Tag Archives: learning

Me and Roger McGough

I’ll go back a couple of days for this one.  I had an email yesterday. As is customary I have had three haibun rejected by the editor who always rejects me.  He thinks there were some interesting points but they aren’t quite there yet. He has been thinking that for around two years. I have submitted to him half a dozen times and have failed to find favour every time.  Two years of being “not quite there yet” seems like a long time – in that time I have had haibun published in six other journals.

I don’t mean I should be accepted very time I submit, or that the rejecting editor is wrong. Even the magazines that generally accept me don’t do so without the odd rejection, and once in a while I get a hard time from one of the editors demanding changes I don’t always want to make. When that happens, I get annoyed with myself for not writing to a high enough standard. That’s not difficult to cope with.

However, when you are consistently turned down by one editor you reach a point when you have to wonder if it’s worth the effort, and whether he is looking for something I can’t produce.  I’ll probably try a few more times, because each rejection is one more for the year’s list. I’m supposed to be aiming for 100 rejections and have only made 22 submissions so far this year. I’ve been a bit lazy recently, so need to up my game. It doesn’t do me any harm to get a few rejections because it does make me sharpen up, the only proviso is that I want to send stuff out that has a chance of success, and that takes time. Recently it has been taking longer than usual.

Anyway, that’s a rejection, and the lessons to be learned from it. I will now go back by another day.

My copy of Acumen arrived. I has two of my poems in it. They were shortlisted in February and accepted in March, so it’s been a while. I have become so used to the rapid internet world of most haibun magazines that this seems a long time. It’s the 100th edition and is bigger than usual, and is very glossy. To say I was pleased with myself would be an understatement.

When I opened it I found there were quite a few famous poets in there, Mimi Khalvati was on the opening page and Roger McGough was about half-way through. I’m right at the back, but it doesn’t matter, I’m still in a magazine with some famous poets. I’ve been in magazines with some notable haibun writers too, but none of them as famous as Roger McGough.

It took a while for me to calm down after that, which is why the Saturday rejection bounced off me, and why I’ve had to wait until now to write about it. It’s probably very un-Zen to be too excited about this sort of thing, so I also had to watch out I didn’t upset any passing haiku practitioners with my unseemly showing off.

Reading, writing, wittering on…

This is a post I wrote this morning. I arrived at work slightly earlier than usual and found there were only two parcels to pack, so that was soon done. I don’t access WP from the work computer, as I don’t want to blur too many lines, but I do sometimes check my emails, so I emailed this to myself.

After posting last night, I spent some time looking at poetry to see what I could do to improve. First stop was  a magazine that usually rejects my work. The editor does give me advice from time to time, which only increases my confusion. I don’t always understand what they say to me, and I definitely don’t understand why things identified as faults in my work are acceptable in the work of others. I found several examples and spent half an hour studying them for clues as to what makes them publishable when I am not. I looked at all sorts of things apart from the writing and the content, including subject, voice and style, and I couldn’t se what the successful pieces had that I didn’t. I’ll have a go in a few months and see what I can see.

Better informed, but mystified, I moved on. If I keep seeking, I am sure I will find something to explain it, and even if I don’t , I am bound to learn something and improve, simply by looking at things in greater detail.

It’s that pond again. The haibun that it inspired was eventually split in two. One half was published. The second half formed the basis of another haibun I am still working on.

I found two by someone from the UK and decided to look him up. I do that sometimes. He writes in several forms and has published nearly a thousand pieces in 20 years. He belongs to two writers’ groups, reads in public and plans all his poems out. I’m already sensing several differences in our approach. I don’t like the idea of writers’ groups, don’t like speaking in public, and although I do think of planning I rarely do any. I say “rarely” but if you were to pin me down on detail, I may alter that to never. But I do sometimes thing of planning, which is nearly the same. However, despite the differences there is one similarity – we keep writing, learning and submitting.

My normal planning process is to think “I’m going to write something.” I may have to look at that again.

At that point, or some defined point in the future (generally after eating or watching TV) I write. Then I write some more and try to add something at the beginning that is also mentioned at the end. If you do that it looks like you had a plan. Then I take all the bad words out – long words because they are just showing off, adjectives because they are frowned on in poetry, and clichés – shards is one of the main ones that people go on about but myriads, hosts and cerulean are also unwelcome.

Then I leave it to rest. Some of my published work has been resting for a couple of years, with a gentle nudge and a prune now and again. Sometimes I add a bit, but mostly it’s a process of reduction. Then one day I send it out into the world. It often returns. So I cut, shape and send it out again. If it comes back too many times, I think about reusing bits of it.

It’s sometimes difficult to judge. Some poems go out four or five times and are eventually accepted. Others go once or twice and get parked. It all depends on how much confidence I have in them. One went out five times before being accepted, another was accepted on its fourth attempt (four days after being rejected by another magazine).  As Chuck Berry said ” It goes to show you can never can tell.”

