Month: November 2014

How to stop being a poet.

poetry


For my creative writing course I have to produce an ‘Influence’ essay by next Monday and it proving to be a really hard call for me. Not because the essay in itself difficult (see previous post) but because it like a blood-letting leach to a sick patient in terms of the whys and wherefores of why I stopped reading and writing poetry.

I stopped reading poetry in 2002 when I moved to Nottingham. I was concentrating on writing song lyrics from then until the release of the Moon Over the Downs in 2003 which based on the relaunched Americana fanzine Flyinshoes which I launched and edited from 1999 until 2004.

I also did not have my poetry collection with me until 2004 as it was stored at my parents because of a lack of room in my seedy one bed flat. I had written a few ‘post-break-up’ poems in 2002 following the end of a 7 year relationship with a Spanish woman and a couple of poems which simple therapy when I found myself in a dark place like ‘Greyhound in frost’ (Full original title “On Regarding a Distant Prospect of Oxford with Greyhound in Foreground on a Frosty Morning” )which I submitted in annoyance to The Guardian in 2004 just to show certain people that I could actually write. That Ruth Fainlight chose it (Alan Sillitoe’s wife) lent the whole thing a certain irony.

The complete lack of help at that time from the ‘great and the good’here in Nottingham was a major factor with various local writer attitudes being along the lines of ‘you’re from Oxford therefore posh’ typical and similar to some attitudes I encountered in Scotland too.I was told by a local poet that the only way I would ‘get on’ was to kow-tow and help at events by moving chairs…I said fuck off. A lot of these provincial attitudes have disappeared in last ten years thank god and the Nottingham Writer’s Studio is a far more open organisation than it was to start with. I helped the then fledgling Writer’s Studio get off the ground by setting up a WordPress…which surprise surprise brought in enough initial members to keep it going ( I knew this the rest of the founders seemed oblivious to the web and were too focused on their own careers).

I gave up on writing in 2004 and trained as a teacher ironically specialising at first in ‘Basic Skills’ i.e. maths and english. Then freelanced web work, then in 2007 started as a web lecturer at NTU School of Art and Design. That was good for art but my poetry was irrelevant to most there and still is. The Head of Art research stood up and managed to forget exactly what subject it was I had been published for in 2010 which about sums it up…announcing this to the entire School was a bonus. Thanks.

The only support I ever received from Nottingham from 2001-2011 was in 2007 when Wayne Burrows asked for some poems for an East Midlands edition of Staple.

I also joined the ‘Inside Out’ group of poets working in prisons which was fabulous but didn’t help me write at all. I was just surviving on ‘drip-down’ from various arts council funded initiatives and a little freelance work. This lack of interest in my writing came after a miserable few years being a minion employed by Oxford University where the lack of interest from the ‘literati’ was deafening and this fateful combination almost finished off all ideas of me being a poet. Through the Oxford years ( Full story HERE) I kept going as a writer through the support of Richard Price and Southfields alone nobody in Oxford cared less frankly .The divide between ‘Town and Gown’ was and is healthy.

I eventually stopped writing poetry altogether with just an occasional poem leaking out haphazardly. I also stopped reading poetry completely. Job done…or so I thought….again ironically the rest of my life finally got on track. I met (Gun Chimes) then married Emma in 2010 and finally had a mortgage after a lifetime of poverty and substandard poor accommodation. So life was better and no poems to worry about.

Then in 2010 I asked Chris Emery at Salt about P.O.D. (print on demand) as I knew he was interested in the subject as I tried to pull an art project together for my then just starting M.A. in Fine Art at NTU SAD. To my surprise Chris Emery said send me some poems and this resulted in the publication of the’Last Farmer’ pamphlet. A pamphlet consisting mostly of published works and the majority of those from the period 1992-2000. Poems I had written almost 20 years before! I must have been the only poet doing a tour to support a book who no longer read or wrote poetry…..it was strange. An experience made doubly strange by the fact I was also dealing with my mother’s final phase cancer treatment. Another overwhelming reason for moving away from poetry that based in my case very closely on my family and local Oxfordshire history was the death of my father from pancreatic cancer in 2004 and my mother in 2010. I had other more important things to deal with.

