Try and have Merry Christmas

I’ve been remiss on this blog this year but I mean it’s been pretty quiet hasn’t it? Not much has happened. Will try and pick up the slack next year but feel like everything I need to say is being said online at the moment, a lot. The internet is just becoming background noise to be honest. 2017 is probably the year we start getting back to the real world as it seems we’ve been neglecting it and it has turned to complete shit. In the spirit of that, here’s you annual Christmas Poem from yours truly:


Merry Christmas Mrs. May

With snow gently lilting to the ground

Christmas lights casting their pearlescent glow

And a brass band blowing their mournful sound

Now wreaths of holly hung from doors to show

a welcome inside from a gilded tree,

mulling wine, chestnuts and the mistletoe

then comes a knocking and outside we see

wrapped up carolers singing songs we know.

“Do you have a license? And the volume’s

too loud. Make sure that brass band doesn’t stay,

I don’t think that’s a British seasonal tune

either. And mistletoe’s poisonous! No grey

area there, best take down this holly

wreath too. Is that snow white enough to play

in?” Poor No.10 (it’s not so jolly)

But have a Merry Christmas Mrs. May.

 


Also I made a Christmas song with my friend Christiana you can download for free over on Soundcloud. Click here to listen.

Be kind to each other. Except the 51% and anyone who voted Trump. Fuck them. They’re wrong and you need to tell them so and importantly show the evidence why. They don’t have facts to back up their racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia, that’s why it’s called ‘ignorance’. Fuck 2016, let’s try and make next year better.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Negative Capability 

This is my 100th post here on This Written River and I wanted it to be special. A celebration. Sadly, it cannot be. Everyday some new horror is visited on humankind by humankind and I’m finding it harder and harder to understand how we got here and, more importantly, why are things not getting better?

As usual the only way I can express this is in my writing. I have written a short story that was being published by SleepyHousePress.com today but I asked them to hold off for a week due to its closeness in subject matter to the recent tragedies across Europe and the middle east. In its stead here is a poem I wrote today.

Negative Capability

In our pocket world it is easily seen

The total story from sublime to obscene

We suck and curl, one wave of grief,

Of outrage, of anger, of disbelief

We know the who, the what, the where, the why

But when asked ‘what the feel?’ we shy.

Like the horse held in place beside the passing train

We should not rear and stamp at other’s pain.

Do not lie, you do. We parrot kindness

Our sympathies, as it’s required of us

But do you kneel on the floor and grab,

Blindly smearing blood on the concrete slab?

Do you feel the pennies placed on your eyes?

Or cold metal shudder at those you despise?

Do you smell the cobalt air and feel the sting

Of tears of guilt and shame, that fear could not bring?

Do you put a head, fearful, to a chest

And listen if a heart still beats in that breast?

We see Paris, Lebanon, through the pane of glass

Flat in our palm and wipe a finger to scroll the past.

If that window cracked and our hand fell through

To touch the fear, would our minds attune?

Would we understand it’s all too few

That, though we’re all in touch, feel for you.

A lot of people are blaming religion at this point but a great tenet of Faith has always been ‘Do unto others’. So today: Love thy neighbour. Stay safe.

P.S. Negative Capability is a phrase coined by Keats and is explained well here: http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/john-keats-and-negative-capability 

An addition to the ‘Canon’…

Given how disgusted and appalled I was with the result of the 2010 general election you can probably guess my utter despair at the result from the weekend. My contempt for the Conservatives and their media “supporters” (read as: sponsors, legislators and best chums) now borders on that of the worst far right parties of history. After the last election I self-published a small pamphlet of poetry that raged against the dying of the light but that just seems too puny to fight what is apparently the national public opinion that right wing politics and selfishness is the way forward. But frankly it’s about all I can do now.

Below is my first of no doubt many anti-Tory/austerity poems and would love it if you could share it, particularly to people you might know who are inclined to the right. Written in the Victorian style Gove loves so much and using the Conservative Party font, I hope the message isn’t too subtle to sink in. Please share the jpg or the text, I’m not fussed about credit, just get it out there. I’ll be tweeting it too if you’re so inclined.

