Note Number 80. . .Writing Buddies. . .

criticism

I wanted to share the fact that having friends who write and who can give constructive criticism of your own work, are the best of all friends. When I first began my MA in Creative Writing, not only was I rubbish at giving feedback, I wasn’t very good at taking it. The latter still applies (sometimes) as it is not easy to be told something is lacking in your work.

A couple of weeks ago, in a general Teams chat, I was given a bit of a slap from a tutor. He told me that he thought my poem, ‘lacked articles and personal pronouns,’  was, ‘amateurish’ and ‘could have been written by an undergraduate.’ To his credit, he was at pains to tell me he knew nothing about poetry, (why bother to comment you  might ask?) As you can imagine I was hurt. I turned to my friends, who were supportive with encouraging comments. They liked my poem and maybe just a couple of changes would make it even better.  I then turned to my poetry tutor who, without telling me the poem was amazing or crap, gave me some sound advice and I quote:

I wouldn’t worry too much about what you might perceive as negative criticism. It is always tough to take, but nearly always has something of use you can take from it. I learned years ago to wait until my emotional reaction to criticism had died down before using it to improve my work. In the end, people may have different qualifications to critique, but everyone’s opinion has some merit.”

I think I’m going to print this out and frame it.

Back to writing buddies. Too many of them, and you become confused. You need just enough to give varied, subjective opinions. Listen to everything all of them have to say, and if there are similarities in their comments then those are the ones of which to take note. I have settled on around six friends whose work I respect and consequently I respect their opinions.

writing buddies

 

Note Number 79. . . Reading, Writing,Watching. . .

Closeup of Workspace with Modern Creative Laptop, Cup of Coffee

My everyday: pencil, computer, notebook, textbook. 

Just keeping up with everything really. Still slogging away my dissertation work. I’m creating a portfolio of poems based on dance and I am writing an essay entitled, Stress Behind the Creative Arts of Poetry and Dance — this may change as I read and research but you get the idea?

 

yuli 2

Last week The Man and I watched the film Yuli, the rags to riches story of Carlos Acosta. It’s directed by Icíar Bollaín and the screenplay written by Paul Laverty — a magnificent team.  Even though it’s about ballet it’s a film that anyone could enjoy (The Man did, and he’s not a ballet fan). You can watch the trailer here

No Way Home

I had bought the book, No Way Home, on which the film is based, and settled down to read it the day after watching the film. The book provides far more insight into Carlos Acosta’s personal journey, and sticks more to the facts than the film. It has given me a wealth of material to use in my essay. Of course I will have to be careful it doesn’t turn into an essay just about Carlos. The book was the twentieth book that I have read since January this year — not including text books and poetry books. I have found reading during Lockdown easy, although I know some people have been unable to concentrate. What has helped you pass the time while being stuck at home?

I’ve also been keeping a journal during lockdown, paying particular reference to the stress of creating poetry. Luckily for me, so far, I haven’t found the process too traumatic but perhaps you should ask The Man what he thinks!

Also for research, I am reading Poets on Prozac written by Richard M Berlin. It’s a collection of essays by poets who suffer from mental health problems and have had counselling and/or taken drugs or alcohol to help them. Because of the nature of the content — it’s one-sided; nothing about poets not on drugs etc., — I began to think that I could never be a good writer or poet unless I suffer some kind of breakdown. I need to find a text that shows the other side. Which of course there is, because writing/art/drama/dance are all encouraged to help people relieve stress and tension. 

I have also attended three masterclasses through the Arvon Foundation : Cathy Rentzenbrink, Sebastian Faulks and this week I’ll be joining the poet Kate Clanchy for some tips and advice.  I also watched an evening reading by Tania Hershman. It’s the most exciting experience. There can be up to 200 people in attendance, but we all have to turn off our microphones and cameras so the only person on the screen is the tutor. I can assure you that two hours with Sebastian Faulks made my week!

I can highly recommend the Arvon At Home readings and Masterclasses so do check them out here. Arvon at Home When things are back to the “new normal” I’m definintely checking out their residential retreats.