So that’s how you do it..stop writing poetry.

Move to another city…live in poverty…lose both parents to cancer…
stop writing..stop reading….

then give up entirely ….simples..

 I covered all of this in a post in 2012 after a serious illness.

CODA

Ten years later try and get back to where you should have been all along by enrolling on a Creative Writing Course.

Starting  again ……painful but the only way.

Influences……fucking hell do you think a writer has any influence compared to the above ….NO or MAYBE YES but again it ain’t the story anybody expecting.

Watch this space….

 

First Assignment – Influence?

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My poetry bookshelves..about half the collection built up over 25 years....

I am really struggling with the simplest thing. The first assignment for Creative Writing M.A. is straightforward enough :

Identify one writer whose work has been in some way influential to the development of your own creative writing practice. Discuss one or more pieces of their creative work, ask and/or their process, explaining what you have learned from it for your own writing. You may refer to extracts of your own writing (to be included in an appendix) but this will not be included in the word count and will not be assessed.

However it also states:

There will probably be many writers of many different genres who have influenced you, but rather than asking you to survey a broad range of writers, this assignment offers you the opportunity to think critically about a single author’s work, and to discuss, in depth, what you have learned from it for your own writing. This means thinking about the decisions the author made in constructing a particular text or texts, and reflecting on your own writing practice in light of this.

If I had two months instead of a week to finish this I would submit an honest essay which detailed all of the the range of influences which can be seen in list below. ( It wouldn’t get a good mark but I would find it more useful). This ties in with the annual most important book grid that I took from Andrew Taylor’s lecture.

http://www.shaunbelcher.com/writing/?p=803

Here in just about chronological order the writers who influenced me..mostly male and mostly poets. Those in bold the most important by far. Those in Blue the most significant per decade.

Which would mean Heaney/Murray/Sebald. They all deeply entwined with a notion of a ‘sense of place’ and quietly political which what I really influenced by. There something in this notion…but that another essay..not this one 🙁

1980s

Seamus Heaney
William Carlos Williams
W.H.Auden
Raymond Carver
Ted Hughes
Tony Harrison
Philip Larkin
Thomas Hardy

1990s
Maura Dooley
Simon Armitage
Giles Goodland
Richard Price
Les Murray
Al Purdy
Canadian Prairie Poets
William Neill
Norman McCaig
Sorley Maclean
Stewart Conn
Tess Gallagher
Charles Tomlinson

2000s

W.G.Sebald
Patrick Keiller

Iain Sinclair

So there you go how do I choose from that list…..and should I?

I am 55 years old. I have written poetry since 1981. I have also written several thousand song lyrics which do not count for CW.

My ‘writing’, and here I am deconstructing the assignment deliberately , ground to a halt in 2007 just as I started teaching web design at Nottingham Trent University and ceased altogether in 2011. So being logical and as no poems written since 2011 at all until the Edwin Smith commission I should concentrate on the most recent ‘pamphlet collection’.

‘Drifting Village’ poems 2001-2014.

village

 

 

The assignment exercise as given draws on Dorothea Brande.

To read effectively it is necessary to learn to consider a book in the light of what it can teach you about the improvement of your own work.

(Brande states ‘a book’? I question this immediately can anybody learn anything from a single work or a single writer unless it The Bible ?  I believe that writers should be magpies. There are certain core assumptions of modern day creative-writing that have become almost written in stone…this probably one of them. It links to the obsessive attention to process rather than inspiration that ALL creative-writing instruction displays these days. I have heard no mention of content at all apart from genre..surely all good writers cannot be separated from their content too? )

I will look at ‘Drifting Village’ in a new light then submit it for the Smith/Doorstep Pamphlet competition. Maybe I can narrow down to one writer to fulfill the ‘brief’.