Keep the faith, people with a soul and consideration for others tend win through in the end. It’s going to be a looooong 5 years.

giantsofalbion

Awake

For the last two years I have written a poem for Christmas so here’s this year’s in what is becoming a bit of a tradition for me. As Christmas poems have a mixed history I’ve found, I did a bit of research this time and read a few of the notable ones, as well as Ms. Duffy’s latest addition to the ‘canon’. Milton, Tennyson, Betjeman, Dickinson, Eliot, McNiece, everybody has written Christmas poems it turns out and of wildly different styles and tones. Generally the earlier ones tend to be dour and severe calls to remember Jesus Christ and forsake the wanton revelry for sober reflections of our souls, whereas latterly they become misty eyed reveries for an almost entirely fictitious or at least nostalgic past.

My last two were very much half and half. One was a sad recollection on how I have grown up and how different Christmas is to me now, the other more of an abstract pondering on what christmas is and what it really means. So for this one I wanted to do something different, as Robin Williams said “we must constantly look at things in a different way”. My favourite Christmas poem is by one of my least favourite writers, Thomas Hardy, entitled ‘The Oxen‘. It falls into the former category of dour calls to worship but is done in a very oblique way. More than anything it is a vignette, at little snapshot, putting one tiny element of the nativity and the (then) present day under a microscope. As such, I nicked this idea and wrote this poem. I hope you like it.

Awake

There is none so dead, so still

As that Winter’s night. None awake

and snow let silt to the ground, a chill

White plain, a blank marshmallow lake

 

When your eyes break cover and draw

A shadow painting with that white

And bare feet press carpet floors,

A curtain hood unveils the night;

 

The cold desert with no manger,

The guiding star and her sisters

Shattered on the floor with no danger

of seeing that unspoken father

 

Arriving to fill stockings, empty

Before sherry, pies and carrots fed

A myth and gave plenty

with a weight at the end of your bed.

And as a special treat here is my improvised rendition of one of my favourite carols:

Merry Christmas everyone!

The Reflex

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I have had no internet or computer since August so have been unable to update my blog over the last six months. I am, however, at home for Christmas and as I posted a Chrimble poem last year thought I’d do another one this year. Its Christmas eve and I’ve just watched the Muppets with my family so feeling decidedly festive.

I think it was Pavlov (he of the dog torturing) who suggested religion was a social reflex, mankind huddling together for spiritual warmth. It seems no matter what the religion we have a festival in Winter for similar reasons. I love Christmas and feel its sad people have become so cynical about it over the last century. We’ve never been a wealthy family so Xmas has always been a time for family and closeness and that’s what it means to me, not presents or holidays abroad. As such the poem is somewhat disenchanted but hopeful. I hope you enjoy it. And Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.

The Reflex

 

The

Soul of a season is not in cinnamon

but a fire

The warmth that beats from a pulse

as we huddle

Together for heat. This is not the glow

of a flame

But the spirit. A time of cold and dark

Love is hearth

A time where a race needs its ease

we all clothe

In worn out sentiment and threadbare

cheer to sing

In primary colour and stoke the waning

fire of kind

Leave the manager, forget the festivals and

just give

It is in others the kindling blossoms

rich and hot

So find or summon

Joy

Every girl

Every Boy

Upon I Cut

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On the 29th April (a week today) I will be publishing a sequence of sonnets online for free at www.theanatomy.co.uk. I have been updating the temp page with videos of me reading some of the sonnets to whet people’s appetites and have basically set up the whole thing on my own. I had a bit of help from friends but all the programming, layout, editing, writing, testing, was done by me. Its been quite a bit of effort setting up the site and making the videos with no aim of reward. What I’m saying is; it would be really great if you could all be really nice and at least grace it with a tab in your browser at least once.

So what is it?

