“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”
Winnie the Pooh
Today’s return to work was generally successful. I had enough energy to get through the day (though sitting down does not really require much energy), and my brains were sharp enough to cope with the modest demands placed on them. In other words, I looked round and realised just how bored I have become with the whole thing. I need more challenge and I think it is time to start writing the eBay posts with the use of alliteration and other verbal fireworks. If I start with that, I can always move on to blank verse later.
My second post of yesterday, referred to six acceptances. I returned home tonight and found I have now progressed to seven. The latest has taken two haibun and a tanka. I submitted several haiku, and they have ignored them, but I have a forgiving nature and won’t bear a grudge. Three of the haiku had been edited for me by a well known haiku writer, so the quality should have been OK. It’s just a matter of personal taste I suppose. Life is strange.
Small Copper on castor oil plant
That’s about it. I could talk about TV but if you aren’t able to watch UK TV it will mean nothing. Even if you can, it won’t necessarily mean a lot. TV, at the moment, seems to be the worst it has ever been, though that may just be because I don’t want to watch some the fantastic new dramas they keep telling me they are producing. In terms of cast and writing you can’t actually beat dinnerladies anyway. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever.
Logged into WP this morning – it wouldn’t let me in. I had to reset my password. Feeling annoyed and persecuted? Yes!
Read comments, replied. OK.
Came back at 8am – read a post, commented, clicked – all OK. Commented on a second post from same person – wouldn’t let me in.
Currently still locked out and still annoyed.
Back to work tomorrow so half happy at recovery, half sad at loss of free time. However, if you cough and splutter and sleep through much of it, it’s not all productive anyway.
Today, in terms of poetry, I have extracted six more Haibun/Tanka Prose that I had lost track of, which is good. Have read a book about writing poetry. Fell asleep. It’s a repeat reading of a book I originally marked as 3/5. Most of the examples used are from the poets own writing and are said to be prize-winning. I’m losing faith in poetry prizes.
This is a haibun I wrote a few years ago. It was a prize-winner. Well, it was commended and I got a certificate emailed to me.
Falling Into Place
children become strangers
—his new world
Jigsaws became an important part of our lives. First, as conversations became more difficult, we used them to pass the time. Later we used them to stimulate Dad’s thinking and slow the progress of the condition. Finally we used them to measure his decline. A man who once ran a company struggled with a jigsaw designed for a toddler. My sister bought new ones as they were needed, each with fewer pieces than the one preceding it.
He had been an active and successful man, and thousands of events had formed his life. Gradually they faded away. This frustrated him in the beginning but as he sank into the strange new world of dementia he came to accept it as a comforting place. I was happy to see him become contented. Then, one day, he asked me who I was.
the mirror cracks
a fractured smile
When we cleared his room my sister picked up the nine-piece jigsaws and suggested we donate them to the care home. She checked with me.
“You don’t want them, do you?”
“Not yet.” I said.
Back on WP I still can’t get into the comments. I’m going to have to get on to tech support. Normally I don’t have issues that last this long and it is getting very irritating. You could say it’s a first world problem and not as serious as starvation or infant mortality, which is fair. But I am paying a significant amount of money for my WP plan and they don’t always provide value.
Wollaton Hall, Nottingham. Or Wayne Manor in Dark Knight Rises. Read the link to see Gotham too.
I’ve just done 300 words. Starting out with an idea that I would demonstrate how blogging shows only a small part of our true character, I started off on a quick tour of my inner life with the intention of discussing the hidden depths that lie behind the public facade of Quercus, the cheery salad-dodger. It’s a sad thing when, after 65 years of life, you realise that you haven’t any. So I drastically self-edited.
My main thoughts are (a) my beard, after being trimmed, is at an awkward intermediate length. I’m not sure if I want to grow it again, or trim it more. The first option risks a reappearance of the inner tramp (hobo, for you users of American English) but the second risks making me look like a round-faced hamster. My secondary thoughts are much the same. With the additional worry that if I met Kylie Minogue in the street it would be terrible if she looked at me at a time when my fine masculine profile was marred by imperfections of beard length.
