Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lhude sing cuccu!

OK it’s Spring not summer and the birds that were open-throating in the dawn  were not cuckoos – but the general sense of exaltation as a red rim of rising sun rinsed round the field edges and the birds sang out over the frosty lawn was energising in a different kind of way this morning.

We are feeling ready for getting busy.  It means that I make lists, the garden is being done over ready for seeds and planting, the dust accumulated in the corners is visible.  At the same time, of course, the desire to just sit and write is overwhelming.  However I want to try and make sense of it – this cuccu would like to sing loud and clear.

I have a lot of half revised, half articulated in some cases, poems.  Just where I go with them needs to be sorted out.  Shall I go the Redgrove route of having lots of poems, at different revision stages, on the go at the same time?  Like other things in my life I need to be careful of obsessing rather than just doing. 

I am getting better at revising.  I pick up a poem I want to work on and the weaknesses do show up fairly quickly.  The problem is, when to stop.  When is it good enough?  Easy to overkill I think.  Now I have all the poems I want to work on at hand I think I shall continue to look at one a day, with a savage eye, and make marks on the page.  Then put it away again for a bit. 

Now I have decided less competitions and more sending off to a wide selection of magazines I feel there is less pressure.  Also I know that I write poems in the margins.  When I am engaged on other kinds of writing, deep in the flow, the given poem sometimes just appears. 

I have my two current themes – Himalayas and Sri Lanka – both reportage to some extent but also ‘through the eye’ poems – not just describing landscape and happenings but also opening up feelings and putting the words in a lived landscape.  One of the reasons for less competition and restrained revising is that I need to write new and fresh – Spring morning seems like a good time to begin.

The other thing I am doing is to try and educate my writing self.  I never did a ‘course’ in literature that gave me a background of reading and analysis.  I need to be a better reader and to use what I read as a source for my writing. I have devised a workshop for myself that I hope will help me to  be better at catching authentic ‘point of view’ writing and that will help me sort out the problems I have with ‘voice’.  I have a stupid muddle in my head about voice – tense, person, dialogue.  I want to integrate the view from inside the head of my characters, even some sense of the flow of the unconscious, but not to only do it through the first person narrator. 


I am going to include in this blog the cartoon that I still have on my wall and to make confession.  I am about to do another re-write on my novel Abbreviations and to change the narrating voice from the first person.  I also need a new title and a new first chapter.  I am trying out this idea.  The most powerful first chapter I have read recently is Wolf Hall.  I have done an analysis of the shifts of voice in it – they are complicated but very strong, as are the shifts in tense.  Hilary Mantel allows the reader to access a history, intentions and speculations about Tom’s future  in short paragraphs of depth and intensity.  In a timed writing situation I am trying to write the opening of Abbreviations using the structure of Wolf Hall. 

So – ten sentences in as many minutes.  No revision or correction; what is coming to mind now is not based on the actual structure of Wolf Hall but  it has shaken up my  devotion to my opening chapter and I am going to go on with this, as if I am in an actual writing workshop, and see what happens.  I may put a section in this blog of First Paragraphs and hope that some readers might comment on what works, what would make them want to read on the rest of the book.

Watch this space for lhude cuccooing!



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Got them Monday morning morning blues….


Not so much blues as confusions.  I woke an hour early having set the alarm wrong so a nice, black but cold morning.  I read Derek Walcott and Adrienne Rich.  An odd couple maybe.  I have had Walcott for such a long time and not read him, now I am diving in to him in a haphazard way and coming up with some jewels.  I like his St. Lucia poems – maybe it’s the taste of the tropical sands, the street corner repartee, the bread fruit and the palms.  It immediately conjures a landscape for me, although of course it is Sri Lanka and the scissoring palms rather than the Caribbean.   I am moving gradually towards working on the Sri Lankan material.  At the moment it is quite a handful of poems and the basis of a book, Careless Beauty, which I wonder if it’s too late to finish.  Surprisingly little has been written about Sri Lanka and I think that maybe I am ready to do it soon. 

Reportage – telling it how it is – it’s what  I am thinking about as I revise all the poems that I have put into the blue folders, in order.  The problem is that that great work has taken, to some extent, the impetus for writing anything new.  Then I ask myself why I am doing this? 

The whole competition thing has suddenly become a real burden and distraction.  Revising what I  already have in the files is good; I enjoy the exercise and it’s interesting to come back to older stuff and see it with new eyes however I think that doing it for the ‘competition’ with it’s deadlines, the cost when I might be buying books of poetry instead, and it’s sense of hopeless opportunity interferes with my need to be a writer. 

