Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

Reflections/poem biography for On the Brink of Adultery

Clinging onsmaller

“Longing pulls us to sure gaps
between words, hands, lips –
to lunge.”

Temptation, temptation everywhere… I often think that those who have never been tempted, not even the slightest, must either be good at self-delusion or avoidance. Whereas being tempted seems quite natural, following temptation is of course a different, and a potentially altogether more dangerous and hurtful, decision – as this poem explores.

Sex and love are two very different things, though we may often choose to tie them together. Trust is important, and breaking trust is hard for most of us to recover from. I’ve never seen much point in po-faced about real life though; we’re all human and I do believe that relationships have their own unique natural life span – be that several months, years…or whole lifetimes.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

Does framing this poem’s potentially destructive scenario using a conceit (rather than a more ‘real life’ example) narrow or widen its scope? Is a poem harder or easier to read when it allows the reader some distance from strong emotions? Does this change a poem’s potential impact?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take the most important belief or value that you – or a fictional character – cling onto and structure your/their life or relationships around. Think of a real occasion – or create a fictional scenario – in which this is put to the test, or even broken. What happens and how do you/they deal with it?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for throughrose-tintedglasses/plentymore/Drowningone’sclichés

watching double small-003
“my fingers butterfly
through air; dive from the page –
my mind’s wrecked lake”

Yes, this piece probably wins the prize for my longest ever poem title, and also explains the collection title. ‘Plenty-fish’ was inspired not by the dating agency that I’ve since learned shares this name, but my playing with the phrase ‘plenty more fish in the sea’.

In this case, the wine-fuelled, lovelorn musings take place not by the sea but overlooking a subtropical indoor swimming pool. (Real love should be taken seriously; less so, those experiences that are dressed as love at the time but later turn out to be in drag. We love, we learn, we laugh.)

But a light ironical touch is, of course, partly the joy of not being single. Remembering heartbreak in a poem is altogether a gentler experience than going through it in real life.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

How much work does this poem’s title do? Does it carry too much weight compared to the poem? Ideally, what do you think the best titles should do? (Tease, hint, set the scene, establish an analogy or conceit, pull varied threads together, summarise…?)

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

What in your life feels like swimming/trying to swim? Write a poem or story about actual swimming, using swimming as an analogy/conceit or combining both.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for Cactus Ballgown
cactus pin flower multi collage smallest

“This dress should be kept for those prickly occasions
when you sense dryness, and wish to make a point.”

‘Cactus Ballgown’ is one of only a few poems in plenty-fish that I know by heart. I have known the poem by heart for years now, and once performed it impromptu in a London café – a bizarre life moment, where a stranger, hearing I was a poet, immediately asked to hear my poetry.

The poem was written in 2012, at a time when I was generally exploring the possibilities of performing from memory and slipping seamlessly from the flow of a poem introduction into the actual poem itself without overtly signalling to the audience that this was about to happen. My typical way of doing this became to talk about the difficulties of choosing an outfit for a reading and the sometimes strange advice friends can give, such as to wear a Cactus Ballgown…

But, as friends know, I’ve never been a particularly girly girl. Poetry readings are one of the few occasions where I make that extra special effort with how I look. The truth is that I knew the real everyday cactus dress in my heart long before I came to write and learn the poem by heart.

Growing up as an introvert, I was an uneasy teenager in loud crowds and big social functions. Over the years, I realised that what was shyness for me often came across to those who didn’t know me as aloofness or an intentional distancing. As I love word play and conceits, the cactus was already a natural analogy for exploring this.

But there is extra, unwritten, un-explicit, weight for me personally behind the analogy. My father is a keen gardener. When I was growing up, he was also a cacti collector. Between the age of 18 months and nearly 12, I lived in a house that had a big garden, a greenhouse with lots of cacti, and larger cacti stationed on the porch.

Like most children, I got into trouble: for not doing what I was told, for trying to skip going to bed on time, for playing games when I was meant to be doing something else, somewhere else. With a large garden, we played lots of hide and seek and had plenty of typical hiding places. One of these was behind the cacti.

