Roald Dahl Day – By candlelight

Today marks what would have been the 99th birthday of children’s author Roald Dahl, celebrated on the 13th of September as Roald Dahl Day.  When I was a child Dahl was one of my favorite authors and has had a lasting influence on my own writing.  I think the stories we read as children help shape us into the adults we become and in Dahl’s books I found stories full of both humour and pathos, stories that showed the best of humanity in a child, a kind teacher or a reformed playboy, stories that inspire a gentle and nurturing spirit, a love for animals, admiration for those battling against much stronger odds and joy in the eccentricities of life.

The prose poem below, By Candlelight was inspired by the short story The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.  Please feel free to share in the comments your favourite Roald Dahl book and how it has influenced you.

By Candlelight

candlelightHenry sat quite still and stared in to the candle-flame. The book had been quite right. The flame, when you looked into it closely, did have three separate parts. There was the yellow outside. Then there was the mauve inner sheath. And right in the middle was the tiny magic area of absolute blackness. He stared at the tiny black area. He focused his eyes upon it and kept staring at it, and as he did so, an extraordinary thing happened. His mind went absolutely blank, and his brain ceased fidgeting around, and all at once it felt as though he himself, his whole body, was actually encased within the flame, sitting snug and cosy within the little black area of nothingness.

(from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl)

The candle flame looms, incandescent, bright yellow shell quivering in the stillness. Inside, a solid orange thumbnail holds the flame’s shape and below the purple centre hovers about the wick. The flame draws everything into it, including me. I see myself inside the flame: a glowing ember of thought, a salamander piercing through time. By candlelight I see myself, half a lifetime ago.

I look into the flame and see my own eyes staring back in fierce concentration: trying to control the candlelight, to find ‘the tiny magic area of absolute blackness’ like Henry Sugar in the Roald Dahl story, searching for the key to unlock my mind, a desperate attempt to save me from my own consciousness. Back then I still believed I had magical powers.

By candlelight I see myself, half a lifetime ago, find so much changed, even more that has stayed the same. I see myself more clearly than I ever did at that time. I see now how all my angst would dissolve into nothingness, how all the hurt and fear dominating my every thought would fade into something much further away, and life would go on, not unscathed, but undaunted.

I stare into the flame with fierce concentration. If I look hard enough perhaps my future self will look back, fifteen years in the future. Perhaps I’ll see myself at this moment, in between worlds, in between hearts, in between states of being. Perhaps I’ll see myself more clearly than I ever could now: I’ll see that there was a link after all between my different worlds; all this heartache and confusion will fall into the smallest part of me, rather than the biggest; I’ll make sense of everything, find that I was in the same world, the same heart, the same being as I needed to be. Perhaps my future self will look back and see that after all I did possess a type of magic.

 

 

On not finishing things

On not finishing things

It happens to all of us at times, even though in a society consumed with the status of success we are often reluctant to admit it, sometimes we leave things unfinished. If we are lucky we may have the chance to go back and finish them, like that story long ago left in the bottom drawer, but in other instances we need to accept whatever that end point may be is, for today, simply out of reach. As a writer this is something that I sometimes have to face with my ideas. An idea for a story, a poem, an article, even a novel can completely peter out, no matter how an inspired start it may have had, not all ideas come to fruition. It can be particularly hard to know also when you’ve just hit a brick wall and need to find a way around it, so to speak, or when you actually need to call it quits and shelve the project for the next one.

If you’ve been following me for a little while you may have noticed that when I participated in NaPoWriMo I only posted the first half of my poems. Although I was doing this as part of the much larger 365 Poetry project, my aim was to follow the prompt on the above website for the whole month and post each poem consecutively as I finished it. This didn’t quite work out how I planned. Between life circumstances, other work, and illness I started to feel that my poems were becoming too rushed and losing too much quality and that I was better off waiting until I had more time to polish my drafts rather than sharing them as is. I also wasn’t very good at finishing my poems in order which made things slightly more complicated for me. Another reason was the varied nature of the prompts, which left me with some rather ordinary poems, some that were deeply personal and others that have the potential to become much better poems when I get the chance to focus enough time on them.  Those poems may one day find their way to these pages, but that day is not today.

For now though, since I finished my year of poetry and have been going back over all my finished (and mostly finished drafts) I thought I’d share a few more of April’s poems.

Day 17/291: Raindrops

The smell of rain, fresh, swollen,
potent—
drops shatter, softly, softly,
rolling to icy wet snail trails on skin
pattering a steady tempo on the pavement
now turned grey and shiny
to match my face;

and though the taste of tears lingers
in the raindrop hanging from my lip,
at least the skies have opened to mourn with me.

