An Indoor Heaven

The strange prompts and their wonderful donated responses go on! Thanks to Jules Clare for this poem

A poetic stage
at the Translucent Sage
A satisfying slam
Full of Doc glam

What about a cave?
Fingal is all the rave
Oh, come on Poets, behave
Recite your purple fave

Her indoors is listening
Beads of sweat are glistening
It’s time for the baby’s christening
Feel the congregation stiffening

An indoor haven
The audience cave in
A lady in purple raving
Human souls worth saving

Big thanks also to Mandy Maxwell, for this slice of domestic bliss!

An indoor heaven is a duvet
When it’s raining outside on a blue day
We’re Netflix n’ chill with a movie
Salsa, tortillas n’ doobie

An indoor heaven is a cuddle
Arms n’ legs in a muddle
When all the parts of the puzzle
Fit to create the bubble

An indoor heaven is laughter
It’s belly bustin’ banter
It’s finding the perfect partner
For the happy-ever-after

Mine went odd, predictably. I thought first about sleeping in a doorway, wishing to be inside. But that didn’t work. So I thought about how I always picture Heaven as being essentially a return to Eden, an outdoor space. I imagined an artificial, indoor Eden, and then that got me thinking about how the Biblical descriptions of Heaven are actually very urban and materialistic – cities and mansions of gold and jewels. And then this happened :

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If you’d like to have a poem or short story featured that you’ve written in response to any of the remaining prompts, please comment below!

 

The Art Of Delicate Resistances

Prompt 9 of 30 is a bit delicious, isn’t it? This is what Hannah McKay wrote in response to it, drawing on her expertise and experience as a shiatsu therapist and teacher:

Stretch to the edge of totality.

Hands holding, holding hands, legs, backs –

Instructively wait, listen –

Acing my own consistent muscularity

Touching Structures, the whole body

Understands breath at the edge of everything

My own response was a bit less wholesome…

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If you’d like to submit a response to any of the remaining prompts, comment below!

In Search of the Miraculous

Welcome back to the second week-long block of daily experimental writings in response to these strange prompts. As ever, I’d love to featured something from you, no matter how small or weird, just comment or message me and I’ll get it sorted.

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Here’s a lovely poem from Bernadette McAloon, full of rhythm and song.

No Fatima, no Lourdes
no tubercular girls
no fevered rosaries
no swine,  no pearls
no multiplied fish
no unlikely streams
no swarm of Marys
no wayside scenes
no bathing for cures
no housemaid’s knee
no canonised psychotics
no parting the sea
no blue genuflections
no Magdalene hair
no combustible bush
no wing, no prayer

Big thanks to Jo Colley for submitting this poignant prose poem. Be sure to watch out for her new pamphlet, How To Break A Horse, out now via indie press Blueprint. You can also buy her full collections from Smokestack, including brand new collection Sleeper, which launches at Newcastle Lit & Phil on 9 March.

Once I was in touch with the ineffable, believing miracles were only a breath away. If I prayed, Jesus would come and dry my tears. If I prayed, Jesus would sort out the misery of home. So I prayed, fervently, on my knees, desperately, fingers entwined so tightly, eyes squeezed together so hard, that it hurt. And once I think I saw Jesus, standing in my bedroom in a white nightie, looking holy and beautiful and sad. I think he came to tell me that it doesn’t work like that. Miracles cannot be ordered or begged for, and they don’t necessarily go to people who deserve them. Because who doesn’t? Suffering is par for the course in a human’s life and you may as well learn that early on. No, miracles are not a response to a child’s prayer, they are not about justice or about putting the world right. They are like flowers that grow through the cracks of the rubble of a bombed building. They are the sound of a woman sweeping up broken glass in a Sunday morning kitchen. They are found in the unexpected irrepressible laughter of children who have had everything taken away. A kind word from the check out boy at the supermarket when your heart is trying to carry bad news. 

