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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Earrings (back story to a poem)

Some time after Andrew died, I found a frustrated little journal entry in one of his notebooks, wondering how he was going to manage to get $30 to buy me some earrings.

I remembered a time when he complained about not having access to money. By then he was so physically incapacitated that he couldn't go out without me, and although his Alzheimer's was mild, I had taken over the financial management. He had been making some potentially disastrous financial decisions until I did, getting us into situations I had to rescue us from.

I tried to reassure him that it was still our money, and if there was anything he needed or wanted, I'd get it for him. But he just became evasive when I asked what he needed money for. Pretty dumb of me! It was coming up to Christmas, and of course he wanted to surprise me. Instead, that year I bought Christmas presents we could enjoy together, with his agreement. Food. DVDs. I guess he decided to settle for that, as he couldn't figure out a way around his dilemma.

I wonder, had I admired some earrings somewhere while in his company? Had he seen some online or in a local shop that he fancied for me? He had very good taste, and bought me some lovely jewellery over the years, albeit suited to our modest budget. The brief journal entry was specific about the price, but didn't describe the earrings at all.

There came a time when I wanted some earrings to go with a particular bracelet and pendant. I chose some zircon studs, a little under $30, and told myself they were my present from Andrew, just a bit late.



During our life together, from when we were courting, he loved to present me with big bunches of red roses. After he became incapacitated, he would sometimes say to me when I went shopping, "Buy yourself some roses." Which I did, as a gift from him. He was happy enough, in that circumstance, to know it was our money, and to delegate the task to me. I guess that was because there was no surprise involved.

Occasionally I still buy myself roses, remembering how he liked to give them to me. Recently I came across some sweet little earrings carved in the shape of red roses. They were affordable. I had a fantasy that he had nudged me in that direction, to notice them. Of course I bought them. Again, I told myself they were from him. Now I always have that gift of red roses.



Another journal entry expressed his readiness to go on to the next life and see his father and brother again. He asked God to look after me when he was gone.

***

These things are all strands in my poem, Love's Winter, which doesn't explain them. The poem felt complete as it is, albeit a trifle mysterious. When I tried to add more clarity, it became clunky.

Some readers who are aware of my widowhood have understood what the poem is about. Others have, naturally enough, interpreted it differently. That doesn't matter in terms of the poem, but some also read it (correctly) as autobiographical and attach their suppositions to me and, by association, to Andrew.

Perhaps that doesn't really matter either. But it's unfair, although unintentionally, so I thought a bit of back story wouldn't go astray.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

PALAEONTOLOGY FOR BEGINNERS by Helen Patrice























I've been waiting impatiently for this book! It is all I hoped and more.

Here is my review. It is also my Introduction to the book, which I was honoured to be asked to contribute.

This book is well titled. Helen Patrice is good at digging below the surface to turn up the bones of the past. She is good at fitting the fragments together to create illuminating pictures and stories. She digs deep, and brings it all out into the light. From memory and hindsight she creates insight, and shares it with us in ways that make it both warmly familiar and startlingly new. Above all, she engages our emotions.

We met through poetry decades ago and became lifelong friends. We have found many things in common, not least our love and respect for each other's poetry. I've seen Helen's writing mature into the confidence and power she exhibits here. The originality of her voice was always there.

I think she's a master of metaphor, e.g.

The year turns over in bed,
ready to become dark,
sleek with fat,
marinating itself deep within,
while its bare bones of oak and willow
beg the sun to return.

That's typical of her command of language — heightened and musical while at the same time clear and accessible. These poems don't put on airs, or yell, "Look at me, I'm so clever!" They're beyond clever: they are deep, brilliant, and totally authentic, whether she is writing of sexual desire, mothering an autistic son, or waxing humorous about her cats. She does humorous very well, by the way, as readers of her columns in Nova will recall, and has no trouble marrying it with the serious. (And yes, the verse I've quoted is a mixed metaphor, if you like — but not in a careless, messy way. Instead it's a progression, a segue from one image to the next, deliberate and effective, carrying the reader along with it.)

She can be uncompromisingly realistic too, as in

I catch my reflection.
Head to foot loose mismatched green,
with unintended bustle,
hair awry,
wild eyes.
My poetry writing look.

While Helen's poignant verse novel, A Woman of Mars, is one of my favourite reads, I've long wished she would compile a more representative collection of her poems. I'm delighted and honoured to have been asked for this introduction to the strong book she has produced.

-- Rosemary Nissen-Wade
poet, editor, writing workshop facilitator, and former publisher


My regular readers at this and other blogs will know that Helen Patrice and I are friends — a friendship which began through poetry. I would just like to make the point that I am not waxing enthusiastic about her poetry just because I am her friend. On the contrary, one of the many reasons I am her friend is because I am so enthusiastic about her poetry.