Day 18/292: On the bus at night (a rubaiyat)

Travelling on the bus at night,
phone GPS my only light
to places never seen before
or so they seem in this long flight;

passengers look away on sight
filled with ominous stranger fright
while I sit in quiet and more,
pensive as I stare into night

with hands white and gripped too tight
on the phone on which I try to write
words with which my muse I implore
until to brightness I alight.

Day 19/293: Incised moon

There’s an incised moon in the sky tonight
shining on a glittering sea,
shining on a man atop the waves,
shining on a man before me—
a striped enigma in a Peruvian hat
holding in his hands
a jewel box from Lazarus himself
waiting for me to take it, waiting,
while a sea cat swims across my shadow’s
shoulder blade and hisses
‘take it, take it.’

from:

Lazarus jewel box
incised moon
striped enigma
Peruvian hat
shoulderblade sea cat

Day 27/301: Footprints in snow (Ekphrasis)

The world is blanketed in snow,
path and trees almost hidden
in thick layers of white,
frost lingers in each breath,
shivers out of me
as I walk alone
through a path filled with footprints,
and I know I’m not alone
ghosts of past moments walk alongside me
for I can see their footprints in the snow.

 

 

Reflections on my year of poetry and some advice on the practice of writing every day

On the 30th of June I wrote the 365th poem of my year of poetry, posted it here on my blog, breathed a humungous sigh of relief and promptly collapsed in exhaustion. Now, after a well-earned rest, I have been reflecting on my experiences over the past year and I wanted to share some of these with you.

First of all, it took me a little while to truly comprehend that I was finished and even longer to actually pat myself on the back. For me, I think the mixed emotions of completing a large creative project like this are akin to reading a good book: the feel of satisfaction as you linger on that last page, the sadness as you close the cover and put it down, the feeling of still being immersed in that world, but now less tangible, still lingering in your thoughts and dreams even as you search for the next good book, knowing it will not be the same, but hoping for something just as satisfyingly different and dazzling.

Nonetheless, since the final day (well, after a few days off to be completely honest) I have endeavoured to maintain the practice of writing a little bit each day. Many writers talk about the need to write every day, and from my personal experience I couldn’t agree more. Writing every day makes writing easier, no matter how hard it might be to get those first few words out, or how mediocre some of the more forced writing may be, inspiration visits more often, the writing itself improves, and the most boring mundane experience or object may transform into a beautiful poem or piece of prose. In fact, I found sometimes the only hard thing was tearing myself away from this world of words and imagination and back into the everyday.

That said, writing a poem a day was a challenge, and as elated as I am to have managed it, there were definitely times when I felt overwhelmed and thought about giving up. Of course I didn’t, partly because of that ever-present fear of failure, partly because I committed to the challenge with a friend who was doing a similar project with photography, and even though we weren’t working together there was a sense of not being entirely alone in this commitment, and partly due to sheer stubborn determination. But in the end I think what really got me through was the realisation that as it was my challenge, it was also up to me to set the rules.

This came about as the months went on, and particularly as I saw myself fall behind my desired outcomes; going from my first month of finished sonnets and polished form poems to drafts that went nowhere and formulaic poems with bad rhymes. I soon realised that if I wanted to complete this challenge to my satisfaction, retain my sanity, and do other necessary work, I was going to have to compromise on exactly how I defined a poem, and sometimes even how I defined a day. So, in the end, I have poems ranging from sets of haiku, some jumbled masses of words that I will one day turn into better poems, to a series of epics in iambic pentameter, a score or so of sonnets and various other forms of verse, and even one sestina.

There are many more things I would like to write about this past year of poetry, but I don’t want to go on too much so instead I have composed a short list of some of the things I learnt over the past year:

  • Sometimes you have to make your own rules, regardless of what anyone else says, ie. what constitutes a poem, what constitutes a final draft, what constitutes a day even.
  • If it comes to a choice between being a little late or sacrificing the quality of your writing, never sacrifice your writing, never, ever.
  • The many urgent things that demand your attention when you have a looming deadline lose all sense of urgency as soon as time once more becomes available.
  • Finally, a poem is never finished, every rewrite, every reread, every new person who reads it, all bring with them new layers and depth of meaning and interpretation.

Now I have finished, my friends keep asking me what I will write next. The answer, as yet, eludes me. I have too many words in my head and not enough ink or paper existing with which to write them. For now, my task is to continue the practise of writing every day, regardless of what I write, and see where my words will take me.