I’ve added links to all the writers and poets even though I’m sure you know them all. It just makes it easier if you want to find out more information.

 

Tania Hershman: Kate Clanchy: Cathey Rentzenbrink: Sebastian Faulks

Note Number 78…Last Leg of the Masters…

Everyone is writing and talking about Coronavirus and lockdown — I will leave that alone then.

MA Update:

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on two stories: one for my Realism submission and one for Prose Writing (I wrote a short memoir). The results came in yesterday, and I was pretty pleased. A high merit for the Realism and a low distinction for the Memoir. If I’m honest, which I like to be, I hoped to get a distinction for my Realism piece too, but it fell short on pace and plot. When I’m in the mood I’ll go back to it and tweak it so that I can either enter it for a competition or develop it into something else. That’s the thing about writing you can always edit, redraft, resubmit or find a home for most pieces of work other than the bin!

editing

A good bit of news is that I was long listed for the Fish Poetry Prize this year. I was indeed chuffed as they had nearly 2000 entries and the long list was 295. The Man pointed out that I was in the top 15% — I could never have worked that out! I’ve now entered the poem for the Bridport Prize…I’ll keep you posted.

Poetry is where I’m at right now. For my MA Dissertation, I must complete 600 lines of poetry. If you say it quickly it doesn’t sound too bad but it will probably be around forty poems. I’m trying to write a sequence of poems inspired by dance; specifically ballet, and even more specifically The Firebird, a ballet first performed by the Ballet Russes in the 1920s. The Ballet Russes were a touring company based in Paris. Their director Serge Diaghilev had left Russia during the turbulent revolutionary period. Read more about it here.

Firebird Costume Leon Bakst

The Original Design for The Firebird Costume by Léon Bakst

I’m enjoying the process of creating these poems but as with every project it seems to have morphed into something much more than The Firebird and Ballet Russes. I downloaded a master class by the poet Billy Collins and one thing he said was: “Let the poem take you somewhere. Choose a starting point and just go with it.” Or words to that effect. It was a good piece of advice. The journeys the poems take me on can be arduous and I get a bit lost before I reach the end, but sometimes, I just arrive without even noticing a bump.

Don’t let the restrictions tie you down — Whoops! I said I wouldn’t mention it — you can dance in your house, in your garden or even in your head. Here’s a little haiku from me:

 

Isadora

dancing is freedom

feel the music let it flow

be Isadora

 

Isadora Duncan 26 May 1877 – 14 Sept 1927

Note Number 74…University…O Yeah!

I began this blog a while ago and should have posted it but – university work got in the way…that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. (nice cliché there).

Photo on 20-10-2019 at 12.25

Thursday 19th September was Induction Day for Post Graduate Students and yes…that’s me, folks! I was excited, apprehensive…a little fish in a very big pond. I parked in the visitors’ carpark and paid the fee due (bit worried about this because after all I wasn’t a visitor but a S T U D E N T. But, a kind chap pointed out that they had no idea whose car it was so not to worry.

Queens Building, Streatham Campus. Lecture Theatre 2 was the designated venue for induction. I took my place early, and it soon filled up with PG students studying subjects under the school of Humanities, including, English, Archeology, Film, Creative Writing (my subject) and a few others.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the Director of Taught Programmes arrived to welcome us. I thought the university must have employed him from an actors agency… he appeared how I imagine a professor should look. Long grey untidy hair tied back in a ponytail, a pair of glasses hanging on a string around his neck, open neck check shirt, baggy jacket, black waistcoat and corduroy trousers…I mean, honestly, it was Michael Caine in Educating Rita!

professor_skwirk_7

I have to admit to feeling my age on that first occasion. Looking around me, everyone appeared to be in their late twenties or thirties, just the odd, older person hiding in a corner or hunkering down in their seat, trying to look inconspicuous. But, I was relieved later in the day, when we were split into our separate groups to find several ‘mature’ students were studying Creative Writing. Phew! A good mixture, I would say.

Reading week was from 28th October. The first weeks have flown by and I am learning a great deal. At least I think I am. I’m certainly reading a great deal. Text books, poetry anthologies, short stories, newspaper articles, plays and scripts. My brain has trouble switching off in the evening.

