Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pablo Neruda / The poet´s Obligation

The poet´s Obligation
by Pablo Neruda
Translated by Alastair Reid

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weight of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking "How can I reach the sea?"
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the grey cry of seabirds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.

From Plenos Poderes / Fully Empowered (1962)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Michael Drayton / Three sorts of serpents do resemble thee

Three sorts of serpentes do resemble thee


Three sorts of serpents do resemble thee: 
That dangerous eye-killing cockatrice, 
The enchanting siren, which doth so entice, 
The weeping crocodile—these vile pernicious three. 
The basilisk his nature takes from thee, 
Who for my life in secret wait dost lie, 
And to my heart sendst poison from thine eye: 
Thus do I feel the pain, the cause, yet cannot see. 
Fair-maid no more, but Mer-maid be thy name, 
Who with thy sweet alluring harmony 
Hast played the thief, and stolen my heart from me, 
And like a tyrant makst my grief thy game: 
   Thou crocodile, who when thou hast me slain, 
   Lamentst my death, with tears of thy disdain.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pip Jones / The Invisible Cat / How to write rollicking rhyming stories

How to write rollicking rhyming stories

Squishy McFluff author Pip Jones with the best advice on writing stories that rhyme – and the golden rule is never, ever sacrifice a story for a rhyme!
Pip Jones
Friday 1 July 2016 12.00 BST

On the day started I writing my first children’s book, Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat! I didn’t deliberately set out to write it in rhyme. It just happened.
The first line that popped out was: “As Ava played out in the garden one day, when the air was all foggy, the sky rather grey…” I realised straight away that if I split the sentence, I had a perfect rhyming couplet. That set the scene for the rest of the book, and now I’ve written six of them, each one up to 2,000 words, all written in rhyme.
I’ve always loved writing rhymes, even as a little girl. It’s not only fun, you can also get a huge amount of satisfaction from finding the perfect rhyme to tell a joke or move the story along. It’s not always easy though. Sometimes it can take a lot of thinking to get a line just right.
Writing a good rhyming story is a bit like doing a jigsaw. When I begin, I know what the whole story will be (so that’s like the finished picture) and I have to put the pieces (or the words) together in exactly the right way to make everything fit. Just as it would be with a jigsaw, you can’t shove a piece into a place it doesn’t fit because otherwise, in the end, the picture will be wonky.
For some people, writing brilliant rhyme comes naturally – but for other people, practice makes perfect. Here are my top tips for writing a rollicking rhyming story.

1 Read rhyming books

Authors always tell people who want to write that they should read, read, read! But we say it for a reason, because whatever sort of story you want to write, reading other people’s books is like giving your brain a writing work out. Reading will give you lots of ideas, help you instinctively know which words to use, and arm you with the tools you need to create stories that work.
In particular, when you want to write rhyming stories, reading rhyme somehow puts a rhythm in your head which will help you. You know what it’s like if you sit for ages in a room that has a loud, ticking clock? When you leave the room, for a while afterwards, you might still hear that clock in your head. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. It’s the same with rhyme, and this is GOOD! This is what you need to prepare your brain for writing rhyme.
You might notice that lots of children’s rhyming books are written in rhyming couplets, or sets of two lines where the last words of each line rhyme with each other. This is a nice simple type of rhyme to begin with.

