Tag Archives: poetry

A Limerick for Lavinia

In a moment of optimism I said, a few days ago, that I would write a poem about Lavinia’s plague of voles. So I had a look at the rhyming dictionary and the list of poetic forms and, to be honest, recoiled in horror. I was thinking of including daffodils but several of the rhymes I was offered (Battle of Bunker Hill and oral contraceptive pill) betrayed a basic lack of understanding about the sort of poems that might include daffodils. Wordsworth never had these problems.

You may recall my discussion about krumholz as a rhyme for vole a couple of days ago.

Well, there is one poetic form I can think of that can accommodate all sorts of poetic horrors (no, not the clerihew, things aren’t that bad) – it’s the limerick – the world’s favourite poem.

An Oregon farmer named Ross
suffered fires, tempests and frost
plus a great plague of voles
all digging their holes
till the cats came to show them who’s boss

For other works in this series see here, here, here and here. And here. Oh, and here. I didn’t realise I’d done so many. I certainly didn’t realise that some of them were so excruciating. I may have to do a collected limericks post, and add some about Boris. I just need a rhyme for farce…

Just in case you get confused, there are two about the well known Mainer, to accommodate both ways of saying scone – the one that rhymes with gone, and the wrong one.

Insights into a Lack of Success

The odds of acceptance in one of the poetry magazines I submit to is, according to their submission guidelines, about 1%. Every year I send four in, and every year I get  four back. I do, however find it an uplifting experience as the editor is always very kind about my efforts, and does tend to reply quite quickly. In this case the quick replies are standard practice and I don’t take them to mean that they want my poetry off the premises asap. (I’ve just had another rejection, by the way, in case it wasn’t clear).

One percent is a very small target to aim for (though not as small as the chance of winning the lottery) and I wonder if I might be better increasing my odds of success by looking elsewhere. The trouble is that I quite like the magazine, even though it is a literary magazine rather than a poetry magazine. Half of the content goes straight over my head and is printed in space that should, in my view, be full of poetry.

It’s tricky, because I do think you ought, at my level, to subscribe to magazines if you want to be in them, so if I’m going to look elsewhere it involves more expense, or shifting allegiances.

By “my level” I mean someone submitting to three or four magazines once a year each. My conventional poetry output is much smaller than my haibun production, though I’m going to have to work a bit harder on it if I’m going to make the cut for next Poet Laureate. The current one only has nine years left and if I don’t get it then I’ll be 81 before I get another chance. By that time I probably won’t be bothered.

Anyway, as one door closes another door opens and this rejection gets me out of a hole. The four returned poems, with a couple of others I have hanging around, give me just enough for four to another magazine before their submission window closes and two to the National Poetry Competition. I keep saying I’m going to stop entering, but the lure of fame and fortune is too strong. Not that I’ll stand a chance if the current trend for nastiness continues. I was seriously thinking of writing a poem about dead puppies, just to see what happened.

I say “thinking”, but confess that I did actually make a start, so I can tell you what happened. Julia banned me from writing it. That, I think, is a convenient place to end.

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.

Writing and Inspiration (Part 2)

I write because I’m addicted. Deep down, I just can’t stop. In my teens I wanted to write as a career, to earn money and to attend literary lunches. I’m still not clear what a literary lunch is, but I knew that writers went to them.

That was as far as I got this morning, before being diverted from my course with some thoughts on junior match reports.

After trying novels I moved on to poetry, then back to novels. I did think about an autobiography but I didn’t really have enough material at the age of seventeen. After that I carried on writing endless first pages and throwing them away whilst reading books on how to write best sellers. Occasionally I had a go at magazine articles, and had a few accepted. I did wonder if I could become a freelance writer, but lack of a decent work ethic suggested it would be a disaster.

Eventually I had a proper go and tried for more fame and fortune with a detective novel. I say novel, what I really mean is “load of words”. It went to about 120,000 words but lacked a couple of things, including a decent plot, an ending and a lot of editing. So I tried again. Another 80,000 words, but still a lack of plot, ending and editing. At least I’d learned to keep the word count down.

After that I moved on to poetry for light relief. My father-in-law had started writing poetry in retirement and had several pieces published. He also performed some of his poems on stage, which is something I will never be brave enough to do. I decided to follow his example and had about fifteen published, was Highly Commended in a national competition, and even managed to get one poem in a decent quality magazine.