I would obviously have to tell her that my heart was taken by another and that despite her elfin charm and undoubted talent in the singing line she will always be, in my mind. a pale substitute for Julia, but it would be better coming from a man with a decent beard. She is unlikely to mind one way or the other if these lines are delivered by a man who looks like a hamster with well-filled cheek pouches, and my great romantic gesture will be wasted.
Yep, definitely no hidden depths.
But it is proof that you shouldn’t talk much. When silent I am a man of brooding mystery with potential hidden depths and a hint of the Lord Byrons. When I talk I am a man that thinks about his beard far too much.
Hemingway muttered something about seven eighths of a story being below the waterline, so I am merely following in the footsteps of greater men.
I will be going on to develop this idea as I gradually distill my ideas of nothingness in writing into the world’s greatest sonnet – Fourteen Lines of Nothing. Julia vetoed my earlier, more alliterative title. Here it is (with apologies to John Cage and 4′ 33″).
Fourteen Lines of Nothing
What did you think? Powerful and moving? The work of an idiot? It is, I admit, slightly more than 14 lines, but you do need space before and after. I’m seriously thinking of submitting it to a real editor and seeing what they say. I have one in mind.
In the last 18 hours I have written 44 poems. In fairness, I must point out that there is a difference between “poems” and “publishable poems”. Once I finish this post (which I mainly wrote at work as there were no sales overnight) I will make a cup of tea and settle down to read what I have written. This will be the acid test. That is not my acid wit I refer to, but an expression derived from the way we test for gold. Not that we actually do, because the owner is too tight to buy a test kit. having said that, I have always found them more trouble than they are worth. They either don’t give a clear result, or people come in wanting you to test things for them. As I’ve said before, if you go to a lawyer or an accountant it’s £50 for them to say “hello”. But have a coin shop and people expect the expertise for free. And if you don’t agree with them they ask if you can recommend someone who knows what they are doing.
We once had a man come into the shop, show us a lump of Roman brass and tell us it was one of only three known gold coins of a certain denomination of Richard II. I forget the exact details – it doesn’t matter anyway, because he was wrong. Despite the fact we showed him half a dozen virtually identical clapped out Roman coins he insisted he was right and ended up asking if we could give him the name of someone local who knew what they were doing.
Sorry, I’m diverging from my original post.
Julia’s bicycle picture gets another airing
I just went on the internet to find out who sells test kits and found out that most of them are now for testing drugs. Last time I bought one it was all about gold testing and I bought it from a paper catalogue. Times change. However, back to the blog.
(Later – after two cups of tea and a discussion on Julia’s day.)
Around ten of the poems were just about loosening up and another ten were mis-fires that tailed off in a damp squib and a mixed metaphor. I have just been through with a red pen and I can announce that with some rewrites and remedial work I estimate that about twenty poems can be made from the 44. This is slightly better than I was expecting. Some of it is just a bit of rewriting, some of it, I admit, will involve a bit more work, but it was well worth it as an exercise.
When you consider that some of my months this year have resulted in less work than this, I’m quietly pleased with it. I will probably abandon a few others as time goes on, as some are quite similar, and because I am often tempted away by new projects before the current one is properly finished.
Of course, you have to set this in a wider context. I’ve had about 150 published in five years, which is 30 a year. (I’ve actually lost count. I know it went over100 but since then I haven’t counted. It isn’t really that important and I’d rather be remembered for a few good poems rather than a thousand iffy ones. Unless I was writing for getting cards, in which case the thousand would pay better.) This looks good on paper, but remember that a lot of them are only three lines. Also bear in mind that some people publish every day or every week on their blogs, so I’m a positive lightweight in terms of productivity.
And at that point, it’s time to go. Those poems don’t write themselves.
I keep saying I will put some of my poems in the blog, but never quite get round to it. I just found a few at the bottom of my email box. They were first published in Acumen in May 2021. One of them was on the page facing a poem from Roger McGough and I felt quite famous for a while. They are not particularly cheerful, for which I apologise, but writing something serious is an occupational hazard of being a poet.