From Rachel Burns, author of Girl In A Blue Dress from Vane Women press:

Tabernacle
After Dean Browne

The tabernacle flame in my church was always lit,
my childhood spent wishing something would happen
praying for a dark wind to come and blow the doors open
hoping the glass would crack and the flame blow out
but no that never happened. God, I was bored
listening to Father Lowry stammer through the Amens,
the Our Fathers, the Christs, the Lords
my knees sore from kneeling in a pew.

I’d never make the leap between religion and sex
in a tent, as you did. I had no such awakening.
That’s not strictly true. I do recall a camping trip
the flame of the Tilley lamp dwindling,
the smell of paraffin the tent plunged into darkness, my grip
tightening, the gasp for breath, the sudden climax.

Review: Fothermather by Gail McConnell (Ink Sweat & Tears 2019)

I read a lot of poetry, at least one poem a day. I think it would be wonderful if more people read, and bought, poetry books. But when I read poetry reviews they often persuade me that the poems will be too difficult to enjoy – and I have a literature degree! What if a poetry review could be more like a fun theatre review? This is my challenge to myself.

TL;DR = I loved it! Here are some of the things I felt and thought while reading this pamphlet. Hopefully there will be other, more traditional critiques as well, (poets need and value both types), but this one is all about what the poetry did to me. Super-subjective, and a long read but in short sections. Buckle up!

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  1. The Title

The title is just a glorious word in the mouth. I spent a bit of happy alone time muttering ‘fothermather’ over and over, which funnily enough is something Gail does in the poem of the same name. There’s a lot of fun, experimental sound-babble baby-prattle wordplay in this pamphlet, and a lot of passages that are just fantastic read aloud. More on that later.

  1. The Intro

There is an introduction from the poet, which tells you exactly what the poems are about – non-biological queer parenthood, …what queerness does to parenthood, and parenthood to queerness, and how we might imagine parenting without gendering it so rigidly in name and form.”. It is written intelligently and thoughtfully, but not in an overly-academic or pretentious tone. This is BRILLIANT, it orientated me and gave me the confidence to read without fear that I wasn’t “getting it”. I knew what to look out for, like a traveller with a really good guidebook, so I could relax and enjoy the words.

  1. Words and names are splendid

When I read in the intro that Gail had started obsessing about the naming of things, that interested me. I believe in the power of naming. I believe that children may feel profound emotions at an age when they are pre-verbal or lacking vocabulary, and then only process those emotions much later in life when the feeling are finally named. I believe that new language around identity, ‘womxn’ and ‘Latinx’ for example, is an essential revolution as pioneers try to bring a lived reality into linguistic being. Words are reality – for a thing to truly exist to us, we must know what it is called. But I digress – or do I?

  1. Poetry contains the poet’s mind, and your own

Whatever you start randomly musing on while you read a poem is, for you, part of the poem. The first one in the pamphlet is a prose poem. Don’t panic. No-one really knows precisely what a prose poem is, but you can tell a good one like tapping a loaf of fresh-baked bread for that ‘done’ sound. This one has a very pleasing knock, and is full of many things, like oranges. A lot of juicy names for varieties of oranges. As I read, I was reminded that a) oranges are human-made hybrids developed in China from pomelos, and b) in shiatsu, the formation of meridians in the body is said to happen during the first cell divisions of the embryo when it is segmented like an orange. These bits of info aren’t in the poem, they are in my mind, but the poem awakened them. I feel I am in dialogue with the poet. I feel it might be possible for many readers to bring many conversations to bear. What would you bring? You won’t know until you read it.

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  • Concrete poetry doesn’t have to be naff

If you don’t know the term, concrete poetry is where, for example, you write a poem about a butterfly and then you arrange the words on the page so they make the shape of a butterfly. It is fun, but also sometimes clunky. In Fothermather there are poems in the shape of seahorses, in which seahorses are metaphors for gender non-conformity in parenthood, and also visual metaphors for the floating embryo. They must have been hell to keep the formatting, but they are absolutely worth it, because they literally gave me the same bodily pleasure as the sensation of picking up a beautiful teapot only to find it is also an excellent pourer. Do you know that feeling? Form and function in perfect alignment. Joy.

