poetry


Photo of Paula’s letter and the envelope it came inYesterday was a real ‘red letter day‘ for me, though the letter was blue – blue paper, blue ink.

One of the highlights of my usual summer trip to Romania last year was meeting two of my former students, from around a quarter of a century ago. Since then I’ve kept in touch, a little via internet but, more importantly, by handwritten letters, in line with my rediscovered love of the fountain pen.

A letter in the post

Yesterday I received a 13 page letter from Paula, now a teacher of English in the beautiful Bistrița valley in Romania; she graciously tells all that her present career is due to my teaching in the 1990s.

Paula is a busy lady, a full-time teacher in high school, supplementing her income with private tuition as many Romanian teachers have to do. Her husband is now working abroad as many Romanians find necessary so with a young son, it’s not surprising that she began her letter to me in early December last year and finished it in early February this year.

A poet remembered – Labiș

I was delighted to see she’d remembered that I’d said it was good to receive something in Romanian so she’d written a paragraph in her own language (which I had no problem reading). However, she also remembered I had said that one of my favourite Romanian poets was Nicolae Labiș and had written out two of his poems for me: Moartea căprioarei (The death of the deer) and Meșterul (The master {craftsman}). They will take me rather longer to fully understand but I’ll enjoy the exercise. I read the first many years ago on a visit to the village of Mălini (in my beloved Bucovina) where Labiș was born, when my Romanian was much less good than now; I remember that even then it brought tears. It was probably what first created my love for the poetry of this poet, who died tragically young in strange, controversial, circumstances. Meșterul I do not know.

I’ve already begun a letter back to her which I’ll complete over a little time in the future; I’ve also begun one to my Latvian blogger friend Ilze, which I’ll complete in a rather shorter time.

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

I’ve said it before, I now write all my stories and poems on paper with a fountain pen, and am even trying to expand my single attempt at a novella into a novel using the pen not the computer; I find the creative juices flow more freely with the ink. But hand writing letters seems to be a powerful medicine when the stresses of daily life are trying to take over.

 

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I don’t now often pick up on the writing prompt given in our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, but that for today – Poem in the Pocket – appealed. So, picking up my fountain pen I saw the words pouring out into my little primary school exercise book. For certain, as I had the day before read the latest offering from one of my preferred blogging poets,  Jenni Winterburn (a Yorkshire lass, the optimistic pessimist) – you might say my absolute favourite – I have to acknowledge that it’s been influenced very much by her poetry.

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poem in the pocket
among the coins
screwed up tissues
words
and things better forgotten
a poem jostled by the little ones
1p, 2p, 5p, even 10p
which no longer buy anything
just wear holes in the pocket
so the poem slips out
word by word
lost for ever
unless you’re careful
longish beautiful words
like happenstance
which i’ve been trying to fit
into a poem for ages
slip out too
lost for ever
even floccinaucinihilipification
might escape
thus preventing sesquipedalian texts
or poems
and logomachies
disrupting our writers’ club meetings
somehow this little ‘poem’ did not get away

but those long words

better
lost for ever?

◊◊◊

As I’ve said before, I no longer consider the 5-7-5 ‘verses’ I write to be haiku but I think it’s as much a haiku as any in English I’ve seen on internet. It was written for a special friend, not a blogger.

Winter in her eyes
Its beauty shatters her gaze
In love yet again

The short story was written very quickly, maybe 1/2 hour, for the first 2019 meeting of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe. It is completely unedited, just as it came pouring out of my fountain pen, with which I now write everything, only typing up later for internet. 

Short story

The New Year has never begun well for me, not for as far back as I can remember.

But, downing the glass of bubbly as Big Ben’s hand moved steadily past twelve, I really thought this year would be different. 

I’d arrived at the party late, too late for the hosts Kath and Mike to introduce me to everybody in their crowded sitting room, probably 30 people in all. I didn’t mind; I’m not at all good with people I don’t know.