It's a beautiful production physically, too. The publisher has done justice to Helen's brilliant work. The book is available from Amazon.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The "Nonce" Poetic Form

I just discovered, via this excellent article by Jeanette Ostermeyer, that this is a name given to self-created forms — that is, where there is some regularity or pattern of metre, rhyme, syllables, whatever.  The specific form is created because it seems to fit the needs of the particular poem. Sometimes, we're told, one of these may take on, be used widely by other poets, and acquire its own name.

The term can also apply to variations on traditional forms, such as rhyming sestinas and unrhymed odes. (I have also come across 10-line sonnets.)

I think maybe we all do a lot of this without even regarding it as anything special. I, for instance, like my stanzas to be the same length even in free verse — whatever length, or variable pattern of lengths, happens to suit the poem. I'm not sure that's sufficient to constitute a new form, however.

One of my widely-published early poems, The Day We Lost the Volkswagen, has a pattern all its own (as far as I know) because it just seemed to need it. It's basically a rhyming ballad (abab quatrains) with an extra line added per verse, and the extra lines rhyme with each other — in a four-verse poem, the last lines of verses 1 and 2 rhyme with each other, and the last lines of 3 and 4 have a different rhyme with each other. (It's a lot more complicated to describe than to read!) I've never used the form again, though. I never felt any need.

(Funny — I once read it to a group of writing students by way of example of something or other, and one who had been listening with an expression of rapt delight, said afterwards, "And not a rhyme in it!"

"Excuse me," I said, "It has a complex scheme of full rhymes."

But I decided to take it as a compliment. I guess that for her the rhymes were unintrusive and the language just seemed natural. That's gotta be good.)

Recently, members of the dVerse online poetic community were invited to create a new form. Because I like to play with a non-traditional or "free" version of the ghazal, and because I also like playing with American sentences, which Allen Ginsberg invented as a Western style of haiku, I combined them both. You're welcome to read the result.

I found that the sentences went neatly into 3-line verses, and the whole had some of the features I like in a ghazal. I called it Ghazal-type 17-3 — which I think a clumsy name, but I hoped it would suggest that there might in future be other, different ghazal-type poems. (Because of my departures from the strict form of the traditional ghazal, I think it's more accurate to say "ghazal-type".)

But I haven't used it again. And I haven't made up any other ghazal-type forms. I make poems in whatever way seems right at that moment, then go on to the next moment.

Ostermeyer, whose article focuses on metrics, alludes to Peter Davison's book, Breathing Room, in which, she says,

"... nearly all the poems conform to twenty-five lines cast in seven tercets and a closing quatrain. These lines are set in a flexible pattern ..."

Perhaps it would be fun to create a form (or even adopt an existing one) and then stick with it for a whole book.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Strange Dream — What Does It Mean?


IMG_2159
I got dressed up all Goth, including my magickal black cloak, and went to a "special event" screening of a vampire movie last night. In reality I was accompanied by some women friends, but in the dream that I had just before I woke this morning, they were nowhere to be seen.

In the dream I was one of the last to leave the theatre, packing away my iPad Mini, on which I'd apparently been taking notes. (In real life I do a lot of writing on my device, via the Pages app which I uploaded.) There was only one other person left in the theatre, a man still in his seat. He caught my eye, showed me what he was holding, and informed me it was his device.

The lights were up, but a bit dim; it took me a minute or two to realise he was showing me a pen and a notebook in which he'd been busily writing. Then we exchanged some witty banter about this, before I told him seriously that I too used to use that device, and still would at times if need be. Then I left ... and woke up.

In actual fact, although I usually take my Mini everywhere, it wasn't with me at that movie. My regular handbag isn't Goth enough. I used a slender black evening purse and, in the absence of my Mini, did tuck in a pen and a tiny notepad — I don't go anywhere without writing materials of some kind, "just in case".

Oh yes, the man in the dream looked like the lead actor from the movie — not as he looked in the film, but the way he looks in ordinary life. I've never seen him in anything else, but I did Google after I got home. (I prefer the vampire version, actually.) I wonder what it signifies, that it was the real person in the dream?

Is my subconscious trying to tell me to go back to using pen and paper? Or was it simply a reassurance that it's OK to do so when necessary? As I was in costume and the bloke was in civvies, was the dream just noting how magickal modern technology is? No, not entirely that, as there was a strong endorsement of the all-purpose usefulness of pen and paper.

Interpretations, anyone?

********************

The movie we saw was Only Lovers Left Alive. Jim Jarmusch and the incomparable Tilda Swinton were good reasons to see it, and I was not disappointed. It was stunningly beautiful visually, and not very much like any other vampire movie I've ever seen. What I didn't expect was that it would be funny — exquisitely funny. And oh yes, Tom Hiddlestone, the male lead, was everything he should have been in the role, and then some