This term, I’m studying a poetry module and a module in which I will learn, (hopefully) more about plotting – on an in-depth scale. You might be persuaded to think that 4 hours a week attending university is a doddle. . .let me put your right. I am expected to do 300 hours of work in twelve weeks for the poetry module, and I guess the same for the other. That’s 600 hours in twelve weeks. Now, I’m not very good at maths, but I think that works out at about 50 hours a week plus the four hours of lectures.

There wasn’t much let up over reading week either because, for the poetry module, Professor Andy Brown…he’s an inspiring teacher, asked us to prepare a 1000-word document, evaluating our progress to date, and my aims for the end of the module, plus a few poems, to show ‘how I’m doing.’  It’s wonderful, how much creativity Dr Andy Brown has encouraged and drawn out of his students so far.

For the other module, a 1000-word essay about The Map of Desire…a concept conceived by the tutor Sam North about the needs and desires of the protagonist in any story…moves the story on. It’s more complicated than I’ve made it sound, but you would need to read, The Instinctive Screenplay, to know more about it. The essay was written using the play Waiting for Godot…hmm, say no more. What’s the point anyway? 😂

Other News

I was shortlisted in the Charmouth 50-word story competition but not placed. I entered the Bridport Story slam but didn’t get anywhere. I performed at an open mike evening in Lyme and read out one of my ‘new’ poems saying, with great confidence, that it was a Pantoum. Only to realise later that the poem I performed was a Ghazal...haven’t learned that much then!

I had the grandchildren for two days in reading week; went to the Dinosaur Museum in Bridport and to see Farmageddon the Shaun the Sheep new movie. All good stuff. Keeps you young you know, and I have to do that, as I’ve just entered an important year, at the end of which I will be celebrating a big birthday.

 

 

Note Number 71. . .Seamus Heaney Home Place. . .

Me outside

Last Monday The Man and I were in Northern Ireland, and we took the opportunity to visit Seamus Heaney Home Place. It was the most inspirational few hours that I have spent in a long time. What a prodigious man. Not just a great poet but one prepared to mete out his knowledge to everyone. By coincidence, there was an article about Seamus Heaney,  in the Royal Society of Literature Review, waiting for me on my return from Ireland.  I was interested to read this quote, about his engagement with his thousands of correspondents,

‘. . . I have a feeling of responsibility towards those who want contact with poets or poetry.’

He replied to everyone who wrote to him.

He was, I think, an approachable man, someone who would easily chat to a person like me. Unfortunately, I will never get that chance. Seamus Heaney died in August 2013 at the age of 74. But, I did have the opportunity to visit the museum, in his birthplace of Bellaghy. I was able to listen to his voice reading his beautiful words. I was truly inspired. Sometimes, reading the work of a literary genius can just make you feel defeated, in the knowledge that you could never be that good but somehow, his voice, his infinite words, urged me on, to try and create some good poetry in my own voice.

Words

Dialect words used in Seamus Heaney Poetry — Witney, one of the guides at Home Place, printed out a glossary for me of over 100 words. I doubt I’ll be able to use any of them (I could try) but they make fascinating reading.

 

I’ve got the notebook, pencil, mug and a few anthologies. Time to put them to good use . .

Note Number 67…Messing About with Sewing…

Last week I bought a sewing machine. I’ve had one before, in fact, I had the last one for well over thirty years, but then the house got flooded and the old machine took a battering that couldn’t be repaired. Anyway, got a new one, more modern but not too sophisticated a basic Brother model. It does forwards and backwards, zig-zag, zip foot, buttonhole foot etc., and best of all tada…*drum roll* it has a gadget that threads the needle. Beats me how it does it. I do what I’m supposed to do and hey presto…the cotton is through the eye of the needle, but I’ve no idea how!