 

Barns and Stars…..aiming at the stars?

barnsandstarsFinally got five minutes to sit down and catch up with myself and all the threads I have started off…

I have not had a chance this week to read and critique a short story as I have been doing because of so much else going on. Busy is good but not when it gets this busy.

Today I managed to record a version of the Edwin Smith poem for RIBA. Still have no idea how they going to use it. Perhaps as a board and a pair of headphones in the show?

I also recorded a bonkers new song as the recording studio set up. This song ‘Dark Grey Clouds’ (see below) I wrote Wednesday and shows the fiction classes having an effect even if not directly on my fiction. I struggling with the fiction work-shopping as I feel I have a lot of ground that I probably will not make up as most of the other students either been writing fiction for years or are straight off Creative Writing B.A.’s. As a beginner in this area at least I learning. The whole point of doing this course has not been to get another M.A. ( I have one already that enough) but to generate the necessary pressure to do something rather than sit on my arse for a  valuable year off.

That it certainly doing. Happenstance gave me the Edwin Smith commission in week one which upset my studying a bit but been thoroughly enjoyable and produced what I think one of my best poems. When able will share.

I have now been asked next week to perform ‘visual scribing’ (live cartooning) at a Product Design Research workshop…basically drawing ideas for vacuum cleaners:-)

The money handy but again distracting. I also in early stages of drafting a PhD proposal for the NTU Vice Chancellor’s Bursary in Phenomenology of Drawing’ which logically builds on my art and design research. It a snowball in hell but just writing it makes a point after this summer’s events. Again I will share full story when able….

I have also this week made first tentative steps towards two projects alongside Creative Writing ( I hope over next two years to produce at least one book of poetry tentatively entitled ‘The Dark Horses’ and get one short story published as I said I a newbie there…) and an LP/CD joint/collaborative or solo called ‘Barns and Stars’ (see above and below).

Finally I started to plan a solo painting/drawing show late 2015-2016 that rounds up the work shown at Drawology/Nottingham Open and make me paint again as the studio sitting there waiting….

That’s all folks….I ain’t getting a wage but I happier than been in years as long as I keep the light/heat on Emma happy and if I win lottery I agreed to buy her a horse.

So on we go….so here a little tune of Lo-fi weird americana…Jim White without a band Skip Spence on a suburban lawn..David Lynch’s Berkshire cousin…

He He

 

 

 

Farm-Hand’s Radio – Complete available as pdf

I found that the auto-print facility in google chrome means I can create a full pfd of the collection to share. Not formatted to avoid page breaks but all of it is there .

It is also available online at this URL:

http://www.shaunbelcher.com/writing/?page_id=117

flin

 

Farm-Hand’s Radio Complete PDF

also available at Scribd:

Pound V Frost: Left V Right?

frostEzra_Pound_1945_May_26_mug_shot

Pound mugshot 1945 whilst under arrest for Treason in Italy

An interesting session last night with Sarah Jackson again focusing on imagery which had an unexpected relevance to me and not in the direct way I might have imagined. There was a good selection of examples and the background reading was interesting if only because it confirmed what I already thought about both Pound and Frost i.e. that Pound was a seminal modernist but a terrible self-obsessed diva and closet fascist from the get-go and that Frost was far truer to the democratic principles I hold dear. Pound probably the more important historically especially in history of modernism but that doesn’t mean I like him one bit and that has coloured my appreciation of his poetry.

I feel far closer to Frost. Reading a small Bantam book I was amazed at how he continually shape-shifted away from easy categorisation even in early poems. His father was a Democratic politician and this democratic Californian start informs a lot of his worldview. He resisted easy labels such as ‘nature-poet’ indeed John Ciardi said ‘Robert Frost is no lollipop’ referring to a saccharine film portrait of the poet as nature poet..barns and fields persona to the fore. His essay ‘The Form a Poem makes’ from introduction to Collected Poems 1939 (also available in ‘The Prose of Robert Frost‘) I knew by attribution purely because of the wondrous and off-quoted line

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its
own melting.

