Friday, 20 July 2007

Local News

Just to let you know, this blog will be sad and empty with tumbleweed blowing across it for a little while: I'm off to Latin Summer School for ten days on Monday. Maybe I'll squeeze in one or two more posts before then. As a joint honours Classics student, I'm only doing half the course, so I couldn't do Latin and Greek last year, unless I did nothing but languages. So I chose Greek; and now I'm going to brush up on my Latin. Not that I need it for anything - I just miss it. I'm not doing any languages next year, so I've taken up teaching myself Old English, using this and this. The English department at uni has an Old English Reading Group, so I'm hoping they'll have me.

Mslexia didn't publish those poems after all, so I've sent them to Iota. Fingers crossed. I've also started a novel, based on my diaries from when I was thirteen. It focuses on my thirteen-year-old Christianity, bereavement and - the main issue - self-harm. I'm hoping that, if I ever get it finished and decent enough for the possibility of publication, it'll be of use to youth workers in the Church and to people who work with teenagers generally. I'm also aiming for a Jacqueline Wilson sort of vibe, for it to be readable by teens, particularly those who struggle with the same issues.

I've also had a radical change in life direction. For some years now I had been intent on going into academia, but recently I've been questioning whether the reality of that is really what I want, whether I'm able enough to do it and whether it is, in fact, possible at all. A friend's been talking to me at length about the practical and financial difficulties. Even if I get my PhD or DPhil or whatever, there's no guarantee of a university teaching post afterwards. It's a lot of money to spend, as well, when I'm not even sure that it's what I want anymore.

I've been feeling lately that maybe God was calling me to the Church. I stumbled, pretty much by coincidence, onto a website for a Bible college and also onto a description of a job I hadn't heard of before, that of Deaconess. You can also read an article about her ministry by a Deaconess here. It sounds like something I'd love to do and I've been getting really fired up about it. I've even narrowed it down to five Bible colleges: London School of Theology, Cliff College, King's, Moorlands and St. John's. I'm really excited about those as well. They sound like really lovely communities. The only thing is, how does one know when one is being called by God and when one is just being fanciful and getting carried away? That's the difficult thing. Of course, I can always pursue academia in Theology with my qualification if I decide not to be a Deaconess.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

From a child's essay

"Poetry is the stuff in books that doesn't quite reach the margins."

Monday, 16 July 2007

The Robed Heart

They come in white livery bringing the sun,
the Robed Heart astride her white mount,
crowds lining the royal road in anticipation.
Ahead, the castle flying the new colors,
a queen's great labors come to an end.
A shout, and the cord is cut,
the crown placed upon my head.

And I am, Mother, I am!

~Elizabeth Spires


I fell in love with this poem initially because of its wonderful, regal, almost Medieval imagery. A sort of a fairytale, but more a Phillippa Gregory novel. Gregory always describes these royal processions on horseback, often the high point in the heroine's life. Always a sense of triumph. So striking that it is with this that the experience of childbirth is compared. Is that what it feels like, once the painful bit's over? I wouldn't know: I've never had a baby.

It's interesting that it is in being a mother that the narrator sees herself as becoming a queen. I think the reality of motherhood is rather different! In fact, it is in being a mother than the narrator sees herself as existing at all, which I find rather depressing and horribly out-of-date, but there we go. And who is the "Mother" that she addresses? Her own mother, or a spiritual Mother-Earth fertility goddess type thing, or both?

Either way, it's a beautiful and intriguing poem. I wish I'd written it, especially since so many of my poems document the experience of living as a woman. It would go nicely in my Tall Lighthouse manuscript. Shame plagiarism is illegal. And dishonest and just plain wrong.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Bonny Black Hare


One song I particularly enjoy from Steeleye Span's latest album, Bloody Men, is called Bonny Black Hare. The sexual double entendre is so obvious and so explicit that I must confess on a first hearing I was shocked. Then I was amused. I'll treat you to the lyrics:


On the fourteenth of May, at the dawn of the day,
With me gun on me shoulder, to the woods I did stray,
In search of some game, if the weather prove fair,
To see can I get a shot at the bonny black hare.

I met a young girl there, her face like a rose,
And her skin was as fair as the lily that grows.
I says, "My fair maiden, why ramble you so?
Can you tell me where the bonny black hare do go?"

The answer she gave me, oh, the answer was "No,
But under me apron they say it do go,
And if you'll not deceive me, I vow and declare,
We'll both go together to hunt the bonny black hare."

I laid this girl down with her face to the sky.
I took out me ramrod, and me bullets likewise,
Saying, "Wrap your legs round me, dig in with your heels,
For the closer we get, love, the better it feels."

