Month: May 2016

The rook and the pigeon

They both knew it was wrong

but in the warm kiss

of a coming summer

it had to happen

 

The garden was empty

their clans briefly absent

only magpies kept sentinel

and pride dazzled them heedless

 

Two notes of

incongruent tongues

and it was decided

Now is the moment

 

The rook and the pigeon

left the garden

flew over basking roof-tiles

and went out into the world

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Bench poems

I’ve been inspired to try a little experiment after a recent visit to a Frank Auerbach retrospective. Auerbach famously revisits the same subject matter time and again in his visual artwork. He draws, sculpts and paints the same models over the course of decades, he paints the same city views dozens, if not hundreds, of times over. In particular, he paints Camden (London). Even more specifically, he paints the view from his Camden studio, looking out over across rooftops of Mornington Crescent and towards what was once a cigar factory, but is now Greater London House.

The repeated return, especially to his studio window view, captured my imagination. It’s partly because it’s a scene I’ve seen from a different angle. I used to work in Greater London House, back in the days when I smoked like a chimney but refused to by fags. Every time I’d managed to nick one from Erica (sorry Rica!) we’d go out and smoke on the very spot Auerbach captures in so many of his works.

Seeing Auerbach’s depiction of colour and space, his interpretation of a place I occupied as part of my daily working life got me thinking about how much I don’t see when I enter the ‘work’ part of my day. But this is also part of Auerbach’s regular working day – he visits this view countless times, over decades, and yet, each time he describes it in paint, it is never the same. The light, the colour, the relationships of shape and space change even if nothing else has. And then, in the practice of revisiting this scene across months, years, decades, his work traces changes that in themselves mean very little but placed in the context of a wider series gain a shimmer of significance. A post box that seems to disappear. A shape that might be an aerial appearing on a rooftop. Small things that suddenly seem important as part of a bigger work.

It’s not something I’ve ever tried, depicting the same place at different moments. Or I thought I hadn’t, but I realised the other day I’ve sort of stumbled into trying it since spring has made it warm enough for me to eat lunch outside. When the weather is nice enough, this is where I go:

Bench

It’s a closed-in garden, surrounded by the building on all sides. It’s pretty wild, and quiet and sitting there, in the sun, listening to the birds, I’ve been inspired to scribble a few poems, all drawn from this spot. So while it’s not quite Auerbach’s repeated depiction of the same scene, I’m telling something that comes from experiencing this place in a particular moment.

I thought I’d turn it into a little experiment, across the next two months. A poem a week, from the bench. Good, bad, ugly, rough and ready, it doesn’t matter. They’re getting written and then I’ll see what I’ve got at the end.

 

 

The hump

The hump is always there.

It doesn’t matter how much I want to write. It doesn’t matter how much I love the process of writing. It doesn’t matter how hungry I’ve been to get to my desk and get pen to paper, finger tips to keys. Every time I want to write, I have to heave the baggage of my intentions over the hump first.

The hump is a hybrid creature. It’s a living, breathing thing that changes shape, size and consistency depending on my particular mood. Sometimes it’s a laziness, a desire to stay in bed that little bit longer rather than pull myself out of sleep and onto the page. Sometimes it’s a stack of More Important Things demanding my attention and insisting that I Must Complete These Tasks First before I can spare the twenty minutes of head-space I allow myself six days a week for writing.

But sometimes it’s something less solid, less obvious than these ploys to stay away from the page. When the hump is about choosing a ten-minute lie-in over an extra ten minutes with a pen in hand, I can judge the height, width and texture of what I’m doing battle with. When it’s a Papier-Mache mound of bills, emails and to-do lists, I can get my gait right and hurdle over its hollow shell. It’s when the hump is transparent that I have real problems, when it in fact denies its very existence.

Like when I watch yet another episode of The X-Files rather than picking up that novel I’ve been dying to read for months. Or when it’s composed of Big Questions about Who I Am and Why Am I Doing This. At its most insidious, the hump is made up of the crazy springs and snares of justification, reasonable explanations as to Why I Shouldn’t Write Today. It’s particularly nasty then. Brush up against the rust and jagged edges and justification is infectious, will run riot across you.

This time, the hump was perfectionism. I don’t like this post. Something in the imagery is not working for me. So I’ve sat on it for weeks. And let its draft-y presence stop me writing anything else.

Recognising that there is a hump, always a hump, has been the thing that’s starting to make a real difference. Now I know getting myself to the waiting page is a similar process to cycling up hill. I know when I crest that summit, the view from the top and the free-wheeling down the other side will not only make it all worthwhile, the rush will make me feel so alive I won’t even remember the slog to get to the top.

But that doesn’t stop the lactic acid making my muscles moan and the little demon on my shoulder insist that I really don’t need to put myself through this, so why don’t I just stop? Certain days, that demon barely gets a whisper in before I’m at the top, over the hump and letting gravity take the reins. Other days, he’s in full voice before I’ve even gotten to the base. Either way, when I’m really out on my bike, I’ve never once gotten off and pushed the bike back home. Nah, that promise, that distant memory of what’s over the other side is enough to keep my teeth gritted and my legs peddling.

I don’t even have to peddle to get over the writing hump. Just got to grit those teeth, keep breathing and pick up that pen. That’s it. Hump surmounted. Time to let the words free-wheel across the page.