NaPoWriMo 11: Double-Duvet Mecca

A pair of washers at a washeteria

Day 11’s prompt was to write a Tanka (five-line stanzas with 5-7-5-7-7 syllables) – so I’ve used the form to bring an autobiographical poem into being.

I had this idea a little while ago: as my partner and I live on a narrowboat, we don’t have a full-size washing machine and either use a little twin-tub (which can be labour-intensive) – or visit a laundrette. On our travels up here to Leeds from Bristol via the inland waterways (see Inland Odyssey posts!), we used various laundrettes  (including my favourite, the ‘Washeteria’ (a delightfully old-school term), which was still pleasingly 1950s/1960s in its layout and appliances, but worked perfectly).

Laundrettes, or Washeterias, can be a really pleasant experience I think – the urban equivalent of gathering at the water’s edge to wash clothes in the river: there’s something connective about it – human, cleansing.

So this poem is about the laundrette (the place and the person) we use in Leeds – and about connecting across difference, in this ‘urban riverside’.

 

Double-Duvet Mecca

or, Paired Socks

 

We fold its cover

together: a courtly dance.

I go to give thanks,

but behind his warm machines

the laundrette prays to Mecca.

 

A service wash bought:

I call you ‘the other one’,

dodging a term. But

he smiles, his warmth bestowing

a Universe of paired socks.

NaPoWriMo 6: A Valediction for Cleanliness

Not a picture of me – this was relatively clean for the Wolf Run…

 

Taken a moment out from the meditation and practice retreat I’m on right now to catch up a bit with NaPoWriMo – although I might be running a day or two behind, I will do them all! So, in brief – I wrote something akin to a Valedication, although using the prompt very ‘robustly’.

On Sunday, I took part in the WOLF Run – a 10K run near Leamington Spa, with Wilderness Obstacles Lakes and Fields (hence WOLF) – this poem was a record of its epic muddiness, forming a ‘Goodbye to Cleanliness’:

 

The Paint-Chart of Possibilities When Mixing Earth and Water

or, Goodbye to all That Clean

 

A gleaming tension grows;

the pristine crowd in day-gloes or white,

each skin-tight bright lycra pose

stretches out the wait.

 

There is to be some kind of run –

but the main attraction, the real fun

comes as the troop form a great canvas

to really demonstrate en masse

the mixing of Earth and Water.

So let’s see what’s on offer:

 

To begin the range – April Field-Path:

a lovely undercoat, its soft bourbon-

biscuit hue making it ideal

for embracing the lower-leg in

a fine dust and the

odd little clod.

 

Then on to Brun-de-Lac.

A truly rich, sedimentary tone this,

for coating the upper shins and thigh.

 

The Chocolate Porridge-Oat

is wonderfully thick: a chest-high slick

of it will really start to add some depth

to the body’s scheme.

 

And if you’re feeling bold, why not try

ur Fifty Shades of Dry – until you can

behold the only other colour in sight

beneath the panting, coated face:

the opalescent eyes’ bright-white.

NaPoWriMo 3: A Sea Shanty for Failed Urban Development

Prompt no. 3 of NaPoWriMo was to write a sea shanty. This pleased me greatly as I’m a part of (when I can make it!) the Ocean Loiners – a sea shanty singing group in Leeds (hence the name: Leeds folk are known as ‘Loiners’)…

Here’s a video of us belting out ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’ at the Theatre By the Lake in Bradford in October last year. (I am the lanky one in the blue t-shirt in case you’re wondering!)

I’ve turned my attention to the place where I live as the subject for my shanty – as I live on a floating home (a narrowboat), so shanties feel like (spuriously) part of my sailor heritage. This is a song about how places like the one on which I live don’t always pan out as hoped for! Technically, I suppose this should be an Inland Waterway Shanty…

And, as an experiment, I made up an extremely derivative tune and then SANG it, into my phone via SoundCloud – shanties are meant to be sung! Hopefully you can listen to the whole thing above and not be turned deaf / mad / made to unsubscribe from the blog in disgust…

So you can sing along, if you like:

 

A Sea Shanty for Failed Urban Development

 

In the Early Noughties, ‘pon the booming swell,

It was BUY BUY BUY, it was SELL SELL SELL:

So they built above the water of Clarence Dock

Luxury apartments and fancy shops.