 

A farewell, for now

To this meditation,
this writing of a poem a day,
you have been my project for a year,
a year so hard in many ways,
strewn with difficulties in mind, body and soul,
but also fond times, friendships both new and long,
but most of all a year of learning,
of soul searching, meditation and inspiration,
and celebrating my one true love—
my words, my muse, my poetry—
but my time is up, and so for now
I say farewell,
but only for a day or two,
before my heart will bear me back
to continue once more this journey in verse.

 

Day 365: The final poem (for now)

Day 365

Today marks the final day of my poem a day for a year project.  To celebrate i thought I’d share my final poem, a rewrite of Robert Frost’s famous poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  I’ve also included his poem underneath in case you’d like to compare the two.

Stopping on a rainy evening

Which path I’m on I think I know,
this street I don’t recognize though
not in this moment of pause here
while rain blankets the road like snow.

This journey I’m on might seem queer
from where I stand with no one near
while rain-filled streets become a lake
hide footsteps made all this past year.

I stand showered in rain and shake
with cold and the weight of past mistakes;
but the rain falls and with it sweeps
my doubts into naught but snowflakes—

this rainy night is lovely, dark and deep
but I have promises to keep
and miles to go before I sleep
and miles to go before I sleep.

‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’ By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621

Over the next few weeks I will share more poems and my reflections from my experiences of 365 poems, but for now I will leave you to enjoy my last poem (for now) while I bask in my tired glory of completion.  I would also like to say a big thank you for all the likes, inspiration and encouragement from my family, friends, and of course, my readers.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

A tribute to Maya Angelou: “Still I Rise”

I’m feeling quite sad today, reading all the news of and tributes for Maya Angelou’s passing.  Like Nelson Mandela she was someone who had seen the worst of humankind, although in somewhat different circumstances, but still called for love and hope and forgiveness while always fighting for change.  The poem of hers I’ve chosen is the very first poem of Angelou’s that I read, and it still remains on of my favourites.  You can listen to her read it in the video, which I recommend, or read the words below.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

Catching up on NaPoWriMo: poem Day 1 (also Day 275 of 365)

As part of my poem a day for a year project I’ve decided to participate in NaPoWriMo.  I’ll be posting a poem for every day of April, using the prompts given on the website.  As I’ve come to NaPoWriMo a little late and haven’t had time to update my blog over the last two weeks please excuse the rapid fire nature of the next few posts.  If you’d like to take part or see the prompts you can sign up at the website above or simply write a poem a day for 30 days.  And if you can do 30 days without giving yourself an aneurysm, why not keep writing…

Day 1 / 275

Using the Bibliomancy Oracle, a website that uses literature as a method of divinitation, I received the prompt: “You do not wish loss even upon a shadow” from Practice by Laynie Browne, which I turned into this somewhat dour poem.

You do not wish loss even upon a shadow
an even shadow upon loss you reflect
the shadow if it could wish would spread longer, further
you did not wish but it is there nonetheless
your loss casts a shadow both even and true
your shadow falls upon all that you see
you cannot unwish this shadow of loss

More poems to come soon.

Summer’s End

After an extended summer break from my blog I thought it fitting to begin the year with this selection of haiku poems: ‘Summer’s End.’  J. D. Salinger once said “Poets are always taking the weather so personally. They’re always sticking their emotions in things that have no emotions.” but for me the seasons and aspects of weather feature prominently in my writing, both as metaphor and also to enhance the pathos of a specific scene or poem.  I’ve often found my feelings and the weather to be inextricably linked.  I like it when it rains when I’m sad, when the wind rages when I’m angry, when the sun shines when I’m happy, and sometime something as simple as rain after a dry spell or a sunny day can be enough to make me smile.  The environment around us is such an integral aspect of the human experience that to disregard the natural world in writing is to disregard the relationship that we have with the world around us.  That said, I can be guilty of taking the weather a little too personally, particularly the start of Winter, which, with the start of April is coming closer and closer.

Summer’s orange sun
dips towards the horizon
birds sing a farewell

Clouds gather to coat
the sun in a sheath of grey
the sky changes hue

Sun spikes defiance
from a glowing shield of clouds
to autumn’s cool night

On the horizon
clouds stained orange and purple
the sun’s final bow

Clouds like billowing smoke
defeat the last ember of light
dusk given in to night

20140304_200529

 

I hope you enjoyed these poems, and if you would like to write your own haiku and share below in the comments I would love to see them.

Aside from edging closer to winter, April is also National Poetry Month, and NaPoWrimo, which I shall be taking part in as part of my 365 Poetry project.  I’ll be sharing several of my poems based on the prompts given over the rest of the month.  If you’d like to take part in NaPoWrimo you can sign up at http://www.napowrimo.net/.