Slow down, breathe easy, make a poem of your life. Don't let life rush by; reflect. Look for beauty and rejuvenate your soul.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Fairytale Poems

I never much liked fairytales as a child, but nowadays I find them fascinating. Or rather, the re-telling of fairytales, the more subversive the better.
L.L. Barkat wrote a poem this week (brilliant poem - did I say brilliant? Well, I meant to) inspired by Cinderella  (see here) and challenged whosoever was willing to do the same.
This was so timely as this week I also bought myself The World's Wife: Poems by Carol Ann Duffy which opens with a magnificent poetic re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood.
So I decided to be a willing fairytale poet.
My poem is inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

The Name Spinner

You may think I was fortunate to have a father
Who saw fit to boast in a daughter,
A miller who would have his daughter queen.
But I could not spin gold.

I wept three nights as the straw mountains multiplied,
And sighed three nights as the magic man spun
Life from gold for me. My crown was won
With a pendant, a ring and an empty promise.

I have been a bargaining chip my whole life long -
Traded by my father for a royal name,
By the king for riches magic-made,
And now my desperation played on for a babe.

But hear now that I am queen and I have means!
He spun gold from straw, but I spin names from tears.
I sobbed three nights to claim the name of my sovereign king;
The worth of his could not exceed three more.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Sketching Men

Since I started drawing and painting faces, I have wanted to try my hand at a male face. I think I first felt the urge when I painted a female angel, for although we all paint beautiful female angels all the time, the traditional biblical angel is portrayed as male. As soon as I painted the female I knew I wanted to paint the male. I haven't got there yet (watch this space!), but I've made a start by sketching a couple of male faces in my sketchbook.

The first still looked very female, but I kept adjusting (thickening eyebrows, squaring the jaw) until I got this which I think could just about pass for a man, although I think he/she could be suffering from some gender confusion still:

Not yet satisfied I immediately embarked on a second, this time in profile, which I think is more successfully male:

Do you draw men as well as women? What adjustments do you make to the features to emphasise the gender of your portraits?


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Stretching The Poetic Muscle

With all this sketching and painting filling my free hours, my poetry writing has just about dried up. My thoughts are elsewhere with pretty-faced girls and art journal pages. I am not sitting still for long enough with pen and paper and a jumble of words in my head.
I need to rectify this. So this week I have written two short poems. They were written quickly and fall far short of the masterpieces I would like to write (!!), but they serve their purpose in just flexing those poetry muscles a little in preparation for some more serious exercise in the hopefully near future.
I share them with you because their simplicity allows us to ask some questions about poetic technique. I would love to know your thoughts on the points I make below.

The house I grew up in had a line of poplars at the end of the garden, a lasting image of my childhood scenery that came to mind as I racked my brain for a starting-point image:

Standing Sentries

Poplars stand sentry
As the field is ploughed
As the soil is turned
As the seed is sown

Poplars stand sentry
As the crop is grown
The harvest taken
As you come home.

And as it is painting that is keeping me from the poetry, I took the hindrance and charged it to be my muse:

Hidden Portrait

Painting your portrait
I take care
As my brush sweeps the tender
Curve of your nose,
As I colour your eyes
With the shine of experience.

Painting your portrait
I swirl joy
Into the curls of your auburn hair,
But at your cheek
My brush slows to uncover
The tear I know is hidden there.

How about a little analysis?

Do you notice how each of these poems repeats the first line in each stanza? I used this as a simple technique to lengthen the poems, by building on the same ideas a couple of times.

Do you notice how there is a slight twist at the end of each? This provides a reason, a justification, for capturing these scenes in poetry in the first place: they are not quite as ordinary as they seem. Having these changes at the end of each poem also provides a proper end, a completion, without which the poems may have just petered out unsatisfactorily.

The first poem is not very creative in its use of language: "the seed is sown" is unoriginal and an automatic, common description of the activity. Should the seed have been "flung" instead?  Or perhaps it should have been "bedded?" But neither of these would have created the uneven rhyme with the later word "grown".
"The harvest taken" is a very minor improvement on "the harvest gathered", not because it is a better word, but just because it is slightly less obvious. Do you think the use of familiar descriptive language is sometimes helpful to the reader, or does it simply make for a poor poem?

The inspiration for the second poem came from the drawing you can see here. This one I posted without the tear, but I have a copy of this girl in my sketchbook, with a tear on her left cheek. Hence the hidden tear. However the poem changed the girl substantially: the poem paints her in colour and curls her hair. What do you think of these developments? Should I have disciplined myself to describe what I first saw, or was it better to let the poem go where it would?

I would love you to let me know what you think of these ideas.
And why don't you follow similar inspiration to write a simple poem or two of your own? Again I'd love to see.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Book pages in mixed media art

I have taken the brave step of pulling pages from a book (sacrilege!) in the name of art.

I am quite sure people fall into one of two categories : those pure and perfectionist souls who worship a pristine book and those practical pensives who will happily deface one to extract its goodness.
Amongst readers there are those who handle their novels with care and insert respectful bookmarks. Then there are those who bend the covers backwards for easy reading and fold the corner of a page when there is no bookmark to hand.
In churches there are those who wrap their bibles securely in a leather cover and fret when the thumbed pages turn a little grey. Then there are the annotators who scribble notes in the margins, underline and even highlight in neon colours.
There are those who must buy new, to smell the pages and display on the shelf. Then there are those content with second-hand who can let the book journey on again after reading.

Which type of bookworm are you?

Being largely the former myself, choosing even an unwanted book otherwise destined for the charity shop, to rip the pages from for a little mixed media artwork required several deep breaths and a solid determination. But with a greater purpose in mind I took the plunge and now have these two ladies with book page hair to show for the poor book's sacrifice.

I think they are both mindful of the action required to style their recycled hair and appreciative of the result, as am I.


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Parenting a Teen

Last week my eldest daughter turned 13. My youngest daughter (10) keeps saying "I can't believe we have a teenager in the house!"

I'm yet to see what these teenage years will have in store for us, but for now I am grateful.
I am grateful because my daughter and I are still good friends.
I can see she is changing: wanting a greater independence with her own friends, maintaining those friendships with the help of her mobile phone, considering a little make-up an essential part of an ordinary day.
She has (considerable) moments of grumpiness and she's a nightmare to wake up in the mornings.
But these things are to be expected and can be managed.

What thrills me about our relationship, though, is that without shirking parental responsibility I am so far maintaining friendship. Two things I am so thankful for and will treasure while they last:
  1. My daughter still likes to hold my hand when we go out together. She's not ashamed of her mum. We shop for clothes now instead of toys, but we still have this reassurance of touch.
  2. She lets me join in a little hanging out with her friends. Recently she had her best friend stay for a sleepover (who sleeps!!!). We watched DVDs together - the three of us - and then the two of them fussed over my hair, nails and make-up into the early hours of the morning. What a joy that they wanted me around, even if it was only to experiment on!
I know not everyone can maintain such a relationship with their children for a whole host of reasons and I'm truly sorry if yours is fraught or brings you sorrow. Maybe the only thing they want from you right now is space and maybe the best thing you can do for the relationship is respect that.

Whether you have young children, teenagers, grandchildren, nieces or nephews or even younger siblings think creatively about how you can build that relationship. Look for any positive points of contact and take care to keep them ticking over gently.
I let my younger daughter do art with me and we just chat. She says she likes how she can talk to me. I intend to be mindful of this and not let it slip away.

But things change - people change. We now have a teenager in the house. I'll hold her hand for as long as she is happy for me to do so, but on the day she pulls her hand away I will respect that. Hopefully then we will still be friends.