Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Published in OCHO #24

I'm ever so delighted to have a poem in the OCHO Twitter Poets issue edited by Collin Kelley and Didi Menendez. You can see Collin's post about it here.

Yes, it's full of poets who post on Twitter, 38 of us. (My Twitter name is @SnakyPoet.)

People who read my blogs regularly may have seen my poem, "Hey, Crow", on my Passionate Crone poetry blog a little while ago - though if you missed it you can't read it there any more, only in the OCHO issue.

I'm in excellent company there; the whole issue is a very good read, and will also be available from Amazon soon.

The issuu site, where you can view it online or download it, looks very interesting altogether to writers and readers, btw. Detailed explanation at Wikipedia.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gay Rights

We finally caught up with the film Milk, which I’d been wanting to see for ages – because I think Sean Penn is a great actor, and because I was moved and inspired by the TV doco about the wonderful Harvey. Even more so by the movie!

What a hero! And how brilliant he was – judging from his articulate speeches, his quick mind in political debate, and his grasp of both principles and strategy. It seems that for him the principles were the strategy.

It was also an education for me in the history of gay rights in the US. I didn’t know it in anywhere near so much detail before.

I’m better acquainted with what has happened in Australia, and I’m glad to say the tide of discrimination and prejudice is turning. For instance we now have a majority of Australians thinking same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Pity the Federal Government doesn’t yet agree! In many areas there’s still a way to go, but we’re getting there. (Details in Wikipedia.) Which is no reason to slacken off in pushing for reform!

Recently I attended a human rights meeting in our locality, one of many held all over the country by the National Human Rights Consultation Committee to gather information about what Australians want in regard to rights of all kinds. It was very well set up, the large number of participants grouped in tables of six. One person at ours was an Aboriginal man who had been victimised by police with no redress. He was outside a hotel and went to help a woman who was in some kind of trouble (he didn’t say what), the police were called and promptly assaulted and arrested him. A clear case of racist assumptions. He was further attacked at the police station. At his court case the woman herself gave evidence in his favour, and he was freed. He has been trying ever since to get some kind of compensation from the police, as a matter of principle. This kind of thing happens often to Indigenous people. Not to mention that his health has suffered as a result! No-one will help, no-one wants to know.

Another man at our table told us of his disabled wife who often needs help walking. One day she managed to totter down to the local shops only to be mugged by some young teenagers. He knew the boys; said they came from affluent families. His agenda was not only the right to safety on our streets, he was even more concerned about the right of children to be taught proper discipline and values.

I’d invited my 18-year-old gay friend but he said he was uncomfortable about speaking out in public. Pity! He wouldn’t have had to. We all conferred at our tables and wrote down our conclusions on big sheets of butcher paper which were gathered up at the end to be taken away and considered. There were opportunities for people to speak, and several did, eloquently, on all manner of issues, but it wasn’t required.

One lesbian lady pointed out that lesbians tend to get lumped in with gay men on gay rights issues, or with women on feminist issues, whereas they are in fact a special category with their own specific needs.

I did raise some issues of gay rights in our group and they were duly noted on our butcher’s paper – but I can’t speak first-hand. It was good to learn that people still have time to put in individual written submissions and I am encouraging my young friend to do that.

He lives in a small, homophobic locality, is fairly isolated and would like some friends his own age – just mates to hang out with and talk to over coffee about mutual (non-sexual) interests. He breeds labradoodles, he loves photography and jewellery, has done silversmithing and goldsmithing courses, is a whiz at Mac computers … but straight guys tend to back off, assuming he’s got designs on them! And he has encountered a lot worse that that, too, but has become wiser about staying safe. Sad that he has had to!

I am also wishing I’d thought to invite him to see Milk with us. It’s just about finished in cinemas here, but there is one more opportunity; otherwise will have to make sure he sees the DVD when it’s out. It’s one of the few movies I could see again myself any time.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll just trot out my HUG badge and post it permanently on my page here, with a link to an explanation. (There, it's done.) Consciousness raising is one small way I can contribute!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Do You Tell If It's Poetry?

I guess any writer of free verse faces this question from time to time: "What makes this poetry and not just chopped-up prose?" After participating recently in the latest April Poem A Day Challenge at Poetic Asides, I was asked it again by a friend who read all my entries. The funny thing is that she herself is a poet (and a very good one too) who writes only in free verse. Maybe someone had asked her and she was hoping for a few clues how to answer.

If anyone else wants to express an opinion on this issue, please do!

Here is our email exchange:


Her:

Bin reading your poems. Hate to be an ignoramus, but what makes them poems, rather than journal entries broken up into shorter lines? Citing 'Andrew's 80th' and the one about the angel voice that came in this morning.
love, Me


Self:

Legitimate question. As I've said in one of them, I wonder myself at times about the plainness of the language. My Muse seems to want me to be particularly colloquial of late.

However, the answer to your question is, in most cases, form. "Andrew's 80th" was a double Anacreontic verse – and I know I said so, and even gave a link. It's a particularly suitable form for the subject matter, being traditionally used for festivities, everyday life, and love.