 

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  1. When you read, read the white space too

Apologies if I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here, but I think something that can hamper the (new) reader of contemporary poetry is – what the hell is with the weirdo triple-space-punctuation-seemingly-random-line-break-stuff? It may be helpful to think of it as closer to musical annotation than writing. If you let your mind and eye hastily skip across the page to join all the words up into a sentence as quickly as possible so you can ‘understand’ the poem, you will definitely not understand the poem. So – read out loud, and imagine the white spaces are silences, like rests in the bar of music. Remember John Cage’s 4’33, which is nothing but silence from the musicians – the ‘music’ comes from the ambient sounds you are forced to notice now that you’re sitting in a concert hall with a bunch of motionless violinists.

Try this passage, from Talk Through The Wall.

you say you   think you feel you   might be able just   to sense the                 baby bubbles   that’s the feeling   bubbles on the   walls like bubbles pressing up   against the sides   & popping at the   line the books                 say they’re too wee for kicks   or stretching pushes to be

For me, the strange stuttering spaces are the moments when the person has to stop talking mid-sentence in order to listen internally for the kick of the baby. What do you think?

OK, now read aloud this brief fragment from erasure poem Ashore, allowing for all the silence around the words.

she nears her limits                              repeating

wave by wave

a              thinning out                    –       also                                    immensity

When I read this, the form and the water imagery combined makes me feel like I’m sitting on the veranda of a beach house. The words are like a wind chime in the faint breeze – all separate notes, yet all together. In contrast, there are other erasure poems in this pamphlet that eviscerate Freud’s thoughts on the need for a father figure, and they have a very different quality to their silences. When I read them I think of old reel-to-reel tapes, chopped into tiny audio fragments and spliced together with harsh static.

via GIPHY

 

Last one! Not so much for the white space as for the internal rhyme and pace. Read this out loud, and tell me whether you also hear the squelchy white noises of an ultrasound, or the pulse of blood in your ears?

You understand that camouflage is custom, true and changeable in circumstance, and that a name obscures as much as it contains. O fish! O fish with spine and neck. Born of choice and chance, born of the male, a vertebrate upending expectation. You’re a question mark reversed & beautifully embellished.

  1. Sticking it to villanelles – I stan

Possibly my favourite poem in the whole pamphlet is Untitled/Villanelle, because I swear to you my heart normally SINKS at the thought of villanelles. All that rhyme, all that repetition! Workshops get us to write the bloody things, and they almost always come out as stodgy as plum duffs (at least, mine do). So what a joy to read this one, where the form is so exploded it’s practically airborne! Reading along with it is like humming along to a strange and sinuous thread of consciousness. The same could be said of the whole pamphlet – a fluid experience, filled with the variety and surprise of many playful poetic ‘shapes’ on the page.

That’s it. There’s undoubtedly more to say, but I’m going to leave it there for now. I think it’s lush.

If I’ve persuaded you to read this lovely pamphlet, you can buy it from Ink, Sweat & Tears. You’ll make them and the poet very happy, and you’ll own a thing of great value. In a couple of weeks I’ll be doing the same for Firing Pins by Jo Young, so be sure to follow me if you want more reviews like this. Thanks for reading!

Seafood Handbag

First week done! Thank you if you’ve read along every day with my Brigida Baltar prompts – I’m going to take a short break after this one to offer you a review of a new poetry pamphlet from Ink Sweat & Tears, so please stay tuned. And if you’d like to write something of your own in response to any of the remaining prompts, please do, and please send it to me to be featured! (imeldasays at gmail dot com)

In the meantime, here’s another prose/poem/flash thing from my notebook of experiments.

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Bonus features! A very short and wicked story from Iain Rowan:

A seafood handbag works like this.