One day, I was hiding too fast and ran into the cacti spikes. My memory of exactly what happened and how is hazy, but I do remember the pain. I also recall not being able to tell anyone about it – whether that was because I was playing a game I wasn’t meant to be playing at the time or just sheer embarrassment at my own clumsiness!

While none of this was explicitly on my mind or in the writing of ‘Cactus Ballgown’, I’m fairly sure the ghost of it is in the background, even if only for me. Although the poem is outwardly armed with barbs and pun humour, as a poet, reading this poem is also me acknowledging when I feel at my most vulnerable – not so much a cactus, perhaps, as a hedgehog slowly, cautiously, uncurling from its spikes.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) Do the puns in this poem intensify or ease the sense of shyness/embarrassment/internal cringe that are a large part of the narrator’s awkwardness with people?

2) Do the sadder glimpse of loneliness and shyness come as a shock because of being placed alongside these touches of wordplay and humour? Does this lessen or heighten the poem’s overall emotional impact?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to you and turn it into a poem/story. If you don’t want to own or acknowledge it openly as yours, use a fictional character and write it from their viewpoint, or in the third person. Alternatively, choose something embarrassing that happened to someone else and try writing about it as if it happened to you.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY DAY!!!

Having ended up running behind in my initial plans to blog last Sunday, it seemed apt to shift my blogpost to today, as most of my recent celebrations are poetry related. (And very small compared to the grand range of poetry on offer across the country today – out there, online, maybe even everyday speech – all to be enjoyed!)

Elbow Room - from each tiny twig

This week I received a set of beautiful postcards with my photo-poem ‘From each tiny twig’. The postcards were produced by Elbow Room as part of their 5th birthday celebrations. A selection of these birthday postcards featuring contributor’s work can be bought here.

I’m also very pleased to have my poem ‘Chicken for Dinner’ published on Algebra of Owls. Also that there’s been a new print run of Hearth (Mother’s Milk Books), the poetry duet pamphlet that Angela Topping and I collaborated on. You can get copies here.

I’m delighted to have a poem ‘Underwater: The Rain Globe’ accepted for the next issue of Firefly. This is part of a much longer global warming sequence so very important to me.

Another poem, The Nowhere Shed, has also been accepted for The High Window next year. This web journal has an amazing range of poetry and resources on its website, so I’d really recommend it.

WATERSTONES PROMOTION FOR MY NOVELLA KALEIDOSCOPE

I will be reading with fabulous poets Katy Wareham Morris and Ruth Stacy in a themed night – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses – at Birmingham Waterstones on Thursday, October 5. (More details in the events list below.)

To celebrate the evening, there’s a FREE (yep, neatly tying in, at a slant, with this year’s that National Poetry Day theme of ‘freedom’) promotion of my novella Kaleidoscope: a free copy (up to 20 in total) with any copy of the other three books featured in the reading that is bought from Waterstones on the night.

V. PRESS & POETRY READINGS COMING UP SOON…

TONIGHT: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28 – NATIONAL POETRY DAY – AUTUMN IN MALVERN FESTIVAL 2017

I’m absolutely delighted that this year I will be enjoying National Poetry Day from the audience! One of my poems in the Voices of 1919 anthology is included in this reading from the work by local actors.

voices npd 2017 flier

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 30, FREE VERSE, LONDON

This year’s Poetry Book Fair takes place on Saturday, September 30 at Conway Hall in London and I will again be taking V. Press.

As well as a stand, this year we also have a V. Press reading by Stephen Daniels and Nina Lewis at 3pm at the GARDEN CAFE in RED LION SQUARE.

“Unbroken : V. Press poets celebrate connection/disconnection.
Stephen Daniels reads from ‘Tell Mistakes I Love Them’, exposing social nerves and poking at the wounds with very vulnerable and very poignant poems. Worcestershire poet laureate Nina Lewis offers a very authentic and very fervent glimpse of ‘Fragile Houses’ – tender and sharp snapshots of people, places and memories carried through life.”

Later that day, I will also be reading for Arachne Press at 4.30pm at the Garden Café in Red Lion Square.

The fair itself is free to enter and is open to the public from 11am – 6pm, with an Evening Do from 7pm onwards, at Conway Hall (25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL).

