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Sheila 01823 67 28 46

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Wednesday 30 March 2011


The old folks should know
it was foolish to move their
burnt-out city boy and his library
out here, to the back of beyond.

He only reads the Radio Times, now
from cover to cover - over and over;
repeatedly sighing when he carefully

rises up and out of a worn wing chair,
shuffles the two or so yards to the set;
and slowly, deliberately switches over.

No need to tell them how
these languid, attenuated days
have rendered me enervated:
like a fish too long out of water.
© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved


All we need
is under the bed,
first drawer, on the right.

There are three catheters;
a dozen night bags;
a box of leg bags
a handful of flip-flos;
an abundance of G straps and leg straps;
Dressing Packs; Mepore; saline solution;
more than enough empty syringes;
Instillagel; barrier cream, Betnovate ointment,
Gabapentin; and a blue plastic Night Bag stand. 

Bladder Washes are under the table,
next to the patient’s copious Notes.
Update in triplicate, please.

In case of emergency
If all hell breaks loose.
It happens.

In the morning, before we get up
the two litre drainage bag comes off.

Carry it carefully to the loo, and empty.
Use the special bin marked Clinical Waste.

Wash your hands.  And before.  Obviously.  
SorryTeaching my granny how to suck eggs.
Force of habit – 40 years come this June.

Bladder Wash days are Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays.  Before
our first cup of tea. Less mess.  Trust me.

After our bath we’ll need a new G-strap
on our right thigh; and yesterday’s leg straps –
unless it’s change-over day.  Every Thursday.

Twice a year we see the consultant.  He only smiles,
like a little Buddha; repeats the same old, same old,
“I’m sorry, there’s no cure.”  I mean.  What is the point?
© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Hell is...

In the night we had drifted away from the other lifeboats.  "Now it's just the four of us," says the dark-haired man, the one with the knife.  I don't know his name.  We all hold our breaths and try not to meet his eyes.

© R. Rushforth
All rights reserved

Friday 18 March 2011

Cut! (aka Ouch!) ~ Deleting Scenes

Every writer must eventually part ways with some of his or her favourite creations for the sake of the greater good. There are dozens of names for this process: Slaughtering your sacred cows, Killing your darlings, or the term I find most fitting, Cutting the fat. No matter what you choose to call it though, it sucks.

There are two types of “cuts”, and although both can be equally painful, the first one (which is the removal of an unnecessary sentence) is substantially less time-consuming than the second (which is the deletion of an entire scene.) In deleting an unneeded sentence, I can at least take solace in the fact that I didn't spend hours and hours working on it. For me, these kinds of space-wasters are usually just flowery details that, for some reason, I've become unreasonably attached to. I guess this is where my inner poet likes to rear his stubborn but eloquent and impassioned (and often pompous), beautiful head. (Uncle Carlos is only there to give dirty looks to the main character. Does he really need to be “a blandly handsome man with an air of quick-thinning tolerance about him”?) But over all, I am able to see the ultimate detriment to this kind of self-indulgence, and generally have no trouble toning down the details.

Then there is the second kind of cut: scene deletion. This, for me, has always been far more demoralizing. It’s one thing to just clean up the excess portions of a scene, and quite another to look at it in its entirety and disheartedly realize (or worse be told by an outside source) that the entire piece is basically no good. I got my first real lesson in this right off the bat when my mentor, Kim (Williams-Justesen), and I did the first read through of my first manuscript, The White Room.

We were at the cemetery downtown, (now that I think about it, that sounds very odd. Why were we at the cemetery? Oh yeah… because it’s peaceful, beautiful and well, dead people don’t tend to interrupt), sitting on the lawn on a warm spring day. I was all kinds of excited because it was the first time I’d be able to hear my story out loud and with continuity. Kim began reading. It was a disaster. Instead of gently rowing down the stream as I believed we would be, the first thirteen pages or so felt more like being in an aluminum canoe on a wind-peeved sea. Had I had any Dramamine handy, I would have taken it… and without protest to the inevitable drooling drug daze those pills always put me in. Anyway, Kim was kind enough to continue to the end of the chapter which thankfully, had smoothed out a bit. When she was done, she looked at the pages in her hand and then looked at me. “You want to know what I think?” she asked. I said that yes, I did indeed want to know, but in truth, I wasn’t sure I really did. She turned the manuscript back to page one, and then one after another, plucked page after page away from the stack. Somewhere around mid-chapter one, she stopped and pointed to a paragraph in the middle of the page. “I think this is where your story starts,” she said.

