You may recall that a few months ago I had four successive rejections from editors. I’ve had a bit of rest since then, with just one magazine article published, but a couple of months ago decided it was time to have another go. Shortly after that, my father died. To be honest, I started to think how my eulogy would sound and I had to admit it would be pretty dull.
I’ve always been a fan of Gareth’s eulogy from Four Weddings and a Funeral, as read by John Hannah – “I rang a few people, to get a general picture of how Gareth was regarded by those who met him. ‘Fat’ seems to have been a word people most connected with him. ‘Terribly rude’ also rang a lot of bells.”
It fits, but I’d like people to remember me for more than being fat and rude, though they are two of my more defining characteristics, along with ‘untidy’.
The world of poetry is such that any idiot with a word processor and a vocabulary stands a chance of being published. In my previous incarnation as a poet I gained many of my publication credits by selecting magazines with low quality thresholds. After a couple of years I managed to get into a decent magazines and was highly commended in a national competition. Just as I thought I’d made it, I found myself short of time as the kids started to get better at sport.
As you know, I had a few haibun published last year and then faded a bit. I saw an edition of Grayson Perry’s Art Club during lockdown He said something about art being an activity where anybody could participate and there was nothing to stop you being a high achiever, or something like that. It made me think.
You need some talent to be an artist, or the ability to work hard if you want to write a book, but as I realised years ago, being a poet isn’t difficult. Being a good one might be tricky, but after reading some ‘good’ poetry I’m even dubious about that.
And so I started writing again.
I just had my first acceptance.
Typewriter and vocabulary, that’s all you need. And the brass neck to ignore rejection.
This post started life as an attempt at a longer haibun. If you read modern haibun they are very often just a few lines of prose followed by a haiku. It’s not how they used to be, when they were often used for travelogues. Indeed, only about fifteen years ago, haibun, as a form, was originally explained to me as an essay with two or three haiku.
I wrote one. Fourteen years later I wrote another one. It doesn’t do to rush these things.
Recently I felt like having a go at something a bit longer, and thought I might try an autobiography. It earned two rejections, one in its original form and one in a cut down version. To be honest I wasn’t keen on cutting it down, but if an editor suggests trimming the prose I’m going to trim.
The altered version didn’t meet with approval, so I added “loss of integrity” to the sting of double rejection.
I decided that I would use it as a blog post. I have removed the haiku as I can use them later if they are unpublished (and because I struggle to write acceptable haiku). Apart from that, I have just about left it alone – I say “just about” because who can resist the temptation to tinker?
When I posted it, I added the news about my father, which was new since I “finished” the original. Later, I realised I had put in nothing about my mother, so I’m back again (on 6th July) to add more. A poem is never actually finished, you just get to a point where you give up and let it go. I don’t often go back to them, but this one, being an autobiography, just keeps on going. I’m hoping there will be a lot more to add before I consider it finished.
Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks
I am sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, contemplating the neglected door of our coal shed, which now serves as a utility room. A thought enters my freewheeling mind. Could I write my autobiography in haibun form?
Year One – I remember nothing.
Year Two – same again.
This is not, I feel, a promising start.
Year Three – I acquire a dog and a baby sister. I prefer the dog as it is better at fetching sticks. In this golden age there are butterflies the size of my hand and only two sorts of weather – sunshine or snowball time. It is only with hindsight that I recognise it as a golden age.
Year Four – we move into town, the dog is hit by a car and my parents tell me they have arranged for him to live somewhere safe in the country. I start school – they teach me to read and insist I have a nap every afternoon.
Show me the boy, as they say, and I will show you the man – the reading habit is still with me and I still like a nap in the afternoon, despite complaints from my employer.
Year Five – I go fishing for sticklebacks in the canal. Nobody would let a five-year-old fish in a canal on his own these days. We have destroyed childhood as it used to be. It is, however, possible that we have prevented a few drownings and relieved the pressure on the stickleback population.