At that point I ended up in hospital a couple of times and, when I emerged,  started writing match reports (as previously mentioned) and programme notes. This was not the time in hospital I blogged about a few years ago, but the forerunner. It did, however, involve much the same procedure – spinal anaesthetic, small orifice, large camera and much whining. It also included two biopsies. The dissolving stitches on one of them dissolved far too soon and it took two hours to stop the bleeding. Ah, good times…

There were a couple of years where I did nothing, then I started the blog, went into hospital again and decided to have a crack at haibun. So far it seems to have worked out.

It’s not much for fifty years in writing. A handful of poems of various types published, a dozen magazine articles and a blog. I’m clearly not in it for the money, or even for the fame. To be honest, when the rejections start piling up I don’t even do it because I enjoy it.

One day I may write enough to think about a slim volume of poetry but I’m not, when I think about it, too worried. Once they are published I’m not too concerned. I like the idea of testing myself against the standards of editors, and showing off by blogging about it, but I’m not sure if a few poems justify cutting down acres of trees.

No, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I do it because I’m addicted. Or, if that isn’t possible, I am at least in the grip of a very strong habit.

How about you?

 

 

Some Haibun News

I’m using the header picture of the stones to warn you I’m going to be talking poetry, so continue with care if you are not the poetic type.

I submitted a couple of haibun to a magazine in the early hours of this morning, and just nine hours later I had the rejection. It was hardly a surprise. When I saw the answer was back so soon I realised it wasn’t going to be good news. Editors don’t generally rush to acceptance, they like to take their time. A case in point is a piece I currently have out – it took eight weeks to get a reply, which asked me to make alterations. I made the alterations and I’ve now been waiting nearly a month for a decision. Sometimes it’s hard not to be cynical.

Would I rather have an acceptance taking 12 weeks or a rejection taking just nine hours? It’s a tricky question. I don’t really like waiting 12 weeks, but I’m not keen on being rejected either. (I have to add that I’ve waited a lot longer than 12 weeks in the past, so it’s not a terrible length of time. However, haibun magazines in the 21st century seem to be able to get answers out a lot quicker these days).

I’m working on the netbook at the moment whilst watching Judge Dredd (the Stallone version, which I always enjoy) so I can’t access my list of submissions – I’ll report on the numbers later, but I’m in a bit of a slump at the moment.

It is therefore pleasant to tell you that The Haibun Journal is out. It’s a print publication from Ireland and much more relaxing to read than a web page. Of course, with postage costing a small fortune from the Republic of Ireland, it’s a lot more expensive than a web page, but you can’t have everything. I’m on page 59. Unfortunately I can’t provide a link, and it’s not really etiquette to reproduce haibun so soon after publication, so you’ll have to wait a bit.

I am in the magazine with three people who, in their editorial capacities, have recently rejected work from me. I can’t help feeling that there’s an element of irony in this.

And with that thought, I’m off. I clearly have to do more reading in my quest for the perfect haibun.

Update: This currently leaves me with 4 acceptances, six rejections and two still waiting – not as good as it was, but it could be a lot worse. Last year was five from eight and the year before that was about four from eight, but I didn’t keep a proper record. 

A Simple Man

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.

Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks

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.

The Week in Restrospect

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.

 

Never such innocence

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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 Forth is a comedy, but many people treat it like a documentary.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Poppies, Kids, Death and Zen

I deadheaded the poppies a couple of days ago. It seems to have paid dividends because this morning there were fifteen poppies in a spot where we had never had more than six.

I thought of stopping to take a photograph, but bit was raining, I was in my shirt sleeves and the flowers were not very impressive, being weighed down by water droplets.

It sounds artistic now, and I’m starting to regret not taking the picture, but it was cold and wet this morning and enthusiasm was not running high as I left for work.

By the time I returned they had all dropped. They do that. It’s very annoying.

For those of you who aren’t conversant with deadheading it’s a way of manipulating nature with just a pair of scissors.

Plants flower, set seed and then close down as their job of perpetuating the species is over.

If you cut the dead flower heads off before they set seed they have to keep flowering to fulfill their biological imperative. Tricky, isn’t it?

It’s a bit like kids. Once you have a couple you can stop. And you still end up dried out and dead, just like a flower in Autumn.

I have to go now, I’ve just started on a meaningful poetic thought and it needs nurturing. It starts with raindrops and ends with scattered petals, and has haiku written all over it.

Poppies growing from cracks in concrete

Poppies growing from cracks in concrete

I’m getting a lot of use out of very few poppy pictures. I’ll take some more pictures later in the week.