Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Just wandering...

This Saturday I'll be joining fellow Wirral poets on a trip to mob the Wenlock Poetry Festival.

It's ok - we're in the programme. We're being egged on (as ever) by the ebullient John Gorman (he of Scaffold and Tiswas fame), who would have poets in odd socks on every corner if he could.

I've 'done' Oxton Secret Gardens' (right) a couple of times - where poets leap out from the rhododendrons at unsuspecting garden-lovers. After I had one irate chap going on at me for '...coming in here with your sonnetts and your villanelles and messing up the geraniums...' (I'm paraphrasing) I'm probably not doing that one this year, because here's the thing: Not everyone (whisper it) likes poetry.

Much Wenlock is different. It's a poetry festival, see - they'll be expecting poems and that's what they'll get! Last year they had a groovy giant knitted poem, sculptures made out of books and a Poet Tree where you hung your smaller works.

But without that context, I confess I'm wary of spouting in the streets. (Apart from that time, giddy from the Glam Slam in my 2nd Most Glamourous Poet in Liverpool' sash, I did an impromptu recitation on the platform of Central Station, Liverpool.)

Faced with a clerihew or sestina, some people will quite literally run away (except the captive audience in the queue of Much Wenlock's famous butcher shop, who don't want to lose their place and will suffer anything). And if everyone involved doesn't do their best, most accessible poems, won't it just confirm people's worst opinions of poetry? Doesn't it then become the opposite of evangelism?

What do you think? Would you be delighted or provoked to mindless violence if you were accosted by a poet in the street?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Awareness Awareness Month

I'm sorry to disappoint long-standing followers, but I forgot about National Double Entendre Week back in March.

This was a completely fictitious theme week that myself and Moptop invented last year and planned to bring into being merely by pretending it was real!

I was reminded of this by this tweet from comedian Jimmy Carr:

Stress? I know about stress. Hypertension is my middle name. (Actually it's Marion... I made that up too.) I packed in my lucrative PR job because of it, but not before sending my blood pressure to near-critical levels and irreparably messing up my kidneys.

But when I looked on the web I couldn't decide if it was National Stress Month here or in America - I mean I'm not going to get all 'aware of the issues' if it's some foreign thing. Then I found this list on Wikipedia.

So - in April, we should be especially aware of alcohol, the earth and sexual assault whilst appreciating jazz, pets and volunteers, and preventing cruelty to both animals and children. No wonder it's stressful!

... and if you can't be bothered to scroll down the whole hellish confection there, here's some examples:

  • National Be On Porpoise Month... sorry that should read Be On Purpose (I did that 'on purpose)
  • Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month
  • Creative Romance Month
  • Typewriter Appreciation Month
  • Black Hole Awareness Month (I dare you to click on that link - it will mess with your head!)
  • Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APS) Awareness Month (and let's face it - they need the publicity because I've never even heard of that)
  • National Library Card Sign-up Month

October is National Dessert Month, National Pasta Month AND National Pasta Month (AND pork, pretzel, pickled peppers and popcorn months) - are they trying to kill us?.... And it's also, ironically Hunger Awareness Month: People will just keep saying: ''Yes, I'm aware that millions of people are starving to death, but pass me the Parmesan!' until the penne finally drops.

There's even a National Constipation Awareness Month - no shit! (And I'd made that up as a joke before I even found out it was real!)

I think National Double Entendre Month would fit right in, don't you. Although I am vaguely suspicious - it being Wikipedia and all - that some of them (Dirty Harry Month?) might be just as made up as mine... and actually don't they all exist only because somebody says they do?

What kind of awareness month would you champion?

p.s. I must STRESS that these are just the themed months... I haven't even started on the themed weeks or days - and nor shall I (probably) - not with my blood pressure!

Monday, 11 April 2011

The world is made of glass

In the midst of the rejections, which I've entertained you with before it's nice to get the occasional 'Yes!'

