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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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I met somebody new this week, and when I first met him I was under the impression that he was a sculptor. I noticed his hands, and I thought yes, those are a sculptor’s hands. It turns out that he wasn’t a sculptor at all. So now my map of the world has these hands just hanging there uncategorized. I think Carlo may actually have been a former aircraft engineer. So does that mean that those were “former aircraft engineer’s hands”? I don’t have a place for those. I don’t have a file or a drawer labelled “former aircraft engineers’ hands”. I don’t know what to expect of such hands so I don’t know whether Carlo’s fit the role. Were those echt aircraft engineer’s hands? And what, anyway, do I really know even of sculptors’ hands? Who was I to say “ah, yes, those are just so, exactly as they would be”? We rush to judgements on the basis of so little knowledge. In the short period of a day or so when I thought that Carlo’s hands were those of a sculptor, I looked carefully at my own hands and wondered, of what type of person would these appear to be the hands? What should I tell somebody that I was, in order for that person to say “ah, yes, those are exactly the hands of such a one”? And I really couldn’t say. Of me, and these particular hands which I know well, I cannot rush to judgement. Somewhere, somewhere between me and Carlo, perhaps there is a middle ground where I would be able to say something useful. A middle ground of just the right amount of knowledge. I thought that REM sang “I know too much”, but they didn’t, it was “Oh no, I’ve said too much”, so that doesn’t help here. T.S.Eliot wrote: “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm aus’ Litauen, echt deutsch” (I am not Russian, but Lithuanian, real German), which helps a little more.

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The lost chord

Sitting in the supermarket cafe thinking about the lost chord and imagining the 1950s I noticed the aisle signs: DVD, mobile phone, frozen chips. This is not the 1950s. But it’s funny how quickly what we are thinking can speed away from the first idea that set us off. Why was I thinking about the ’50s when The Lost Chord was written in the 1870’s? And so often, for me at least, that first idea turns out to have been a misunderstanding. Trains of thought that were set off by a line from a song, which turns out to have been a misheard line. So your long internal perambulation on a theme from a song by Pete Atkin turns out to be based on a line that never actually was, other than in your faulty ears. But now, for me, that non-line remains the inspiration for a distilled thought. Clive James (sticking for a moment with the Pete Atkin example) wrote “most of our knowledge will drop away after we have condensed from it the principles which will connect into a view” (Cultural Amnesia, 2007). But it wasn’t necessarily “knowledge” from which we condensed the view. And when whatever it was – perhaps a misheard lyric or a misread sign – does drop away, and all we are left with is the viewpoint that we have distilled from it, what status does that viewpoint have? I can’t recall the music, but I know I like the tune. These are dangerous times.

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