Saturday 29 February 2020

Ahead of my time? Or behind?

I came 2nd in my local writing club's competition last year, with a story 23 years old. This year I came 1st (£100) with a story 20 years old. I've entered newer stories in the past, with little success. Have I got worse as a writer over the years?

Clare Pollard in an article pointed out how an interest in translation can lead to escaping the limitation of local trends. She admits to admiring Somali poems "which can seem clumsy ... the politically charged rhetoric ... the seeming bagginess, the extreme alliteration, the shifts in address, the digressions" thinking that "they just use techniques which are currently deemed 'unfashionable' on Creative Writing courses."

Literature has its fashions. The "From Apocalypse to The Movement" module at Warwick looks at one lurch in style. Of course there are many parallel tracks of development happening at different speeds, but if you're the wrong type of writer for your era you'll be fighting against the tide.

Because culture isn't frozen in time, one option is to wait for it to change. I notice at local writing clubs that my conventions don't always match those of other members. Sometimes mine are more literary - in particular I puncture the sense of immersion - but often I'm just out of step. My guess is that the literary styles that I employed years ago are now becoming mainstream, and the styles I currently use were popular 20 years ago, and may well be so again.

The moral, as usual, is not to throw away old stuff, even if it's been rejected a few times. Old pieces may need tweaking though, especially if you're going to transplant them to the current era. Mobile phones in particular are plot-busters.

Sunday 23 February 2020

Free Verse 2020

The photos I take at Free Verse differ little from year to year. It's not all the same publishers. I didn't notice any trends, though maybe there are more books that are hand-crafted. If you've never been to this event you really should go - the small press world is buzzing. I bought the Flash issue of Lighthouse.

Each year after visiting Free Verse I try to vary the rest of the day. This year I visited the nearby Sir John Soanes house, then whizzed over to Freud's house, the Museum of Childhood, Foyles (which still has literary magazines), and the Wellcome collection. Freud's couch (and the couch where he died) are in the house. He didn't live there long, but his daughter Anna did. The shop's interesting too.

We've recently completed a 3D puzzle of London with over 1100 pieces. There's a hidden historical layer.

The Museum of Childhood had many toys that I had (a few are still in the loft), and many others I remember. They also had a big Rachel Whiteread piece called "Place (village)".

Recent story acceptances have got me in the mood for writing, and I managed to add 500 words to an meta-SF story while on the train. I also starting reading the 2019 edition of Best American Short Stories, which I bought in Foyles.

Monday 17 February 2020

Finding time

I have a full-time non-literary job - sometimes more than full time. I have a family. And I have other interests. I can't always find the time for reading let alone writing. It's a problem that many people have of course. Writing guides say that if you really want to write you can always find the time. But it's also true that if I really wanted to do the vacuum cleaning or get someone a birthday gift or proof-read a document at work I could find the time for that.

Larkin, who had a full-time job, claimed that he needed only an hour a day for writing. I'm not sure I believe him. Besides, it's not so much the amount of time but the clashes that matter. If I suddenly have an idea I'd like to develop, what can I do if guests are about to arrive, or a meeting's about to start? Plus my mental reserves aren't limitless. If I've been wracking my brains at work all day I don't feel like winding down by reading the small-print of submission guidelines. I'm not good at attending readings either. Others seem to have the freedom to dash around the country for launches etc. I have trouble turning up to local events, even when there's the lure of open-mic.

If I know in advance that I'm going to have some time free, I try to plan accordingly. Alas, more often than not my inspirational moods don't sync with the free time. The same usually goes for residential courses too.

Carrying a notepad around helps, as does being able to assemble fragments. Audio books might make me more efficient too. Just occasionally I can combine work and play. But mostly I cope by cutting corners, and doing nothing as well as I could have. I feel I've plateau'd in the things I've tried. There are no longer any quick wins - progress will require significant time investment. It's just the way things are. I've noticed already that I'm compensating by remembering past successes more than planning future ones - see my Illustrated CV. And unexpectedly I'm gaining pleasure from the successes of people I know.