2 The story should come first

When you’re writing in rhyme, it’s easy to become obsessed with finding the ending words that go together. But if you concentrate on the rhyme more than you do on the plot, you’ll probably end up with a story that doesn’t feel all that satisfying. It might not have a good focus, or make sense, or be as entertaining as it should be. The rule to remember is: the story is just as important as the rhyme.
Here’s a slightly silly example (which I just made up!) showing how you can easily sacrifice the focus of a story for rhyme:
Here’s a dungeon, oh so scary.
Don’t go down there! Please be wary!
You must NOT wander in the dark,
Especially not if you’re a shark!
The first three lines set up a story, which has focus. Oooh! It’s all about a scary dungeon! Too scary to enter! But then… hey, what the lollypop is a shark doing in this rhyme? A shark especially shouldn’t go in a dungeon? Huh? It makes no sense! The only reason the shark shows up in this rhyme is because it goes with ‘dark’. But it makes you think, ‘errrr…’ and by that point, you’ve forgotten all about the scary dungeon! The shark has sacrificed the story for the rhyme. Let’s get rid of it.
You must NOT wander in the gloom
Of that spooky, dingy room!
I used gloom instead of dark. It means the same thing as dark really – AND I could find a rhyme that made sense in the context of the story.
So, before you even think about the rhyming aspect, write down your story in prose, so you know what is going to happen at the beginning, the middle and the end (a prose version about a scary dungeon would be VERY unlikely to have a shark in it!). Once you have that, you can start doing your ‘jigsaw’, finding the perfect words. And when you’ve finished, you rhyming story will have focus and make sense.

3 Perfect or imperfect?

There are lots of definitions to describe different types of rhyme – for example, people talk about half rhyme, slant rhyme, near rhyme, assonance and consonance. But to keep things simple, let’s just talk about perfect and imperfect rhyme – and which of the two you want to use.
Perfect rhyme is harder by nature because it requires the rhyming words to match in both their vowel and consonant sounds. So the combination of eat/sweet matches both the “ee” sound and the “t” sound. Similarly host/most share both the “oh” sound and the “st” sound.
If you were using imperfect rhyme, though, you might choose to only match either the vowel sound, OR the consonant sound. So you could have eat/leaf, which share only the “ee” sound. Or you could have host/last which share only the “st” sound.
Put simply, there are more imperfect rhyme combinations in the English language than there are perfect rhyme combinations – so writing in imperfect rhyme will give you more options. Writing in perfect rhyme is harder and takes more practice, so don’t feel bad about starting out with imperfect rhyme, pop stars use it all the time! Think about some of the lyrics to some of your favourite songs, and I bet you find loads of examples of imperfect rhyme.

4 Master rhythm

Did you know that poems have feet? No? Well if you were to learn about poetry in a formal way, you’d be bombarded by all sort of funny terms which are used to describe the way verse is written, including metric feet, meter and iambs. It can all get very technical, but you don’t necessarily need to know that stuff. All you need to understand is that poems and rhymes normally have rhythm.
If you listen to a rhyming poem being read aloud, you’ll probably be able to detect the rhythm, or a beat, running through it It’s a bit like listening to a tune being played.
But if, when writing rhyme, you somehow miss a beat of your rhythm, it feels awkward. Imagine listening to your favourite pop star singing your favourite song – but they have hiccups. Argh! That’s what it feels like when a rhyme loses its beat.
Being consistent with your rhythm can be tricky and it has a lot to with the emphasis we put on syllables in words and phrases – it is these strong and weak syllables which provide the rhythm. When we speak naturally, we put moreemphasis on some syllables than we do on others. See how I have made the stronger syllables bold?
When you write a line of rhyme, it’s important not to force the reader to put the emphasis on a syllable where it wouldn’t occur in natural speech, just to achieve the rhythm. For example, if you put stress on the last part of the word emphasis, it would sound weird and awkward. So you need to try to write the lines of your rhyming story so all the words can be read in a natural, but rhythmic way.

5 Test your rhyming story

Have you written a brilliant rhyming story? I find a very good way to find out is to ask someone to read your work aloud to you. Listen carefully. Do they stumble on any lines? Do they pause in parts? These clues will let you know if you have some bits and pieces that need fixing.
Perhaps you need to add a syllable to fix your rhythm, or maybe you need to take one away. It might be that you need to swap one word for another, to make sure the syllable emphasis falls in the right place for your rhyme’s beat.
It’s not only me who uses this read aloud method – Julia Donaldson does too, and if that isn’t what you’d call tried and tested, I don’t know what is.
PS. Don’t forget to ask your guinea pig whether they liked the story too!
Pip Jones’ latest Squishy McFluff book, illustrated by Ella Okstad, is Squishy McFluff The Invisible Cat: Seaside Rescue and you can buy it from the Guardian bookshop.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Poetry can heal / It helped me through depression