I was stunned. I argued. I made excuses. I rationalized and justified. But worst of all, in truth… I agreed with her. The reality was that the first half of that chapter was nothing more than a confusing warm-up. I’d struck on some significant points in those pages, but over all, it was crap. I stewed the rest of the day as we read the other chapters, and that night, I went home with my tail between my legs and started re-writing and implanting the few decent scraps from the trash pages, as needed into the newer, better beginning. I made a decision that day that I would never let that happen again. Unfortunately, however, I think that, at least to some degree, writing some crap is inevitable.

For me there are two reasons an unnecessary scene gets written in the first place. The first, and most common reason, is that my “muse” gets an inspired hair up his ass… and just runs like hell with it, as if trying to outrun my sense of good judgement and discrimination. I start with a plan… and end up not only in left field, but in an altogether different tennis tournament entirely. When the muse gets this kind of head start, I find myself reading page after page of unholy gibberish that, if ever seen by a professional, would seal my fate as a failed writer. Forever.

The second reason I write bad scenes is simple: laziness. I don’t feel like writing, but I know I have to, and therefore, I sit down and very simply fill white space with whatever nonsense comes into my mind. Perhaps my character needs to pee. At times like these, that seems pretty important. Or maybe Henry the optometrist will spend a few hours petting the dog. Nevermind that there was no dog before now. Now Henry has a dog. Yep. Pet the dog, it is. That will fill the empty space. That being said, I actually prefer this kind of “very bad scene.” It’s much easier to say goodbye to utter nonsense than to the flowery grandeur of my terribly possessive (and I suspect, alcoholic,) muse.

Any way you look at it, editing is a bitch. You wind up deleting hours of your life you will never get back, but alas… it’s necessary, and what works for me is I try to get it as close to perfect as I can, not because I’m such a perfectionist, but because I am insecure enough that I really don’t want to invite any more criticism than necessary. Still, it’s a drink-inducing, hair-pulling, teeth-grinding emotional calamity that although I might (let’s be honest) wish on my worst enemy, I do not wish on you. Happy travels!

Monday 14 March 2011

I is a lie (well it is round here, anyhow)

Exam time is icumen in, and many poor souls in schools up and down the country are wondering what to say to the examiners about poems, some of which are mine. This post is aimed at making sure they don't say some of the things I've recently heard people saying online.

I've blogged before about the perils of assuming that "the narrator" of a poem, especially one in the "I" voice, is the same person as "the poet", or that everything recorded in a work of art Actually Happened. A discussion I've lately been involved in on Facebook, though, makes it clear that some readers, even if they know it ain't necessarily so, think it should be; furthermore that they make a difference between novels and poems, at least lyric poems, in this regard. It's fine by these folk for novelists to make up a world; it may even be ok for writers of long narrative poems to do so, but there's a feeling that a lyric poem should come "from experience" (I have actually seen the phrase "from the heart" but am trying to forget it) and that if it's in the "I" voice the "I" should be the poet telling (heaven forbid) the truth about himself - whatever that is, and assuming he even knows it.

I don't know where this notion came from - the earliest real school of lyric poetry in Europe would surely have to be courtly love, which existed to celebrate purely imaginary love affairs - but it horrifies me quite a lot. For the record, when poets are minded to write about their personal experiences, they are very likely to distance the poem by putting it in the third person and making it happen to someone else, for the excellent reason that it avoids the danger of sentimentality. The most autobiographical poem Kipling ever wrote was the third-person "Merrow Down", which purports to be about a bereaved Neolithic father. By contrast The Changelings" (courtesy of Tim Kendall's blog "War Poets") is first-person and deals with experiences that weren't the poet's own at all; it's very much in persona.