But then, bubbles exploding on my tongue as the sixth chime struck, I saw her. Or rather, her eyes pulled at mine. Embarrassed, I tried to look away from that frank, open look inviting entrance to an enchanted world behind those wide, soft, brown circular doors. I could not.

I made the effort to slowly widen my field of view, noting that the eyes were not much less than six feet from the floor though, glancing lower, I saw that her feet were almost completely flat on the ground, no tall heels to add to her height.

Avoiding her eyes, I slowly allowed mine to travel up her perfectly sculptured ankles and calves, pausing a moment at the hem of her dress just a couple of inches above her knees.

Continuing upwards, the lightly pleated, gossamer skirt, which would sway provocatively when she walked, did not hide her softly curvaceous form, a hint of the mount of Venus, a comfortable inviting cushion above it suggesting a love for her food. 

I paused a moment, imagining my head resting just where the long bare fingers of her right hand now rested, the fingers ending in perfectly manicured nails with a hint of shine from the uncoloured varnish.

A quick glance to her left revealed index and second finger gracefully retaining the stem of the almost empty champagne glass.

“Damn!” Her third finger was hidden.

My secret, so I thought, journey upwards dipped into a gentle waist then hardly changed direction to cross the valley between her pubescent breasts, girl-like though her whole demeanour suggested an age well into her twenties, maybe even thirties.

Finally I summoned courage to look for those eyes again. They were still looking directly into mine; was that a smile in them? It was certainly not mockery, which I half expected to see. 

It was only ten paces to arrive directly in front of her, looking a little upwards into those eyes. 

Hello. May I get you another drink,” I heard myself saying.

That would be nice of you.” Still her eyes never left mine.

As I reached for her glass I felt a presence at my side. With difficulty I pulled my eyes away from hers to see a man a couple of inches taller than her, handsome, confident, superbly attired.

He smiled, a genuine warm, friendly smile.

Thank you for looking after my wife; I had to make an urgent call,” I heard over my thumping chest.

Damn again! Another New Year beginning disappointingly,” I thought.

My love affair with the fountain pen has continued and having written my first poem with it I’ve now hand written my first story with it and, what is more, read from the exercise book draft at our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) meeting earlier today. I’m not sure I’ve finished with the story yet but I’m putting it below.

The result of my first couple of Japanese lessons, written in the same exercise book as the story posted here

The result of my first couple of Japanese lessons, written in the same exercise book as the story posted here

As I’ve also just begun to attempt to learn Japanese, having used the pen has given me an urge to write the Japanese characters with a calligraphic brush. Maybe later.

My writers’ club colleagues asked me why I’d suddenly decided to try to learn Japanese. Two motivations: a bit of new brain exercise; as followers of this blog will know I sometimes try to write haiku but recently came to the conclusion, as I posted at the time,  that they could only be written in Japanese so I don’t think any of the large numbers in English on internet are haiku, including my own.

I digress. Here’s my story:


The warm feeling flooded into his throat. He was surprised when it spread to his groin. He tried to see if the rather lovely young radiologist was touching him but he could not; the giant doughnut machine was in the way, just his head out on the side he could see.

“Are you feeling the warm sensation?” she asked.

“Yes, it’s rather pleasant,” he answered.

“Good. I’ll be back in a minute. Any problem just say; I can hear you.”

He strained to look to his right and could just see the cannula taped on the inside of his elbow, his blood making a pretty pattern under the transparent tape holding it in place.

“It’s just a dye,” she had said.

“Just!” he said to himself with a smile; “I reckon they’ve mixed it with Viagra.”

“Breathe in and hold your breath.” A different voice, female, gentle but with some authority.

A short time passed. “Breathe normally,” said the voice.

He slowly let the breath go and sank into a sleepy torpor as first his chest then, one by one, other parts of his body relaxed.

