Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Importance of Being Ernest: Hemingway's Wise Words

Hemingway knew the score. Yep. He was as straight-forward as a pistol at point-blank range, a whiskey neat, or a blunt stripped sentence.

Hemingway's prose is infamous for its pared-down, direct style. But so too are his sayings. He was harsh, up-front, abrupt and blunt.

I remember once watching one of those late-night murder/mystery shows where a writer was the main character involved. A writer with writer's block to be exact. (*For more on this portrayal - see two posts ago...!)  But anyway, he was being haunted by the ghost of Ernest Hemingway. Yes, none other. 

He would appear in his room at night with the crashing of bulls or gunfire behind him. Once he even turned up with a rifle pointed at said frightened writer. The poor fellow was besides himself, but eventually came to realise that Hemingway's spectre was only terrorizing him out of his block. 

I can't remember how exactly it turned out - but I will never forget that image of Hemingway - old, grey and bearded - as a relentless bellowing scary type of fellow! Haunting mopey writers with his blunt declarations, forcing an ultimatum on them - if you're a writer, write for God's sake! - or something to that effect.

Anyway, here are a few of his wise words. The unabashed, unedited truth. (Approach with caution...!)

~ Siobhán. 

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

 A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.

Write drunk; edit sober.

There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges. 
In order to write about life, first you must live it!

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.  
A writer's problem does not change. It is always how to write truly and having found out what is true to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it. 
Do you suffer when you write? I don't at all. Suffer like a bastard when I don't write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day. 

God knows, people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp-following eunuchs of literature.

I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?.... Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief. 

An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.

All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened.

The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life — and one is as good as the other.

It is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it. 

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it — don't cheat with it.

The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

Friday, 22 June 2012

A Poem A Day!

In order to indulge my love of poetry I have just started another blog entitled A Poem A Day, in which I plan to do what it says on the tin - post a poem a day!

These poems will include some of my favourite poems and poets as well as totally random ones - from sonnets to haikus, old to modern, famous to unknown, and everything in between.

So if you're a poetry lover, join me in indulging in a poem a day! The equivalent of a vitamin for the soul! I love poetry - but I admit I don't read it on a daily basis - more of a pick-it-up-randomly-now-and-then basis, so I am looking forward to the commitment and the benefits I will surely reap from the project! And hopefully the inspiration it will provide to readers who stumble upon it. 

The blog will consist of poems, and nothing but the poems! No wordy nattering from me. I'm going to stand back and let the poems speak for themselves (barring a few lines of introduction.)

Even if you're not a poetry lover - pop over and have a look, see if you can find something you like. I maintain that there is a poem suited to everyone out there - and once you find it - once it clicks with you, you'll be hooked from then on. Poetry is a medium that speaks to us all, in some form or another. 

There will still be poems featured on this blog - of course! But A Poem A Day is solely devoted to poems. If you fancy a moment of morning meditation - have a look. Or a curious peek. Even a line of a poem can speak volumes. It may even solve your current woes, never under-estimate it! A poem a  day keeps... all the big bad 'Ds' away - despair, depression, disillusion, doubt, detachment and disencouragement. It can inspire and uplift and illuminate and affirm. It offers, more than anything, a reminder of what life really is.

Don't believe me? Give it a go. It can't hurt. 

I hope to see you there! - www.a-poem-a-day-project.blogspot.com

 ~ Siobhán.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Reclusive, Neurotic, Psychotic: Writers on Film & TV

When it comes to the big screen and the small screen, it seems writers don't fare too well.

There's definitely a stereotype at play in big and small screen version writers - and it's not a good one. In general, writers are either annoying geeks meddling with police departments or socially inept recluses and in most if not all cases, mentally unstable neurotics on the verge of cracking up.

