I met him by Swift,
Where the potential of words
And the smell of ground beans
Caused the sly glances
Between soft pages
And over covered volumes.
He spoke softly, to himself and even when
We were alone, and I had to lean.
I sank softly into his
Voice. He read to himself,
Drawing me deeper with his
At a quarter to half past five
We gathered ourselves between
The shelves and kissed without touching.
One day he finally took
Hold, and I touched his arms
As he kissed my nose.
He was sweet and tough
Like an almond. We clung
To one another and left
The safety of the cash registers behind.
Two poems from the same time that might actually be half decent – how about that?!
Writing on the inside cover
Of the novels she’d never enjoyed.
Never venturing out past nine
O’clock; for fear of what she’d find?
Melancholia presented herself
Alone in the attic, bare before a mirror.
He was the window, the panes, the
Sky, the sun. Gazing through the
Aperture of breeze through curtains.
They danced poetic, courted
Each other’s muses and stripped
Their ideas down. With never less
Than her petticoat, she told
With her body the story he’d read
In the covers of those volumes.
There’s a big gap between the writing of this poem and the one that came before – that’s not to say I didn’t write anything. Just that looking back now I didn’t like any of them!
Worn like a pendant,
Hands clasped about the neck,
And. Still. Beating.
She smiles, warmly as a cat,
Caresses it gently, patting the
Lifeblood away with the pads of her hands.
“Not my fault, really,” she purrs.
“(I didn’t know it would bleed.)
I only liked the colours,” she pouts.
“The spanglesparkled red and purple,”
And the thudub of life.
But. There he lies,
Love’s victim. As she
Preens and strokes,
Gaping chest where the
Dreams once sat.
My only poetic success to date! This poem won me a £100 prize from the University of Newport, with a presentation ceremony and an impromptu reading. It was a national competition and as part of the event I got to talk to real creative writing students at the University. I think that was when I decided I wanted to study creative writing. /backstory
We Have Lain With Orange Blossoms
Her body whispers
“This is me.
“Here on a platter.
My heart and soul spread out
Across the pillow.”
His hands, warm and soft,
tremble as he gathers her up:
Her red and beating heart,
Her cool and yellow soul.
I read somewhere that orange blossoms were a sign of purity. But I never want to tell anyone that incase it spoils the poem!
He finished with the seams. Plucking
out all the misgivings and tiny, tiny
heartaches of everyday life.
He unwound them all and began anew.
Hard to believe that it didn’t hurt; no
pinpricks, no complaints from her.
He worked for months on joining the seams.
Spent long enough repairing the base,
fastening together was all that it needed.
He began to wind himself into the fabric,
the normal twists of life. He was as
commonplace as the rising sun, the waxing
moon. Working inside her, she felt him.
Mending from the inside out.
His work began to blossom, take shape.
She began to work back, lending herself
to hour-long talks and walks to stitch the
final threads into place.
Weaving their love out of nothing,
from the air. They smile and work,
fingers turning, yarn entwining…
Finally able to wrap themelves in
“They say lovers are happiest when they are in doubt.”
-The Duchess of Padua, Oscar Wilde
So, it is love, then,
This knife’s edge across whose metal
We stumble and patter.
This precipice, this brink whom
I teeter over, so precarious
Oh! It is love then,
Whose heat I feel so keenly
On my brow.
Whose grip is death and life
Whose hold I scrabble for,
hand I grasp.
Why, is this love, then?
With words so glittering,
Arms so welcoming,
Teeth so sharp and eyes so bright
As to entrap me all.
It is love, then,
That we whine and writhe for,
Sprawl and scrabble over,
Fight for and fall into.
It is a simple twist, a warming vice,
A rising and a setting sun, the wax and wane of a long year’s moon.
I made a university friend with this poem. Well, potentially at least.
iTunes is giving away presents for the 12 Days of Christmas. I am sharing poems from back in the day, up until now. Not as good, but something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – if not just so that I can see whether or not I have ‘progressed’.
Turns out it’s hard to find a favourite from poems you wrote when you were 16…
It’s too hot to sleep.
