Saturday, May 19, 2012

A poem

This is the first poem I read and thought "this is my life".  I was in my early twenties. After that I thought poetry was pretty cool and set about writing some poems for myself. This one poem managed to alter my entires life's experience of poetry up to that point. Nightmares of learning lines by rote and being told what Yeat's meant when he wrote .... disappeared into the ether. It also helped that a woman wrote it. But more than that I understood it,  without help assitance or dictate. I saw myself, my own life, my own experiences and my world has never been the same since.

Casselden Road, nw 10

for Marya

The wind would fan the life-green fires that smouldered
under the lamps, and from the glistening road
draw out deep shades of rain, and we would hear
the beat of rain and darkened panes, the sound
of night and no one stirring but ourselves,
leaning still from the window. No one else
will remember this. No one else will remember.

Shadows of leaves like riders hurried by
upon the wall within. The street would fill
with phantasy, the night become
a river or an ocean where the tree
and silent lamp were sailing; the wind would fail
and sway towards the light. And no one else
will remember this. No one else will remember.

Denise Levertov (1923-1977)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reflections on a creative journey

My piece for the Italian festival website and blog (also with translation!)

It is the kind of thing that’s hard to explain; the curve of a lover’s body, the shape of a line on the page, the route of the path the word travelled on, the shape of my own life because of it.
It is as difficult to find the moments of peace to sit down and write as it is to put the actual word on the page. And yet without that moment, or the search for it, there is no peace.
These are some of the things that made me stay at the inn for too long – a destructive relationship, an unshakeable lack of believe, rejection upon rejection upon rejection, work, laziness, the fear of never being the kind of writer I dream of being, life.
And what is that intangible thing that makes you put one foot in front of the other?
The whiteness is as vast as any black hole or galaxy. It is the shapeless mould of my dreams.
But it is as much about what goes unsaid as what is said. As the words etch
themselves out into the white space that surround them it is the shape they make, that they themselves create, that is the journey.
The initial idea is revealed. Then it must be chipped away until a smoother shape starts to appear. The shape of a poem on the page or a character’s memories must then be carved, sanded and polished until finally there is nothing else that can be done and it must be left where you found it.
Practice (n) the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it, regular exercise of an activity or skill is the way to become proficient in it.
Then there is the inevitable disappointment that whatever has been written doesn’t quite capture what you meant to say.
It’s so easy to see just how insufficient language really is. And so you start again because this will be the one. The next one will definitely be the one.
Riflessioni su un viaggio
(traduzione di Barbara Gozzi e Federica Sgaggio)
È il genere di cosa difficile da spiegare; la curva del corpo di un amante, la forma di una linea sulla pagina, l’itinerario del percorso che la parola ha attraversato, e, di conseguenza, la forma della mia vita.
Trovare i momenti di pace per sedersi ha scrivere è difficile quanto l’atto effettivo del mettere le parole sulla pagina. Eppure, senza quel momento, o senza la ricerca di quel momento, non c’è pace.
Queste sono alcune delle cose che mi hanno fatto rimanere al coperto per troppo tempo – una relazione distruttiva, un’irriducibile mancanza di fiducia, un rifiuto dopo l’altro, il lavoro, la pigrizia, la paura di non arrivare mai a essere il tipo di scrittrice che sogno di essere, la vita.
E qual è quella sostanza immateriale che ti fa mettere un piede davanti all’altro?
Il biancore è grande come qualunque buco nero, come qualunque galassia. È lo stampo informe dei miei sogni.
Ma si tratta tanto di ciò che viene taciuto quanto di ciò che si dice. Poiché le parole si incidono nello spazio bianco che le circonda, si tratta della forma che esse creano, della forma che le parole si creano da sole: il viaggio è questo.
L’idea iniziale è una rivelazione. Poi deve essere frantumata fino a quando non comincia a rendersi evidente una forma più arrotondata. La forma di un poema sulla pagina o i ricordi di un personaggio devono a quel punto essere scolpiti, levigati e lucidati finché, alla fine, non c’è nient’altro che possa essere fatto, e tutto dev’essere lasciato dove l’hai trovato.
Pratica (sostantivo): l’applicazione fattuale o l’uso di un’idea, una convinzione, o di un metodo, in contrapposizione alle teorie che la riguardano; l’esercizio abituale di un’attività o di una capacità è il metodo per diventare esperto in quella pratica.
Poi c’è l’inevitabile delusione per il fatto che qualunque sia la cosa che è stata scritta, essa non riesce a esprimere esattamente quello che intendevi dire.
È così facile rendersi conto di quanto il liguaggio sia effettivamente insufficiente. E così si comincia daccapo, perché questo sarà quello giusto. Il prossimo, assolutamente, sarà quello giusto.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

flash fiction : getting it right.