He sensed the table on which he was lying moving back through the doughnut until the whole of his body was outside the machine.

He felt someone lifting the flimsy surgical gown and sliding down his boxer shorts, which he’d been told to keep on.

“What’s going on,” he asked as that warm feeling began to return, not in his throat but in that place lower down. His throat was becoming dry . He swallowed hard as he felt something soft and warm cover first one of his thighs, then the other. Skin on skin he thought.

That gentle voice again.

“Don’t you move,” she said.

“My God, it must have been Viagra,” he thought.

“Hey, wake up, you’re not supposed to go to sleep in there.”

That gentle voice again, a little more urgent, penetrated his dream, just as it was getting interesting.

—–

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’. I’ll hopefully grt the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’.
I’ll hopefully get the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

I just made a breakthrough in my writing. I picked up a fountain pen.

I had not handwritten anything other than short notes since writing to my mother when I was first in Romania in 1993 and had no access to a computer; even then it was with a ballpoint. I found it very difficult, having been used to a computer for the previous ten years, and a typewriter before that, since becoming a journalist in the early ‘60s.

How welcome a handwritten ‘letter’ was

What prompted me to move to handwritten was the reaction of my former student Paula, now a Romanian high school teacher of English, to a handwritten note included in a packet I sent to her (one of my ‘attic gems’ – a special English course I wrote when teaching in Romania). She said it was wonderful to receive a handwritten ‘letter’. I promised to ‘keep in touch’ with handwritten letters from time to time (among brief encounters on Messenger) and as two more of my ‘attic gems’ were fountain pens I decided to go the whole hog and go to fountain pen. The two old ones were not working (I intend to fix them) so I acquired a new one.

Transformation

Having begun the first letter to Paula during the time I had to write my contribution to our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, I began to scribble my ‘poem’ in a primary school exercise book with the fountain pen. What a transformation!

Ideas tumbling out of the fountain pen

Firstly, the ideas tumbled out like never before. Secondly, I began to do something I’ve said I almost never do – edit what I’ve written, neither during nor after writing (this comes from journalism where I almost always had no time to edit – often writing as many as 60 stories a week including one or more long features). With the fountain pen I found myself crossing out, writing alternative lines, jotting down ideas as they came, making lists of rhyming words as I was following Lewis Carroll’s ABAAB rhyming scheme. All very strange to me.

Even stronger urge to write

Now, the urge to write ‘creatively’ is far stronger with a fountain pen in my hand. I wonder if this will bring my ‘novella’ out of it’s long hibernation. Or even extend it to be a novel.

This writing by hand doesn’t extend to what you might call ‘non-creative’ writing, like writing blog posts. Those are still written on the the iPad (more rarely on the MacBook). So this post is written on the iPad, as will be most future posts, but if they include some ‘creative writing’ you can be pretty sure that will have been written first on paper, with a fountain pen. The only disadvantage of writing by hand is that to include hand written pieces  in something ‘digital’ they have to be typed up on a digital device.

PS. My first, 10 page, letter to Paula, composed over a couple of weeks, was posted on Saturday morning.

I’d  be really interested to hear from others whether the medium with which they write influences their writing, particularly use of a fountain pen (or not).

You can read my finished ‘poem’ on a previous post, or hear me read it on the post of 5 October.

The inevitable 'group photo' after the performance - l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

The inevitable ‘group photo’ after the performance – l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

Youtube videos – over the past few days I’ve gained a lot of admiration for those who seem to roll them out regularly. Earlier I’d done a little editing of photos from our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival for my previous blog post. A doddle! But editing video is something else, for me.

Wanting to put titles, end credits, etc on the just over an hour of our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Festival, I discovered I’d forgotten much of how to use my graphics program and video editor (2 years or more since I used them). An added complication was that one contribution to our ‘show’ (the first in order of appearance) had been entered into a competition for which rules state no previous publication or broadcast, so I had to take that out before making it ‘public’. Another cut had to be made for another reason so I had to work out how to make this not too ugly.