The Do’s and Don’ts by Pound and Aldington in ‘Retrospect’ I found less inspirational if only because in full document ( the class excerpt missed out much of the full ‘Retrospect’ which available here) Pound spends fifty per cent of the time slagging off or praising all and sundry from a Turkish war correspondent to fullsome praise for anything by Wyndham Lewis who famously ended up driving across marshes pursued by a flying submarine…..which says it all really. Will Self sometimes feels like Wyndham Lewis’s bastard offspring which probably not a link he’d thank me for but I get the impression Self would have been happier in 1913 than now.

The taint of Futurism/Vorticism is like a sickly smell around the sloganeering here and is basically an incipient Fascism in all but name. The famous Imagist poem ‘In a station of the Metro’ is more interesting to me for its title than for the pseudo Japoniste sentiment ( a reflection of trends in art 20 years earlier perhaps?) By locating on ‘The Metro’ Pound not only adheres to the classic Yankee abroad fetishism for the French capital but also links directly to the ‘cleansing’ forces of modernism as represented by the machine. The date of the statement (published in Poetry in March 1913) is telling. This is surfing on the boundless sense of optimism for a mechanical future that ground to a literal halt in the mud of The Somme just a few years later.

Pound did not fight in World War One preferring to view from the safety of Bloomsbury where he continued to promote the nascent ‘Modernism’ and influence the Lewis inspired Vorticist movement ( literally naming VORTEX’ in one article’). As a catalyst,tub-thumper and investigator of obscure European literature he has no equal and save for Ford Maddox Ford no challenger in early Twentieth century influence. However as Hugh Kenner pointed out he also is probably the least read of the avant-garde with William Carlos Williams and Basil Bunting and other Objectivists influenced by him having far greater actual readership. In Great Britain the actions of the allegedly ‘mad’ Pound in the ‘cage’ and his support for the fascist point of view ( LINK)  in the war certainly affected native support for his writing and still does.

What is fascinating is how many of the sounder strictures that Pound evinces in ‘Retrospect’ form the core texts of contemporary ‘Creative Writing’ instruction almost 130 years later. Raymond Carver had a 3×4 inch card above his desk with a Pound quote…

Fundamental accuracy of statement is the sole morality of writing.

This is interesting as Donal Foreman points out here this statement seems unimpeachable but fragments like the supposed compression of his Imagist poems do collapse under intense scrutiny. Pound’s war on adverbial abstraction reflected more of his setting, a forceful ‘clean’ machine-like stringency against the puffy,flabby post-Romantic past than an actually taut new line. He was a brilliant self and general publicist . Alive now, he would be a Saatchi of his times perhaps, constantly ‘branding’and re-branding his own and other artists efforts to fulfill a ‘manifesto’ of his own imagining. Like Saatchi or Brand this kind of messianic delusion leads to madness or breakdown or both.

Yet Pound’s influence remains strong across countless creative writing courses and in countless self-help manuals and online guides with very little acknowledgement of their source. Two occasions of countless there, used deliberately, Pound would spin in his grave no doubt.

That a self-confessed Fascist should be the originator of the fundamental’disciplines’ so many left-wing leaning courses is an interesting irony. There is, I believe, a deeper meaning at work here. What Pound did was clear a path away from the mawkish, sentimental effects of mass publishing. It was literary elitism. Wheat and chaff approach which why it popular now in a time of similar uncertainty and mass cultural overload. The second coming of the Victorian. Frost was an instinctive democrat he did not impose strictures and he benefitted from Pound’s storming of the gates’ of the Edwardian syrup-masters but never aligned himself with his politics.

Pound as stated in Retrospect had no problem with people writing sentimental and mawkish drivel but he had a big problem with it being respected and ‘published’ that is the key. He was a golden age medievalist intent on holding the fort against the barbarism of the modern age as exemplified in the photograph, the cinema and the penny broadsheet.

It is ironic that William Morris more enthusiasticly embraced technology than Pound. Morris used photography to examine Italian fonts and also called it up when needing to prove ‘copyright’. I cannot recall Pound ever discussing the new visual technologies. Frost had several engagements with film and not least just before his death in ‘A Lover’s Quarrel’ (LINK) where he honoured by J.F.Kennedy. Hard to ever imagine Pound doing this. Chalk and cheese.