The first writer I ever witnessed on television was the inimitable Jessica Fletcher, of the classic Murder She Wrote TV series. Here the writer in question was popular crime writer Jessica Fletcher, as famous for her crime solving abilities as her bestsellers. And here was the first and infamous installment of the writer as detective aide extraordinaire. Jessica's writerly expertise on the area was always the special ingredient that helped solve a case and save the day. Indeed each episode played out as a murder mystery novella. We rarely saw Jessica at her typewriter but rather on the hunt for clues in a case. Apart from the ingraining of a stereotype, the only negative connotations associated with this version of the small screen writer was her meddlesome busybody personality (albeit a mutation of a writer's natural curiousity) and the annoying jingle-jangle theme tune!

This popular TV incarnation can be seen today in US crime series Castle which follows the adventures of Richard Castle, bestselling crime writer who shadows a detective in the NYPD for research and ends up on a permanent working placement, thanks to his unique insight into criminal caper. (Quite the modern day mutation of Mrs Fletcher we note, but Castle is not near as meddling or annoying; on the contrary he is quite witty, charming and a humorous addition to the department.) The series sways from the serious and dramatic to the comic and romantic. It regularly pokes fun at the notion of the writer as the ultimate nerd. But nerds get to save the day. As it turns out, it is always Castle who provides the missing link to a case and solves the unsolvable. And ultimately comes off as cool. He even gets to wear his own 'writer' imprinted bulletproof vest when in the field in a declarative coup for geeky writers everywhere.

But crime buffs are about as good as it gets for screen versions of writers. Speaking of -  Jack Nicholson's character in the Oscar-winning film As Good As It Gets is quite an example of the stereotypical writer, namely - grumpy, unsociable, obsessive compulsive, neurotic and reclusive. When we first meet this disdainful character, we need not wonder what the heck he does for a living (apart from attending psychiatrist appointments and his preferred restaurant) - what else could it be but a writer? When we see all the books in the apartment, it's a big hint. And what does Mr Sarky do in the evening? Sit down at his computer and work on his novel of course. So that explains his general ill-temper and all round misanthropy then... (And I'm not even going to mention The Shining....!)

It gets worse. Johnny Depp does a genuine creepy impression of a writer on the brink of breakdown in Secret Window.  Think you've finally stumbled upon a normal representation of a writer, a good-looking young disheveled Mort Rainey? Think again. His genre is crime: and you either go one way or another with that - to the local police department as an aide-de-camp or to the teetering edge of sanity. Depressed after his divorce and suffering from writer's block, he ends up writing his own murder mystery into real life in a schizophrenic twist that even the most unimaginative of writers can see coming.

Seems murderous intentions are an inevitable side effect of being a writer. In the 1987 black comedy Throw Mama Off the Train Billy Crystal's lead is a frustrated writer in the midst of a debilitating writer's block. And what better way to unleash the creativity again than to go on a murdering spree with a student who just happens to need his annoying mother murdered off and then turn it into a bestselling book at the end? Just shows you what writer's block can do!

Michael Douglas's writer and professor in The Wonder Boys (main pic)  doesn't come across much better. Here we have a failed writer, halfheartedly teaching a class while trying to reconcile his failing marriage. A weekend's adventure with his student protége and an earnest editor takes him on an existential quest which only confirms his failure further. Yet again, another depressed and mopey and whiskey drinking writer. Tobey Maguire who plays the gifted student is (as expected) introverted, dark, silent most of the time, and just plain weird. What we learn from this film seems to be that writers are strange creatures who sit about all day in dressing gowns at a typewriter or spend all their time dealing with the black clouds of existential burden.

The writer as recluse is the main subject of the film Finding Forrester, with Sean Connery's writer based loosely on the notoriously reclusive Catcher in the Rye author, JD Salinger.  After writing the definitive American novel William Forrester disappears from society and is stumbled upon by a young promising African American writer Jamal  who strikes up a friendship with the reclusive writer. There's no doubt that Forrester appears as a great writer, but again, a socially inept one. He suffers anxiety attacks when out in public and prefers solitude to society. But hey, at least he's not psychotic. Meticulous yes, neurotic no. There's a reverence and respect this character demands, but alas, it portrays the writer in yet another negative 'outsider' light. 

