Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Summer Footnotes

And who says I can't do short entries? (In the interest of variety and spice and all that - and preventing tedium of course....) 

So here's a few short summer observations I'm sharing. Observation of course, being the inherent vocation of the poet/writer. The number one rule of writing. The first lesson in every writing class. The first page in every writing manual. It's a writer's 9 to 5 criteria (our only 9-to-5 anything for that matter!) Observation provides the seeds of inspiration. And if we water them and look after them, maybe they'll grow into something more. Whereas some are just meant to be random and fleeting,  'love ya and leave ya' type. But either way, they're good for the craft.

Anyway, a few signs that summer has arrived or, is definitely on its way (according to me) are:

-big blue cloudless sky  (cerulean blue wide vista, an undeniable banner of summer, hurray!)

-yellow roses in bloom (talking synaesthesia, June is the 'yellow' month of course - honey, sunlight, buttercups, pollen... and sherbet lemons)

-lawnmowers on the go daily (the soundtrack of summer, and freshly mown grass its smell, even though the end result could be baldy lawns...)

-cat on a hot tin roof (sighted yesterday evening: a young tabby lolling around soaking up the heat on a neighbour's aluminium shed roof)

-swallows darting around acrobatically, like electric bolts. (So that's why they're the en vogue symbol for free-spiritedness? Suits. Note-to-self: swallow tattoo on future to-do list.)

-chilled chardonnay al fresco (lazily watching the day recede into a pink and orange sunblushed sky, and then a midnight-blue, moonshine bright dark, accompanied by a glass of dissolved bubbles) 

-red geraniums (their curly heads in bloom by the front door, terracotta pot a deliberate reminder of continental culture)

-bees (the bees are back, buzzing and a bumbling in gardens; in admiration of their hard work and nectar-collecting sole focus)

-Watching 'A Good Year', the film adaptation of Peter Mayle's sunny Provence novel (my summer staple, Provence the ultimate distillation of summer)

What's your summer footnotes? Share please!

And in the spirit of summer - its numerous and glorious blooms, and its busy heralders, bees, here's a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, a sort of ode to bees and blooms, written for the Guardian  Review in response to the 2010 campaign to reduce carbon emissions. Recent studies of course, have shown just how vital bees are to our entire eco-system, so next time you're tempted to scream and shoo and swat them away, remember Duffy's words at the end here. 

Carol Ann Duffy by the way, is one of my favourite poets, especially for her language. I covet her lilting and sharply precise style, I really do! She is the one of the greatest poets writing today, and definitely one of the most accessible. 

No matter where you are, this poem will place you in a flower-filled garden, pronto. 
Let's hope our summer 'sighs in roses' and that we are 'smitten' by its fragrance. Enjoy.

~ Siobhán

'Virgil’s Bees' - Carol Ann Duffy

Bless air's gift of sweetness, honey
from the bees, inspired by clover,
marigold, eucalyptus, thyme,
the hundred perfumes of the wind.

Bless the beekeeper
who chooses for her hives
a site near water, violet beds, no yew,
no echo. Let the light lilt, leak, green
or gold, pigment for queens,
and joy be inexplicable but there
in harmony of willowherb and stream,
of summer heat and breeze,
each bee's body
at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,
strumming on fragrance, smitten.

For this,
let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; bees
are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Midsummer Magic

'Lovers to bed; tis almost fairy time...'

Midsummer's Eve. Twilight and twinkling lights time. Midnight and magic and mayhem. But alas, it's raining relentlessly here in Ireland. There's no chance of wandering outside for a walk even, never mind building a bonfire or planning a woodland sleepover. Oh well.

For me Midsummer has a magical ring to it ever since reading Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', a tale of magic, mischief and mayhem ensuing after a few Athenian lovers wander into a wood on Midsummer night and find themselves at the mercy of some rogue fairies. Oberon and Titania namely, Puck specifically. Cue fairy dust, love spells and lots of mixed up love affairs involving humans, a fairy king and queen and an ass (of the donkey variety). 'The course of true love never did run smooth' after all  as this play proves. 