The birds, they were singing in the bushes and trees,
And the song that they sang was, "She's easy to please."
I felt her heart quiver and I knew what I'd done.
Says I, "Have you had enough of me old sporting gun?"

The answer she gave me, oh, the answer was, "Nay,
It's not often young sportsmen like you come this way,
And if your powder is good and your bullets are fair,
Why don't you keep firing at the bonny black hare?"

"Oh, me powder is wet and me bullets all spent,
And I can't fire a shot, for it's choked at the vent,
But I'll be back in the morning, and if you are still here,
We'll both go together to hunt the bonny black hare."


There are lots of things I like about this song. I like how the girl isn't seduced or ravished but is in control of her own sexual destiny. She takes the initiative and is not condemned for that. And, while I'm not advocating it in real life or promoting it in a moral sense, I like the promiscuity in this song. I'm not saying that promiscuity should be celebrated, but this kind of song must've made such a refreshing contrast to all the hymns and the ballads about maidens and their virtue. There's something joyful in its recklessness. I found an older version too:


One morning in autumn by the dawn of the day,
With my gun in good order I straight took my way,
To hunt for some game to the woods I did steer,
To see if I could find my bonnie black hare.

I met a young damsel, her eyes black as sloes,
Her teeth white as ivory, her cheeks like a rose.
Her hair hung in ringlets on her shoulders bare.
"Sweet maiden," I cried, "Did you see my bonnie black hare?

"This morning a-hunting I have been all around,
But my bonnie black hare is not to be found."
The maid she then answered and at him did stare,
"I never yet heard of, or saw, a black hare."

"My gun is in good order, my balls are also,
And under your smock I was told she did go,
So delay me no longer. I cannot stop here,
One shot I will fire at your bonnie black hare."

His gun he then loaded, determined he was,
And instantly laid her down on the green grass.
His trigger he drew, his balls he put near,
And fire one shot at her bonnie black hare.

Her eyes they did twinkle and smiling did say,
"How often, dearest sportsman, do you come this way?
There is few in this country can with you compare,
So fire once again at my bonnie black hare."

His gun he reloaded and fired once more.
She cried, "Draw your trigger and never give o'er!
Your powder and balls are so sweet, I declare.
Keep shooting away at my bonnie black hare."

He said, "My dear maiden, my powder is all gone.
My gun is out of order, I cannot ram home.
But meet me tomorrow, my darling so fair,
And I'll fire once more at your bonnie black hare."


Interesting to see the changes here. The woman is now passive, as we'd expect for the older version. She also seems to enjoy it more, as she's exclaiming in delight and almost begging for him to continue. In short, the man is back in his position of power - sexual power, as well as all his other advantages - over the woman. Interesting, though, there also seems to be more attachment: he calls her, "My darling so fair." Perhaps this is to soften the blow of the promiscuity, but it's hardly credible as such because they've only just met.

Over at A Traditional Music Library, they've got a whole collection of "bawdy" folk songs. A lot of fun to read and, as I said, refreshing after a heavy dose of "Maiden, guard thy maidenhead." It seems that morally dubious things things are always more fun.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Taste the Rainbow

As I believe I said before somewhere, I feel that, in modern Christianity, poetry and the poets have been rather eclipsed by the music and musicians, particularly what my friend Corny describes as "middle of the road rock music." One thing I really admire about Druidic Paganism is the bardic tradition, of which poetry was a vital part. We have the Psalms, of course, but nothing more recent than that is used in services, while new hymns or "worship songs" are popping up all the time. I think that's a good thing - the Church needs to move and change with the times and with its members, but where's the new poetry? Not only is there no poetry used in worship, but there seem to be precious few decent Christian poets around at the moment. The last I can think of is Gerald Manley Hopkins. Sure, there's trite, twee little rhyming ditties about, the kind that make me inclined to murder (not Christian), but where's "the world is charged with the grandeur of God?" Like music, poetry is a wonderful way to reach people, and I feel that's being wasted at the moment.

I had a brief discussion over at PFFA with Little Skittle on the subject. Skittle said some very worthwhile stuff:

"I certainly draw my conclusions or ponderings from my understanding of biblical revelation. Poetry was a means of prophecy - it was a means of praise. Though many seem to imagine praise as simply singing - praise involves far more than that. Praise greatly involves the fulfillment of relationship with God. One can note this often within the Psalms as they often speak of seeking God's presence or experiencing God's presence. I see language as a means of communication with God, especially considering we often think in language. That's why prayer becomes so meaningful, especially meditative and repetitious, simple phrases."

