Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Creative Process

Here is a link to an article by Alan Jamieson on the process of writing. It is thoughtful, coherent demanding, encouraging, illuminating.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Monday, 9 November 2009

how not to write a ghazal

It shouldn't be, but to me it often is, a surprise how the form of a poem shapes its content. A sonnet, as Don Paterson says, is just the shape and length of a particular kind of thought, a proposition which I have twice found to be the case. A villanelle, if it is to work properly, has to express and sum up a really strong mood or insight, so as to stand up to all that repetition. A ballad is not only a story, but a particular kind of story that will move quickly and take the stripped down plot and the archetypal characters.
A ghazal, as I learned at Juliet Wilson's workshop, is a poem made up of rhymed couplets, each of which ends with the same word or phrase. The chosen phrase, I thought, would have to be quite powerful in itself, admit of considerable variation of emphasis and have to have a very simple word, easy to rhyme, before it. So this is mine:

Going Home
She will go back there one day, but not yet.
She has not had long enough away, not yet.

It will have to be soon, before things change
so much that she will lose her way, but not yet.

She knows she would be welcome again.
They would even expect her to stay. Not yet.

Has she got what she wanted from leaving?
It is still far too soon to say. Not yet.

But has she forgotten the places
where the children used to play? Not yet.

I am a lot happier about this than I was when I wrote it,but I still think it misses the point. I was looking for some driving thought, some sense of progress through the poem, and this is a form which, it seems, is inimical to that sort of thing. A ghazal is meant to be meditative, cumulative. It doesn't matter to a ghazal where a particular couplet is placed, or if you come to a conclusion by the end. The effect it want is a timeless heaping up of image and impression and creation of mood. It seems entirely appropriate that it is usually written to express 'longing'.

I think I will have to start again!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

the true and the sacred

This is an odd week. Last Saturday I went to the Radical Book Fair in Edinburgh, and then to a poetry workshop about the Persian poetic form the Ghazal. And then it was Halloween and on Sunday it was the Feast of All Saints. So I had planned to post about ghazals on Burnedthumb, and how the cumulative meditative technique shapes the kind of subject you choose and the way you present it, and on Lúcháir I was going to post about a speaker called Joseph Murphy and his book, At the Edge, dealing with the survival of Gaelic culture in Ireland and Scotland.
I was also, since the end of October brings together death-and-renewal celebrations in both Celtic and Christian communities, going to pay tribute to all the saints in my life, living and dead, Catholic, Protestant, Quaker, Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslims and Jews, and atheists and agnostics aligned to all kinds of compassionate philosophies. I've chosen which tradition I want to follow myself, but I am grateful to many others, and I consider myself very fortunate to have lived among and learned from so many interesting and gifted people.
This has now taken on an added importance. I will be dealing with the outstanding posts on Burnedthumb and Lúcháir - next week, probably, life is pure mental just now - but there is an issue which has bugged me so many times in the last week, I just have to post about it. As it impacts both on questions of how we write and how we live together, it's going up on both blogs.
Recently I've been aware of
Jan Moir's poisonous and irresponsible outburst on the death of Steve Gately. As well as the unkindness of writing such stuff at a time of grief, I have issues with her irrational dismissal of the evidence from witnesses and from medical experts, in order to draw a conclusion that could not be other than hurtful
an email being circulated asserting that the holocaust is to be removed from the British curriculum in order to pacify Muslims. It further alleged that Muslims are holocaust-deniers. I know of no basis of truth for either of these statements, and, though it was passed on to me by someone who is only concerned to make sure that the holocaust is accurately remembered, the intemperate and irresponsible language used can only stir up hatred
the dismissal of David Nutt. Nutt seems to have been unnecessarily provocative, since the only reason ecstasy is safer than tobacco is that tobacco is 100% lethal, but on the other hand you can't ask people to give you the facts and then, when you don't like them, ask for some different ones.
The stramash over Jesus Queen of Hearts. No, I haven't seen it, but I've read what the author said, and when she says she is a Christian, and intended to write something that was thoughtful and to ask us to reflect deeply on the issue of trans-gender, I believe her. I don't believe her play is blasphemous and I'm not offended by it. But. That title looks like a parody, it's designed to grab the wrong sort of attention, and the poster is cheap and tacky and demeaning. It isn't surprising that many Christians get the impression that the whole thing is designed to mock and degrade them. Then you add to this the pompous self-righteous stance of some of the protesters, the posturing as if we had some sort of right to authority in the matter. We don't. We have one opinion among many. We are entitled to hold it, to express it and to live peacefully without being mocked for it, but we don't have the right to make everyone else accept it. And finally, the whooping and cheering of the media, trying to stir up a good fight, and forgetting that at either end of this story are decent thoughtful people, acting in good faith, and hurt by the exploitation of an issue which is so dear to them.

All these things seem very different, but in my head they have one thing in common, and that is abuse of the written word. In a free country we can think what you like, and say what you like, but once you put it into writing, you have the responsibility to make sure that what you have said conveys the message you meant, and to consider what impact it will have on those who hear it. If writers don't write with respect for what is true and what is sacred to their readers (and everyone has something they feel is sacred), we shouldn't be writing at all.