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Archive for March, 2007

I finally sent my assignment by electronic mail on Thursday. Yesterday, Friday, is the day I balance the rent sheets for the Housing Association for which I work in my state of semi-retirement. My eyes were so tired from staring at this computer screen that I was more number dyslexic than usual. It might seem surprising that a former maths teacher can see £79.97 as £79.79. Fortunately the server was down at our Head Office in Staines and I didn’t receive the printout of the tenants who had paid by standing order until the afternoon. This was just as well as the phone kept ringing and I was the only one in the office which I had to leave briefly after a tenant in a wheelchair came through on the call system. She was unable to get a video to work and her carer had gone out for a couple of hours. I was unable to get the video to work but did leave her with one of the TV stations which was showing a film with Yul Bryner.

I did think that I might have another look at my assignment in the evening, but my daughter is off to her new flat in Canterbury today and we went out for a meal. After a glass of wine, and feeling rather drowsy, I decided that I would probably do more harm than good if I made amendments and over-wrote my submission (the deadline was midnight). So, having spent a long time with Katherine and Lewis, going round and round in circles whilst throwing too many balls up in the air, I move on to with relief to poetry. I now have to choose between contending landscapes in 1930s poetry and contending continents (America and Europe) in Eliot’s Prufock poems. So the first thing I come across is the question ‘Does poetry have to be difficult?’ and Auden’s ‘Poems XXX’ which is excruciatingly so. I like to think that I’m good at unravelling a poem, but the syntax in this one defeated me and I had to read the course material to get anywhere with it. Obscurity seems to be frowned on these days and some of my poems were criticised for this last year as were poems by two of the friends I made on the course.

My poem ‘Unidentified’ wasn’t one my tutor criticised for this particular fault, but said it might well find a place in an anthology of poems of war and peace. I have yet to find one! Anyway, it isn’t as accessible as I thought it was. I wrote the poem as a protest against the invasion of Iraq by Britain and America. The lines ‘Statesmen and diplomats hide behind/Casements of argument and gates of law’ refers to the action being taken in defiance of the United Nations. I though then, and still do think, that America reacted badly (an Old Testament ‘An Eye for an Eye’) to 9/11, rather trying to understand the motivation that lead to this terrible event. Sadly, the proliferation of terrorist cells (‘spores’) has come about, and the recent capture of British sailors by Iran is part of a deteriorating situation in the middle east. Yes, it is very frightening. Back to my books! It’s a beautiful day here in the New Forest: through my window I see fields and there is white blossom on my plum tree.

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Engaging with Reality.

I suspect that my sudden flurry of activity on this blog is prompted by procrastination as I indulge in a series of displacement activities to avoid writing the aforementioned essay on Mansfield and Grassic Gibbon. I am an extremely lazy person and academic essays, like creative writing (5% inspiration and 95% perspiration?), are hard work. Anyway, I’ve wheeled out another of my poems whilst trying to work out my position on what literature is for. Gibbon was motivated by strong political feelings as was I when I wrote ‘Unidentified’ although the stimulus was a room in Solent University where I attended a tutorial for a creative writing course. I tend to agree with Auden that poetry changes nothing but it is one way of relieving frustration. Currently, what I write is far less political, but I do believe that literature should engage with reality. To hammer home the ‘message’ I’ve appended a haiku.

Unidentified

I know a place where no one goes by choice:
Torture has no echo from padded walls;
Where fear counterbalances reason’s voice
And people stop meeting in clubs and halls.
Confined within corridors of the mind,
Where blinds block windows and there is no door,
Statesmen and diplomats hide behind
Casements of argument and gates of law.
I know a place where no one knows your name:
No history; no deeds to leave a mark;
Advancing armies lack a paradigm;
The curtain of motive is ripped apart
Within this place a monstrous fungus grows
Scattering spores where nobody knows.

Between terrorist
and terrorised – visualize
a two-way mirror.

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The Artist’s Room

Was passion wrung out on these wintry walls?
Rose suffuses the counterpane
but this room fires no salvo for Vincent’s life.
Emptiness rings in a butchered ear.

A jug of water set beside the bed;
three jackets hang like soldiers from three pegs;
bare brown boards inviolate.

His hand raked the bed and the works of art
slung athwart the tipsy walls.

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Class in the classroom

I’ve been thinking about children and their awareness of social class in connection with Katherine Mansfield’s short story ‘The Doll’s House’. (I will soon be writing an essay on Mansfield and the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon for my Twentieth Century Lit. course.) My daughter was talking about class on her blog a short while ago. She and her brother used to refer to some working class kids as ‘cackers’ when they got to the secondary school although they all mixed in together at primary school. I have a vivid memory of my own mother saying to me, ‘You don’t want to invite Neeny to your birthday party do you?’ I remembered that I’d written a mini-story on this theme about four years ago although I have to admit that short stories aren’t my forte. This story is based on an incident that occured when my children were at school. I must get round to writing something from my own childhood.

On Saturday afternoon Dad often took us into town. We would change our library books and spend our pocket money. Marty was sure to spend all of his. I was saving mine. My class were going to the Isle of Wight.
We parked the car in the usual place and walked along the road leading to the high street. There was very little traffic and the quietness seemed strange. As we turned the corner by the bank to bring us onto the high street I saw that no cars were moving along it. People were standing in little clusters. All heads were turned towards a body shape lying on the pavement covered by a man’s coat. Close by the body were the mangled remains of a bicycle. It was bright blue with a child’s seat on the back. I recognised it straight away.
‘Dad, Dad,’ I whispered, grabbing his arm – I felt I had to whisper. Nobody else was speaking. ‘That’s Mandy’s mother’s bike!’ My heart was thumping and my legs felt weak.
Dad said nothing.
Just then an ambulance, followed by a police car, rounded the corner, lights flashing.
‘Where’s Mandy and Kevin?’ asked Marty in what was a quiet voice for him.
Shhhh!’ said Dad.
Mandy was one of my best friends at Abbeywood Junior School. There were three of us – Mandy, Sarah and me. We took turns going to one another’s houses. What I really mean is that we took turns going to Sarah’s house and to my house. We never went to Mandy’s house.
‘Automatic car,’ muttered a woman in a pale blue anorak and trainers. She had a thin face which reminded me of one of Aunty Jo’s whippets.
Just then I saw Mandy’s dad. He walked past without seeing us. He wasn’t seeing anything. He was wearing dirty old overalls and his hands were dirty too. Mandy and Kevin weren’t with him. Once the ambulance moved away, the crowd started to move; slowly at first.
By Monday, we knew that two car passengers were injured when an automatic car went out of control and killed one cyclist – Mandy’s mum. Much later, I remembered the car I had seen coming towards us from the direction of the town centre as we were driving in. The woman driver was going far too fast. She was hunched forward like Toad in The Wind in the Willows. She had a strange, staring, crazy look in her eyes. It was reported in the paper and then nothing more was heard about it. The woman was never seen again.
In September, we all started at the High School. We don’t see much of Mandy now. She isn’t in any of the same lessons as me and Sarah.

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