What does a writer do?  They write!  They trawl the wreck, they bring up the treasures from the detritus.  I was reading Diving into the Wreck today.  It is such an amazing poem, every time I read it it means something different.  One of those wonderful travelling poems that keeps pace with wherever you are yourself.  I was given a pile of Adrienne Rich when I left my teaching job (thanks Isobel for choosing them).  So these poems have travelled with me for over forty years.  I went to a reading once, in Heffer’s bookshop in Cambridge.  We all sat on the stairs that are wide and shallow leading down to the basement books.  This small, rather dumpy woman sat at the top, her hair in a bun, black clothes.  When she read it was electric; the air vibrated with all the people coming alive, being touched, thinking about their own wrecks and lives.  I don’t think I have acknowledged how her death last year diminished me in the way that important people in our lives leaving us does.

There are people that I always wanted to write to.  Eliot, Doris Lessing amongst them; I wanted to tell them how much their writing had meant to me, how it had changed me as a person.  The only person I ever wrote to was Kathleen Jamie and I think that the letter probably never arrived.  I did meet her though when she came to Falmouth to read  and I realised how important the face is.  I am glad I saw Adrienne Rich.  I am glad that I can visualise Kathleen Jamie when I read her latest book The Overhaul.  I wish it had won the Forward Prize.  And I do feel, like *Maitreyabandhu, that the pressures of external audiences, prizes and competition, can distort the ambience of our writing.  So today I will think about writing something new in between making the curtains for all those new windows! 

* His wonderful article The Further Reach in  Poetry Review Autumn 2011


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Among the books

‘Negative capability – when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Letter of John Keats

It’s such an odd thing when things begin to cluster together – you remember or read something and then the same day the name or subject re-occurs several times.

Books fall into my hands these days – not in bookshops but on my book shelves. I realised the other day that it is only in the last two years that my books

have been back together in one place. I have a habit of losing them. They don’t fit into the luggage space – the box of books I left long ago in Heligan, along with the baby’s cradle and all the pots and pans. They get ruined in one way or another – my books left in England then those taken to Sri Lanka that were eaten by termites and stored boxes soaked by leaks in the garage roof. Others dotted around the world – Kenya, Vietnam, China, Pakistan that I intended to go back and fetch but never made it.


So this morning, I am sitting in my lovely room, all the books on shelves, some of the shelves that belonged to Elizabeth Bewick and are therefore endowed with special ‘poet’ essence. There is no easy source of poetry books here in rural outposts of Normandie other than through the post. I am not happy with Amazon at the moment on account of their taxes, although they have replaced for free my damaged Kindle which has pleased and amazed me. So I am beginning to re-read some of the hundreds of books I already own. In this way old favourites and un-read, yet to be discovered books are giving me a lot of pleasure.


Yesterday and today I have been re-reading ‘Negotiating with the Dead’, written versions of the Empson lectures that Margaret Attwood gave at Cambridge in 2000. They mirror to such an extent the concerns that I have been raising in my journals . Who do we write for? Who is the reader of our writing? Where lies truth, veracity, authenticity? This is a draft version of a poem that is edging its way I guess towards trying to work out some of these truths.

Being a writer

I create the world in my head.

Now I live with someone who says

Wake up and smell the coffee.

I watch pink light

coming up over the orchard

while my coffee cools

and the morning comes in the window

insistent of pollen

and spice smells

reveals itself


Is not a work of fiction.


And this is a bit from my journal recently which is trying to grapple with the same problem.    ‘Why am I writing? What drives me to it? What am I hoping to do? Is it to anchor random thoughts, to purify, locate and tether feelings and emotions? To make a mark – the original, distinguished (not compromised or mistaken for another) mark? – the mot juste, word in its right/write place? To mark, tether, join , anchor what it is I want to say and how I want to say it so that it can be read by others? How important is that? Is it recognition, a sense of ‘right fit’? Partly I guess I want to craft – make smooth, make it fit, – partly I want to reach clear water – not to be buffeted and caught in the whirlpool, the rip tide – out of control and sucked away. The free fall, the ice melt, the sheer swumf and swell of ice melting and the blue blocks churning, rocks breaking to brown mud. The heart free – up like a bird in air, washed clean by light – purified – so the eye can see clearly – the heart respond, cleave through with strength – arrive (not safe but sound).

It’s a bit strange to be writing something unedited straight from my journal but useful to me I think. I see the images – sea, ice melt, the mountains that are my kind of iconic images that re-occur in so many places. My recent poems have been about the Himalayas so the images are rattling around my head. I have been using my journals, or intend to use them, as source books for my writing. I am trying to put in some images into my blog – I think it helps to break up the text and I also think in image as well as words. Just hope the technology works.



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