Tuesday 31 January 2023

Hardy Country

I visited Hardy's Wessex last weekend. His National Trust cottage wasn't open, but I managed to visit his Casterbridge (Dorchester) and some other locations.

Weymouth (Hardy's Budmouth). This is a Bathing Machine (a changing room that could be wheeled in and out of the water). There are many palm trees down there.

Puddletown (Hardy's Weatherbury)

Wareham isn't in Hardy's book, though it's on the Hardy Way. My father was born there. The Quay is the subject of more than one jigsaw.

Corfe Castle, on the Hardy Way, isn't in his books either. It's another popular jigsaw and photography subject. It's halfway between my father's birthplace and Swanage, my mother's. A car like the one in the jigsaw was parked down the road towards Swanage.

Swanage (Hardy's Knollsea). Here's a concrete pillbox, crab and lobster pots, and a folly from London. The ships that took Portland stone to London were ballasted with odds and ends for the return journey - bollards, etc.

The Globe, on the edge of Swanage. Sudan is huge.

Thursday 12 January 2023

Portsmouth Jigsaw

I'm into jigsaws, so I was pleased when I got a jigsaw of Portsmouth (where I was born) for Christmas. I left the place long ago. I don't recognise all the features on the jigsaw. Here are some that I do

Dickens' birthplace (my birthplace is only a few hundred metres away).

The school I attended for 7 years has changed its name to Portsmouth College from (elitist?) Southern Grammar School.

The Guildhall where I came 3rd in the UK U-18s chess championship

South Parade Pier, where I had a vacation cleaning job that I cycled 5 mile to, early in the mornings.

The Victory, which my father was responsible for. He was invited to a Buckingham Palace party.

The hospital where my father died.

Fratton Park - I went there just before Xmas. Two of my siblings are season-ticket holders

An end-of-the-beach snack bar which is open all winter. The jigsaw was bought there.

Saturday 7 January 2023

Origami and poetry

In "The Dark Horse" issue 46, Michael Longley says that this is one of his best poems -

Why shouldn't they make use of my failures,
Early versions, outlines, my granddaughters
Conjuring frogs and birds out of scrap paper
And laying my lost words on a swan's wing?

It's from his new book. The interviewer Matt Howard enjoyed it too. Longley goes on to say "as I've grown older, I think my sense of timing is better. I know that if I have to labour over a poem, it's not going to be any good" and agrees that "every mark on the page needs to be doing something of value in service of the poem." I note that

  • Origami is a familiar theme in poems - see for example allpoetry's origami page or "Reckless Paper Birds" by John McCullough. I wonder how original this poem is. I've used the making of paper planes in poetry and prose to indicate giving flight to failure or making light of sad things (bills, etc). A bin is the plane's most common destination.
  • Each line starts with an upper case letter. What are those marks on the page for? And what do the line-breaks do?
  • "they" in the first line turns out to be the granddaughters. Redundancy?
  • the "scrap paper" of line 3 is what's listed in line 2. Redundancy? HN pointed out that the girls just see the "scrap paper", not the poetry.
  • Why "early versions" (4 syllables!) rather than "drafts"? HN pointed out that versions, unlike drafts, can be valid and final.
  • Why "make use of" rather than "use"? Because there had to be 10 syllables per line? But why?
  • Sonically "lost" is useful (the "L" echoes the earlier "L", and "lost words" chimes with "swan's wing") but what does it mean?
  • Maybe the final line's an allusion or quotation - "laying words" sounds odd. You lay eggs or bricks. "layering words" would give the origami idea of folding and the idea of propagation.
  • Why "granddaughters" rather than "kids"? In the interview he says that the poem was inspired by his granddaughters' antics, but "granddaughters" is 3 syllables!

So playing devil's advocate, let's do some labouring and eliminate the putative redundancy, thereby removing nearly half(!) of the syllables -

Why shouldn't my kids conjure frogs and birds from my drafts, laying my lost words on a swan's wing?

How much worse is this version? Half as good?

  • If the original's bloat is only there for the sonics, I don't think it's worth keeping (though I'm rather cloth-eared)
  • In the original we might at first think "they" has a more general meaning - future generations, for example. And "my early versions" can be read as versions of himself rather than just poetry drafts. I think that's an interpretation worth preserving.
  • In the original, the line-breaks encourage the idea that "my granddaughters" belong to the list of failures, which seems odd.

The best version is somewhere between these two, I guess. Maybe he said it was a favourite to please his granddaughters.

Monday 2 January 2023

How many poems does a story cost?

Looking at my yearly stats, I can see that I write more poems when I write fewer flash pieces. And my stories often involve episodes (epiphany moments in particular) that might otherwise have become flash pieces.

Sometimes I look through my journals/notebooks to find fragments that will inspire me to write. More often I wait until 2 fragments link up. This inspires me to write a first draft. I then sweep through the fragments again, to find ways to bulk up the piece. Once I'm writing a short story it sucks in many little details and observations.

So I reckon that a flash piece costs a poem. A story costs at least 3 flashes or poems.