Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hearts & Minds

Dali & Captain Moore
There's a story about Salvador Dali, told to me a few years ago by his long-time manager, Captain Peter Moore.

Peter called on Dali at his house and studio in Port Lligat to see how he was progressing with a commission and was alarmed to see that the painting was far from finished.
'No problem, el capitano,' said Dali, 'I have until end of October.'
'But it's already November,' said Peter.
'November!' exclaimed Dali. 'Someone has stolen my October!'

I feel a little like that about March! Although rather than stolen it was filled to the brim with exciting events for the launches of another country, haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer Press).

But I'm back home in France now, catching up with writing and AppleHouse, and I came across this poem, in my Poems on the Underground anthology, which I can't remember ever reading before:

from The Mind is an Ancient and Famous Capital

The mind is a city like London,
Smoky and populous: it is a capital
Like Rome, ruined and eternal,
Marked by the monuments which no one
Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains
Catacombs, aqueducts, amphitheatres, palaces,
Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken or soiled.
The mind possesses and is possessed by all the ruins
Of every haunted, hunted generation's celebration...

Delmore Schwartz (1913 - 1966)

Lots of the metaphors make immediate sense to me, particularly the mind being full of monuments 'which no one/ Now remembers' and 'Catacombs', although I'm a little unsure about 'equestrian' statues. I suppose the horse and rider could symbolise war? But I still like the poem a lot.

A few years ago I wrote a poem entitled 'Your Heart' which was published on a poster for a Hospital project:
Write a poem about the mind or the heart. Use metaphor rather than direct explanation to suggest what the mind or heart is, or does.

Write well.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Your age... contented, accepting, resentful, indifferent, curious?

There's a saying... if you want to feel young, mix with younger people. If you want to look young, mix with with older people. Here on the Cote d'Azur, particularly outside of the holiday season, there are a lot of elderly people, and for the most part all pretty sprightly for their eighties, so at 52 I'm a bit of a teenager!

Apart from being alternately accepting and resentful of the usual signs and effects of age - aches, wrinkles, long-sightedness, unable to drink more than a half bottle of wine without getting a hangover - I really do like being in my fifties and wouldn't want to go back to a previous age or time.

How about you? And do you ever wonder what you'll be like in 20 or 30 years time? It's difficult enough to feel any real connection to the child, girl or young woman who stares out at me from old photos so to imagine what and who I might be in the future feels like an impossible task. Perhaps I should have a go at one of those 'ageing' apps you see on Facebook and on people's mobile phones!

The danger of writing poems about getting older is that they might sound sentimental, even self-indulgent if we write about ourselves. How do we explore the personal and particular but make it universal, make it something that matters to other people? Philip Schultz talks about age in this poem:


My bones aren't what they used to be; my eyes ache,
as if I've been reading an ancient text by candlelight.
My back and knees creak. I'm happy if the car starts
and I can walk the dogs along the ocean which looks
a little less robust. It replenishes itself with stretching
and long cleansing breaths. The sun is another story.
It's beginning to show its age. Perhaps we've enjoyed
enough springs and everything is getting a little redundant.

Philip Schultz
from Living in the Past - Available via Amazon
Harcourt, Inc., 2004

Co-winner of the 2008
Pulitzer Prize

I like how he links ageing to the planet - what he notices about the sea, the sun. Do you think the last sentence is a little defeatist, or is it philosophical? Why should we expect our planet to last forever? And this is one of the thoughts I leave the poem with rather than just thinking about the narrator's own experience.

There's one phrase in the poem that makes me smile: I'm happy if the car starts/ Me too! Do we expect less as we get older? Or do we learn gratitude? Again, I'm prompted to reflect on particular ideas that are implicit in the poem but take me outside of it too.

Write your own age poem, using the above poem as a model, or stretching out in your own direction. But be careful, you don't want to put your back out : )

Write well