The others include acrostic, pantoum, sestina, shadorma.... Also I often create my own forms, sometimes with verse structure, often with syllabics, and quite often both at once. And I still sometimes use a loose metric pattern instead of syllabics. Today's "Farewell" uses caesura throughout, and linked verses (by carrying sentences over). There is also always attention to the sound when read aloud, which among other things dictates where and how lines end and begin.

That last applies also to free verse, and indeed needs even more attention there.

At this point, let me say I think it's more useful for this discussion to distinguish verse and prose rather than poetry and prose. "Poetry" can mean an innate, ineffable something, an essence hard to define (though it may be easy to recognise). It's the question of what makes something Art with a capital A. In that sense, prose can be poetry - and, alas, vice versa. So let's talk about why I think my pieces have a claim to be considered as verse, i.e. non-prose.

If there is a verse form I'm seeking to follow, that covers it. Even if I do it badly, it's still a pantoum for instance, if it follows the rules – it's just a bad pantoum. (Haiku is a different story, as many great haiku break the "rules", but we'll leave that aside. Some haikuists say it's not poetry anyway but a genre in itself.)

Free verse is trickier to defend. Again it lies in the crafting. Even a found poem is crafted to some degree. Although I like to think I can write quite well naturally, a journal entry is not crafted in that way, any more than this email is. The angel poem is free verse, as are some of the others.

There is always some sort of rhythm or pattern singing in my head – though, (ha!) as I am fairly unmusical, this could be suspect! Still, it's there, from the beginning. I know that prose can be highly crafted, and the best prose is supposed to have its own rhythms, and the boundaries can blur as in prose poems – even so, a thing will present to me as clearly one or t'other.

There is also crafting in the form of revising and tweaking after getting the first draft down. It is VERY important to say free verse aloud, just to make sure it is distinct from a chopped-up journal entry. It's important to weigh every word, every piece of punctuation, every line ending and beginning, every space, every verse break... That is important for all poetry, but ever so much more crucial in free verse.

You're not a spoken-word poet, so I wonder if you don't know to make a slight stop at the end of a line even if there is no punctuation there, and to give each piece of punctuation that is there its due weight (one beat for a comma, four for a full-stop, and so on). These things must be taken into account when reading prose aloud too (except of course for line endings – prose being that stuff where the lines go right to the end of the page regardless of what word happens to fall there). In poetry these considerations are even more vital, if that's possible. By those criteria, the angel one is definitely verse! (Also my grammar would be different for prose.) I actually thought I had succeeded in MAKING the reader read it in the way I intend – but of course that only works if they are going to observe the conventions of reading poetry, not if they ignore them.

I read an article a while back by an American poet (alas, forget who) on this very question. She was invited to a Book Club or something and the people there didn't know why her book was poetry – until she read it to them, and then they could hear it the right way. She said that the general public don't have the cues for reading free verse on the page, as they get in more formal verses, so they automatically read it as if it was prose. So for them, I guess, it becomes so.

And then ... there is also the fun of pushing boundaries, exploring how far you can take something before it turns into something else. I don't necessarily want to remain frozen within the accepted criteria. I'm interested that my Muse is directing me to be more and more plain and colloquial for the most part! At first I was disconcerted and uneasy, now I am rather liking the experiment.

Love to You!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Amazing Weight Loss Saga

My results have been gradual, which of course is the healthy way to do it. And because my proportions haven’t much changed, it sometimes seems to me that I can’t have lost a great deal. But there is incontrovertible evidence:

• Someone I haven’t seen in a while encounters me in the supermarket, looks startled, and makes a gesture with her hands to indicate that I’ve got a lot narrower.
• I look down and notice that now I see only boobs jutting out, not tummy.
• I can do up my lovely black trench coat again, which I couldn’t last year. (It doesn’t look good belted yet, but at least it buttons easily and comfortably.)
• And – a mixed blessing – a friend gives me some gorgeous designer hand-me-downs which look wonderful on me; and only two weeks later they’re so much too big for me that they’ve become unflattering.

“How much have you lost?” people have been asking. I’ve been telling them I don’t know; we’re not doing that.

“I know by how my clothes fit,” I say, “Or by how slender my calves are looking these days, or how much new energy I’ve got.”

We’re having a hiatus in the actual filming (though it’s not over yet). We have all the tools now; it’s a matter of continuing to use them. I found myself slacking off a bit, so I sought new motivation. Also, I got curious. I went to the doctor and asked to be weighed.

I was thrilled to find I’ve lost two stone (12.7 kilos). I had no idea it was so much! I have more than that still to lose, but that’s all right, I’m still losing it.

I look forward to the day when I can share the details of our remarkable program, so that you can do it too if you wish.

People can’t get that it’s not about food. I say “weight loss program” and they hear “diet”. I mention something about writing in my diary, and they assume I’m keeping a food diary. No, it’s REALLY not a conventional weight loss program, it’s really not arduous, we’re really not depriving ourselves of anything – nor are we taking any special pills or potions – and it really does work!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

What has The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy got to do with swine flu?

Nothing much, except for these words which apply to both: DON'T PANIC.

Please read The Washington Times and Dr Mercola on the subject ... and of course take normal precautions against any type of infection, as usual.