Right now, 100 years exactly on from Pound’s proto-modernism, I feel Frost’s shape-shifting and non-alignment pact has far more to teach us than Pound’s ranting from the battlement of elitism. Let us take the common-sense and filter out the stridency as suits us but we ignore the darker art in Pound at our peril. At root it believes in a new order.

First fiction for work-shopping: ‘Flying Fish’

 

The first chapter involves all of the above :-)

I have finally after 30 years of thinking about it produced 2000 words of prose fiction which a relief as I had built up a mental block of ever actually doing it because I have been so immersed in art and poetry. The document has been sent to my class for discussion Tuesday evening so I am not posting the actual document until after the work-shopping.

I not sure it short story length already maybe 7000 do-able but it could be the start of a novel! Not quite the story I expected either but that the beauty of the internet one can find wormholes that set you off down a new path. In this case the mention of ‘spies’ in Norfolk set me off on a completely different angle to the original plot:-).

I was a big fan of action stories as a kid and consumed vast amounts of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, W.E.Johns,Ian Fleming, Alistair Maclean, Desmond Bagley etc etc.

viveroSparkling_Cyanide_First_Edition_Cover_1945 zebra

Who would have thought that would come back to me now but it is fun…. 🙂

Daily Short: Margaret Atwood – ‘Wilderness Tips’ (S/T)

 

tipsSurvivalAtwoodcurious

My first Atwood short story. Fairly long approximately 6000 words long. This length allows a fair amount of third person P.O.V. switching as the ‘hidden’ narrator which feels a lot like Ms Atwood such is the strength of her voice to ‘inhabit’ each of the different actors on the stage. The stage in this instance being a particularly creepy ‘new money’ lodge built in the Canadian wilderness which is more David Lynch than Twin Peaks and makes one wonder if Atwood influenced the young Lynch at all.

The story even ends with a ‘almost’ drowning scene that could have come straight from a Lynch movie although Atwood is sufficiently skilled to leave the ending open-ended.

In between we are first introduced to post-war emigrant, gangster and falsely named ‘George’ who only reveals his Hungarian roots with an accurate Hungarian curse mid story. It soon apparent that all the ‘actors’ Atwood assembles are in some way symbolic and deliberately set against the ‘wilderness’ for a reason.

The three sisters (muses…goddesses etc) represent the three states of womanhood….aggressive,  academic and victim. Atwood’s seminal study of Canadian Literature ‘Survival’ focused on the victim theme in literature and also delineated a lot of the minor themes brushed up against in passing through this story. Atwood is no slouch in minor detail opening up wide vistas as in her description of the grandfather’s bookcase and the book which gives the story its title. (There is however no actual book called ‘Wilderness Tips’ apart from the author’s own which a neat trick to defeat all but the most diligent Googler).

The characters are not filled in too much but reflect the psychologies attached to them the least satisfying being the depiction of the office-bound ‘weak’ man of brother Roland. I never quite lost the feeling that Atwood was sermonising here and never sufficiently suspended my disbelief to get involved in the plot which boils down to bad man sleeps with all three sisters as he bound to by his nature.

Atwood isn’t above some sharp poking of the male psyche whenever able as the collection of essays ‘Curious Pursuits’ attests. Indeed the collection contains one essay actually titled ‘Writing the male character’ which makes Lionel Shriver look like a wallflower.

‘George’ is a sinister depiction of a lizard like consumer of both people and property. His inner thoughts do not quite ring true but Atwood is using a broad brush to make her point. George represents the ‘machine’ in the garden to paraphrase Leo Marx and like the serpent in this natural ‘Eden’ of the Canadian wilderness represents all that bad in the male destruction of nature.

‘Token Woman’ (her words) Atwood spits venomously in the essay about male character where she defends the depiction of ‘bad’ men rather than pandering to fake’new men’ well before the term coined. This fine if we sufficiently engaged to believe in the character but not when it a poison pen portrait or a stand in for a character as here. The most creative act he makes in the entire story is to have sex with the remaining not ticked off sister.

