'm afraid my own shortest poem cheats rather badly by having a very long title. Nor does it change the way you think about anything of provoke anything other a small smile, which means it probably isn't even a poem at all by my own definition:

Love song for the first engineer on the Starship Enterprise

I’m potty
for you, Scotty.

Clare Kirwan

Oh, and I nearly forgot. I did promise you the shortest poem in the world.

This isn't it:

An Attempt at the Shortest Poem in the World

Already
This is too long

Gareth Owen

(From Roger McGough and Giles Brandreth's jolly, celeb-packed fundraiser The Big Book of Little Poems)

But this one might be*, although the author is unknown or disputed (I'd like to think it was Ogden Nash too):

Lines on the Antiquity of Fleas

Adam
Had 'em.


To work, me hearties! 


*Even this is disputed. Me/Whee! and the Dutch U/ Nu! being quoted here


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Short ... and I mean short... stories

Having worked in newspapers, and being a poet, 'editing' is my middle name. (Actually that's not true - it's Marion... although I still regret not changing it to 'Trouble' when I did a Deed Poll last year.)

Short stories - flash, micro, txt - are all the rage at the moment - perhaps because we all have the attention span of a goldfish. The best ones are tiny but perfectly formed and definitely not as easy as they look. 

Ernest Hemingway said that his best piece of writing was a six word story - 'For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.'

Ellie recently blogged some excellent links to Teeny Weeny Writing Competitions but as usual I struggle to juggle the right words in the right order. I've come up with a couple of six word stories, but am more comfortable with 150 characters (SMS-length) or a luxurious 50 words (micro length). But 500 words+ is much, much easier.

So here are a few of my attempts. But before you judge, (a) have a go at your own and (b) have a look at the ones the Arvon Foundation is showcasing or check out sixwordstories.net.

  1. Bones beneath the ocean. Tyrannosaurus wrecks?
  1. Been there. Done that. Investigation continues. 
  1. Opening the bandages – it’s like Christmas 
  1. Noah at Tesco’s: Two-for-one.
  1. Human skins – prized for their tattoos
  1. Postman’s wardrobe. Strangers’ valentines. Unopened.
  1. One heart. Slightly used. Unwanted gift
  1. Singing nanny. Free to good home.
  1. Buttons undone. Another Cinderella / pumpkin scenario?
  1. Mirror signal manoeuvre. One more test…
 

Alright, all you clever bunnies. It's over to you now...

Tomorrow - the shortest poems in the world... and I don't mean Haiku

Saturday, 7 August 2010

That certainly taught me a lesson!

I read on the Keeping You Awake blog several months ago what the author had learned from different jobs over the years.

It got me thinking - every role we take on teaches us something about the world, ourselves - well, mine have certainly taught me a lesson or two! Then I forgot about it for a while. But when I wrote my recent post on what I learned from being a special constable, I returned to the question.

So I thought I'd share a list of what I've learned from where I've worked. 

  • From the bank I learned my alphabet. I knew it already, of course, but years of filing cheques and statements into name order made it more instinctive, innate. 
  • From my secondment to a help desk in another area, I learned never to assume anything – especially the level of intelligence of the average person. I also learned that a lone young woman living in a hotel is rarely in want of company.  
  • From the kibbutz I learnt many things: In the baby house there I learned just how fierce and protective a mother's instinct is... I mean, I drop one baby* and they go crazy!  In the kitchen,  the art of cutting. In the communal dining room, that nothing ever stays clean. 
  • From working on a local newspaper I learned that not everything is gospel, that being in print makes mad people's words assume a gravitas they don't deserve. 
  • From self-employment?  That my mum was right about that ‘you are a hat in a shop window’ thing and that I am inclined to put too low a price on myself.  Also, that people take advantage of that – even nice people.  Maybe they don't even know they're doing it. 
  • From the voluntary sector?  That one person can move mountains, but it's bloody hard work and there'll be lots of people standing around saying ‘Great idea to move mountains! They should be moved!’ but then don't help and are merely critical of how you're moving them and where to. Also, that some mountains just might as well stay where they are. 
  • From running training courses for tenants groups, that people, even quite unpromising ones, sometimes have the capacity to go and move their own mountains when someone finally gives them a bit of encouragement and a few tools.
  • From giving grants?  That, depending on who you're giving it to – the same sum of money is one person's peanuts and another's pool winnings. 
  • From public sector?  That everyone's too busy covering their backs and following (or writing) the rules to ever, ever do something merely because it would make the world a better place.
  • And from the library? Erm, that'd be the alphabet... again.
  • What have I learned from writing?  That you don't always measure or understand what you've learned, what you know and how you feel about it all until you put it into words.

So what have YOU learned from what you have done?


* No babies were permanently hurt and there were mitigating circumstances.