Photo by Flor Garduño

Poetry can heal – it helped me through depression

After my illness, I walked alone through Spain, with an anthology of verse chosen by friends

"Poetry is medicine"

n Dante’s time, books were sold in apothecary shops: literature as medicine. I learned this when I was very ill, during an acute episode of manic depression, and I was struck by the profound metaphor behind this commercial fact. The apothecary of literature can heal, and I would need it desperately.

I had experienced a psyche-fracture, which included hallucinations of wings, seeing my own and others’, these wings a metaphor for thought, the wings of the mind. Although I felt compelled to enact the urges of mania, I had a greater wish to hold very still and see what would happen if I let this madness take a metaphoric route. What happened? Poetry.
I don’t normally write poetry, but in this illness I could write nothing except poetry. I never normally write at night, but I could write only in darkness.
The ancient Greeks thought the gods inspired poets through madness, and in IonPlato has Socrates say: “For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses.” This furor poeticus was honoured in the Renaissance as the “fine madness” that “should possess a poet’s brain”, in the words of the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton.
For me, poetry is medicine. The poet Les Murray writes: “I’d disapproved of using poetry as personal therapy, but the Black Dog taught me better. Get sick enough, and you’ll use any remedy you’ve got.” In the 19th century, people in asylums were encouraged to write poetry, while William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote that, in his depressions, “I find writing, especially poetry, my best remedy.” Orpheus was both healer and poet and his lyre could vanquish melancholy.
I was also taking psychiatric medication, but in medicine I saw the science of pain, whereas in poetry I saw pain’s art. Medicine has an anaesthetic relationship to pain – it wants to rid the patient of it. Poetry’s relationship is aesthetic – it wants pain to speak. And the condition that seems to speak more than any other is manic depression. Arguably, it may be the refusal to create one’s art that causes distress in the first place. John Keats, a licensed apothecary, as was Dante, trained unhappily as a doctor and experienced depression accordingly: his brother feared that if John didn’t become a poet he would kill himself. An unanswered calling can take its revenge, and Gwyneth Lewis’s memoir of depression, Sunbathing in the Rain, notes that it was her resistance to writing poetry that made her ill: “If you don’t do what your poetry wants you to, it will be out to get you. Unwritten poems are a force to be feared.”

The first book I could read in “recovery” was Richard Holmes’s biography of Coleridge, and I cried for the poet, born before the modern apothecary of psychiatric medication that could have saved him so much pain. Coleridge, describing Shakespeare’s Mercutio, also describes himself, or indeed many a mercurial writer: “possessing all the elements of a poet: high fancy; rapid thoughts; the whole world was as it were subject to his law of association”. Mercutio is moody then soaring; his mind is in flight with the imagery of wings.
In Shakespeare I feel understood, for he catches the signatures of manic depression in many of his characters, from Cleopatra to Timon, Lear to Antonio inThe Merchant of Venice. Touchstone, merry-mad in motley, suggests mania, while Jaques, melancholy in his black, stands for depression. The most deft description of mania I have ever read – “frantic-mad with evermore unrest” – is Shakespeare’s, while his love for puns and word creation, his tender empathy, his connotative mind, word association and lapidary compression all suggest to me that he either experienced it or understood it intimately in another. If not Shakespeare himself, my money is on the actor Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s clever clown, the probable author of A Pill to Purge Melancholy.