So the first garment I made was a mop-cap. Success. I need it for a little performance that I’m doing with my local writing group, Story Traders, some of us have written short stories or poems using William Turner as our inspiration. The Bridport Museum are having a Turner exhibition featuring one of his paintings of West Bay. He visited the area don’t you know? The piece I’ve written is a little creative story about Turner on the beach meeting some young people while he’s painting and trying to join in the music, playing his flute. They (whoever they are) do say that he played the flute, albeit usually in private. They found one in his home after he died. We’re performing on Wednesday 3rd Julyin Bridport library, 2.30 – 3.15 and in the museum on the 10th July (I think…not sure of details yet).

mop capMop Cap

Hope I look a bit brighter than this chap when I’m wearing it! 

Back to the sewing. I have a wonderful jacket that I bought in New York several years ago and it is one of my most favourite items. I wear it all the time. I decided I would like to make a copy but of course I didn’t have a pattern. The result was not exactly disastrous but the teacher would definitely say, ‘could do better’. I never realised how difficult making a pattern from an article of clothing would be.

Jacket 1

First attempt at a jacket…I won’t show you the original…tut tut 

Next morning, I took myself off to the wonderful Livingstone Textile shop in Bridport, bought a pattern for a kimono jacket and some fab material…second attempt was a lot better but I need lessons on how to do a collar and also how to measure myself – I chose extra-large…big mistake as it’s about two sizes too big. It will do for Barcelona though,(*see below).

kimono 1

Better effort this time

(didn’t make the black t-shirt underneath, just thought it looked better in the photo) 

Practice makes perfect, but of course practicing costs material and time. In comparison, writing is easier,  because it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make you can put them right, improving the end product all the time, but, with sewing? Well, once you’ve made a mistake, you’re done for…unless you are very clever and can make a silk purse out of a sow’sear.

CLICHE ALERT!! 

*The Man is off cycling in th Pyranees at the moment (hence I can sew all day on the kitchen table), good luck to him! He finishes in Collioure and will be dropped off in Barcelona. so I’m off to meet him next Thursday for a fabulous five night in a city that I have always wanted to visit. Looking forward to it and will let you know how I get on. Plus, I now have a lovely kimono jacket to wear in the evenings! Wonder what else I can make tomorrow? Better do some writing I think.

Note Number 52…Waiting…

 

 

Here is a little poem I put together while I was walking the dog and waiting for her to finish looking into the distance at. . . nothing. It made me think about how much of my life I spend waiting for someone or something. When you’ve read this you can add your own ‘waiting for…’ in the comments.

 

I’m always waiting
waiting for the dog
waiting for the kettle to boil
for the washing machine to finish, for a cake to bake
how much time do I spend waiting?
waiting for the bathroom to be free
waiting for my money to get to the bank
I’ve always waited for that, first birthday gifts, then salary, now pension
I’ve never waited at the altar
even though I’ve been married three times
I’ve waited in the courtroom for a divorce

waiting at the cemetery to watch a burial
waiting to spread the ashes of a loved one
stood, waiting in line to buy a stamp
waited for people to come through the barrier
at the airport or the station
waited for a taxi to come along

Waiting, always waiting
I’m always waiting for my turn,
at the shops, at the doctor’s, at the poetry evening,
at a dance competition when I was younger
for my husband to come back from a bike ride now
I’ve waited to be served, with tea, coffee, cold drink
wine, water, snacks, food
waiting for a letter to come
waiting for an email to tell me good news
waiting for my next birthday
waiting at a junction

waiting for a baby to be born, waiting for a relative to die
we’re born waiting.
pausing, postponing, lingering, hanging around, marking time,
killing time when we should be living time
but
we’re waiting

waiting. . .

always waiting

 

 

Ninette Hartley © February 2018

waiting for computer

This is The Man…every day! 

 

 

Note Number 47. . .How I remember Christmas. . .1955-1960 (approx)

family

Family Songs Around the Piano

It’s easy to become nostalgic at this time of the year. . .it was all so different when I was a kid, but is that because I was a kid? Or were things really different? Less commercial I’m sure and our expectations were way lower. . . Whatever it’s all good fun. This poem is for my brother Tony, who was often away at Christmas because he was at a choir School and had to sing on Christmas day. Also for my sister Jean,  her birthday is on the 23rd December (the day I’m uploading this). I’ve always felt sorry for her having her birthday so close to Christmas as I’m sure people used to give her a joint present. I think she should celebrate in the summertime and have an official birthday too. I’m sure I know at least one person who does that . . .