An attempt at artistry

 

Always Something New to Learn

I have always been of the opinion that it should be possible to refer to a decade – 1960s or ’60s for instance – without the use of an apostrophe between the number and the s. It is something that seems to have crept in over the years and I notice that spellcheckers sometimes pick out the non-apostrophe version as incorrect.

The shop owner always uses 1960’s and I have always written it 1960s, assuming that I am once again out of step with modern thinking. However, I’m just finishing an article and I thought I’d better check a few things. As it’s for a numismatic journal I downloaded the Guidelines for the British Numismatic Society. I was happy to find that they say “The apostrophe is not used in dates or in the plural of abbreviations ‘the 1960s’, rather than ‘the 1960’s’.”

I didn’t really learn this, I suppose, as I already knew it, but it’s nice to confirm it. It also reminds me, when looking into the background, that I have grown sloppy at the other end as I always forget to add the  apostrophe at the beginning of the shortened form – ’60s. All this is, of course, just a prelude to the subject of possessives. How about ’60’s music? I thought about putting that in quotes, but I fear my head might explode. You can see why style guides advocate recasting sentences to avoid situations of confusion. So, “music of the 1960s” it is then. I often do that when working round constructions I’m not confident with, and am happy to see that serious style guides suggest it.

 

Thoughts on Rejection

I’ve had five rejections in the last month and have had several different reactions.

A feeling of being rejected was, strangely, not one of the reactions. A rejection, in this sense, is only the expression of one editor’s view on that particular day.

One of them was quite interesting, as it involved haiku. I don’t usually write them, despite them being an essential part of a haibun, and it’s something I should do more often. I’m resigned to them being rejected but every so often I submit some anyway to see what people think.

My most recent attempts bounced back with the news that only a third of submissions had any success, and telling me which two had been considered the strongest candidates. I don’t feel too bad about rejection when I know two out of three are rejected.

Two submissions bounced back within days, which I always take as a sign they weren’t even close. There’s not much you can say about that. I probably should learn to be more analytical and to send things that match the content of the magazine. I can do that in one case.

The other case was a guest editor, and it’s slightly more difficult to guess what they want, particularly when they don’t give you a clue. It can, of course, be tricky working out what they want when they do give you a clue. They told me they weren’t a good fit for that issue. I am as wise after reading that comment a dozen times as I was before I read it the first time.

I suppose it’s difficult finding ways to reject people without insulting them or giving them something to argue about.

One of the other submissions was returned with no further information. That was fair, as the submissions weren’t particularly good. It was another guest editor job and I’d sent two pieces which weren’t really finished because I thought they matched the style of the guest editor, an error I won’t make again. I hate being made to look unprofessional, even if I do it to myself.

The final one was returned with the observation that the haiku didn’t add depth to the prose as they were too similar. That’s a comment I’ve had before.

The other comment I have had before is that the haiku don’t harmonise with the prose and therefore fail to add depth.

It’s very difficult knowing what to do. Are your haiku too similar or too dissimilar? And will they be the same tomorrow? Maybe I just suffer from shallow haiku. It just occurred to me that my fascination for improper acronyms could have a field day with Shallow Haiku. As they generally come at the end, I could say that the trouble with my haibun is that they are Shallow Haiku in Termination.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Only one day after saying I was waiting impatiently for news from two editors, one got back to me.

Not only did they get back to me, but they told me they were going to pass on the haibun which, it seems, lack depth, as the haiku fail to take the reader on a step beyond the prose.

This is slightly depressing as I was just beginning to think I was getting the hang of things. About a year ago I had several haibun returned as the haiku were felt to be a step to far away from the prose and were not related enough.

Rejection I can cope with. It is, as I recently said, simply an indication that one particular editor, at this time, doesn’t think that the work is right for publication. It isn’t personal and it isn’t necessarily an opinion shared by other editors.

What does concern me a little with this rejection is that the specific objection is one that I thought I’d addressed. It’s not about my ability to write, it’s about my judgement of what is good and what is bad. I actually thought I was getting better and was moderately happy with them. (I am never fully happy with any submissions, even when they are published, I even went over yesterdays Limmerbun to alter a line this afternoon).

I have just been and looked at about twenty haibun in a couple of magazines. About a third of them had haiku attached which were stronger than mine. Another third featured haiku much the same as mine. The final third featured haiku which bore little relationship to anything that had gone on in the prose – my previous problem. This, of course, is just my opinion, and as we have just seen, my opinion may not be correct. I would however suggest that on another day, with another editor and a different magazine, these haibun could have been accepted,

This all goes to show that there is no good and bad in haibun, just things that gain approval and things that don’t. Today, I didn’t. Watch, learn, move on. I will tweak them over the next few days. It’s not so much improving them as moving them more into the area where they are likely to be accepted for publication. Or does that sound too cynical?