 

(CHORUS)

Oh the Dock, she be in a right old mess,

With her Pizza Express and her Tesco Express

And her – yes – her Holiday-Inn Express:

They’re the only things fast enough to float,

Except for curry houses and narrow boats.

 

And they built a special section with its own jetty

Where the fancy floating restaurants would be:

Now the only thing a-moored around the butts of fags

Are the blue-striped plastic carrier bags.

 

Sometimes in the night you can hear the hullaballoo

Of some merry-making drunks (who are only passing through).

But the only voices bouncing off the moored ships’ hulls

Are the quacking ducks’ and the screeching gulls’.

 

Now in an empty window of an old high-fashion store

There’s a hopeful artist’s image of what could have come before.

And like the ocean’s waves, there’s one thing that you can trust:

Is that after there’s a boom, there will always be a bust.

 

 

Little Shadows

How a bee might see a flower – except, not really, because they *smell shapes* (kind of).

I’m brewing a project – a series  of workshops and performances – around BEES (I always feel I have to capitalise it) for this summer, called BUZZ WORDS (I credit thanks to Mr Ian Billings for assistance with the title).

So, with that in mind I’ve been looking out for bee-related stories, inspiration and reading – and tweeting bee-related excerpts from poems too. (They should show up on my Twitter-widget, bottom right).

One such story was this – the amazing symbiosis and (literally) electrical relationship between flowers and bees: plants can ‘communicate’ with bees how much pollen they have ‘in stock’, by changing their electrical field (excuse my usual mangling of scientific language). But the weird thing is that, from other reading I’m doing, bees don’t see in the same way we do at all – and nor can we really understand their ‘plastic sense of smell’, where – get this – shapes have fragrances. All very synaesthetic, which lends itself hugely to poetry, I reckon…

There’s an inherent impossibility trying to perceive as another animal might – but for me, that’s part of poetry’s job. To enjoy the plasticity of language and our imaginative faculties – which are, to a large extent, uniquely human. So this poem was trying to point towards what ‘being a bee’ might be like, but on human terms. (We don’t have any others, do we?)

The title takes its name from a terribly courtly and gorgeous song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (the acoustic version) – so do have a listen (after reading). Just as flowers and bees have a symbiotic relationship, so do bees and humans – but who ends up the ‘shadow’ is still unclear. Hence the conclusion of the poem, perhaps: certainty is always plastic, being is always relative.

 

Little Shadows

 

Imagine that montage moment in the film

noir, where the PI  ranges the city streets,

neon lights lurid and rain-streaked and longing:

thinking thinking thinking about

what it is he doesn’t

yet know.  See it?

 

Imagine that, but now see it POV

and at nine-thousand times multiplicity

and instead of a He, you’re a She and you’re

flying flying flying about

at roof height, just knowing

knowing. OK?

 

Imagine that cutaway shot of a sign

which in the film says

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

all luminous-pink curving

tonguelike, now says:

ASTER X FRIKARTII.

 

That louche flashing purple

PRIVATE SHOW, now reads: SALVIA

NEMEROSA CARADONNA. Yeah?

 

And that raunchy Latin text becomes

a shape that bypasses your eyes

nine-thousand times and becomes the aroma

of everything – literally everything –

you have every wanted

or known. Right?

 

Imagine those nine-thousand

cutaway shots above a bar

of endlessly-pouring holy beer

have become a pendulum, pulling

your entire being with the breeze

of its transcendental scent,

the gravity of its colour. Yes.

 

And imagine that there’s no mystery,

only endless little shadows of yourself shining,

weaving through every single city street,

drinking drinking drinking in

the plastic certainty

of being.