When COVID struck in 2020 we just thought it was another flu. When the idea of a lockdown was first mentioned we were in the middle of Norfolk, heading for the Suffolk coast. The poem, The First Week is written about that time. The other one was a poem originally written after my mother died, but repurposed after my father died from COVID. When we stopped at the Garden centre on the way home (see the blog post) we had intended seeing him. By that time he was locked down and we never did see him again.
Here they are.
The First Week
We didn’t know what was to come that year, the lack of holiday,
freedom and fresh air. Walking on the shore, shingle ground underfoot.
Aldeburgh is not a restful beach. In the distance we saw a house in the clouds,
and the nuclear power station nestled on the edge.
We stopped at the stainless steel clamshells, changing shape as we
drew nearer – seabird, shell or boat. Slipping from one to the other,
clever design. Punched through with letters – I hear those voices that will not be drowned.
Back in town, amongst the living, we passed the place where the pier
used to be, queued for fish and chips with people fleeing London to their
holiday homes. When we set off we had no idea that this would be
a week in history remembered for so many wrong reasons.
Eating in the car park at the end of town, we saw concrete cubes,
the left over tank traps from another war. Further along, a village the
waves washed away and the Martello Tower that protected the coast
from invasion, but could not stop the sea.
Is this how it ends? A shaded room, light filtering through curtains,
and an on-line fight for breath.
At home, surrounded by familiar things, I hear the magpies chatter,
as I watch my father fading in his final, silent scene. I feel I should be
there, and dwell on my regrets. The scent of brewing coffee fills the air.
Only one visitor allowed: I let my sister go to say goodbye. In my
imagination staff monitor and measure and make notes, passing through
my mind like helpful ghosts. Machines make noise. I’ve heard it all before and
can supply the sound effects the computer cannot play. Death at a
social distance. It is the modern way.
Later, at a distanced service, dismal poems will be read,
to say you are just waiting in another room and are not really dead.
I’ve been searching in my emails. I have a lot of them, dating back to, 2010. They hold details of junior rugby fixtures, excuses from parents and troubles with booking referees. I kept some because they were important at the time, or because I was annoyed by them or, in most cases, because I have always been too lazy to keep control of my emails. There are mails from people who are now dead, people who I didn’t like, and people I don’t remember. Which, I wonder, is better – dead, disliked, forgotten? I don’t know why I still keep them. Last night I have dumped over 300, It is going to be a long job . . .
As I sort, memories return. Pompous nonentities carving out an empire when they should have been helping the kids, excuses for failing to help with catering, complaints about team selection. Even now, my head is filling with the discussions we used to have and all the old frustrations are starting to rise to the surface. Some of the memories are as irksome and stressful as the actual events were at the time and I am amazed at my capacity to harbour resentment.
I note the way the emails change from rugby to the farm, to poetry as my life progresses. I was looking for a poetry email, and after finding that I went on to browse. I found, to my amazement, that it is five years this month that I sent off my first Haibun to an online journal. Time soon passes.
It’s a hornet-mimicking hoverfly – Volucellainanis. To be fair, it’s more like a wasp. Common name is Wasp Plumehorn but a lot of people stick with the Latin.
So much has changed. I used to keep a folder of all my successes, a trick I learned from my father-in-law. I still have it somewhere but once acceptance becomes a regular thing you don’t need the folder to boost your confidence. In my case I still worry about becoming an overnight failure, but the submission process has become automatic, regardless of success or failure. I can still be cast down by rejection, but it only lasts ten minutes these days. The imposter syndrome, however, persists. Michael Parkinson suffered from it too. It doesn’t get mentioned in his obituary but his son has mentioned it in recent interviews. That tends to put things into perspective.
The folder of published work is something I must start doing again, as I have lost track of some things, as I said a few days ago.