Midsummer is a time of course for love and lovers as the play shows. Apparently June is the best month for marriage. The full moon in June is called the 'Honey Moon,' as it's supposed to be the best time to collect honey. Roses, so typically associated with romance, are the flower of June. And June is so-called after the Roman goddess Juno, god of marriage. And midsummer is a time of mayhem and all kinds of unsettling and strange goings-on in love. You've been warned...!
Anyway, in keeping with the spirit of midsummer, I thought I'd mix things up a little by  adding some mixed media. So I'm sharing some pictures I found on a truly captivating  picture website www.weheartit.com in a unexpected incident of serendipity. A picture is worth a thousand words and all that.... hmm, as a writer I don't know if I'd agree with that, but I do know that a clever caption can add so much to a picture. The site is full of inspirational images and you can't help but get inspired while browsing.  So, out of sheer inspiration here's what I came up with for a verbal accompaniment to  these whimsical finds:

Wishes are thoughts manifested by belief.

My Pandora box of possibilities...

As fragile as spider-webs...and as strong, my wishes stick

 all images from weheartit.com by tumblr 
Give me more gestation time and I'm sure I'll get a few haikus, if not poems out of these random reflections! (Watch this space...)  Visual aids are such  a great incentive to writing and looking at these cleverly constructed pictures you can see the link between the two mediums,
how they both are aesthetic expressions of emotions,  ideas and thoughts. Great how creativity allows us to give the 'airy nothing' of our emotional existence as Shakespeare puts it, a tangible something isn't it? 

Have a magical midsummer, full of inspiration and exhilaration! 

~ Siobhán.

'The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.'

-Theseus, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Solstice Sentiments

Oh, the summer night
Has a smile of light
And she sits on a sapphire throne.
                                                     ~Barry Cornwall

Today of course is the Solstice, the longest day of the year and the official beginning to summer. A magical point in the astrological calender when the sun 'stands still' in our Northern Hemisphere. Focusing its spotlight on us for a brief but precious interlude. Full of light and life-affirming golden ray glories. And outside, it's raining. Wahey, welcome to Irish weather...

A day for worshipping the sun (if we could only see it...!) Or at least for celebrating it. The sun is our life-force after all. It was even Superman's fuel of choice. It blooms and blossoms life. Lightens dark. Warms our skins and souls. It as as much a part of us as the air we breathe. I'm convinced that we Irish all have weather-vanes embedded in our souls that swing to a heartwarming emotional south when the sun smiles on us. Sunny days make sunny dispositions. We are sun-dependant and sun-resplendent.

But how to worship it exactly, without travelling to Stonehenge? Practise the Yoga sun salutation, feeling muscles arc and stretch into majestic gestures of praise?  Dance around the garden at sunset positively hippylicious? Or wake to greet the sunrise? Maybe wear yellow or orange all day?

I'd say just to revel in everything the sun represents. In its warmth and light.  Both physical and metaphorical. 'Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.' Be dazzled by its brilliant bastion of optimism, 'nature's Prozac' as it's been dubbed. Bask in being alive.  Be grateful for our prosperity and abundance. Salute the sun inside us, as Picasso suggested -  'the sun is a thousand rays in your belly.'

And to us writers, our inspiration. Gold ornate He-man of the sky inspiring and lighting. Blinding and brilliant. Apollo god of the sun, one of the most powerful of the Greek gods was also patron of the arts, specifically music and poetry. And leader of the Muses. So sunshine not only dictates our moods, but also our creative urges. All hail.

From the solstice, the sun will turn once more and start back on its winter journey. Now is the time to soak it up and enjoy. Let its presence fill us with golden light and warmth and light and illuminate all of our endeavours!

Solstice greetings!