Cantankerous is another word that describes writers on the screen.  A relatively small scale 2005 TV film Shadows in the Sun featured Harvey Keitel as a grumpy, alcohol-guzzling writer living it up in his rural refuge in Italy.  Weldon Parish was quite the writer in his day, but in his old age is suffering from writer's block and prefers to find inspiration at the bottom of a bottle rather than with a pen. Joshua Jackson is the aspiring young writer who stumbles upon him and acts as the catalyst for the pending realisation and mending of ways. It's yet another cliché of the writer as an alcoholic or substance-dependent. Also, I remember vaguely years ago in Australian soap Home and Away there was a writer featured in the story - a drunken, down-and-out former great writer and Irish too - to add insult to injury! Writers hitting the bottle when block strikes is an all too familiar adage that film and TV likes to exploit to no end.

Women writers are just as badly portrayed (if at all that is - another stereotype of the screen writer is that they're always male). Emma Thompson's novelist in Stranger Than Fiction is neurotic in the extreme. The story is a quirky parable on the relation of fiction to reality and the main character played by Will Ferrell is at the mercy of this author as the puppet-string-controlled main character in her current novel. (It takes the term 'omniscient narrator' to a whole new dangerous level.) Thompson's novelist is the stereotypical brilliant yet tortured writer, a chain smoker and an obsessive eccentric who is obsessed with death and the emptiness of existence. And, in yet another stereotype, she has the obligatory straight-talking practical editor to keep her on schedule and sane while in the process of finishing her novel. (Note to self - writers are the crazy ones; editors and publishers the normal ones who keep these mad geniuses on a leash.)

Carrie from Sex and the City is perhaps the most glamorized and popular version of the TV writer (and the most positive perhaps). Rather than being mentally unstable, neurotic,  psychotic or manic depressive, she's upbeat and optimistic and leads a normal life (and an empowered one). Her writing is not an obsession, but a profession and one which helps her comprehend the reality of her own life and the complexities of modern love and romance.  But then again - she is a columnist - not a real writer per se and so escapes the occupational hazards that fiction writers come up against. But there's an exaggeration here too - do writers really live such glamorous lifestyles? Can they afford regular splurges on designer clothes from a singular weekly column?? And is international book deal success and celebrity status so easily garnered from said column?

Ahh. It's a pretty depressing depiction isn't it? Recluses, schizophrenics, eccentrics, manic depressives, psychotic murderers.... why are big and small screen writers so darn.... crazy? WelL I think it's a result of exaggerating normal writer traits into these more dramatic and dangerous transgressions in order to make appealing drama. Otherwise, they'd be too ordinary to feature in a screenplay. Writers infact lead a boring life - typing in solitude for hours on end without anything exciting happening, interspersed with eating, moping, bathroom breaks, staring into space . Not exactly the stuff of great action flicks.

Or maybe these Hollywood executives are merely paying homage to the 'strangeness' of the profession. Expressing their intrigue about it. Because it is mysterious. And rightly, very psychological in terrain.

What writers have left an impression on you from TV or film? There are loads more, but I'm sure all displaying the same typical characteristics. Or are there exceptions to the rule lurking out there?

I'd love to know!

~ Siobhán.

Oh and as an exception to the rule - I have to mention my favourite writer out of them all - Lucas from US TV series One Tree Hill. The series begins with Lucas (played by Chad Michael Murray) as a high school basketball player (clearly not a geek) and a budding writer. And how refreshing to see that he's young, good-looking, sociable and leads a NORMAL life with none of the stereotypical negative writer qualities! He's a tad brooding yes, but only in the endearing way. His writer self only serves to deepen his character - sensitive, honest, contemplative, philosophical and wise - not deform it! A feature of the show is his voiceover narrations (incorporating quotes from the likes of Shakespeare) which highlight the theme of each episode and are taken from notes he pens on the events of his life and those around him. After graduation he acquires a publishing deal for the novel he puts together from these and goes on to enjoy bestselling success, with the only ensuing dramas being the emotional kind not the murderous - of which, like all good writers - he turns into fiction. At last, a positive, normal and authentic representation of a writer. Film directors - take note!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Sunday Poem: Sunshine Glee

Here's a poet I love - former American Laureate Billy Collins. Mostly because he has a sense of humour. His poems are tongue-in-cheek meditations on life and pretty self-deprecating most of the time. But within the wit, there lies wisdom. 