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, WATERSTONES, BIRMINGHAM

Thursday 5th October – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses
Waterstones, Birmingham – Thursday 5th October 19:30 – 21:00

Katy Wareham Morris will be performing poetry from her collaborative pamphlet with Ruth Stacey, Inheritance. Ruth Stacey will be sharing poems from her collaborative pamphlet with Katy Wareham Morris, Inheritance, and her collection, Queen, Jewel, Mistress. And Sarah James (aka Sarah Leavesley) will be reading from her poetry collection, Plenty-Fish, and from her brand new novella, Kaleidoscope.

There will also be a book signing. The Waterstones event page here.Waterstones address: 24-26 High St, Birmingham B4 7SL

waterstones pic cropped

To celebrate the evening, there’s a FREE (yep, neatly tying in, at a slant, with this year’s that National Poetry Day theme of ‘freedom’) promotion of my novella Kaleidoscope: a free copy (up to 20 in total) with any copy of the other three books featured in the reading that is bought from Waterstones on the night.

Saturday, 4th November – Poetry Cafe, London – Launch of Against the Grain Press & Anna Kisby’s All the Naked Daughters

I will be reading Anna Kisby, Jane Lovell and Sean Magnus Martin for the press launch and launch of Anna Kisby’s papmhlet All the Naked Daughters. 6pm at Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX.

Against the Grain

FINALLY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, BIG THANKS AND GRATITUDE TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE INVOLVED IN MAKING THESE LOVELY THINGS HAPPEN!!!

Reflections/poem biography for Walking under Water

bird in tree“Leaves scramble dogwood;
mute green-veined tongues hide
blackbirds and loosed flowers”

For me, there is both a bleakness and a blessing in rain. It can awaken and refresh, but it can also bring with it the darkest of skies.

This poem was inspired by a tow path walk at a time when I was suffering from depression, and looking for any sign of hope, any way of escaping from these desperate, low feelings.

In many ways, walking has been one of my escapes. It is not that walking lifts the pain, the emptiness inside or makes the world itself brighter, but that such movement takes some of the energy from the negative emotions.

The force of these internal conflicts lessened, the sensation of rain on skin is also a very real reminder of what it is to be alive and feel things. Focussing my attention back on the senses and external stimuli also brings me perspective. Like a lot of people, my thoughts quite often live in the past or future rather than the present, and I think this technique has some elements of mindfulness, coming into the present moment by paying attention to the senses. With this, a slow awareness, or remembering, that my individual pain, no matter how horrendous and life-consuming it may feel, is actually a very small part of the much wider world. There is a strange kind of comfort, almost peace, for me in realising my insignificance in nature’s enduring, adapting and surviving over the millennia. Even viewed against my own lifetime, my suffering is less than a dog-rose petal on the wind.

[This is the point where I also share a small secret. Those who only have plenty-fish, but haven’t read this blog won’t know it, and it may not make full sense to those who read this post but don’t have the collection… This is a poem which has a whole alternative ending. There’s a happier/more hopeful! final stanza that I sometimes use in live readings. So if you have the collection but haven’t heard me read the alternative version but would like the happier ending, try replacing the final stanza in the book with the following:

then listen to the rain sound
its simple song of osmosis,
quenched thirst and greener grass ]

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) Is it human nature to notice, or actively look for, things in our surroundings that reflect our emotions? Does using precise literal details and scientific metaphor/language help to ground these potentially more ‘Romantic’ (landscape mirroring mood) descriptions? Or create an ‘underwater’ surrealness?
2) Why are there in full stops in this poem? What effects does this create, and does that enhance or detract from your reading of the poem?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Think of a sound that has strong emotional resonances for you. Write a poem/story exploring how and why it has this effect? Consider what sounds other sounds might help to counteract that response or be used to evoke the opposite emotions? (These two questions may form the basis for one poem/story, or might need to be two entirely separate pieces.)  

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for Elliptic

A Modern Moth-eaten Moonstruck Myopic for Otoliths-001   A Modern Moth-eaten Moonstruck Myopic for Otoliths-001B&W

“Viewed from here, our moon’s sphere
is flatter than the world he left behind.”

 
 
 

While ‘I bite down on the memory’ is about wanting to move on from guilt and grief after a loss, ‘Elliptic’ is about actually finding the way to do so.