~ Siobhán

'The Sun' - Mary Oliver

     Have you ever seen 
in your life 
more wonderful 

than the way the sun, 
every evening, 
relaxed and easy, 
floats toward the horizon 

and into the clouds or the hills, 
or the rumpled sea, 
and is gone-- 
and how it slides again 

out of the blackness, 
every morning, 
on the other side of the world, 
like a red flower 

streaming upward on its heavenly oils, 
say, on a morning in early summer, 
at its perfect imperial distance-- 
and have you ever felt for anything 
such wild love-- 
do you think there is anywhere, in any language, 
a word billowing enough 
for the pleasure 

that fills you, 
as the sun 
reaches out, 
as it warms you 

as you stand there, 
or have you too 
turned from this world-- 

or have you too 
gone crazy 
for power, 
for things? 

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Whiskey Heartache, Harmonica Highs & Stars Gone Blue

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals Live
I did say that this blog will be full of random reflections as well as just philosophies on writing.  So here I am, keeping my word.  Variety is the spice of blogs and all that. Today I'm glad to be mixing the content a bit with the inclusion of some musing on  - music. 

Music is my other great love. Actually not really 'other' - I happen to think that both music and literature complement each other perfectly, like ying and yang, left and right, or  - salt and pepper. Both are art. Both are  expressions of emotion through a medium that requires writing. Both inspire extreme passion and devotion. Without music, life would have no soundtrack. Nothing to register its highs and lows and in-betweens. 

Without music, the world would be a very silent place. Music adds colours to situations, adds tone and texture. It adds significance to ordinary events. It turns up the volume on what we would otherwise miss. Tunes us in to the frequency of emotions. My music collection is like a catalogue of every feeling that's ever arisen in my life, every mood, every contemplation, every realisation. And without certain songs to capture and define and amplify those feelings, I'd be quite deaf and dumb to life.

Anyway, the inspiration for this blog comes from a concert I attended last week which I just have to acknowledge in writing, ah - write a 'review' so to speak. I'm a frequent concert-goer but not a reviewer (trying to put the magic of music into words is not an easy task; hence the almost week long procrastination), but this one, I'm gonna try.  Ryan Adams, well-known American singer-songwriter from North Carolina.

I've been a fan of Ryan Adams ever since I heard his lilting voice on a late night radio show years ago, singing about stars and feeling lonesome and blue. (otherwise known as 'When the Stars Go Blue') Everytime I picture him I see the stars and stripes of the American flag, a young thirty something guy with irredeemably messy hair and faded blue jeans, (Gold album cover) hunched meticulously over his guitar, singing on a porch swing-seat under a hot Southern summer star-lit night (my imagination). 

His music has that seductive Southern vibe without the country jingle jangle, all  acoustic guitar and raw rugged vocals.  What's unique about him is how prolific a musician he is, having produced a stream of albums in a short period of time. And also of course, how ubiquitous he is, being able to do rock'n'roll, country-alt ballads, folksy-americana, band jams, and pared-down solo acoustics. His is the music of rolling along on open highways with the top down, wind blowing through hair, horizons up ahead of desert canyons, bristling long grasses in endless meadows, and swinging on porch seats on streets with names like Cherry Tree Lane and Meadowlake, contemplating life while drowning your blues with a late-night night-cap; songs of whiskey-tinged heartache, cigarette ash regret, beer lazy sunny evenings and tears laced with a cut-to-the-bone deep melancholy longing to love and be loved. 

As a writer, the first thing that endeared me to Ryan Adams was his lyrics, which are simultaneously simple and smart, honest and allegorical, tender and tough, and full of weird and wonderful references. And the fact that he has a song for every mood known to man! He can do mopey and lonesome: Oh My God Whatevr Etc, Come Pick Me Up; mournful laments: Why Do They Leave?; laidback bluesy: Touch, Feel and Lose, Mockingbird; defiant rocker: Note to Self:Don't Die; sad and sorrowful: I Taught Myself How to Grow; affectionately attentive: Wildflowers, Two; celebratory and foot-stompin':  Firecracker, Gonna Make You Love Me More, New York, New York; down-in-the-dumps dreary: Slyvia Plath, The Shadowlands; subtle love songs to people and places: Damn Sam, I Love A Woman That Rains, Desire, My Love for You is Real, Oh My Sweet Carolina, Meadowlake Street; and metaphorically meaningful: I See Monsters, World War 24, Halloweenhead.  He writes all his own songs, plays all his own instruments - namely guitar, harmonica and piano. He is quite simply, a hugely talented singer-songwriter.