 

Can You Take a Moment to Rate This Whale? or, The Appening

A Whale App? But not one like the one in my poem-story, I hope.

It appears I’m once again interested in all things animal (as opposed to all things Cosmic) right now – so, from Tyrransauridae last week, to Cetacea this.

Last week, I read a story about the Boston Port Authorities encouraging ships’ captains to use an iPad app which locates the likely positions of whales off the coast and then enables them to chart a slightly different course – thus avoiding the whales. It sounds like a very successful and important initiative -and a great use of the technology. We’ve been making the seas increasingly-noisy for our Baleen cousins which – so research suggests – is making life very hard for them down there. Not only that, but sometimes ships (as per the horrible image on the news story above) even strike whales – causing them injuries and possibly death.

In fact, it’s not my first piece of writing about whales – there’s another piece I wrote, called Whale Fall, which you can read by clicking here on the site for Heads and Tales (a storytelling group with whom I was involved in Bristol). The image of ‘whale fall’ – when a whale dies and sinks to the bottom, creating a ‘feeding frenzy’ as its nutrients and body dissipate amongst the bottom-feeders of the abyss – is at the centre of the story.

But save that for later, until you’ve read today’s poem-story about – well, decide for yourself. Certainly, the idea stemmed from this feeling of intrusion (an Intrusion is the collective noun for cockroaches, by the way – about which there’s a poem-post here). What would it be like if there was something we were drawn to, but which hurt us? (Such things are plentiful, actually). And which kept filling our space until we couldn’t avoid it any more?  I think that was what my subconscious was getting at – how the whales must be with Sonar signals – but I really can’t speak on its behalf, or on whales’ behalf.

And, as someone quoted to me – and I don’t know who said it, or something like it, so this may be a misquote: “Structure the things that come to you”. So that’s what I’ve done. The chance to fuse the ever-more-pervasive app-culture and this news story in s lightly sci-fi way was too tempting . The intersection between nature and technology is of great interest to me: what is ‘natural’, what is ‘technological’, are they always and forever anathema?

The results, I admit, are…odd and perhaps unsettling. But imagine how the whales feel.

 

Can You Spare a Moment to Rate This Whale? or,

The Appening

 

It was not even a noise, to begin with:

hovering somewhere between

sound and sensation. Not quite

synaesthetic – more like a key

which accessed new depths formerly

inhuman, imperceptible.

 

That was at around

10,000+ downloads, but

with each it became

more abyssal.

 

Your lowest vertebra would chime,

softly, sending the feeling through

the tissues joining the spine

to the ribs, oscillating up the neck and

the inner-ear’s instruments –

boiling like a fumarole –

clanged.

 

At around

500,000+ downloads

you could not tell whether the object

you were looking at was itself shaking

or if the optic nerve was being played

as a myelin harp in your head.

 

By that point, on the large screens in cavernous

departure halls, edited-in

between rolling news, the image of a winning

Humpback would flash up, having supplanted

last week’s five-star Narwhal.

 

Then, the merchandise, mimicking

the rounded-off baleen icon: children

wore woolly-hat Rights (attesting

their allegiance to a species) with

a broad hair-toothed grin

on their foreheads, and fleecy-fins,

flopping down, at once

scarf and mittens.

 

But as the number became ever larger,

100,000,000+ downloads,

words began to be missed, then sentences.

Records were broken and now

graphs and arrows struggled

to find space on the screens

between fast-cut images

of flippers, flukes and spouts.

 

On one occasion, a dolphin was slipped in

to the slide-show – a test, perhaps – but

the tabloid headlines and message-boards

turned the air blue

as the Atlantic once was.

 

At some point, the written reviews

stopped – when download figures exceeded

the screen’s capabilities – and there were only

five-star ratings. The app store, mute,

silently swam in icons

of cetaceans.

 

And then the first trip to A&E,

the first fatality. But still the stars,

still the sensation.