I will leave you with these wise words from one of our great, but unappreciated, philosophers.

“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 

 

Why Bother Blogging? (Part 2)

Joking aside, (and I wasn’t entirely joking about my desire for fame and fortune), I needed the writing practice. My writing had come to a halt and my brief career as a poet had fizzled out. It wasn’t a concious decision, I had about a dozen poems published, I was just getting into a better class of magazine when I let it all go. It was a combination of children and poverty, as I recall. There just wasn’t enough time for everything and I spent the next eight years writing match reports for various junior rugby teams and hiring myself out as a jobbing gardener.

Then, while I was working on the farm with Julia and the Quercus group I decided it was time to start writing again. The blog was my first step back into regular writing. After two thousand posts and establishing a habit which I am seemingly unable to break, I think it’s safe to say I write regularly.

I also like the company. I know it’s only virtual company but that’s good enough for me. WordPress friends are better than flesh and blood friends as they don’t disturb you in the middle of doing things and they don’t come round and eat your biscuits.  They also let you blether on without telling you to shut up. This is a model of behaviour that Julia could do with adopting. In WP there is also a touch of the feeling you get when you look into people’s back gardens from the train. (Or is that just me?) I’m curious to the point of being nosey.

The other thing with WP friends is that I was till able to visit during lockdown.

Apart from a disturbance in my shopping habits, and a morbid fear of sniffling strangers, I hardly noticed any difference between lockdown and my normal life,  This, I feel, says nothing good about my normal life.

Blogging is also a reason to get up in the morning, go out, observe things and set targets. You can say this about many forms of writing, but if I hadn’t started blogging there’s a chance I wouldn’t be doing any other writing. It’s a chilling thought.

I wouldn’t be doing any photography either, because I started that to add photographs to the blog.

You frequently see people making the same point about writing haiku, and it’s true. If you are going to write a lot of Japanese style poetry of any type you need to keep looking out for details.

If you get into the habit of observing it becomes easier to see things and, this gives you more to write about so it’s a sort of virtuous circle. (Julia saw a weasel today in the Mencap Garden. A real one, that is, not a jumped up school caretaker or a cowardly manager. It must be hard being an animal when your name is used as a term of abuse.

It’s particularly hard on weasels, who are quite affable, and don’t really deserve the opprobrium they get. When you think of the personal habits of the stoat, it’s the stoat that should be the term of abuse. The word itself sounds more like a snarled insult too. Weasel is a bit of a woolly word.

You also learn a lot from blogging – particularly as you browse Wikipedia looking for links for the blog.

I’m sure it does other things too, like keeping my fingers flexible but I’m starting to tire now and it’s time to go and read my new book. It’s a Kindle book about how to be an autodidact, and before anyone asks, yes, it’s a Teach Yourself book…

I’m going to use the penny picture again to tie this to the Part 1 post. I’m not sure if I’ll use any others as it’s too much of a faff on the old editor.

 

A Little Learning

After a day of dragging a collection of aching joints around I finally surrendered at 5pm last night and went to bed. Julia returned home from work, administered tea and hot cross buns (yes, it’s that time of year again) and left me to recover in my own time.

She applied fish and chips later in the evening with tea and sympathy and the threatened flu never materialised. That might have been because I averted illness with a well-timed nap and application of carbohydrates. Or it may have I was merely cold, short of sleep and getting old.

Today, I find myself quite perky and have returned to blogging.

We had no internet at work today. When we rang the company they said they knew about it and were working on fixing the problem. They carried on working to fix the problem for another five hours. WE couldn’t put anything on eBay, we couldn’t answer emails, we couldn’t even Google things that cropped up in conversation. We did manage to send some parcels after accessing the internet via the boss’s phone but it is not the same as sitting at a screen.

In 1973 we celebrated EU membership

In 1973 we celebrated EU membership

We had to send two people across the road to use the cash machine because we couldn’t take card payments without access to the internet. They both came back, which was good, because sometimes they just drift off and don’t come back. Fortunately our only telephone buyer of the day rang five minutes after the connection was restored.

At least all this gave me time to polish the counters and clean the work surfaces in the kitchen. I also cleaned about 1,200 photos off my memory card. I tend to leave them there, even though I won’t need them again. I really should start behaving in a more responsible manner with my stored photos.

So, there we go.

Today’s learning outcomes are that I now realise how much we rely on the internet and that I must spend more time organising my photographs and sleeping. But mainly I learnt how much more I have to learn. After a day with plenty of time to think, I realised there’s a lot of stuff out there that I still don’t know.

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Snowdrops

Another 100 Day Challenge – Haiku

It’s Day 100 of the Haiku Challenge.