Billy Collins is definitely a poet for people who think poetry is pompous. He likes to mock this notion to no end. The poem below is a good example of this. In it he ridicules gloomy mopey poets and poems, preferring instead the infectious simple glee of real life. And maintains how poetry should be a medium for exploring this joy rather than the stereotypical despair so associated with it. Here, here I say!! 

And on a beautiful sunny day like today, there's poetry enough in the golden-lit scenes and how light falls like grace on surroundings... but to accentuate it,  the last verse of this poem is perfect.

(And in testament to the Collins effect, it's surely impossible to refrain from yelling out 'yee-hah' at the end in unison with the sentiment -  and in your most gleeful tone!)



Despair - Billy Collins

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry - 
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrator of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces, 

*For more on Billy Collins click here

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Cloud Contemplation

Aren't clouds the most glorious things? 

Here in Ireland, when we are privy to blue skies, you'll find me with my face tilted upwards. Soaking up the sun yes, but more so as of lately revelling in not just the blueness, but the great white clouds that accompany it. 

Yes, the clouds! Not those overcast grey monstrosities no, but the fluffy white ones floating around the blue like ships or mountains, or super-sized cotton wool. They're so huge and vast and majestic. So perfectly shaped and sculpted. So grand.

There's something just so optimistically picture-perfect about a blue sky with some cumulus clouds (the big fluffy-on-top-ones). They succeed in making the sky seem so endless. So mysterious. We're more aware of our planetary orbit while clouds are shimmying by in the sky. Cloud-laden skies remind us that we are moving through this universe, and time is moving, even though we ourselves may think we are standing still. Clouds beg to differ. They yell out horizon like nothing else.

And get this, they're not just white. I always remember a line from Tracy Chevalier's novel 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' in which the artist Vermeer talks about painting in relation to clouds. How full of colour they are - lilac lined and gold and silver-flecked and navy and purple. And this is not just from an artist's eye. Light plays on them offering a palette of colours.

I remember my first ever plane journey. It was dusk. We were above the clouds and the sun's light had them billowed in gold. Light streaming through cracks and crevasses and it was just beautiful. Ethereal. No wonder then, that clouds were referred to as 'essences' before being scientifically explained. And to this day I'm still delightfully amazed at the 'angel rays' of light dusk's stage show reveals. Sunsets you may argue are grandiose, but I've always been more taken with the moment just before the colour, the lit anticipation, when the sun dipping its head in a crown of clouds shines a light on all their glory.

But back to the blue. There's nothing happier and no natural phenomenon that induces happiness as much as blue skies I think.  And that got me to snapping (photographer I am not - spontaneous snapper I am...) super-awedly (new word creations are a symptom of giddy fascination!) and came up with a few pictures (below) that are most in need of words I think.

And that got me to googling these sky creations and discovering names like stratus and cirrus and cumulus. (And the Irish word for cloudy keeps popping into my head: 'scammalach' - the sound of which perfectly captures the fluffy volume and appearance I think!)

Which further led me to a poem by Carol Ann Duffy about the Londoner who first named clouds, Luke Howard.  Imagine that. Being so entranced by the great sentries of the sky as to create names for them, scientific or otherwise. Now that, as Carol Ann so powerfully points out, is pure love.


(and PS/ most utterly writerly happy again on my new turquoise HP Pavillion :)

~ Siobhán. 

Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds - Carol Ann Duffy

Eldezar and Asama Yama, 1783,
erupted violently; a Great Fogg
blending incredible skies over Europe.
In London, Luke Howard was ten.
The sky’s lad then.

he stared up evermore; saw
a meteor’s fiery spurt,
the clamouring stars;
what the moon wouldn’t do;
but loved clouds most-
dragons and unicorns;
Hamlet’s camels, weasels and whales;
the heads of heroes;
the sword of Excalibur, lit
by the setting sun. Mackerel sky,
mackerel sky, not long wet,
not long dry.

And knew
love goes naming,
even a curl of hair - thus, Cirrus.
Cumulus. Stratus. Nimbus.

*All photos taken proudly by me!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Sunday Poem: Wedding Bliss

    Oh, I did sincerely hope that two Sunday poems would not come together, but here I'm afraid they did. (It's my lack of laptop and limited borrowing time on another that prevents me from blogging efficiently! Still not sorted on that front....)

    But back to the poem. I know I intimated that I would not be including the so called traditionalist poems that are so well-known they're loathed, but here, I have to make an exception, my only defence being that it is not a common classic poem, and definitely not a long and rambling one!

    My mind has been on weddings this week due to a relative of mine getting married -  more specifically, the language and etiquette of weddings - and namely, how poetry should feature more prominently at these events. For isn't poetry the language of love and love, poetry in itself? So why aren't more poems read at weddings I ask? They're more common at funerals! Death, it seems, needs the expression of poetry to be explained, to be accepted, but what about Love?

    Is it fitting that love should be filtered through staged comic speeches, general greetings and inebriate stuttering declarations? I could never imagine having a wedding without a few poems embroidered into the event! How is it that quote goes - 'there are too many mediocre things in life and love should not be one of them.' So many times it seems weddings are more about a grand 'shindig' than an actual celebration and reverence of love. Especially here in Ireland, where people can't seem to express their emotions, and instead of gushing loved-up couples, we have take-a-hand banter and alcohol-fuelled jollity to take the place of real articulation. (Oh, do not get me started on this topic!!! Let's just say real romantics are left cold by most wedding celebrations!) All I'm saying is a poem or two would bring the ceremony back into its intended realm of romantic.

    Anyway, this train of thought led me to having a look again  at a collection of love poems I have, edited by Daisy Lowe, selector of the real Sunday poem for many years. There's a section on weddings, and instead of the well-known verses - Shakespeare's sonnet 'Love is not love which alters where it alteration finds' or the Corinthians passage defining love, there are a few lesser-known but suiting stunning poems.

    And one of them is the Tennyson one below, in which the marriage day is described in terms of light, golden to be precise. I just can't help but swoon at the line, 'Here is the golden close of love'. Ahh. What better more accurate way to describe the marriage ceremony? And the light, filling the land 'so low upon the earth.' Light as a metaphor for love is a fairly common one, and epecially gold. We merely need look at the wedding rings. And it always seems to remind me of alchemy, the transformation of ordinary substances into gold, by some mysterious magic. It's a fitting analogy of love don't you think? And this poem captures perfectly this awe at the light and indeed, its ability to sustain through hardships, 'a love that never tires.' Powerful stuff.

    So here's a toast to more poems at weddings! And this one, 'Marriage Morning', by Tennyson, would be one of my chosen to read.

~ Siobhán.

'Marriage Morning' - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Light, so low upon earh,
You send a flash to the sun.
Here is the golden close of love,
All my wooing is done.
Oh, all the woods and the meadows,
Woods, where we hid from the wet,
Stiles where we stayed to be kind,
Meadows in which we met!
Light, so low in the vale
You flash and lighten afar,
For this is the golden morning of love,
And you are his morning star.
Flash, I am coming, I come,
By meadow and stile and wood,
Oh, lighten into my eyes and my heart,
Into my heart and my blood!
Heart, are you great enough
For a love that never tires?
O heart, are you great enough for love?
I have heard of thorns and briers.
Over the thorns and briers,
Over the meadows and stiles,
Over the world to the end of it
Flash of a million miles.