I used to write poems in persona if I thought they might otherwise look too personal. These days I tend to third-person. But even if they do spring partly from my own experience, that is no reason to assume they won't also be adulterated with my reading, or other people's experiences, or, shocking as it may be to some, imagination... The fact is, poets are licensed liars; it's what we're good at and we can no more leave the facts of our own lives unembroidered and unimproved on than we can anything else. Nature is often a lousy writer; she gets details and endings wrong and frankly we can do better.

In a recent interview on this blog, my friend the poet Paul Henry described how he had excluded some of his best work from his Selected Poems because he was tired of seeing them read as autobiography. In the FB discussion I referred to earlier, someone said he felt "betrayed" on finding that a poem of Robin Robertson's in the "I" voice was not necessarily All True. Well, attend, O Best Beloveds in the AS-Level exam class, for I am about to utter a profundity: if you want The Truth, you go to the shelf in Waterstones marked Biography. (You still won't get it, but you will get something that aspires to it.) But if you're reading poems, and commenting on them in exams, remember that the "I" voice is correctly referred to as "the narrator". He/she is not, to your knowledge, "the poet", and there's no rule that says they should be.

Sheenagh Pugh


Hell is subjective, draining and personal.
Being afraid - of what?
Worry that you can't control.

Not knowing - unable to find out.
Regret - you didn't do better.

Realising the pain that you did not intend.
Waiting for the call that never comes.
Loneliness, whilst in a crowd.
Hell is personal.

© Penny Smale
All rights reserved


Through picture windows
there’s an enormous sky,
higgledy roofs, a proud steeple
and fine views over the hills.

I catch sight of you too,
on a summer morning,
waiting for me in the garden
with a fresh fruit salad breakfast.

Hell is not this gilded cage.
Hell is your absence.

© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved


The dancing devil
in red and orange flames,
a nun saying hell is being
trapped in your
worst fear for eternity.

A carousel in my brain at 3 a.m.,
a million shards of misery
hang on a thin red wire
twirling round on a sulphurous loop.

A moment of fear becomes everlasting.

© Valerie Taylor
All rights reserved

The Fog

Deluding fog crawls through the senses,
Baffling sight and sound.
Illusions, like clowns,
Dance in cruel japery -
Shifting shapes inhabiting a wasteland
Where no future and no past can be discerned.
For this is hell -
Where only contorted images
Swirl, merge, reform,
In the meaningless meanderings
Of a broken mind.

© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved

That Dark Place

Black blue hopeless subdued
Longing love alone
Deep ache dark pain
Lonely sleepless prone.

Flat drab joyless distressed
Leaden lonesome dread
Hope gone hollow song
Stealing feeling dread.

© Caroline Nicholson
All rights reserved

Hell is...

Hell is
Up to your neck
In Ess h One tee
All submerged in an inland sea
And the Devil's just learned
To water-ski

© William Botley
All rights reserved

Hell is...

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
—Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

9.25am. The headmaster slumped in his armchair. 

Yesterday’s Governors’ Meeting had been fractious, the Chairman requiring detail and evidence. Are all policies compliant? Show me that Mrs Fry’s dismissal followed procedure, exam results notwithstanding?

The phone shrilled; his secretary’s Mancunian whine announced that two welfare inspectors were in the office...

© Tim Scott
All rights reserved

Saturday 5 March 2011

Quashing The Inner Critic

Nobody has written better about how to silence our inner critics so we can get on with our work better than Anne Lamott. Her advice is not just for writers but anyone trying to create anything worthwhile.

“What I’ve learned to do,” she says, “When I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, ‘Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?’

“And there’s the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there’s William Bur­roughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on.

“And there are also the dogs: let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those crazy ravenous dogs contained.

“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar.

“Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head.

“Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want–won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often.

“Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you.

“Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.”

from Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Fully Immersed in Writing

To do your very best work as an artist . . . takes complete immersion in the work. You need to get caught in the slipstream, to drift along behind it as it carries you forward. You get into a state where, even when you’re not writing, everything you see, read, hear; every place you go; every newspaper you pick up; every conversation you chance to overhear feeds the work, because you are so saturated in it. . . .

Michael Chabon