Again, it is a fictional scenario fuelled by real emotion. Like many strong emotions, it is, perhaps, best given plenty of space to work itself out. Sometimes both words aren’t enough and are too much.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

How does focussing on one important object intensify and channel the sense of loss and grief in this poem?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose an object to use as an important symbol of something in a relationship between two real or fictional characters. Can you use this object to create a background narrative to your poem/story about these people and this relationship?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

It’s been a while since I blogged about my news. But one of the best things about this length of time is that the good news has amassed more than it might have if summed up fortnightly!

I’m delighted that my lovely things to celebrate include a novella and poetry pamphlet to be published next year. But also lots more – from competitions and individual pieces published right through to hard copies of my new illustrated writers’ and readers’ guide Sometimes I smile.

NEW POETRY PAMPHLET

On the poetry front, I’m delighted to have had a pamphlet How to Grow Matchsticks accepted by Against the Grain Press. The poems in the pamphlet are inspired both by strong women and the pressures women face in modern society and the pamphlet is scheduled for publication spring next year.

OTHER POETRY NEWS

Other news includes a different pamphlet ‘After My Mother Broke’ shortlisted in the Paper Swans Press pamphlet competition. (Big congratulations to the winner Paul Stephenson!)

I’m not quite sure where I go next with that pamphlet as a whole but I’m really pleased that one of the individual poems from my pamphlet have also had competition success. I’ve had to keep the news to myself for a while, but ‘The Day It Rained Horses’ has been highly commended in this year’s Wigtown Book Festival Poetry Competition!

This week I also found out that I’d been chosen as one of the poets to take part in a collaboration commission project Still Born. I will be writing a poem in response to beautiful, moving and thought-provoking art by Adinda van ‘t Klooster. The subject matter is hard – but important, so I’m very much looking forward to being part of this. Poems and art will be used for a book next year – so more on this as it develops.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a poem ‘Walking the Existential Dog’ published on Snakeskin, issue 243, September 2017.

Also three nature/eco-inspired poems ‘Reliance/Relevance’, ‘To hold a world steady’ and ‘Not It’, plus a spectrogram-photo published on Molly Bloom, 14, September 2017.

‘Chicken for dinner’ has been accepted for publication on Algebra of Owls later this month.

‘Another Shell’ accepted for Critical Survey.

‘Correcting a Stutter’ accepted for Eye Flash.

Meanwhile, I’ve also had my poem ‘How to be a Chinese Lantern’ accepted for the ‘light’ themed issue of Popshot.

kaleidoscope-coverNEW NOVELLA NEWS!

I’m very very very delighted on the fiction front to reveal that I’ve been commissioned to write a sequel novella to Kaleidocope – entitled Always Another Twist.

Although I signed my contract for the sequel with Mantle Lane Press earlier this summer, I’ve been nervous about sharing the news because it’s the first time I’ve agreed to publication of something so big before actually having finished it!

The sequel is told from the view point of Julie, the sister of Kaleidoscope‘s main character, Claire. I already had a draft version of Julie’s take on what happens to Claire from when Kaleidoscope was a much longer novella. But this needed to be expanded and developed into something more if it was to work in its own right. As a sequel to Kaleidoscope, Always Another Twist features many extra twists and turns in Julie’s life – also more love, lust, intrigue and betrayal than Claire’s story.

Despite my writing nerves, I really enjoyed working on this. Even better – not only is my publisher also happy with with the manuscript, but the cover design has now started too!!! Always Another Twist is scheduled for publication in spring 2018.

FLASH FICTION

My flash fiction ‘Not Running’ longlisted in the Casket of Fictional Delights competition.

My flash fiction ‘Making Space’ published in Firefly issue 11, September 2017.

Handling artistic imagination smaller file size
CREATIVE-NON-FICTION

I’m delighted that dna magazine have published my real life inspired piece ‘Hair today…” for their identity themed issue. (What I think my hair says about me, maybe!

Arachne Press have also published my blogpost ‘Significance’ about writing, inspiration, the imagination and more. Take a look around the Arachne Press site and it’s incredible to see what the press has achieved in just five years!!!