The stage-set of the Olympia in Dublin last Wednesday night was sparse and dimly-lit, appropriate to the sparseness of the solo acoustic performance. This was Ryan Adams up close and personal - no band, no gimmicks, just a red, white and blue guitar (which he spent ages intricately tuning all night) and a piano. He  was melancholy as hell and as moody. But that did not take away from the beauty of the  raw rendered songs with Ryan wringing out his blues for the audience, his voice varying from whispers to whitewater riffs. You could hear a feather drop throughout his quiet opening rendition of 'Oh My Sweet Carolina.' (Indeed, there were feather-like dust-motes floating down on the stage all night of which he indeed noticed - he's nothing if not sarcastically observant.) His in-between banter was scarce and at times, wittily weird, but he's not a man for making small talk, just songs. Songs that tell stories and songs that require a close listening. 

And so the night was full of songs with stories, highlights of which included a new melancholy offering 'Dirty Rain' (inspired by our June weather I wondered?) and an encore of a summer evening lullaby 'Strawberry Wine.' My impression of him was that of tempermental and moody, (he'll sing what he wants - take it or leave it!) but also brilliantly creative and so aware of life.   Another reason I like him so much - he is an artist in the true sense of the word. Not in it for the money, the fame or status, just in it to make songs. To transform his experience of the world into some tangible expression that can affect and relate to others. To heal the hurt by turning it into something else: "Anyway my pain kind of went, I got sick of it -- and it’s in me somewhere for sure, but I figure if I keep it in this imaginary box in my heart and let it loose when I sing, well, we all win a little bit more and I hurt a little bit less." Well-said Ryan.

Strumming silver-star chords and teardrops from his guitar, hellbent on lashing out the heartbreak, voice rising and falling with the highs and lows of each note, as sweet and sour and strong as whiskey, when he sang you could see what it was exactly he was made of and why it was exactly he was doing this. The final image I have of the  night  is of him unslinging his guitar, picking up his leather jacket and bidding us goodnight from a midnight blue strobe-lit stage, as the audience began to wander off not star-struck, but most definitely affected by the intense performance of a real musician intent on nothing more than being true to his art.

Until the next time,

~ Siobhán

Check out out an acoustic rendition of 'When the Stars go Blue' by Ryan Adams here:

Friday, 3 June 2011

Indifference, the Icarus Syndrome & Gold Stars

 'Icarus' - Henri Matisse

There are many volatile destructive emotions at play in our world - cruelty, hatred, jealousy, suspicion, betrayal, rage... The list is endless. But if there's one I hate above all others, it's indifference. 

Or is indifference even an emotion? Seems more like an absence of any to me. Apathy. Non-entity. Blankness.  

I'm always reminded of the WH Auden poem 'Museé des Beaux Arts' when I think of indifference.  Auden uses Breughel's painting 'The Fall of Icarus' as subject-matter in the poem: the eager, enthusiastic young man who was so ambitious he flew to the sun with man-made wings, falling into the Aegean sea and drowning, in this poem going unnoticed by anyone around: "and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen /something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,/had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."  I know the poem is mainly to do with tragedy and how the world does not stop for it, but it reminds me of indifference too. Nobody noticed the spectacle of Icarus in the sky, or falling, or nobody cared. In my opinion, the Icarus story itself is more to do with battling indifference than high-flying ambition.

We all come up against indifference at some stage or other in our lives, but I'm wondering how much does the average writer endure? I've had a lot of experience with indifference. And in my opinion, it is to a writer what a stun-gun is to a running man. 

It's not a known fact to most people who know me that I dabble in words. It's not a known fact to them that I want to be a writer, that it's my utmost  and undying ambition. It's not a known fact that every spare minute I have I spend typing frantically, or scribbling notes long into the wee hours, my whole mind and soul consumed by fire. It's not known. Or if it is, it's not noticed. 