Some dogs, according to Disney, make their way back home from hundreds of miles away. Mine doesn’t. In fact, when we visit my uncle, where the dog is now living, he pretends not to know me. I like to think this was because of the head injury, but it might just be that he doesn’t like me.
Eventually I give up trying to teach my sister to fetch sticks and lose my interest in sticklebacks.
At the age of 11 I hit my academic peak, coming top of the class, and am given a book as a prize. I opt for a book on birds, an interest which is still with me.
The dog successfully avoids cars for another eighteen years and dies of old age.
Nothing much of note happens for the rest of my life. I find that sisters do have some redeeming features and are, in the end, better than dogs. I accumulate a wife, a family, and arthritis, which I have inherited from my mother. From my father I have inherited a tendency to offer unwanted advice to other road users.
My parents, after sixty years of marriage, get a telegram from the Queen and we have a party. Gradually, my mother fades away.
And so, fifty years after hitting my academic peak I am sitting in the garden thinking of writing an autobiography in haibun form.
I leave this haibun to mature. Six months later the world changes and I spend a my life in lockdown.
My father dies, and we are not allowed to sing at his funeral.
It’s strange, looking back, that the posts I’ve written don’t necessarily reflect the week as I remember it. You could be forgiven, after reading the posts, for thinking that I’ve had a week of isolation, food shortages and queues. I suppose I have, but it hasn’t seemed like that.
Despite everything, it’s not been a bad week. Having stocked up on Sunday, I have not had to worry about running short of food.
Whilst waiting for the pharmacy queue to go down we had a ride round and checked out some other queues for reference. I don’t actually remember the queues that well, what I remember is the flowers.
We have a dazzling display of dandelions in the local verges and a few wood celandines, clinging on under trees by the roadside. They seem to be Lesser Celandines when I check them up on the internet, a flower mentioned in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I have read the book many times but I’d never noticed that before. It is, I’m told, also known as pilewort as it can be used medically to treat haemorrhoids. The leaves are edible in spring and poisonous later in the year. This does not motivate me to sample its culinary uses.
The blossom is coming out too, and spring is well advanced. This is a double-edged sword – I like spring, but it seems to pass so quickly.
We now have a plan for work. I had a letter through the post this morning (I’d had it by email yesterday) detailing the way forward. I am now on official leave of absence and will be fully paid until further notice. At some point I may have to drop to 80% but even so, it’s a lot better than being jobless.
As a result I am still able to treat the lockdown as a bonus holiday, though I do feel a bit guilty about not going in to work.
The new edition of Medal News came out this week, with my article in it. As usual, I read it and thought “could do better”. I often do that with the blog when I look back on past posts, particularly when I see the typos I allow to slip through. Now that I have a few weeks of free time I must get down to planning some more articles. I’d like to think that it entertains and adds to the sum of human knowledge but really it’s just an ego trip.
It won’t make me rich or famous, but it’s nice to be able to tell people about it.
This is in contrast to the results of the National Poetry Competition. I don’t mind not winning, because it’s an unrealistic hope, but I do mind that the winning entry and several others are dreary, unpleasant things. They even have a content warning about them on the Poetry Society website.
To me, that’s wrong. If you honestly believe a poem is good and powerful, and worth the prize, you just print it. No apologies, no link to Samaritans, just print it.
If, on the other hand it’s simply miserable and fashionable, don’t print it. I suppose that makes me sound like a bit of a dinosaur, even a bit of a bitter dinosaur, and totally out of touch with modern poetry. Well, if that’s the case I won’t deny it.
And that is the real story of the week. Even a natural disaster can have a silver lining.
Despite all my moaning and mention of boredom I’m having a reasonable time at work and, let’s face it, the money is enjoyable. After 25 years of precarious self-employment I’m just starting to relax with the idea there will always be money at the end of the month.
Here are some of the things I’ve been working on recently.
The first one is a railway whistle – a traditional ACME Thunderer, as you can see, with the “LMS” stamp of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. It came to us with a number of other bits, including a pair of First World War Medals, a membership card for the LDV, which was the forerunner of the Home Guard, and a nasty looking bomb or shell splinter.