READER/WRITER GUIDE/SOMETIMES I SMILE

The response to my Wednesday Reflections for Sometimes I smile has been so great that I’ve put the year’s worth of poem biographies, reading discussion points, inspiration prompts and images as a book.

The blogposts will continue to be released on a weekly basis. But for anyone who would like to get them in advance, or have them all together in one place, I’ve now published Sometimes I smile as a paperback book/resource. You can find it on Amazon.co.uk Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

V. PRESS & POETRY EVENTS

SEPTEMBER 30, FREE VERSE, LONDON

This year’s Poetry Book Fair takes place on Saturday, September 30 at Conway Hall in London and I will again be taking V. Press.

As well as a stand, this year we also have a V. Press reading by Stephen Daniels and Nina Lewis at 3pm at the GARDEN CAFE in RED LION SQUARE.

“Unbroken : V. Press poets celebrate connection/disconnection.
Stephen Daniels reads from ‘Tell Mistakes I Love Them’, exposing social nerves and poking at the wounds with very vulnerable and very poignant poems. Worcestershire poet laureate Nina Lewis offers a very authentic and very fervent glimpse of ‘Fragile Houses’ – tender and sharp snapshots of people, places and memories carried through life.”

Later that day, I will also be reading for Arachne Press at 4.30pm at the Garden Café in Red Lion Square.

The fair itself is free to enter and is open to the public from 11am – 6pm, with an Evening Do from 7pm onwards, at Conway Hall (25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL).

OCTOBER 6, WATERSTONES, BIRMINGHAM

Thursday 5th October – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses
Waterstones, Birmingham – Thursday 5th October 19:30 – 21:00

Katy Wareham Morris will be performing poetry from her collaborative pamphlet with Ruth Stacey, Inheritance. Ruth Stacey will be sharing poems from her collaborative pamphlet with Katy Wareham Morris, Inheritance, and her collection, Queen, Jewel, Mistress. And Sarah James (aka Sarah Leavesley) will be reading from her poetry collection, Plenty-Fish, and from her brand new novella, Kaleidoscope.

There will also be a book signing. The Waterstones event page here.Waterstones address: 24-26 High St, Birmingham B4 7SL

waterstones pic cropped

FINALLY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, BIG THANKS AND GRATITUDE TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE INVOLVED IN MAKING THESE LOVELY THINGS HAPPEN!!!

Reflections/poem biography for I bite down on the memory

lipsred dark bacground lips dripping smaller

 
“because I do, and suck the night without moon,
the shrivelled fruit berried without juice;”

There was a young woman, there was a young man. Their lives met, then parted. He chose to enter the wood and never return. She never saw him enter the wood to know the paths he had to choose between.

Over the years, I have known several people who have committed suicide. Each one was a loss. I also have friends who have lost close family members in this way. And, at certain times over my life, I have found myself walking near to this edge.

‘I bite down on the memory’ is loosely based on my discovering that someone I had known briefly had killed himself. The poem itself is best described as a fiction based on real emotions from this suicide, and the loss of a closer friend through illness at a young age (his twenties).

In real life, I’m not sure I was close enough to either by the time of these deaths to have any strong claim to feelings of loss. But both events still affected me. Mostly through the tragic waste, but also guilt. Though logic tells me that there’s no way I could have known and nothing I could have done to stop either, the mind has a way of tormenting with what ifs. If things had been different, if I had done x or been more like y… Perhaps in a different quantum world somewhere, happier versions exist for all lives. In this world, there is grieving, and remembering and honouring. Every life leaves its traces.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) How does repetition work/not work in this poem? When/where does repetition reinforce a poem’s thrust and when/where might it become boring or a distraction?
2) How does listing in the form of phrases differ from a list poem of just simple objects? Does the length of phrase bring more flexibility to the list poem or weaken its underlying structure?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose either something important that you or a fictional character has done, or a time when you/they’ve had to deal with strong emotions. Write a list poem/story using the reasons behind this behaviour/decision, or their reaction to that emotional event. Explore how this phrasal listing technique might be used to build up character, narrative, drama.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for The je ne sais quoi of it

Lone Breakfast after Prévert’s ‘Déjeuner du matin’

Lone Breakfast after Prévert’s ‘Déjeuner du matin’

“his lips on the rim of my white espresso cup;
his long fingers, stirring;”

Until I was horrendously sick and rushed to hospital in a fire engine while pregnant with my first son, I loved France. I still love the French language, but I am more wary now of the country. I also love the work of French poet Jacques Prévert.