During my long months of convalescence, I walked alone across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I took with me as little as possible, but the single most essential thing was an anthology of poems created for me by my friends, who had each chosen one that they cherished and that would console, including work byRumiRilkeBorgesYeatsLorcaEdip CanseverAlice OswaldMary OliverEE CummingsFrank O’Hara and Tomas Tranströmer. Every day, I would read one, learning some of each by heart, not just to understand but to be understood. Poetry heals the reader as well as the writer.
To heal is, etymologically, to make whole, and poetry can heal the connective tissues of the mind, making it whole and reuniting it with the world. In the awful loneliness of depression, poetry is the kindest companion when one is keening to be comprehended. The contemporary practice of bibliotherapy makes this explicit, asking people to read specific texts as medicine, and in Black Rainbow, Rachel Kelly explores the curative power of poetry for her savage depression. Sufi stories have long been used as remedies and in Australia I met an indigenous “story‑doctor” who would diagnose someone’s psychological state and prescribe a particular story for them to cure their situation.
Coming home, I bought all three anthologies Staying AliveBeing Alive and Being Human, so I could read a poem chosen by Neil Astley every day. Astley saves lives, I thought, many times. The subtitle of Staying Alive is “real poems for unreal times”: crisis, grief, love and, yes, madness, that state of unreality or – as I prefer – irreality.
For me, writing poetry at night was an enactment of a metaphoric truth: I could see better in the dark.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Muhammad Ali / Quotes

Muhammad Ali's best quotes: 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'

The boxer wasn’t known as the Louisville Lip for nothing. Following his death in the US on Friday, here are Ali’s sharpest verbal jabs and most withering putdowns

Muhammad Ali - referred to by some as the Louisville Lip - had a way with words that few sports personalities have come close to rivalling.
Journalists over the decades have faced an uphill battle trying to out-word the boxer, given that he usually did a far better job of describing himself or his opponents than they could.
Selecting the best quotes from the millions of words Ali uttered at lightning speed during his career is a challenge, but here are some of the best known, along with a few that are less well remembered.

On boxing

I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today.”

It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
He even penned a poem before taking on Sonny Liston in 1964: Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swing
And raises the bear straight out of the ring;
Liston is rising and the ref wears a frown
For he can’t start counting ‘til Liston comes down;
Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic;
Who would have thought when they came to the fight
That they’d witness the launching of a human satellite?
Yes the crowd did not dream when they laid down their money
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”

When I’m gone, boxing will be nothing again. The fans with the cigars and the hats turned down’ll be there, but no more housewives and little men in the street and foreign presidents. It’s goin’ to be back to the fighter who comes to town, smells a flower, visits a hospital, blows a horn and says he’s in shape. Old hat. I was the onliest boxer in history people asked questions like a senator.”
Sometimes there was even a touch of humility:

There are no pleasures in a fight, but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.”

The Rumble in the Jungle, 1974

Float like a butterfly sting like a bee – his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
And in an equally famous boast:

I done something new for this fight. I wrestled with an alligator. I tussled with a whale. I handcuffed lightning, I thrown thunder in jail. Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”

The Thrilla in Manilla, 1975

I saw your wife. You’re not as dumb as you look.”
Better remembered, perhaps, is this line:

It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila.”

Draft dodging

Ali also strayed into the political arena after refusing to serve in the US army during the Vietnam war. His explanation?

I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong”
Of the US government’s attempts to jail him for draft-dodging, he said:

They did what they thought was right, and I did what I thought was right.”
And after being convicted of draft-dodging in 1970, in one of his most famous lines, he said:

I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”


Many of his comments referred explicitly to race and the treatment of black people in the US:
I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”

Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”

I may not talk perfect white talk-type English, but I give you wisdom.” 

Name change, 1964

Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I amMuhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.”

Later in life

He maintained his sharp tongue despite the toll that boxing had taken on his body:

People say I talk so slow today. That’s no surprise. I calculated I’ve taken 29,000 punches. But I earned $57m and I saved half of it. So I took a few hard knocks. Do you know how many black men are killed every year by guns and knives without a penny to their names? I may talk slow, but my mind is OK.”

What I suffered physically was worth what I’ve accomplished in life. A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.”

A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Last words

I’m not afraid of dying. I have faith; I do everything I can to live my life right; and I believe that dying will bring me closer to God.” 

Live every day like it’s your last, because someday you’re going to be right.”