Home Guard Membership Card 1940
Medals, card and shell splinter
The whistle disappeared in the post and we were just getting ready to reimburse the customer when, according to a note he sent today, it appeared. It’s taken a month. Such is life on eBay.
Private Mobbs served in France at the end of the war and hasn’t left much trace of his military activities, but, despite being in a reserved occupation, he was prepared to give up his nights and days off to train with the Home Guard to defend the country all over again.
The next photographs show poppies on coins. The commemoration of the Great War is becoming increasingly mawkish as time goes on, and the recent centenary celebrations have made things worse. Everybody, it now seems, is an expert on the First World War, and everybody has an opinion. I have my own opinions about many of these opinions, but I’ll keep them to myself. All I’ll say is that Blackadder Goes Forthis a comedy, but many people treat it like a documentary.
Falklands Crown 2014
Falklands Crown 2014 mounted on postal cover
This is a crown issued by the Falkland Islands. The Falklands are not strangers to war, with a major naval engagement there in 1914, as well as the more modern war.
UK £5 2017
UK £5 2017
The second is issued by the UK, the first time (2017) that the UK has issued a commemorative of this type, though other Commonwealth countries have done so.
The story of then poppy as a remembrance of the Great War is an interesting one, and although we tend to think of it as a British thing, we owe it to an American academic called Moina Michael. She took the poppy on board and popularised it, and wrote a poem of her own in response to McRae’s famous In Flanders Fields.
They are poems of their time, and are probably not quite in line with modern taste, so the poem of the day is Larkin again, with MCMXIV.
I’ve not covered myself in glory today, as far as work is concerned. Starting with good intentions, I have fallen far short of my ambitions.
Dusk is falling now and I’m watching a documentary about the Durrell family.
I have been struggling to concentrate and have read a few poems from the new edition of Acumen, but little else. The magazine has just been turned down for Arts Council Funding and is starting to raise money for itself.
As someone who has struggled to raise funds for junior sport and people with learning difficulties I am in two minds. I do sympathise with the loss of funding, but I can’t help feeling that poetry isn’t quite as important as kids or people with disabilities.
Much of the day was taken up with a couple of Columbo episodes, including one where Dick van Dyke, in a beard borrowed from a Boer Farmer, performs a murder that could have been solved by a child who had once watched CSI. How times have changed…
Today’s plots revolved around things like telephone answering machines and altering the hands of clocks. There wasn’t a mobile phone in sight, and certainly no mention of DNA.
It was a refreshing change, but also slightly frustrating, as even I seem to know more about the forensics of gunshots than Columbo.
The coin in the featured image is a Dylan Thomas commemorative. I’ve mentioned poetry and I happen to have it stored where it’s available to the blog, so it’s vaguely suitable. Hopefully I’ll soon be back on track with computers, though I’ve made no progress yet.
It’s quite a good likeness, despite looking like he’s standing in a wind tunnel.
I have just finished eating a miserable, boring and tasteless meal. Low salt baked beans, low fat oven chips and cheap burgers. Even a large spoonful of chilli jam couldn’t bring it to life. This is, I suppose it’s the cost of being healthy.
Not for the first time, I have found myself pondering if life is worth the trouble if you have to extend it unnaturally by eating pap. In fact, after my last few weeks I’ve been asking myself the same question in general, regardless of the quality of my diet.
Even having another haibun published hasn’t cheered me up. Generally I like to mention my successes in posts, smile modestly and simper a bit whilst feeling mildly smug. This morning I just looked at it, saw all the imperfections and uttered a small sigh.
Click here if you want to read it. But don’t feel you have to, if you are here to hear me moaning about life just read on. For a good poem, click here.
I wonder if Dylan Thomas ever looked at his poems and uttered a small sigh.
Today’s annoyance in the shop was a gas man, who insisted on walking round the shop with a meter, checking for gas leaks. We don’t have any gas leaks. This may be because we don’t have any gas, but we had to have it done anyway in case they were leaking next door.