First you take an old bag you might not miss – you know, in case of leaks – and line it with a freezer bag – you know, to try and stop the leaks – and then you fill it full of frozen prawns. Fold the plastic over, and close your bag up tight, because you don’t want to be chased by cats, or at least not tonight.

Then when you’re at the dinner party, you smile sweetly like you don’t know what she has done to you and every time you excuse yourself to the bathroom you open up your seafood handbag and you push those tiny prawns:

in the little cracks in their wooden stairs
where you can bend the panel under the bath back just a little
inside the brass curtain pole on the landing
to rest on the wooden frame at the back of the pictures of Degas ballerinas on the stairs
in that hidden hollow behind the pedestal of the graceful sink
deep into the dish of scented pinecones
between the slats of the bathroom extractor fan
under that edge of hall carpet that lifts just so

and at the end of the night you say goodnight like you still don’t know what she has done to you and you complement her on how lovely her house smells and is it those Jo Malone sticks and she says yes, lime basil and mandarin, I’ve always felt it’s so important that a house smells lovely, and you smile and say yes, you’ve always thought so too.

And this little gem from Lisette Auton

If my accessories were made of food I should never be scared of hunger, but fearful of the scorn of supermarket staff when I need to buy another bag as I wipe the remains of mine from the corner of my mouth

And this tongue-in-cheek piece from Ann Cuthbert

Fishing for more compliments? Feel your style’s become a bit washed up?

Surfacing on the trendscape, winkling its way into Mega-influencers’ wardrobes, what Instagram is going starfish-eyed about – The Seafood Handbag.

Warm the cockles with a range of classic maritime-cuisiney styles:

The oversized bait-bucket bag is scuttling sideways off the shelves. Boiled lobster pink’s a best seller or, for something just as shiny but with a grittier edge, get it in oystershell.

Social media won’t clam up about Fruit de Mer’s cross-body jellyfish purse in pulsating purple (£315) while Sushi’s fishtail multi-porpoise tote (£795) is to krill for with scalloped storage pockets, appliqued sequin shrimps and crispy kelp handles.

Don’t want to shell out quite so much?

Mariscos do a version, cheap as moules frites but just as style conch-ious, at £21.99.

So you don’t need to be the abalone one without one this season. Go net the Seafood Handbag today.

More pun-tastic fun from Caroline Walling! I hope you enjoy all the contributions here. Tune in on Monday for tales and poems ‘In Search Of The Miraculous’.

Cod you do with another bag, not just another bag but a bag like no other that you have ever had? 

This deep bag, cool blue, sea green, crystal edged, foam white, crisp tight bag. 

You can clam it securely and the scaled-up pockets make it just right for the important things.

Beach side, pool side, town or city this bag is the life and sole of the party

You’ll look quite a catch, carrying this bag!

Crab some style and nip over to our website or shops

So, you can net yourself one of the best served bags in town!

Happiness With Rice

Nearing the end of the first week of obscure writing prompts developed by me messing around with homophonic translations of Portuguese phrases in the fine art CV of multimedia artist Brigida Baltar, because what else does one do when one is writer-in-residence inside a modern art gallery’s archive files??

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First up, a lovely tiny poem from Lisette again

She explains for the hundredth time as she sets the timer and steam wefts its course along kitchen wall to ceiling cloud. I pretend not to remember so that I can savour her voice.

A poem from Hannah McKay

I’m not too keen on the slimy slippiness of macaroni cheese;
pebbles in the mouth poppiness of peas;
noxious fumes of cod and salmon;
lump-throat gristly-ness of gammon;
unplumbed depths in a bowl of soup;
or creamy sloppy potato gloop.
Give me clean tastes, coriander, spice
black beans and lime
finding happiness with rice.

A great folkloric piece from Ann Cuthbert

You think to slow me down, to counter
my attack but I enjoy it –
it’s the only time I get some proper peace.

You scatter grains, sprinkle seeds, leave sacks of rice.
Once it was a bag of salted nuts.
I can’t resist, have to turn back.