"I would agree - music has taken a certain monopoly in worship. I am a Lutheran, and though the music does comprise much of the service, the liturgy is essentially important as well, and I find a good balance between the two at times, especially during Holy Week. Every Sunday service we recite a psalm, either through contemporary re-wordings of translations, direct translations focused on the parallel forms of Hebrew poetry, or as hymns. Christianity, of course, focuses greatly on scripture.That, of course, is not the same as Paganistic bardic traditions. Those Scots just amaze me sometimes (the Irish only occasionally). I certainly should be interested to see some of their techniques adapted or incorporated into a Christian service."

"Poetry, for me, furthers this relationship but also shares this relationship with others. Through the expression of this relationship with God, we share the experience with each other and contribute to the 'relationship triangle' between the neighbour, God, and us."

"Sir Phillip Sydney, in his "Defence of Poesy", certainly speaks to poetry as a prophetic art, and the classic roles of poets as prophets, intellectuals, etc. in communities. Scops, acting as the community library for small groups in the middle ages, certainly acted as the wise counsel for the community."

Clever Skittle. :o)

Friday, 13 July 2007

Hyacinths and Biscuits

"Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits."
~Carl Sandburg

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Hots for the Smarts

Thought I'd share some Richard Thompson lyrics with you:

I like a girl in satin,
Who talks dirty... in Latin,
A girl who’s flirty,
When she quotes Krishnamurti.
If she likes to be goosed
While reciting from Proust,
I’ll know she’s my kind of creature.
Among her delectables,
Her intellectables
Must be her sexiest feature.

I’ve got the hots for the smarts,
The hots for the smarts,
IQ off the charts.
Give me brains over hearts;
I’ve got the hots for the smarts.

I like a girl from Mensa
With a furrowed brow.
When the tenses get denser,
She gets it – and how?
I need a polymath
Called Cindy or Cath,
Who likes her Plato not too platonic,
An autodidact,
Who can add and subtract
While sipping her Tolstoy and tonic.

I’ve got the hots for the smarts,
The hots for the smarts,
IQ off the charts.
Give me brains over hearts;
I’ve got the hots for the smarts.


I need a girl with a feel
For Faraday’s wheel,
A girl who’ll drool
For Fleming’s Left Hand Rule.
Now you may like pin-ups
Of girls who do chin-ups
Like Xena the Warrior Princess,
But I’ll take to dinner
My Nobel Prize winner
With plutonium stains down her dress.

I’ve got the hots for the smarts,
The hots for the smarts,
IQ off the charts.
Give me brains over hearts;
I’ve got the hots for the smarts.


I like a girl who knows loadsa
Kierkegaard and Spinoza,
Who likes to play chess,
Humming Porgy and Bess.
She must be able,
From her logarithmic table,
To find all those decimal places,
And what do I care
That she’s nothing to wear
And her teeth are imprisoned in braces?

I’ve got the hots for the smarts,
The hots for the smarts,
IQ off the charts.
Give me brains over hearts;
I’ve got the hots for the smarts.


I want a girl with a brain
The size of Siberia,
With a haughty disdain
Of all things inferior.
I don’t want a learner
With a Bunsen burner.
She must be the finished article,
Who sees our attraction
As chemical reaction
And charm as merely a particle.

I’ve got the hots for the smarts,
The hots for the smarts,
IQ off the charts.
Give me brains over hearts;
I’ve got the hots for the smarts.


I want a PHD
Who reads Linear ‘B’,
Who applies her lotion
With a Brownian motion.
Now some men may favour
A girl who’s a raver,
A tease or a saucy young minx.
But I’ll get undressed with
The girl I’m impressed with,
Who’s tunnelling under the Sphinx.

I’ve got the hots for the smarts,
The hots for the smarts,
IQ off the charts.
Give me brains over hearts;
I’ve got the hots for the smarts.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

If a stone could read

"If you could keep going deeper and deeper, you'd finally not be a person... you'd be a blade of grass or ultimately perhaps a stone. And if a stone could read, poetry would speak for it."
~Galway Kinnell

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Body Positive

After yesterday's weight whinge, I feel it's time we had a body positive post.

My friend, Dav, took some photos of me a few months ago and finally got round to sending them by e-mail yesterday. And in some of them I don't look half bad. I'll spare you the semi-clad ones; here's one of me in a pretty dress:





I'd also like to recommend some good body-positive blogs: Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder and fat fu. Smoog also wrote a brilliant entry on the subject.


I'd like to finish with an image nicked from old_man_summer.




This is actually a Brazilian advertisement for low-fat yoghurt. Unfortunately, the text reads, "Forget it. Men's preferences never change. Fit Light Yogurt." It's a spin-off from this image from the film American Beauty:





The point, then, is that the girl in our yoghurt ad obviously looks totally unattractive and unsexy, unlike Mena Suvari from American Beauty. And obviously a woman's perogative is to attract men. So you'd better go and buy some yoghurt so that you'll look like Mena Suvari, because she's clearly the sexier of the two.