taken from the guardian

Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction 16 May is the first ever day celebrating the art of micro-fiction. But what are the pros and cons of ultra short stories – and what's the secret of writing them? Follow David Gaffney's tips.
It's National Flash Fiction Day on Wednesday – the first one ever – and it's an exciting day for me and many others who specialise in this particular truncated form of prose. A few years ago, I published a book of flash fiction called Sawn-off Tales. But until only a little while before that, I hadn't heard of flash fiction or micro-fiction or sudden fiction or short-short stories. Then, on poet Ian McMillan's recommendation, I parcelled up a manuscript made up entirely of this stuff and sent it to Salt Publishing, a poetry specialist. Fifty-eight stories, each exactly 150 words long. The odds were entirely against me. No one wants to publish short stories, least of all by an unknown. And stories that took less time to read than to suppress a sneeze? I was chancing it, I knew.

I began to produce these ultra-short stories – sawn-off tales, as I call them – when I was commuting from Manchester to Liverpool: a 50-minute journey, often elongated by windscreen-wiper failure, fights on the train, or getting stuck behind the "stopper". But I had a book, as did most passengers. One day while ruminating on the number of train journeys it took to read a novel, I began to wonder how long it would take to write one. I decided on 500 words a trip – there and back was 1,000 words a day – taking just four months to reach a respectable novel length of 80,000 words.

So the next day I boarded the 8.12am at Manchester Piccadilly, rushed for a table seat, and, instead of whipping out my paperback, set up my laptop and began tapping away. But after a couple of weeks it was clear that the novel wasn't working. What I'd produced was a set of separate stories each around a 1,000 words long.

I was about to ditch the idea when I heard about a new website called the Phone Book, which needed 150-word stories to send out as text messages. All that was needed was a bit of editing. Initially, as I hacked away at my over-stuffed paragraphs, watching the sentences I once loved hit the floor, I worried. It felt destructive, wielding the axe to my carefully sculpted texts; like demolishing a building from the inside, without it falling down on top of you. Yet the results surprised me. The story could live much more cheaply than I'd realised, with little deterioration in lifestyle. Sure, it had been severely downsized, but it was all the better for it. There was more room to think, more space for the original idea to resonate, fewer unnecessary words to wade through. The story had become a nimble, nippy little thing that could turn on a sixpence and accelerate quickly away. And any tendencies to go all purple – if it sounds like writing, rewrite it, as Elmore Leonard said – were almost completely eliminated. Adjectives were anthrax.

It worked. By the time I got to Birchwood I had it down to 500 words, by Warrington to 300, at Widnes 200 and as the train drew in to Liverpool Lime Street there it was – 150 words, half a page of story; with a beginning, a middle and an end, with character development and descriptions, everything contained in a Polly Pocket world.

These stories, small as they were, had a huge appetite; little fat monsters that gobbled up ideas like chicken nuggets. The habit of reducing text could get out of hand too; I once took away the last two sentences of a story and realised I had reduced it to a blank page.

Luckily the Phone Book liked my stories and published them, and I continued to churn them out each day on the train, while the train guard announced the delays, the tea trolley rolled past, and a succession of passengers sat next to me, reading over my shoulder.

A week after sending the manuscript to Salt Publishing I got a call from Jen, their editor. They wanted to publish it, and quickly. All I needed was a quote for the cover, a photo for the sleeve, and we were off.

I don't commute that route any longer – my new job covers the whole north west of England involving train trips to Blackpool, Lancaster, east Lancashire, west Cumbria and Cheshire, so my stories have grown quite a bit longer. But last time I was on a train to Lime Street the guard's identity badge took me right back – because that's where I got the names for all of my characters.

How to write flash fiction

1. Start in the middle.
You don't have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don't use too many characters.
You won't have time to describe your characters when you're writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.

3. Make sure the ending isn't at the end.
In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you're not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or "pull back to reveal" endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.

4. Sweat your title.
Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell.
The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you've been run over by a lorry full of fridges.

6. Write long, then go short.
Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn't sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

Off you go!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Better late than never .... Cuba 01/12

Hotel National, Havana






Jose Marti Memorial, Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba



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