Shift, stick, burn, twist.
I lie awake. The sheets are tight.
In the gaps between talking to
You I drift.
So tired I can barely remember
if I can spell my own name.
Let alone what I said to you.
For those of you who weren’t previously aware, G-Force (2009) is an animated film about extra-ordinary FBI Agents: specially-trained and technologically-enhanced guinea pigs. As IMDB puts it:
“The story is about a team of trained secret agent guinea pigs that takes on a mission for the US government. A specially trained squad of guinea pigs is dispatched to stop a diabolical billionaire, who plans to taking over the world with household appliances.”
And no, I’m not joking.
The G-Force Team consists of three main guinea-pigs, and two ‘sidekicks’: the technological whizz Speckles (a mole), and a camera-laden fly (or bug) whose name I didn’t catch. All of the animals were trained and developed by two human scientists: Ben and Marcie.
The guinea pigs (from left to right): Juarez, Darwin, and Blaster. Also, Hurley, an extra addition to the team. It’s probably not obvious from the picture, but Juarez is a female guinea pig. A sassy Spanish female guinea pig voiced by Penelope Cruz, no less.
I’m still not joking when I say this post will be a consideration of the character of Juarez and the message it sends to the main audience of this film: children.
Using OverthinkingIt‘s Female Character Flowchart (the best test of a woman that I know of) you can take Juarez two ways. It depends on whether you think she can handle her own story. I’m going to go with yes. Partly because she gets a lot of screentime on her own and her own backstory (but also because this would be pretty pointless if I didn’t think so). In addition, she’s three-dimensional (she shares opinions and challenges others), she’s not just a metaphor (what she’d be a metaphor for I can’t tell you), she has flaws (she’s a flirt, and she’s rude) and she doesn’t get killed off before the third act. Voila! A Strong Female Character.
Alternatively, if you decide that she isn’t any of the above, and follow the flowchart to its conclusion, she’s either a Useless Girl (you cynic), or a Lady of War (the example given is Zoe from Firefly, so almost there!).
Juarez is, throughout, as tough as the boys. There is nothing that she doesn’t take part in, she’s not behind the scenes or merely supervising; and she makes it quite clear that she can stand up for herself. At one point, she is purchased from a pet store and ‘taken hostage’ by a little girl intent on using her as a plaything. Juarez is put in a pink dress and tiara, given an earring, pink nail polish and pink lipstick. On being waved in front of a mirror to see “how pretty” she looks, her reaction is: “Not pink! I look like Paris Hilton’s chihuahua.” The first thing she does on engineering her escape (stealing a toy jeep) is throw off the tiara and dress: Juarez has no need for dressing up or changing her appearance to form her character, she does that by standing by her friends/teammates and working at her special agent training, putting in hundreds of thousands of hours to be as good as she can be. Aside from the hourglass-shaped fur on her abdomen and the long eyelashes, you wouldn’t really be able to tell that Juarez is female: she has similar hair to the male character Hurley, a kind of short mohawk. This shows that while she’s conscious of her appearance, she’s not forever lamenting the lack of hair-styling products or scared of breaking her claws. Think about it, how easy would it have been to cast a long-haired guinea pig as the female?
But this is not to say that she isn’t feminine. For one, she keeps the earring as she likes the way she looks with it. But it’s as an enhancement, not a pandering to femininity. Another giveaway is the fact that both male guinea pigs, Darwin and Blaster, argue over her affections and confront her more than once about which one of them she is “interested in”. Rather than the conventional ending of Boy Gets Girl, the film ends with Juarez denying the obvious assumption that she has to be interested in one of them: in fact she’d rather they both wanted her and she played hard to get. Now, I’m not saying that teasing boys is a mark of a strong woman, but you can’t deny her her independence here. Juarez is challenging the assumption that she will end up with one of the boys because of mere proximity, instead she is confident and independent – and it’s this that makes her, for want of a better word, sexy. They want her because she’s not waiting for them, and she says as much. “If she acts as though she’s interested in you, it’s to make me think that she’s really interested in me,” to paraphrase Darwin. It could be argued that she’s trying not to complicate matters, there is no animosity between the boys, no awkwardness between the team: she’s responsible. I’m sticking with sassy and independent, to be honest. But that fact that she’s a single woman not waiting for a man to sweep her off her feet is what I’m struck by here.