If you're a necrophiliac, that is.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Still Fat, Still Bipolar

For a long while now, I've been intending to post further comments on this entry, the issue concerned being the weight gain that mood stabilisers nearly always seem to cause. Given the choice between being fat and being crazy, I go with being fat, but I still think it's an issue that needs to be addressed. I don't know if research is being done into ways to prevent this side effect, but it should be.

The health risks linked with obesity are obvious. But I think that the psychological effects can be equally harmful, particularly for women, when we live in a culture in which "thin is in." Also, eating disorders are much more prevalent in bipolars than in the general population, something which it doesn't seem anyone's thought about. Significant weight gain isn't going to make anybody feel great about themselves, but, in the case of those whose self-worth is based almost entirely on what they weigh, it can be nothing short of devastating. I speak from experience, having put on approximately four stone (56lbs) in recent years. I am not a happy bunny. I thought I was fat when I had bulimia. Now I am fat, and I don't like it. But what's to be done? Swapping medications is a risky business, and the weight gain is pretty much universal anyway. I hope somebody's looking into it.

You can read more about weight gain and other side effects of mood stabilisers here.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Creep, crawl, flash or thunder

"The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in."
~Dylan Thomas

Friday, 6 July 2007

Stuffage

Just thought I should let you know that I haven't been hit by a bus, though I was knocked for the proverbial half dozen by a rather nasty strain of flu. I'm very much on the mend now, though, and also very much settled into my new student house.

It seems an age ago now, but you can view some of my Rome photos here. This album is mostly the arty farty stuff, but I'm afraid it's also also pictures of others on the trip, which I put up because, you know, photos of oneself always hold an interest and these were for sharing on Facebook. So ignore photos of various grinning students doing not much.

I got a phone call from Pendulum magazine, saying they'd published my letter. They said they'd "cut it down a bit," but when I actualy got the issue in the post, they'd done more than that. They'd cut it drastically, reworded it completely and made me sound something of a fool into the bargain. I'm now somewhat embarrassed that my name's at the bottom. Ah, well, won't be writing for them again. I should've got the next Mslexia through the post by now. I'm feeling a bit disappointed with magazines at the moment. Also a bit disappointed that I haven't won the competition, or had one of my entries published. I was proud of those poems - Samson and Persephone and that - thought I stood a chance for once. Mind you, that's probably the surest route to failure. Well, at least I have those poems to try other places, along with Nativity.

I've been doing my reading. I did like Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel very much, though I can't remember all that much of it now, besides factual stuff. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver was brilliant character-wise. It had real psychological depth to it, which kept me thinking for a long time after. Then I moved on to Grace Paley's Collected Stories, which captured a real essence of American Jewishness. Quite a lot of the political stuff went over my head, though. Then I read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, which I adored, not least because of the castle! I love books with castles or grand houses - Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, The Italian.... such atmospheric novels! The buildings take on a life of their own; they're not just where the novel takes place, they're at its very core, almost characters themselves. I read Roberta Taylor's Too Many Mothers, memoir of "an East End childhood," whilst at my illest. I didn't enjoy it all that much, for the most part, but that may have been because I wasn't enjoying anything. Very memorable characters, though. I'm going to read Asta's Book by Barbara Vine next, and I'm going through Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, making notes, for next term.

I got my exam results through:

Introduction To Ancient Philosophy: 62% - 2:1 - bit of a disappointment
Introduction To Greek Archaeology: 75% - 1st - pleasant surprise, hated that course
Beginners' Greek: 73% - 1st - as expected
Inventing The Novel: 58% - 2:2 - disappointment, worked my socks off for that exam and thought I'd done better than that
Introducing English Poetry: 64% - not too bad, considering how I fluffed it up

Which gives me an average off 66.4%, 2:1. Not bad, not brilliant. Would like to get a First for next year, though, when it actually counts. Funny how I did so much better in Classics. I don't know if this is because Classics is easier here - certainly you needed lower grades to get in. Or perhaps I'm just better at Classics. It's worth considering, though, when I decide what to do for MA. The other funny thing is that my highest mark was for Archaeology, which mostly bored the pants off me, and my lowest was for the Novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So do I take courses which are dull but which guarantee me a good First, or do I take the interesting ones and settle for a 2:1? Is it possible to be an academic with 2:1s? Am I clever enough to be an academic and, if not, what the hell else do I want to do?

Oh, and, incidentally, does anyone know how to have a header on your blogger instead of just text as they put it? I can suck up, then, to someone who's good with Photoshop and get myself a pretty, booky header.