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Archive for January, 2011

Prompt from “The Saturday Centus“: write 25 words (plus the prompt itself) on “the lottery ticket”

 

“The Lottery Ticket”

Unclaimed.
Framed.

Bought it
Before I thought it
Through.

My wife smiled, too.

Didn’t want to win it
Then never know which friends were true.

 


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Perhaps because it’s the turn of a year I have encountered over the last couple of weeks a lot of people completing, or embarking upon, projects to do something every day or every week for a year. It’s the kind of thing I think I would love to do, but the kind of thing for which I always tell myself  I don’t have the guaranteed free time. One obvious option would be to do something connected directly to work: a Glacier of the Day blog for students to enjoy, perhaps? Perhaps not. An appealing and more sensible alternative would be to choose one of those things for which I keep telling myself I must find more time but which, year after year, continue to go undone. I want to paint more. I want to write more. I want to re-watch more old cowboy films. And then I’m back into the old trap of  there being so much I want to do that I can’t choose, and I go off for a cup of tea, or back to work, instead. But then I saw two websites that seem to have focussed my intent.  The first was Valerie Wetlaufer’s Poem a Day blog (the title kind of explains what she’s doing there) and the second was Jenny Matlock’s “Saturday Centus”, in which a weekly prompt is provided to inspire participants to write 100 words. In my writing (can I really call it that?) the fundamental problem limiting worthwhile output has been that I have nothing much to say, so while I work off-stage on that particular problem here’s a nice game to motivate that all important act of actually writing by providing (forcing) a constraining idea.  Perhaps this might help to kick-start my stalled writing engine and keep it ticking over until I discover what my point is. This way I don’t have to wait until I have the perfect idea for a poem – I just have to write 100 words this week on that topic. Let’s try it and see where it goes.  My first thought (as usual) was to spend the day setting up a new blog or web page to house the flood of great writing that I was about to produce. Luckily I recognised that old trap, and will just put my first attempt here right away. If I manage to keep it up (ie do another one!) or if I graduate to something more like Wetlaufer’s one a day, then I’ll take this outside and move it onto the website. So here’s my first go at the Saturday Centus:

The  “prompt” this week was a photograph of an orange, growing on a tree, but with snow on it (a bit like a little hat of snow sitting on the orange). You can write whatever you like, limited to 100 words. Here are my 100 (well, 96), which come from a context of seeing snow in cruddy back streets of Stoke and Newcastle this winter while teaching classes about ice ages and thinking about The Earth.

 

I live near the Goose Street car park.
Where the gas works used to be.
This is rain country with short, cool summers.
We don’t grow oranges here.
Before people, a glacier a mile deep
Covered everything for a thousand miles.

Snow fell last night.

When it felt the first, soft, silent, falling flakes
Did the ground remember the mile-deep ice?
Those prison years must have started the same way.
Oranges don’t have fears as old
Or memories as long and cold as that.

To them, today, the snow is just some funny kind of hat.

 


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A recurring theme of this blog has been that what we see out of the window depends only partly on what is out there and partly on what we have previously pasted onto the inside of the glass. Little surprise, then, that on reading the first couple of pages of Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” I was struck by their relevance to some of the other things that are going through my mind at this point as I embark on a process of what I am calling i-simplification at the start of a new year, and as I position myself for  the final approach to my 50th birthday. The i-simplification is a simple de-cluttering of my online and electronic environments. Over the ten years or so that I have been keeping multiple websites, writing blogs, maintaining carefully isolated identities etc,  I have moved deep into the dark territory that lies beyond overwhelming. Many websites, many identities, many empires connected by links that only I can see. So I have taken a machete and am starting to hack away at some of the overgrowth. Identities: cut down to just three or four. FourSquare and similar distractions: gone completely. WordPress: cut back to just this one blog. Only drops in the ocean, I know, but a gesture, at least. I think the i-simplification is just part of a typical New Year feeling and a logical consequence of a broader decision to sort out some of the activity-clutter that plays havoc with my largely futile attempts at time management. In the untitled opening section of “Invisible Cities” Calvino writes of there being in the lives of Emperors a desperate moment “when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin… that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us the heirs of their long undoing. Only in Marco Polo’s accounts was Kublai Khan able to discern, through the walls and towers destined to crumble, the tracery of a pattern so subtle it could escape the termites’ gnawing.” This moment comes after the pride in the extension of territories, and after the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up thought of knowing and understanding them. Then comes the emptiness, then that desperate moment. Then the discovery of the tracery of the subtle pattern. So my thought upon reading that opening section, while hacking my way to i-Simplification and my 50th birthday, concerns on the one hand (while perhaps in the back of my mind touching upon camels and needles) the issue of how pride in the boundless extension of our territory may obscure the vision of that subtle tracery which may elude the termites and on the other hand the way that what we read depends only partly (perhaps very little) on what is actually written.

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