In fact, so much so is she not waiting to be rescued that she’s the saving grace at the climax of the film. I hope I’m not spoiling things here, but Speckles and Darwin fight and Darwin loses his parachute but they need to jump from the enormous violent appliance-cum-robot before it explodes thanks to a computer virus. Did you get that? In any case, when they jump – free-fall – Juarez is the one who appears above them, grabs them both and says “I’ve got you” while opening her parachute.
In this film, the girl literally saves the day. Or at least the hero.
Am I wrong in assuming that this is quite rare in movies about humans?
It’s also important to point out that Juarez asks for help from the boys: she’s not an artificial StrongWoman who’s stubborn and gets everything right. During a car chase she calls to both Darwin and Blaster to help her escape from the FBI agents – exposing her flaws, if you like, and also showing that she is equal to them. She needs help, but she can also save the day when necessary. And all without the validation of a romance at the end of it.
Not that romance is bad, guys! Just that I think it’s rare for a female character to be portrayed as sexy, appealing, smart, strong and also ‘human’, as it were. The fact that she’s a guinea pig, and that now this whole post makes me sound mental, is beside the point really. (Unless you want to get into an argument about why human females aren’t portrayed this way… I’ll pass for now.)
So: perhaps the Christmas port has got to me. But if not, I’m impressed with the decision taken by filmmakers not to just include a female character because they had to – or if they did, not take the obvious decision to include her as a love interest. And let her have a vital role in the survival of the male protagonist. And make her funny, pretty and independent also.
I don’t even know what to ask you anymore. Ask me things. I can barely believe I just wrote that with a straight face. Happy Christmas!
Ok, so it’s probably not part two, it’s just the second part I’ve written. Another rough draft of a scene. Ask me things.
At school, Rebecca had always been laughed at by the other children for catching the bus alone, or never having the right kind of skirt. Whichever skirt she wore, it was always the one that the girls had been wearing last term, and it showed.
They were, in fact, the very same garments the girls had been wearing the last term. Her mother bought them second hand, from the huge End of Term sales that took place in the assembly hall. Sometimes there were enough unwanted items that the sale spread out into the playground, patchwork clothing spreading by osmosis across the school grounds. Rebecca’s mother, who loved a bumper crop at bargain prices, was always happiest when this was the case. Rebecca, however, was less impressed when her mother returned home with armfuls of other people’s clothing for her to wear to school the coming term.
Looking back now, Rebecca realised that her mother must have know that she was being – well, not bullied, more looked-down-upon – but that she had never admitted it. She was so fierce in her affection, so determined that she could solve any problem, that she would not hear a word of it; smothering the tears and complaints with trips to the seaside and mugs of hot chocolate sweetened with rum. At the time, Rebecca took this for granted, thinking that perhaps she was the only one who heard the jeers and felt the sharp jabs of elbows in the lunch queue.
Back then, they fought and fought, Rebecca begging for the right clothes or party dress, and her mother refusing to listen.
“None of that matters,” she would insist, dismissing Rebecca’s pleas and frustration. Rebecca’s detailed descriptions of the schooltime hardship were dismissed, falling on a willingly ignorant mother too stubborn to change.
Yet, she knew that it was this that had taught her the independence and defiance to open the box at the bottom of the wardrobe and quietly break the seals of those long-unopened letters.
Having never asked, Rebecca had no idea what her own mother’s childhood had been like. Jonathan’s letters were astounding: affectionate, familiar, and then desperate in a way that Rebecca had never experienced. It didn’t take long to work out that this man was no lover, but an estranged brother writing on behalf of people she had never known: her grandparents.
No matter how much you read or write, there are always some stories you wish you had thought to tell first, or metaphors you wished you’d come up with. Below are a list of the top five books I wish I had written.
1. Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
“Walker is my name
and I am the same.
Walking my riddels
where ever theyve took me
and walking them now
on this paper the same.”
In Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban tells the tale of post-apocalyptic England through the mangled and re-written voice of its inhabitants, specifically the titular protagonist Riddley. In his search for knowledge, Riddley dissolves the myths which have sprung-up in this post-nuclear dystopia and uncovers the secret of mankind’s downfall.
I studied this book as part of a third-year English Lit half-unit on the Male Bildungsroman. I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I turned the first page, and it’s safe to say that this completely blew me away. This book is a revelation. Hoban imagines a world without history so convincingly that the novel is compelling from the first sentence and I really found that I could not put this down until I had worked it out. From the post-apocalyptic dialect to the somehow-familiar myths and rules of the new society, I was challenged throughout and as a result of my perseverance I was rewarded with a totally original and haunting world. I’ve never come across anything so foreign, yet uncanny, and if there is one book you must take on trust, it’s this one. I won’t tell you anything more as it really ought to be a surprise, but please read Riddley Walker! (And then come back and talk to me about it.)
2. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…”
Portrait of the Artist tells the story of Stephan Dedalus’ (of Ulysses fame) youth – from birth to his teenage years. Joyce reflects almost exactly Dedalus’ thoughts, even in his personal dialect as a baby, and the book is a rollercoaster of scenes and internal monologue that I’m sure you only truly understand once you’ve finished.
I remember reading this when I was at secondary school, and after the first chapter I remember being amazed at the audacity Joyce displayed in writing something which plainly made no sense at a first reading. Since then, I’ve wanted to write something this confident. I’m not there yet, so this is still on the list of wishful thinking.
3. A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
George R. R. Martin’s undeniably ambitious saga begins with A Game of Thrones, in which the fictional land of Westeros and its difficult and dangerous politics is introduced. Beginning at the end of a multiple-year ‘Summer’, the saga charts the stories of a number of characters; all of whom, it emerges, have claims to the Iron Throne.
I’m currently only on Book Two, A Clash of Kings, but so far I’m jealous. Martin’s books are immensely long, and immensely detailed. At the end of Book One I was so engaged I had to keep reading, and now I’m reading on I’m amazed at the ease with which Martin introduces new characters. And here lies my envy: every character is complex. There are no real stereotypes, and everyone changes their mind or experiences a genuine conflict of interests at some point. This really keeps a reader on their toes. That and Martin’s lack of fear when it comes to killing off his darlings: there are points at which you know where this book should go – if only it were another book. With A Song of Ice and Fire, you can never be sure what will happen…
4. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
“This is not for you.”
Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a beautiful, ambitious hypertext that teaches you what ‘hypertext’ really means. A potentially fictional, tortured protagonist uncovers and reassembles the work of a potentially fictional blind man, who is reviewing a film that cannot be found created by a filmaker who seems not to exist. The book covers the lives of all three main characters, looping and twisting through their lives while all the time exposing the real protagonist, the House. It is the setting of the film, the academic focus of the essay, and it too may not even be real.
This book is filled with metaphor, clues, and contradictions to keep you on your toes and occasionally scare you half to death. I loved it. It can be read in a number of ways, it’s visually appealing, and it is guaranteed to get you thinking. I only wish I had the brain power to contemplate writing something of this scale.
5. Rapture, Carol Ann Duffy
Rapture is a collection of love poems charting an affair from the first brilliant shock of attraction to the final resignation and complacency that comes with time. As ever, Duffy’s writing is bright, vivid and unique, and the poems range from odes of love to short and snappy declarations that stick in your mind. A particular favourite of mine is Syntax, and I really could read it aloud again and again.
The reason I wish I had written it: Duffy manages to capture these fleeting moments in a manner that makes them almost understandable. Whenever I write poetry I want to do the same; to make something undefinable real for just the length of that page. It’s a real skill, and I firmly believe there’s beauty to her writing.
So, that’s enough of me waxing lyrical!
What are your top five? Which books do you just wish you’d written?