Superb flamenco guitar

If you appreciate superb guitar playing (Samuel Moore) it’s worth watching the video (our complete ‘performance’, with writers, lasted just about an hour).

Some good short stories

If you’re a writer you may enjoy our club writers reading their own pieces. If you want to avoid me reading mine (published in my previous post) I’m now ‘first up’ in the video as the first on the night has been cut at the writer’s request.

Of course I use only free programs, open source or those offering free basics but the possibility to pay for advanced facilities, which I do not. When in paid employment I used Adobe programs like Indesign, Photoshop and occasionally Illustrator, but I never needed to edit videos.

Scribus and NCH VideoPad

The graphics/publishing program I use now, Scribus, is excellent but rather quirky and with a steep learning (relearning) curve. Much the same can be said of the the video editor, NCH VideoPad. What I didn’t expect was the 2 hours 20 minutes to convert the VideoPad file (for a video of just over one hour) to something suitable for uploading to Youtube (.mp4). Maybe that’s down to my ancient MacBook. Even less expected was the 4+ hours to upload to Youtube (finally I went to bed and left it to it so it could have been much longer).

The inevitable 'group photo' after the performance - l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

The inevitable ‘group photo’ after the performance – l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

Presenting as part of the main Ilkley Literature Festival, one of the premium literature festivals in the UK, has to be a high point in the life so far of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. In the previous two years we have done a performance as part of the ‘Fringe’.

However, I doubt our wonderful founder and leader, Ruxandra Moore (neé Busoiu) will let us rest on our laurels. Full of energy and enthusiasm, she’s dragged us, sometimes screaming, from maybe half a dozen aspiring writers meeting in an Ilkley coffee bar to a group of around 20 confident enough to take to a stage occupied at other times during the Festival by some of the best writers in the country.

Evocation – in fact Evocation 3

Our Festival performance, titled ‘Evocation’, follows two broadly similar performances in Leeds Art Gallery earlier this year – eight writers from the club presenting a story or poem evoked by a painting in the gallery then an astounding flamenco guitarist, Samuel Moore, improvising music evoked by the picture and the words. Then I chose to write a short story, inspired by the Brontë sisters, particularly Emily.

For the Festival performance, on Saturday evening, we had just four pictures, photographs taken by a club member – Robert (Bob) Hamilton – of scenes around Ilkley, projected on a large screen behind us. Two writers presented in about four allocated minutes what one of the pictures evoked for them. Samuel then played what those two pieces and their picture evoked for him.

Many thanks to Petronela Prisca for the photographs and a video of the whole one hour ‘performance’, which I hope I can feature sometime in the future.

I was lucky in that I was ‘on’ second so could then relax and enjoy the others. My ‘partner’, Kayla Herbert, opened the ‘performance’ with a delightful short poem about witches. Its brevity allowed me a little over my four minutes.

Again inspired by a celebrated author from the past, but secondly also by a modern Yorkshire poet with whom I spent a great time on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Leeds a couple of years ago, Matt Abbott. I chose to attempt to parody a poem, Phantasmagoria, by the first – no lesser person than Lewis Carroll – my spectre speaking in Yorkshire dialect. I’d never attempted such a parody before.

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My ‘poem’ presented at the Festival and the photo is below, with ‘translation’ for those who don’t understand my attempts at Yorkshire dialect. (Click twice to magnify it enough to read).

Apologies to Lewis Carroll of course.

Phantasmagorias were a popular Victorian entertainment, where ‘scary’ images – ghosts, skeletons, etc were projected onto a screen, much like our Festival presentation but, of course, a different, earlier, ‘technology’.


From Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor. Photo by Bob Hamilton

Brocken Spectre from Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor. Photo by Bob Hamilton

My 'poem' presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, with 'translation' for those who don't understand my attempts at Yorkshire dialect.

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