It is, for a poet, a truth universally acknowledged, that every acceptance is accompanied by a shower of rejection. True to the spirit of T S Eliot, as quoted in a previous post, I stole that from Jane Austen. She doesn’t need it.
The system with poems in general, and the Japanese forms in particular, is that you send a handful of poems. You may, if you are lucky, get one accepted, sometimes even two or three. Also, if you are lucky, you may be told that some of the others are good too, or (rarely) you may be asked if the editor can keep one for the next issue. Otherwise, you end up with a clutch of rejected poems and no idea why they were rejected. The may be bad, they may be good, but not as good as the one that was selected. Or they may fail for a number of other reasons.
Whatever happens, as happened a few days ago, when one is selected from eight it is an acceptance and a success. The seven rejections count for nothing. Anyway, under my new system they aren’t “rejected” they are merely “not required”.
I’ve just been through the seven returned poems and three of them are already part of a new submission. One of the remaining four, one is not very good when I look again, one of them is a poor match for the new target and two of them are possibly too English (which we have discussed recently).
The next submission will be 10-15 poems and the window closes at the end of the month. I have tried this magazine three times and never had an acceptance. Or, in other words, all 15 are likely to come back. This is good for me – good discipline to try harder targets and to write more, and good for my resilience, as you need to keep being rejected in order to practise your mental toughness and resolve.
As a bonus, most magazines specify ten haiku so, when these come back, I will already have a whole new submission ready to go. There is always a silver lining.
Wilford Suspension Bridge
I searched “pen” to find pictures. I found a couple, but had several results which included the letters “pen” in the middle of words – impressive bit not helpful.
(This was written a few days ago nd left, as events overtook me. I thik I have corrected it to show teh correct chronology, but if I have nissed anything – sorry).
I had a post prepared for today, but it’s just 350 words banging on about the mechanics of making poetry submissions. It’s not, on re-reading it, particularly entertaining. It’s interesting to me, but that’s no excuse for inflicting it on other people.
Instead I’m going to talk about writing haiku in a foreign language. There are magazines which invite submissions in foreign languages and I have read some haiku in French. I may be missing some of the nuances but the remnants of my schoolboy French are generally up to the job with an occasional input from Google Translate. However, this will only do the words and not the layers of meaning which may be contained in them.
But it’s not French I want to speak about, it’s American.
1995 Robin stamp
I ran into a problem the other day. I was putting the finishing touches to some submissions when i realised that one of them wouldn’t do at all. It included the battle of Naseby, which, if Adlestrop is obscure, will be well beyond the comprehension of most Americans. This isn’t a criticism – I would flounder if I read a poem about Gettysburg. We are separated by several centuries of diverging history, plus spelling and the use of words which have different meanings.
Then we come to nuance. I first ran into translation problems when submitting a poem that featured a goldcrest. They don’t have goldcrests in USA, but they do have kinglets, so I translated the bird to a kinglet. The poem was duly rejected but at least I made the effort. One problem with this is that I know about goldcrests, but I’m not quite sure if they behave in exactly the same way.
Robin at Rufford Abbey
This is a problem, as many birds come with meanings and mannerisms that may not be understood by people from other places. I was about to submit a poem that included a robin on Saturday when it occurred to me the image wouldn’t work in America. The American Robin is a thrush with a red breast.
For a full run-down of the various cheery robin stories, read this. It’s missing two important bits though. One is that the breast is supposed to be red because Christ bled on it when it plucked a thorn out of His brow on the cross. The other is that they have a reputation for being aggressive. You probably don’t know this if you don’t live in a country with robins. I was using it as part of an image in a poem alluding to the war in Ukraine when I realised it wasn’t going to work in America. This is a problem as most of the magazines for haibun are American.
It’s just one more thing to consider.
Their goldfinches are different too. It’s all very confusing.
Do you remember a few days ago when I said ” from today I am going to set targets and become a writing machine”. Well I did. I set up my poem factory and set to work. I also found a few places to make more submissions and decided to target haiku. As a result, I had an acceptance today.