I now have over 1,000 haiku of indeterminate quality. Some of them aren’t haiku, some are senyru. Some are more like fragments, or notes. And many of them are merely bad.

Having taken all that into consideration, was it worth it?

Undoubtedly. I’ve learned a lot from the experience, including that in any 100 day challenge you are going to come to hate what you are doing. Whether this holds true for my new challenge remains to be seen.

I first came up with the idea from reading this this post whilst browsing the net for haiku-related posts. I then moved on to reading this article, which is a lot more ambitious.

My “rules”, garnered from the article, were simple. Ten haiku a day for 100 days, avoiding too much censorship and writing extra to catch up if I couldn’t manage ten one day. As the article admitted that experienced writers were only getting one good haiku out of ten or twenty attempts I felt justified in taking a laid back attitude.

So, what did I learn?

Well, I became more fluent in my writing and found ideas came more easily.

I became addicted to writing and couldn’t rest if I didn’t write at least ten a day. Apart from the days I needed a rest, because there were several days where I hated haiku so badly that I couldn’t write one. That did happen a couple of times, but I soon got over it after a day off.

I also ran out of nature several times. Despite becoming more observant and making better notes as time went on, I found I was struggling with enough nature observations to keep myself going. You don’t see much nature when you are just driving through town to work and back, and magpies and bare branches are simply not enough to feed a heavy haiku habit.

Towards the end of the time I noticed I was writing three line poems with the rhythms and vocabulary of haiku.

That last point is quite important. I started with a lot of long words and details which aren’t really needed in haiku. A three syllable word in a haiku, remember, is three thirteenths of the syllables needed for a modern haiku (seventeen is now considered old-fashioned). Three thirteenths of a sonnet is near enough three lines, so you can see how condensed a haiku is, and why you can’t waste a single syllable.

That was probably the most important thing I learned.

Now, it’s time to take Number Two Son to work.

Over the next few weeks I will do some rewriting and may show you a few poems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 100!

Finally – day 100 in the posting challenge!

(Well, really day 99 out of 100, but as I’ve averaged over a post a day I’m allowing myself to claim it as completed.)

I’m treating it in a suitably low-key sort of way and celebrated by having a tooth extracted. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but it could have been worse. Next time I have a celebration I may stick with the traditional cake-based version.

They gave me a form to fill in afterwards, asking how likely I was to recommend them to a family member. It’s difficult to give a useful answer to that, as I’m not likely to recommend that any member of my family spends half an hour in the dentist’s chair with pliers and power tools in their mouth.

So, what have I learned from my 100 days of posting?

Tricky…

I’ve learned that it’s possible to run out of things to say, and that photos of flowers and cute animals are an acceptable substitute. I’ve also learned that you can grow to hate blogging at times, and that setting a target makes you more likely to do things.

However, I knew that.

I suppose the main thing I’ve learned is that it is possible to set myself a long-term writing target and stick to it. That’s not always been the case in the past.

I also need to list subjects for posts and write some in advance.

That, I think, is about it.

Now, what should I do tomorrow?

Haiku Challenge – Day 79 – Just 3 Weeks Left!

I’ve been plugging away at it for 79 days now, and have written well over 800 haiku, spread between three notebooks – upstairs, downstairs and in the car. You can’t afford to waste inspiration, and I’ve often done the daily ten whilst waiting in the car for Julia.

As a result I swear my brain is getting bigger and I’m beginning to resemble the Mekon.

Image result for mekon

(Image purloined from http://www.dandare.org.uk)

Well, not in all respects, I’m not clean-shaven and I don’t sit in a levitating lifeboat. I will probably have to start eating fish to power all this extra grey matter.

In terms of enthusiasm I’ve moved from being happy with my newly developed facility for haiku writing, to being addicted, to hating them and back to happiness.

In terms of quality, I’m embarrassed to admit that 775 of the 800 I’ve written are not very good. On the other hand, the remaining 25 are better than anything I’d written before I started the challenge, so it has done some good.

There is an editor on one of the magazine websites who is very critical of people who write haiku in “industrial quantities”. That’s me he’s talking about. At one time I was depressed at the thought, but now I’m happy with it, as I have definitely improved despite my “industrial” approach.

It’s hurt at times but I think the learning has been good for me in the end. I got myself back into writing by buying a diary and writing something every day for a year (which I nearly accomplished) but the high intensity of ten a day for 100 days is a much more intense learning experience.

Of course, telling people about it to ensure it happened was a good idea, as I’d have given up weeks ago if it wasn’t for that.

I’d also make sure there was plenty of nature to see – 100 haiku featuring fallen or brown leaves can be a bit wearing. If I ever do this again I’ll choose a different time of year and do more walking.

The other thing I would suggest is that you should keep your haiku properly filed or indexed. I have 800 free range haiku and no prospect of ever getting them sorted.

That’s it for now – the next news on this will be in 21 days.