The Peripatetic School

Welcome to the Peripatetic School! Are you paying attention, class? We will start with a flash fiction from Ann Cuthbert, to be read in your best Miss Jean Brodie voice:

Hello? Mrs Harris-Tottle, Chair of Governors, speaking.

Yes, it has gone walkabout again. Prime Mover knows where we’ll find it this time. At least it waited until everyone had left before it sauntered off. Well, I say everyone. Mr Temperance was in the boiler room – oh yes, that’s true – at least the heating will still be on – and Honor had stayed to put a display up.

Let’s hope it’s ambled over flattish ground. Remember when it tried to climb Roseberry Topping? ‘Seeking the moral high ground’ was its excuse, though how it could justify the mess I do not know. Classrooms tipped sideways, tech toppled, staffroom topsy-turvey, all the cups mixed up. If only it had some sense of balance.

No, I’ve given up asking ‘Why?’ Goes against the grain but there you have it.

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Mine is a dystopian acrostic (not something you hear every day!)

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And I leave you with a gentler invitation, from Caroline Walling:

Walk with me awhile so that we might talk.

Your mind is a riddle I would like to solve.

Let us answer the clues together so that we might know one another better

Perhaps along the way we might share an anecdote or two.

Shall we start with the theory or the facts?

If you’d like to know what we’re up to, or to join in with your own poems, check out all thirty prompts and learn how I made them up via convoluted means as part of my writing residency at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art…

The Nature Of Things

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What a treat I have for you today! A longer lyrical prose piece by Hull writer Julie Corbett, which just blew me away when I read it. I so hope you enjoy it too.

Undated Memoir

Yesterday I met a man at the bus stop, exchanged pleasantries,

as we waited. His bus arrived before mine. I resumed thinking

about mud, not soil, although my mud is a mixture of top soil

and boulder clay. The man lived at the coast; a town protected

by sea defences, concrete, Norwegian larvikite and hard wood

groynes. He was taking some new curtains home, in my bag

more library books. He didn’t show me the photos on his phone,

prehistoric forest, black twisted limbs stretched out to salty air.

 

Today I go out to tea, to meet my friend, who gives me a book.

A poetry collection about sheds. My mind strays backwards,

back to mud and forks and trenches and worms. Amazing worms,

not clagged by stickiness of clay. I guess they have a dubbin-like

layer of special lubricating slime, effective in bone- dry compost

as well. My friend is recovering from serious illness, plans visits

to all the people, she didn’t get to last year.  We drink three pots

of tea, talk about choirs, turbans, sarcomas and hair growth rates.

 

Tomorrow will be its odd, slipping self, arriving as it becomes

today, slipping to the past as breath clears the lips. I worry

about weather, not climate change. I worry about the texture

of the land I dig to plant potatoes and herbaceous borders.

Sometimes I will ask my father for his opinion or for advice.

He is dying from a complex blend of life and love and work,

fused with asbestosis and removed tumours. I enjoy waking

before my alarm to car noises and birdsongs from the street.

 

By contrast, mine is a ridiculous piece of (strictly-speaking, inaccurate) doggerel about Roman poet Lucretius and his treatise on Epicurean philosophy, called ‘The Nature of Things’. Obviously.

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Ghost Crab

#11 Ghost Crab

Some splendid offerings for prompt number 11 of 30, which is very much a pair of ragged claws. Love this one from Charley Genever

A spiral of seaside under padlock;
patrolled itch, parted by transparent scuttle.
There’s no ignoring a haunting.
I don’t know which night’s ambush
is the patient with the pattern,
or which star is the blue-bollock to blame.
They’re all carriers of some kind of plague.
Pincers for the exorcist,
they speak like the police,
call the fucking mystery machine.
Try to wank it off.
Fail the phantom weight.
I am bound by plasma;
deep redded shame, melt the ghosts away.

… while Harry Gallagher comes at the prompt from a different angle with this ode to a friend with physical disabilities.

Crab
(im, Dean Wycherley, owner of Middlesbrough’s great Record Shop c.1980)

You were the chalk among cheese,
a crab amid speedwalkers,
a lonesome goalkeeper
in a world full of strikers.

Crutches thrown off like unwanted confetti
that never quite landed on your path.
No listener adoring your whistling vowels,
who knew the difference between a cry and a laugh.

No footsteps to echo through
the cathedral of your mind,
stacked with facts, top to toe,
colour coded, neatly filed.

All they saw were the signs
Keep Away From The Edge,
As if you led to some dangerous
contagion. Redfaced,

they stayed safe at
more than arm’s length;
away from incomprehension
and its attendant embarrassments.

Books and their covers
make uneasy bedfellows,
when laying straight
is more than a struggle.

Thanks for reading, if you’re enjoying these prompts then why not send me something of your own? Or follow to get a new batch of experimental writing every day. Tomorrow, we investigate The Nature Of Things.

OK, here’s my little offering, to finish up!

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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…

#9 The art of delicate resistances2345

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.

#8 In search of the miraculous2

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.

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.