I try not to tell people anymore that I write. I prefer to keep it a secret, like Clark Kent. The people who know that I write regard it as a mere footnote. An interest, a whim.  At best. Most of them disregard it.  But to writers, writing is more akin to breathing than anything else. and not light entertainment. ('Come to it any way but lightly. I repeat - you must not come lightly to the blank page' - wise words of caution from Stephen King confirm this.) Writing is not a light-hearted pursuit to be picked up as a pastime when there's nothing better to do. Writing is an all-consuming passion. For serious writers, it is their whole lives. The page is not their dalliance, but their deity.

And so when I'm met with indifference, it stunts me, it really does. It is said that hate is not the opposite to love, that indifference is. To not feel anything, to not give a damn, to not have any interest. To feel like your words don't matter, don't make an impression...this must be the greatest insult a writer could ever be wounded by.

Countless times I've given people material to read and never got a reply, never got any comment, any reaction. Did that hurt? Hell yeah. Far more than any scathing criticism  would, because at least criticism shows some sort of reaction, some sort of impression made. To say nothing nullifies a piece to nothing. An existential Nada. And I just don't get it. How can someone read something, that has been written from scratch by another person, heart and soul and blood and sweat poured into it, and not utter a single word of response? How does it not matter? They could at least say it was boring, it rambled on, it's too vague....anything would be better than blankness!
The usual reaction I get when I tell people I want to be a writer is not 'Oh sure isn't that a pastime not a career?' or 'wise up!' or any of the obvious negative comments,  or even, a pleasant 'oh you mean you want to be a journalist?' It's more of a raising of the eyebrows, a shrug or hunch of the shoulders, a slight grimace of silence and then a quick change of subject. And that's it!!! What ...and why.... and huh??? Are writers unmentionables now? Or are they unheard of in certain circles?  It was like I hadn't said anything. It was so off the radar that it wasn't on any level of reception. It didn't matter. Is it because people think it's a nigh-impossible career choice? Or think it's a phase or fantasy? Or maybe it's just another twisted form of begrudgery, something this country excels at? Tear everyone who dreams of flying to the sun and stars down. I'm dumbfounded, I really am. 
But I suppose a challenge of the job is to make it head and shoulders above the silence of anonymity. But writing is not like any other career, (with the exception of Art of course.) It it so entwined with one's own personality as to be inseparable. EE Cummings once remarked: 'The question  'who am I?' is answered by what I write. I become my writing.' First and foremost, writing is an expression of the Self. So it's going to hurt when people ignore anything you produce as it's really a knock-on swing on your personality too. If you put your whole soul into writing and it doesn't even muster up as much as a two-word reply, then I just don't know!

Or maybe this is just my experience, coming up blank on the majority of all public exhibiting. There have been exceptions of course, but not that many as to debunk my theory. Maybe I'm just hankering back to the days of copybooks and gold star rewards...Writing is a lonely occupation, I get that. But a silent one? I thought writing was a war on silence? I thought words were supposed to incite reaction, rage even, at the right temperature, and someday, golden stars of admiration and appreciation? Any writing that has come by me has certainly never been sent back again blank. I've always made comments, even on the pieces I didn't like. Give me a signed and solid rejection slip any day rather than a mute-mouth!

Apologies if I've entered rant territory, but this is something I feel I need to get off my chest. Set it out there so my load of writing insecurities is lightened, if only slightly. I won't stop writing because of it, hell no. But sometimes it does feel like I'm banging my head against a brick wall -  or cemented path, or dark void... But like Icarus, I want to fly amongst the stars! Regardless of who sees me, notices, cares, or not.

If there's anyone out there in the ether reading and feels the same way, I'd love to hear from  you on the subject. Have you experienced indifference as part of your writing life? Or can you dissuade me otherwise? Drop me a line! Your comments would be as treasured as those gold stars. 

Thanks for reading, 

~ Siobhán.

PS. (And if I can't declare my writer status, here's a wonderful declaration from  a poet who certainly can: Pablo Neruda on his initiation into the world of poetry. Enjoy.)

'Poetry' - Pablo Neruda    

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face                                 
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth

had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something kicked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations, 

the darkness perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,

drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose with the wind.