As ever, press the play button to listen or scroll on down to read. . .

When I was a kid there was much less fuss
No starting in September to beat the Christmas rush
We never got excited before the twenty-fourth
Any early preparations were of the culinary sort

Mother made a pudding and we all gave it a stirchristmasput
She’d put a sixpence in it, and a spoonful of liqueur
Nowadays the sixpence is outlawed in every pud
As you might choke, or break a tooth and that would not be good

Father carved the turkey, mother drank the sherry
Brother played the piano and we sang, all warm and merry
Sister talked about her boyfriend, though I think she told me fibs
And I laughed out loud and ate so much until it hurt my ribs

Crackers and silly hats were the order of the day
You read the joke aloud before you threw it straight away
Mother kept all the bits of tinsel and crepe paper
She always said she would find a use for it, sooner or later

On Boxing day, we ventured up the M1 in our Ford
The journey took ages, as long as going abroad
We’d visit Auntie Florence in her big house with an Aga
Tea and cakes in the dining room – it was a huge palaver

The table was enormous, full-size for playing snooker
With mahogany cover, and fancy cloth – it was quite a looker
Heaving with meringues, coconut pyramids and scones
My aunt never had a problem keeping up with the Jones

Other aunts and cousins were all gathered with us there
The kids all liked each other, we didn’t really have a care
The grown ups used to send us in the garden for a run
‘Go and see the rabbits’ they’d say, ‘it will be so much fun’

The journey home to Ruislip was done well after dark
My dad driving recklessly, thinking it would be a lark
I vowed one day I’d have an Aga so that I could make and bake
Those mouth-watering meringues and other sumptuous cake

Ninette Hartley © December 2017

christmas tree

 

As an adult, I did manage to have an Aga for a while and it made the most wonderful meringues. . . meringue

 

Note Number 46…Office Christmas Party…

party-time

My second Christmas poem is based around a party that many of us will have attended at least once…  It’s probably not very PC but then office parties often aren’t…

Click the play button to listen or see below to read the text: –

I should just mention before I go that I forgot to bring in the Mistletoe. . . But, maybe that will be for the best, for today, a kiss underneath it could lead to arrest. . .

mistletoe

Office Christmas Party

When the boss popped the cork on a bottle of pop
Freda from lettings was already half-shot.
that chap from accounts, mild-mannered Jim
has got something disgusting stuck on his chin
it could be an olive – whatever – it’s gross.
that secretary Jane is getting quite close
she picks off the green thing with certain aplomb
flicks it over her shoulder where it lands, splat on Tom
now he’s had a few drinks he’ll be telling wild tales
I’m surprised he fancies that girl from sales
I rather thought he would lean the other way
and grab the chance to get close to Ray
Alison Bartlett adjusts a plentiful bust
puckers her lips and oozes with lust
the music is on, getting louder and faster
she’s looking around – who will she be after?
not too steady on the high heel shoes
whoops! She’s made a beeline for the loos
a relief for them all except poor Bert
who’s longs for Alison every day at work
each Christmas party he waits to dive
for if there’s one thing Bert can do, it’s jive
he pounces when the song is right
they’re on the floor, he’s holding her tight
but the music changes to the Christmas conga
and Alison, as ever, is his no longer
red faces a’plenty, throughout the room
taxis are called, the party’s over, what gloom
regrets in the morning will come with hindsight
as couples slope off to continue the night
the boss is delighted – the party succeeded
some, wine, food and nibbles, all that were needed
he relaxes, sits back, gives a huge weary sigh
to his employees’ antics he has turned a blind eye
as he lifts the hanky from out of his pocket
along with it comes Alison Bartlett’s gold locket
at least, he had meant it to be for her neck
instead he’d given her a leaving cheque
now home to his wife he could go without fear
he’d resisted temptation, at least ‘til next year

© Ninette Hartley December 2017

partytime