Inspired partially by Prévert’s ‘Déjeuner du matin’, my ‘The je ne sais quoi of it’ was written in great retrospect (20 years later) to some of the experiences within the poem. My study of French and linguistics at the University of Oxford included eight months living and working in Normandy. It was one of the most homesick and depressed years of my life, but also one where I learned a great deal about myself.

When I went to France, I had a serious boyfriend, unfortunately, sent to teach at a school on the opposite side of the country. Like most young loves, we thought we could breeze through being apart, but we didn’t.

Following our split, I spent a few months ‘playing the field’. The man breathed after in the poem is no particular man. He is more an amalgamation of a number of lovers, combined with the break-up with my long-term boyfriend. I merged them, so I could use the ‘Déjeuner du matin’ framework, which features one man leaving.

In real life, as opposed to the poem, my boyfriend and I got back together for the last few months of my time abroad, before splitting up for good six months later. I have mostly very fond memories of him, but less so for some of the other men in my life during that year. Although bitterness is an unpleasant, and ultimately harmful, emotion, there is something to be said for it as an essential stage of moving on. It can also be useful for remembering what people were really like, not nostalgia or love’s romanticised version of them. Sometimes, a little hissing or a few fricatives may be required!

For those interested in the linguistics, the sounds ‘p’,’ b’ and ‘m’ are made by both lips moving as they might for a quick kiss. Fricatives are consonant sounds produced by the friction of breath through a narrow opening, creating a turbulent air flow, e.g. ‘f,’ ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) How does using foreign words and phrases add to, or detract from, the poem? (Atmosphere, authenticity, exclusion/distance for those who don’t know that language…
2) Do we need to know what every word/thing in a poem means or can it be enough just to enjoy the music, atmosphere, colour…?

Writing/Inspiration Prompt

Is there an incident from your past which you keep returning to? Explore the je ne sais quoi (I don’t know what) element of nostalgia, regret, hindsight… that draws you back to this event. In a poem or story, would you rewrite the ending differently?

 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for Cutting to the Bone

Cutting to the bone neak face smaller

“often clattering in cutlery harmonics;
cutlass-bent stabbing ice from the freezer.”

Given its title, it is perhaps not surprising that this should be a poem in two parts. This was not always the case though. Originally, it was one long poem, that later split into two non-identical bodies of words.

I wouldn’t classify this as an autobiographical poem, though I have used some real details from my childhood. The poems itself explores a fictional family and what may be handed down or inherited not through genes but through upbringing.

Form-wise, I was responding to a creative writing masters’ exercise set by Jean Sprackland, in which we looked at long and short line lengths. Instead of choosing one or the other, I chose to explore what jagged or hacked-up effect might be created by jumping between the two.

The first part of the poem is precise description borrowed from childhood and used to imply the effect of words on the central narrator: neatening, cutting, hurting. ‘Age’s metal rainbows’ is a fragment from my memory of how some metals may change colour (oxidise) after long exposure to air, or something acidic or chemical in the air.

The second part of the poem is where imagination takes over. In my intended version, the body being cut open is the narrator contemplating what might be found if she were dissected to reveal the hard words lodged like knives in her heart. But it was also in my awareness that some might take this to be an imagined vengeance – the narrator cutting open the person behind the hard words and then stabbing them with these words.

Either way, families may be loving, generous and confidence-building or hard, under-mining and cruel, with or without realising that their words may have this effect. In reality, perhaps many of us are capable of both (and in talking to ourselves as well as others), without always being aware of the point at which damage may be caused.

Electric Questions - lit version smaller
Discussion Points

1) Is pure truth every possible in writing?

2) What are the benefits and dangers of mix real memories and fiction in a poem or story?

3) What is gained, or lost, through this being a sequence rather than one long poem or two entirely separate poems?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take five words or phrases that you really hate (or evoke strong emotions in you). Turn them into a poem/story about beauty/warmth/love (evoking the opposite emotion).

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

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