Tomorrow they will be digging up the road in front of the shop looking for a gas leak. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last time they dug the road up looking for a gas leak. It was about a month ago. There ought to be a rule that if they have to do the job twice they don’t get paid for the first one.
As if that wasn’t bad enough they have just started major gas works, with road closures, on our way to work. The signs say it will take six weeks. It didn’t cause too many problems this morning, but it’s school holidays so things are always easier on the roads. The real test will be in two weeks when the schools go back.
When you’re growing up your parents never tell you about days like this.
As usual, there is a queue at the cafe in Sainsbury’s at Arnold. The woman behind the counter is working hard but the system is against her. So is the customer she is serving, who can’t make his mind up.
I have two scones – one cheese, one fruit. Julia sticks with a single cheese scone. We select them, then we wait in line. They are small, neat and hexagonal.
Eventually I go to find a table because my knee is playing up.
The first two tables are too dirty to clean by wiping with a paper napkin. The third is passable, but dirty underneath. They have at least four staff and I’m not impressed. I think of writing a stiffly worded letter of complaint but it won’t do any good and the insincere reply will annoy me even more.
A dirty floor – Sainsbury’s, Arnold
The cheese scone feels hard as I slide the knife in. It is not a light and fluffy scone, though I had expected this from the small and regular shape.
There are specks of visible cheese, and it tastes good.
The fruit scone is moist inside, in a doughy way, rather than a good way. It still tastes good but looks strange in the camera viewfinder.
A slightly doughy fruit scone
At one time we would have ordered the cream tea but we are getting too old for all the sugar and fat.
It’s the 2nd of January today, and New Years Day seems to have slid by imperceptibly. I’m trying to decide on a new project, though I’m struggling at the moment. I may need to finish my other two projects first, and may even allow myself a rest.
For the moment, as I said yesterday, I’m going to write a few clerihews. They are short, the rhymes are simple and they don’t need to scan. They don’t need nature words either.
I’ve learnt a few things about such projects – one being that poetry requiring nature is probably best written in spring. There’s not much variety in autumn when all you get is leaves going brown, leaves falling off and leaves doing things on the floor. It’s worse in winter – you have twigs and frost. And, so far, we haven’t had much frost this year.
Another thing is not to see the 1st of January as a starting point for new projects. I’ve been conditioned into starting things on the first day of the year and I bought a diary, with the plan of writing something every day. With the posting and haiku challenges I’m struggling for time and inspiration. On the other hand, I don’t want to leave the first two weeks of the diary empty.
I’m not expecting too much from the rest of the day as Julia has plans and I’m taking Number One Son to the airport at 4.00 this afternoon, so I’m not going far.
I’m thinking of writing a poem about a man who becomes nothing more than a taxi-driver for his family.
Twenty six days into my hundred day blogging challenge and I fell asleep in front of the TV. That’s not unsual. Unfortunately Julia had gone to bed after a hard day in the Mencap Garden and I slept, undisturbed for several hours.
That took me through until the early hours on Saturday morning, missing my midnight deadline.
Ah well, it’s annoying but it’s a target rather than a deadline. Nothing bad will happen as a result of missing it and I will just potter on. The new target is to do 100 posts in 100 non-consecutive days. I’m on 32 posts in 25 days so far.
The challenge was about self-discipline and regularity and 25 consecutive days isn’t bad compared to the erratic posting I was managing. It may be a failure in terms of falling short of the target by 75 days, but it shows what can be done and, like all failures, is best seen as a foundation for future success.
This is a huge subject. I’ve seen adults paralysed by the idea of failure. I’m sure it prevents many people being happy and successful. All I do is smile sweetly, apologise and move on to Plan B.
As I may have said, the challenge doesn’t help with the quality of writing. It may help fluency and speed but I’m not sure it helps anything else. I really want to be a writer of posts on important, serious and thought-provoking issues. Instead I’m not sure what I really am, though current possibilities for subjects include waking up with a nosebleed, the poetry of Les Barker and curry for breakfast.
Which reminds me, I’m peckish and there’s a large pot of curry on the stove top.