The female characters are interesting especially the ‘proto-feminist’ intellectual and therefore obviously least ‘sexual’ Pamela.  Is not Atwood  here demonstrating the kind of cliched viewpoints she so pointedly rails against? Set against her is the sexually voracious Prue and the demure,homely Portia……all obvious cyphers for states of mind. The rest of the stories in the collection famously depicted various literary figures who had helped or hindered Atwood and she settled old scores

Hints of this waspishness abound in Pamela’s sharp questioning of every word…’news or olds’, or in Prue’s ‘there is a need to be nasty’.  One can almost taste the scorn on the character’s tongue coming direct from the puppet master here.

Most interestingly one could read the entire tale as one woman’s various natures treading between the hunter gatherer and the home-builder. Maybe it is really an academic feminist essay on how does the female intellect prosper in the ‘wilderness’ of male dominated modern and literary life….outside of the steel and glass towers, the wars of blood and oil. In this respect Atwood seems to suggest with her ending that the women always compromise rather than fight and that is how it ends with the line..manifesto?

She would be invisible, of course. No one would hear her. And nothing has happened, really, that hasn’t happened before.

The women survive…which was the title of the literary study.. SURVIVAL in the real wilderness of words.

Daily Short: Raymond Carver – ‘Nobody said anything’ from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please.

Boys_on_Russian_River_l972

First published in 1973 as ‘The Summer Steelhead’ (Seneca review, Vol. 4, no. 1 (May, 1973) and later as ‘Nobody said anything’.

Smudging was widespread practice amongst Yakima fruit-farmers. Pollution stopped crops being frost-damaged. (Source: Carol Sklenicka: Raymond Carver – A writer’s Life 2009.)

In the original story the final lines are different referring to the half-fish:

“He looked silver under the porch light. He was whole again, and he filled the creel until I thought it would burst.. I lifted him out. I held him.”

In the version I have read from the collection Will You Please be Quiet, Please? (‘The stories of Raymond Carver’- Picador 1985) the story ends:

“I went back outside. I looked into the creel.What was there looked silver under the porch light. What was there filled the creel.
I lifted him out . I held him. I held that half of him.”

Despite Carver’s insistence that this not autobigraphy the details (all except the fruit-farming’) match his upbringing and he admits to several incidents that patched together form the story.

1973 was the year he took up ‘full-time’ drinking and also three years before the publication of the short story collection this comes from.

The change in title and ending may reflect the influence of Gordon Lish whom Carver had met by now.

The change of ending maybe reflects the bitter realism of his relationship with his father who had died in 1967. The ‘half of him’ may relate to the broken relationship and the pain of his childhood.

As he says in a memoir:

Then he died. I was a long way off, in Iowa City, with things still to say to him. I didn’t have the chance to tell him goodbye, or that I thought he was doing great at his new job. That I was proud of him for making a comeback.

       From My Father’s Life

the last line of Photograph of My Father also brings the two painfully together.

But the eyes give him away, and the hands that limply offer the string of dead perch and the bottle of beer. Father, I love you, yet how can I say thank you, I who can’t hold my liquor either, and don’t even know the places to fish?

To me the poems and short stories are two sides of the same coin. The poems have been criticised formally but they are more interested in ‘saying’ than the formal concerns of language.

To me this is essential Carver. Male narrative at its best. Undertones of ecological miss-handling serving as ‘burners’ under the male indiscretions, foolishness and blind stupidity.  Carver is all about how men fail and why they fail and why they cannot be saved from that failure.

He says in an interview that with this story he felt he had ‘tapped into something’ that something was the poetics of failure raised to a fine art.

Male egos as divided selves pulled apart by domestic bliss and terror as in his own life. Drink was the fuel for that burner and he doused himself in it for 4 years and almost succeeding in extinguishing his own flame just like his father. That he managed to stop the fires is a miracle.

I love Carver but I do not want to be him and write from that smoky place.

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