Thanks to the magic of spreadsheets, I can reliably tell you that of 400 poetry submissions I've sent, 57 were published, and of 346 entries to poetry competitions, 17 were placed. It's a slog, and these figures are comparatively good, I'm told. *sigh*

I've just had a poem published in this year's Ragged Raven Anthology: Nothing Left to Burn - the fourth time I've been selected for one their excellent collections. I was especially chuffed that they even named last year's anthology after my poem - which was runner up in their competition: The world is made of glass.

The world is made of glass

each blade of grass
hand-blown and fragile,
as bright as needles.

You order coffee here and stare
into something solid and opaque –
one sugar cube suspended

perfectly. See the craftsman’s skill:
nothing solid exactly, but moving
with the patience of glaciers.

All things, even your lover’s face,
reflect an image of yourself, slightly distorted.
The touch of skin’s as sharp

as those mornings when buildings
look like clouds and birds fly into them,
shatter their skulls and drop like stones.

Rain falls in slivers, lies
like mirrors at your feet. You feel
your way – afraid of fractures,

everything splintering. Beneath
leaded sheets your brittle sweat
rolls and dances like beads

from a broken string, night hardens you
into a sculpture, your arteries a marbling
only visible in certain lights.

© Clare Kirwan

p.s. did you notice I wrote an entire poem about glass without once using the overly-poetic word 'shards'? My A problem shard post explains why.

Friday, 8 April 2011

First lines

I'm supposed to be starting my new novel.

OK, so I haven't finished the current work in progress. What are you, my mother?

So this new one has a plot, characters, location, framework... and what it needs now is a first line.

It just so happens that the deadline is this week for the annual Little Lytton contest - which looks for 'hilariously bad' first lines of imaginary novels.

Here's a fine example from the instigator:

Jennifer stood there, quietly ovulating. Adam Cadre

Here's what he says about it: 'The non-action of "stood," the vagueness of "there," the involuntary process of ovulation treated as an activity, the inappropriateness of mentioning the volume of that non-activity, the uncomfortably gynecological detail of mentioning it at all — all combine to make a cringeworthy sentence.'

Here are some of last year's winning entries:

This is a story about a racist hero who dies at the end, probably painfully since he’ll get shot in the face.

This is a mystery about a murder I committed.

Zandor stood in the doorway, raking the onlooking crowd with the hot coals of his eyes.

Reading these has inspired me to look up the first lines of some of my own work. So here are some dodgy openings from some of my (unpublished works):

When you’re a down-at-heal astronaut, you’re about as low as you can get.

Even through the bandages, the cold must have been biting.

It was as good as being dead. No, not that good

I wonder why they're unpublished? The last two were alternate first lines for my only completed novel - a tale of trauma, changed identity, tortured relationships and redemption that I first started when I was 13, completed in 2003 and is currently 'under the bed'.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the first lines of my nearly complete work in progress - a tale of local authority planning officers, root vegetables and the undead are:

Always wear your best pants. Your mother was right. You may have an accident.

So, I'd better get on with it... but do share your favourite first lines in the comments... or share the most toe-curling one you have come up with yourself.

To help: American Book review came up with this list of Top 100 First Lines of Novels

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Let me count the ways...

We counted all the books in the library the other day - it's an end-of-the-financial year thing.

We have 32,476 books. Well we might have.

But as there was no system of checks and balances, no QA, no spreadsheets listing categories, no double-checking of other people's additions... as the entire process was conducted on random bits of scrap paper with a bare minimum of discussion (we were all counting, see, and we'd have lost our places), and as we don't know (a) how many books are currently on loan because the system doesn't readily give us those sort of figures and (b) how many we are supposed to have all things being equal, we could have just as easily made up a rough figure and stayed in bed (separate beds... we're not 'that kind' of library).

But here's something to think about next time you're ploughing through a book you're not really enjoying: with more that 9,500 novels in our branch, IF (and you'll see, a rather big 'if') I read one every day it would take me 26 years to read them all. But also, I would never read them all - because we get more than 7 new ones every week so the incoming would exceed the outgoing.