Poetry and Stories

South African artist Andrew Van Der Merwe - Beach Calligraphy

South African artist Andrew Van Der Merwe – Beach Calligraphy

2 January 2014
11:51 am

Edinburgh

T. —

Phew. I’m catching up with all of my letters (and I figured out how to backdate them! Aren’t you proud??), but I had to write this morning’s letter before finishing off the 1st of January. There is just so much to tell you, and so much to share!

One of my friends on  Facebook introduced me to a poetry tagging game. Here was my post:

“Facebook #poetry tag. The idea is to fill Facebook with poetry: to anyone who “likes” this thread, I will assign a poet.”

For the first round, my friend gave me John Glenday, who I love — and actually met at StAnza a few years ago. I posted his poem “The Steamer ‘Golden City'”, with these lines that I love:

“Far from the sea, you still feel part of it – all those dull
impatient lights, that reckless hush. But the way
the morning breaks against itself marks progress
of a sort; like a prow digging under, ploughing the hours white…”

– John Glenday, The Steamer ‘Golden City’

For the second round, he gave me Yang Lian:

Island (#2)
Yang Lian

You’re right    in life’s chamber music
either listen with total attention    or else switch off
Water    one drop can perfectly lock up these shores

The crash of waves has no gap    is like a tailored body
still sitting on the rock    the lilac-scented surrounding ocean
still striking at a little girl’s unceasing gaze into distance

Purple or white    petals are stored in the eyes
all through the springtime night, dark rings around the eyes
keep opening    torn by where she looks far away

Suffering is that waiting, underwater pearl
what turns old is salt    low sobbing in every wave
The fierce wind is a jade bracelet on the wrist

Island    like a boat sailing since the day you were born
never slowing down its disconsolate speed
always arriving yet, underfoot, drawn away by the ebbing tide

Purple    wounds the turbulent, close-up scene
sets off white    the horizon like land cutting, above snow line, into fate
exposing the snow flower you’ve caught for life

Still wet    tears run halfway down the girl’s cheeks
After so many years play the cold rain you’ve brought back
A seagull plunges    then flies back up    You hear clearly this kiss

*

Both are the sea, both are islands. I must be on Iona already.

*

This same friend also posted a link to a project by James Robertson, who wrote a short story each day of 2013, and is posting them online — one  a day for the whole of 2014. Here is the explanation from his About page:

The concept was simple enough: one story for each day of the year, written oneach day of the year; each story to be exactly the same length, 365 words. So, by the end of the year, there they would be: 365 365-word stories.

The motivation? To see what would happen. In theory, turning out 365 words once a day (in between other tasks and projects) is no big deal. I hear the scoffing of journalists: once a day? In reality, pinning down so many ideas and shaping each of them into something recognisably a ‘story’ is quite a challenge. The fixed word count (my computer does the reckoning, and grants hyphenated items single word status) is both a frustrating barrier and a useful restraint, much as the obligations of the sonnet form are simultaneously restricting and liberating to a poet. Beyond that, I may do what I like with the words at my disposal – provided I dispose of the superfluous ones. If I happen to get carried away and write 700, half of them must go. At what point does editing morph from judicious pruning into a massacre of the innocents?

Here’s an obvious question prompted by this daily exercise: what is a story? How much can be said, what of life examined, in so few words? Is there space to develop character, plot, narrative style? Are these even necessary to make a story? What about  all those indispensable ingredients from the creative writing workshop – tone, structure, point of view? Answers, please, in the form of entertainment, provocation, reflection.

So the days go by, the stories emerge – sometimes early, easily and quickly, sometimes late at night after hours of struggle – and sometimes the vague shapes of themes and forms seem to loom around them. There are elements of myth and legend, outtakes from history and folklore, squibs and satires on our current insanities, songs and ballads in disguise, and things half forgotten passing like ghosts. There are, perhaps, patterns in what at first seemed random. There is, for sure, randomness at play beneath the word count.

We are made of stories, all of us. Stories make us. But what do we make of them?

– James Robertson

You can read each of them over at Five Dials, every day of 2014!

*

So many amazing new things! Welcome to this new year =)

Good morning!
M

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