The Angry Birds

Part of an excellent comic strip on cat killers from: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill – go on their website and buy their stuff!  (There – hopefully now he won’t mind my borrowing the picture and linking to the site…)

 

Last week, I read this story about just how many birds and other small mammals our domestic cat friends (or fiends) actually kill…And the answer is a LOT of small birds and mammals: in the USA, “between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually”. Wow.

Now I make no secret of the fact I’ve always had a patchy relationship with domestic cats, even though I had them in the family home growing up. There’s just something I don’t trust about a lot of cats. Which is not to say I don’t meet a cat sometimes I get on with – but I’m not of the mindset of a lot of cat-owners and cat-lovers who see them as these charmingly-aloof and ever-so-‘sassy’ little characters. To me, they usually seem just plain rude-aloof and scheming, not sassy. Not all cats. But yes, for me – most cats. It’s not personal, cats – it’s general.

I realise I’ll probably get ‘trolled’ for expressing my ambivalence about cats, but so be it. I’m a dog person. There we are. (And yes, I know dogs have been used to hunt for millennia.) So perhaps this story played into my feeling that cats are up to something – which is mostly irrational on my part (see dog comment). But it’s not irrational to be concerned about the amount of wildlife they’re killing.

As is my first-person fashion, I wrote a piece from the birds’ perspective. And, being as it’s something of a cultural phenomenon (have you seen the amount of kids wearing Angry Birds hats?), the title references a popular app-game – adding a definite article to avoid any pesky (c)opyright issues. Hopefully? Surely?

Poetry from apps – how postmodern. Po-app-ry. Said game seems to involve hurling bird-heads (or weirdly-spherical birds) at platforms in order to destroy them. This – call me macabre (I call myself macabre) – reminded me of those little ‘gifts’ cats seem to leave on doorsteps and hence informed some of the poem. Once, a cat of ours left a blue-tit head, facing the door, the right way up and in the centre of the doormat. Aww, a….gift?

 

The Angry Birds

 

Dusk. The swish of the tear

in the door. Silence. The sky a cage

of black-blue branches. Breathing.

 

A darkness thickens our feathers,

sticks to the points of our beaks.

We petrify. By the table of bait,

it waits. A first screech flickers

life into the street-lights. Then –

reflected on narrow green eyes –

a manicured lawn of limbs.

 

The baby ape takes in tiger cubs.

We watch you through the glass,

face alight, twiddling your thumbs.

Playing games in the night,

with our heads.

 

From up here, we look down on

the pastel television-picture within:

Kitty returns, is named, tickled under the chin;

delicately purrs at an opening tin.

 

And you, unwitting napkin,

with blood all over

your hunter’s hands.

 

 

And the news story by which the poem was inspired: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21236690

 

Which Winter?

A snow-dome iris, cracking through the screen…

This spell of wintry weather reminded me of a poem I wrote and put on some Christmas cards some years back – which is very wintry indeed…I think it was mainly to do with playing around with the image-paraphernalia of snow and wintry landscapes; so perhaps it’s not my most successful poem – but I hope it paints interesting pictures, at least (and follows a sonnet form too – good old ABABCDCDEFEFGG – as a technical exercise!).

Still working on my second sci-poem of the week, which I’m hoping to pop up later – but in the mean time, here is my snowy sonnet, entitled:

 

Which Winter?

 

There is a blizzard in our eyes sometimes;

A snow-dome iris, cracking through the screen.

Our cabins locked within a shaking mime

As giant flakes engulf the fish-eyed scene.

 

There is ice within our smile some days;

Sharp fragments dripping from our roof top lips.

The mountains mouth an O, the silence plays

On plastic pine tree pivots where Earth tips.

 

There is a frost across our minds some nights

Which petrifies the valleys of our thought.

It hushes colour, crushes light and slights

Our source; stills the singing of the stream.

 

Yet constant is the chorus of the flame

Each cabin’s candle dances, seeks the same.