Monday 10 February 2020

Poetry, Beauty and Truth

The beauty/truth debate is one I try not to get involved with because both the terms are slippery. I tend to be on the side of those - Bunting perhaps - who think that Truth, as normally understood isn't really what poetry's about. A truth may be most neatly expressed in poetry, but if it can only be expressed in poetry I think it's illusory.

Some articles

  • Truth and honesty in poetry (Chris Edgoose) - when something evoked in a poem strikes us as ‘true’, is it in fact not just highlighting a shared experience? We might argue that there is nothing universally ‘true’ about it at all, it’s more like a stand up comic pointing out something amusing that we both recognise
  • Some thoughts on ‘Truth’ in poetry (Roy Marshall) - If I read a poem I like, or love, I generally find myself recognising aspects of life as I’ve experienced it embodied in that poem; I feel ‘Yes, this is how it is, this is what we do, how we are with each other, this is how we feel and think and navigate joy and frustration and hate. This is true.’
    In order for this to work, for a poem to engage with emotion and experience in a way that I recognise, the language of the poem has to be working consistently towards telling that particular emotional truth ... None of this means that a poem needs to be realistic. ... For me, a poem needs to contain emotional truth. ... Perhaps I’m interested in poems as ‘empathy capsules’; little units of meaning that can generate an empathetic response in the reader.

Some quotes

  • "An artist's allegiance is to the truth, not the facts, and facts are often the things you have to change to make the poem more truthful", Don Paterson, "Smith: A Reader's Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy"
  • "What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth", Keats, letter to Benjamin Bailey
  • "["Beauty is truth, truth beauty"] strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem, and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it, or that it is a statement which is untrue. And I suppose that Keats meant something by it, however remote his truth and his beauty may have been from these words in ordinary use. ... The statement of Keats seems to me meaningless: or perhaps the fact that it is grammatically meaningless conceals another meaning from me", T.S. Eliot, "Dante", 1929
  • "Art arises out of our desire for both beauty and truth and our knowledge that they are not identical", Auden, "The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays", 1963, p.336.
  • "Every poem starts out as either true or beautiful. Then you try to make the true ones seem beautiful and the beautiful ones true", Larkin, "Larkin at 60", p.113.
  • "poetry is seeking to make not meaning but beauty", Basil Bunting, Stand V8.2, p.28
  • "From beauty no road leads to reality ... The power of beauty affects the naked being, as though he had never lived", Hannah Arendt, "Rahel Varnhagen", p.88-89
  • "Beauty reveals everything because it expresses nothing", Wilde
  • "although it is possible to reach what I have stated to be the first end of art, the representation of facts, without reaching the second, the representation of thoughts, yet it is altogether impossible to reach the second with having previously reached the first ... no artist can be graceful, imaginative, or original, unless he be truthful", Ruskin, "Modern Painters", Vol III, p.133-9
  • "Art is not truth. It is a lie that makes us realize truth", Braque
  • "In the traditional idea of form we naturally find beauty as the pacifying meeting between the visible and the true", F. Carmagnola, "Parentesi perdute", Guerrini & Associati, 1998, p.44 (my translation)
  • "We always take it for granted that all that is beautiful is art, and that all art is beautiful ... This identification of art with beauty is the root of all the difficulties of judgement", Herbert Read, "The Meaning of Art", 1955

Monday 3 February 2020

ACE – the next ten years

One way or another, many of us benefit from Arts Council England’s funding. The events we attend, the magazines we buy and the writers we meet receive funding. So I read with interest ACE’s recently launched consultation document.

They write that “By 2030 we anticipate that we will be investing in organisations and people that differ, in many cases, from those that we support today.” They aim to encourage “every one of us to express our creativity”, noting that “opportunities to experience culture and creativity often depend on background and postcode”.

Reading between the lines, my guess is that there’ll be more community-based art projects, more library based activities (using volunteers), and organisers will have to conduct more surveys to prove their commitment to diversity. Perhaps there'll be more tapestries of our house like this one - currently in our local library.

Their research noted that “that many creative practitioners and leaders of cultural organisations report a retreat from innovation, risk-taking and sustained talent development”. It isn't clear that this is being treated as a problem. As they point out, quality is difficult to access. Quantity isn’t though, and I’m sure they’ll be able to increase participation in the arts.