20

After my last three poetry pamphlets which I had printed at my own expense and (due to my own lack of publicity) no one took any notice of, I decided three was enough.However over Christmas I had one of my notebooks with me and due to it being rather a quite one I ended up filling the whole thing with a poem per page in the space of about 2 weeks. Initially I had no plans for it as a sequence but when I noticed the first three I’d written were all sonnets I decided to make them all sonnets and slowly a theme began to emerge. Its a fairly loose theme but it basically became what could be perceived as my psychological make up. The memories, thoughts, feelings and associations I make. Due to this it felt like something of a dissection of my personality. An anatomy, as t’were. The word Anatomy is from the Greek ἀνατέμνω – anatemnō – literally “Upon I cut”. I also tried to vary the format of the sonnet form as much as I could because to be blunt, I don’t have the skills to have as wide and varied a vocabulary and as original imagery as the giants of the form do to keep it interesting. This basically meant I pushed the rules of a sonnet as far as they will go. Many purists (if any were to ever read it) may say a lot of these do not count as sonnets. That’s their problem. By and large I stick to the old rule of 14 lines and a ‘Turn’ at around line 8. As such, it became an Anatomy of the sonnet form itself in some regards. Some may decree this sacrilege from someone who is not a ‘great’ of poetry but I say the best way to know your limits is to test them. It could ultimately be unsuccessful and dreadful, I don’t know, one of the main reasons I am not charging for it.

Sonnets have a very long and boring history that is well documented elsewhere and that I can’t be bothered to go into here. Some of the best examples and explanations can be found in the wonderful collection ‘101 Sonnets’ by Don Patterson. To be honest though, the man who made them what they are today is the daddy himself. Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 is the gold standard for sonnets – and pretty much all poetry for me – and there are many volumes dedicated to the study of them, my personal favourite is by… you guessed it, Don Patterson. Sadly few of us living mortals can attain the dizzy heights of these marvels of literature but there have been other poets who have penned autonomous sequences of sonnets too: Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, WH Auden, Pablo Neruda but the most influential for my particular sequence was the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. His sonnet sequence entitled ‘Orpheus’ was written in something ludicrous like 5 days and whose topics vary wildly but tend to centre around prayers to or tales of “the God with the lyre”. This sequence is highly regarded and there are numerous excellent translations but what really opened my eyes was when I read a ‘version’ of it written by the now ubiquitous poet in this post, yes Don bloody Patterson. Versions are different to translations, the idea being you take the essence of a poem and translate that instead, not the words. The subtlety of poetry lies in a familiarity with language, its nuances and connotations, something that a translator can rarely crowbar into another shape without losing something of its initial sense. Patterson’s version is a fantastic sister piece to the original but even then Rilke’s is still the superior and eye wideningly pretty. Read it, please.

So there is something of a heritage in the sonnet form and to be honest it doesn’t need updating to my ears as it is supremely useful in forcing you to wrench out what you want to say, yet small and digestible enough to be swallowed in one go. My sequence is modest in comparison to the greats that have gone before and, as I said, I doubt it is on a par but it was an attempt to get “raw meat” on the table on my part. What I loved about Rilke’s sequence is that he did it so fast, the editing and self-expurgation would have been practically non-existant or at least not as thorough as most poets like to think of themselves. It meant Rilke’s heart and mind is there, raw and bleeding, imperfect yet dazzling in every poem. I don’t claim my own is even close to this as I don’t have the skill he had but I do like to think its a first trembling step in that direction.

People might ask why I feel the need to publish everything I write. I would ask why you don’t feel the need to publish everything you write. Getting something finished and ready to your standard and then showing to others so it can be judged by their’s is probably the quickest and best way to learn I know of. There is no point spending years over something only for it to get lambasted as soon as its released anyway. Don’t torture yourself over whether people will like it or not and don’t let the idiot snobs tell you something that only took a couple months isn’t as good as something that took ten years. The reverse is almost always true. The Beatles made 14 albums in 7 years and every song of theirs is of a higher quality than most. I don’t know where the modern need to stagger everything out comes from. I realise time and patience will raise the quality but only to a certain degree. If you have anything you’ve been sitting on that you made that is finished but you don’t think is good enough, get it out anyway. You’ll learn more from that than you will just staring at it and asking friends what they think when all they will do is tell you how great it is no matter what the quality. Create, release, learn, move on.

Hopefully there will be a poem in The Anatomy for everyone but try reading all of it too. Even if you don’t like poetry I hope you can at least enjoy the site. Take a look at the videos in the meantime and I’ll hopefully see you all there on the 29th.