The rhythmic repetition calms me as I count.
Sometimes I vary language – thirteen, pandrah,  achtzein, douăzeci –
I’m a polyglot, I’ve got the knack.

You’ve called me many names across the ages –
foul fiend, Lilith, Nosferatu, Drac.
But the one that makes me happiest is Arithmomaniac.

(Folklore from many countries says that a vampire can be stopped by sprinkling seeds, grain or rice in its path because it has a compulsion to count them.)

And then mine, a fictionalised micro-memoir set in 1996 Hong Kong.

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It Appeared Around The Corner

Now, I don’t really write stories. But I do like prose poems, and I’m getting into flash fiction. So maybe it’s not so surprising that one of these random thirty prompts finally made me get a bit narrative

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I’d love to feature something you’ve written in response to the prompts – fancy sending me something? Comment below! Here’s another little bit sent in by my friend Lisette Auton

sneaking creeping,
not real not real not real
imagination
dead, gone.

Bernadette McAloon offers us this unsettling ditty

a blot on the vision
an apparition to the left
a doll like creature
a peg in a dress
a pestle in a tutu
a giant toe in tulle
a doubling, a trebling
the muse of a fool
an ocular aura
a tiny ghost in net
a premonition of pain
a commotion in the head

And Rob Walton‘s got in on the act too, with this

It appeared out of the corner
A right bloody angle
Must have been ninety degrees
If it was a minute
I tried suggesting it had been a bit obtuse
That drunken night at the geometry ball
But it was having none of it

Palavers And Outrages, Signs Of Sutti

For my response to prompt number 4 of 30, I decided to write a golden shovel. This means that each of these words are used in turn as the last word of each line of my poem. It’s a wonderful brain-bending exercise that I recommend to anyone wanting to push their creative brain out of its ruts.

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It seems I’m not alone in thinking about pavlovas – here’s a snippet from Lisette Auton.

I read this as pavlovas and wondered what meringue had to do with anything and then remembered meringues with homemade ice-cream in a kitchen warm with love and from a stomping beach walk. Meringues have everything to do with everything.

 

Body Nostalgia

Prompt 3 of 30, and I’m offering an alliterative brain-blurt, which was the best I could manage. In fact, I also very nearly managed to finish a short story for this prompt, but as prose is not my metier I ended up bogged down and paralysed. So – bouncing out with a bit of babble was my way to get back on track.

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And the ever-game Lisette Auton sent me one for number three as well – I can relate…

I mourn the lost body. I berate the folds and jiggles. Yet when I see a photo from before I think I looked beautiful then. Why can’t I think I look beautiful now?

Big thanks to Bernie McAloon for this snippet.

She considers this from another angle
until thoughts that escape from dresses
are suspended in stockings hanging
from the breast of a mantel.

Plus get a load of this flash-y beaut from Denise Sparrowhawk!

“Oh wow! Vintage! Can I try them?”  She watches covertly, as her daughter slides easily into the faded 501s and twirls for effect, hands on slim hips. “Perfect! Can I keep them?”. Without looking her mother nods, pushing away unwelcome thoughts of blue jeans days and the memory of thinner thighs.

Mary’s Flour

Time for reactions to prompt number two. Remember, you can still join in and send me something, we have 28 more prompts to feature 🙂

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Here’s a lovely response from Julie Easley:

They dissed Mary’s flour
said it tainted the fancies
but Mary didn’t care
for their sour responses
She flavoured her flour
with the decadent essence
of feminist spice mixed
with a pinch of opportunity.
Some choked on the power
of Mary’s floury produce
their taste buds unable
to swallow and savour
the equalising strength
of her sweet sisterly ingredients.
Plus a small, fierce statement from Lisette Auton, nut allergy sufferer

Mary’s flour does not say categorically whether it is made with gluten nor if it contains nuts.

Mary needs to work on her labelling.

 

And here’s a tiny little poem from me!
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Pleas be sure to go and see the photograph by Brigida Baltar currently on exhibit from the Middlesbrough Collection at MIMA, until the end of March.