It’s part of the power of positive thinking. I was going to get rid of some books last week. They are mainly old sales and marketing books passed on by my Dad, but with some motivational books too.. Many of them are actually still relevant as good sales technique and positive thinking never goes out of fashion. There’s no mystique about it despite all the stuff that’s written. To make sales you ask the decision-maker for the order. To achieve success through positive thinking you do something, and you do it now.
That’s what I did – I wrote poems, I showed them to an editor and one was selected.
No jargon, no mystique, no spirituality, despite the reams of rubbish written on the subject. Just plain common sense.
The poem factory is a similar no nonsense set-up. It is anathema to all the proper, spiritual poets out there. They believe (and this is particularly true with haiku) that you should experience “a moment” and compose the poem there and then. Good on them. I’ve done it sometimes, but it’s not common.
Poems which are stitched together from memory or manufactured from two moments or, heaven forbid, simply made up, are known. scornfully. as desk-ku. It’s becoming slightly more common to admit to them now, but there’s still some snobbery on the subject. Even the old masters did them, but the myth of the haiku moment persists.
Anyway, I write a list of ideas or prompts, or open up file of old photos, or even open a book of poetry and mine it for ideas. As T S Eliot said “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” I am, I feel, perfectly capable of taking an idea from a poem without copying the idea or the wording of the poem.
This is one I took from life, rather than nature.
I have dustier piles – trust me on this
a pile of books
the dust settles on my
(First Published in Failed Haiku – forgot the date.)
This one is from nature, and done in the moment, but it doesn’t really convey the misty morning and the salty wind as we walked and watched seals.
Sea Buckthorn. I promise you there were goldfinches too, but I couldn’t get a good shot.
calling from the sea buckthorn
(First Published in Presence 71)
This one was completely made up, but all the bits were true. Robins sing, blackthorn blooms early in the year and at the time, during Covid, we were forced to queue outside shops. I wrote it after queuing for a shop. I needed some props so I added the bird, the song and the blackthorn. Does it make me a bad man?
sings from the blackthorn —we queue for the shop
(First published Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021)
Robin – singing. OK, it’s in holly, but give me a break.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(Macbeth, William Shakespeare).
I may start stealing from Shakespeare next. Let’s face it, he stole all the time.
The good thing about one of the acceptances I had earlier in the month was the nine rejections. I think I’ve explained before that editors generally want a batch of ten tanka, and normally only select one. I have had more selected sometimes, but it always seems greedy when you are taking a space someone else would be happy to use. The nine returns were recycled – one being removed. Two were then added to the batch, which was sent out and, shortly after, provided the next acceptance (which was one of the ones that had been rejected by the previous editor). The second editor also named several they would like to see again in a few months if they are still available. They will be, because it seems good thing to do. That means I have to wite four more to add to the batch and it can be my next submission.
In a similar vein, I have just received news of a Haibun acceptance. It’s the third time this particular Haibun has been out and it’s another slow burner as it seems to have been round for years. I worked on it for about a year and kept it back for a competition entry. It disappeared without trace, as most of my competition entries do, but I sent it out a couple more times and it has found a home. Sorry if this makes it sound like an adorable homeless kitten, but I do get attached to some of my poems.
In the past i have managed to place poems which have been turned down by as many as four editors, sometimes without even making changes. Once I even had one accepted within days of it being returned. And, in case you should think I am boasting, sometimes I haven’t. Sometimes I’ve had something returned two or three times, lost faith in it and allowed it to fade away.
I’ve read blogs by other poets who say they had things accepted after a dozen refusals, or that they are still trying years after they wrote something. I don’t have that level of confidence or fortitude. Or, to be honest, organisation.
Meanwhile, the fruit pictures are part of our harvest. The plums are doing well, the blackberries ditto, and the tomatoes are just coming into their own. We really must get a greenhouse when we move. The figs are a gift – not sure about the variety, but they aren’t Brown Turkey like the last lot. They are very sweet and so ripe you can just suck the contents out. Photos are via Julia’s phone.