This year, I came mighty close to giving much beloved A-Z April Challenge a miss, as I’m deeply immersed in researching and writing a series of biographical short fiction stories. Indeed, I’m so immersed, that I’ve been using a snorkel and even scuba gear, to avoid surfacing for air. I’m so determined to see this project through and have my first book published, that I don’t want to stop for anything. Yes, it’s foot flat to the floor. All systems go.
However, for those of you who know me, you’ll know that being able to lock myself away from all distractions into my writing cave isn’t possible. That there’s the husband, two teenagers, an older and fairly well-behaved dog but there’s also the two rapscallion puppy dogs who I’ve decided are the same as having pre-school aged twins at home. Case in point, this afternoon we had pup Rosie slipping out through the front door while I was maneuvering my way in, and and then she ran like a greyhound across the road and down the adjacent lane way. I would’ve liked to clock her speed. Move over Superman. I’m sure she was running faster than a speeding locomotive.
However, I’ve decided that I might be needing a bit of motivational encouragement on my book writing journey, which would also benefit others hunkered down working on their big projects. I still haven’t finished drawing up a list of words so I’m going to need a magic wand or a cattle prod. However, it’s surprising how you can pull the rabbit out of a hat during this challenge, and I’ve always finished April with a substantial body of work under my belt. That said, this year I’ll be keeping it short and sweet and much more in keeping with the nature of the challenge as well. You’re not really supposed to have a 55,000 word manuscript at the end. Indeed, I’m hoping that the book project might be getting to that kind of word limit if I really knuckle down. However, given the huge amount of researching and planning involved with biographical fiction, speed writing isn’t what it’s all about but I still need to get it finished and not in three lifetimes either.
So, although I’m launching off late please stay tuned. A is on its way.
Are you ding the A-Z April Challenge this year? If so, I’d love to hear about your theme or why you decided not to participate this year.
I hope you’ll join me for the journey and might even be inspired.
Don’t know if anyone missed my weekly coffee share posts. However, I’ve been rather embroiled in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, where my theme was Letters to Dead Artists. The overarching structure was to provide a brief bio for each artist, ideally choose one painting or sculpture which really touched me in some way and tie in my experience or attachment to it. Needless to say, the word limit totally blew out, but at the end of the month, I have quite a sound body of work and I’m guessing it’ll be around 40,000 – 50,000 words. Working out the word count is tomorrow’s job.
Avoca Beach looking towards Terrigal, NSW.
For old timers at Beyond the Flow, you’ll know I love nothing more than showing off our gorgeous Australian climate and beaches which are warm and balmy for about 9 months of the year. Today, it was a bright sunny day with bright blue skies and a temp of 22°C or 71°F. Still, lately the locals have been mumbling and complaining and starting to rug up. We’ve had a few days around 18°C and it’s been described as a “cold snap”…. “Freezing”. My husband grew up further South in Tassie, and he thinks we’re a bunch of wimps!
This week, the kids went back to school after a two week break. It always feels like a rude awakening getting back into the school routine and all their activities, where I can legitimately spend the day in my PJs, especially on the first day of the holidays. That’s become my time honoured tradition. I can barely remember what we did during the holidays but I did see Loving Simon with my daughter and her friends. She very kindly invited me to join them, after I offered to sit somewhere else. I found that very touching. We also went out sailing in the small laser and I managed to get a brief paddle in the kayak before having to charge off to take our daughter to a dance audition. I wasn’t real happy cutting my paddle short, but I did treat myself to a coffee and cake while I was waiting and walked around and photographed the wetland there, which was almost sufficient compensation.
Another holiday highlight was going to Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour for lunch with my mother and daughter. This whole area not far from the Sydney CBD, is a melting pot of revamped industrial buildings, office blocks, restaurants and cafes and shops. Probably the thing I noticed most about the place, was how big the buildings were. They were huge, and even the spaces in between them were monolithic. I felt like an ant, dwarfed by their shadows. We had lunch at a Japanese restaurant and I had a Bento Box…yum! The food was exquisite and the service impeccable and so friendly. I was in heaven. Can’t wait to go back.
Inside the Art Gallery of NSW
After lunch, I set off for the Art Gallery of NSW. Writing about all these artists was rekindling my love of art and it’s been so long since I’ve been there although I only had about two hours up my sleeve, which left me facing the art gallery equivalent of speed dating and I had a lot of old friends to catch up with as well as the new. Moreover, The Lady & the UnicornExhibition was on. It was fabulous, but what I appreciated even more was the depth and breadth of what’s in that gallery, and that as an Australian I could be proud of what we’ve got. Indeed, I was quite impressed (and surprised) to find a Self-Portrait by Renoir. Hey, it wasn’t in The Louvre…Wow! I also noticed a few statues on loan from London’s Tate Gallery, which is such a great idea. What not share these beautiful treasures?!!
Meanwhile, the pups are now about 9 months old and Rosie is chewing more stuff than ever before. Indeed, it’s taking us back in time to when the kids were small and there was that horrid phase in the house where we had to toddler proof everything and see random objects through the eyes of a little person. I’m sure anyone who has ever had kids will know that exhilarating relief when you can finally remove all the cupboard latches and start storing things below head height. Well, we’re back there again and with the kids going back to school this week, we had a few tantrums and mass carnage spread right across much of the house when I’ve been stupid enough to leave them inside when I’m not with them. Still, you’ve gotta love em. Meanwhile, they snuggle up and Zac is almost melting into my son’s lap and his all wrapped up in his blanket while we’re watching The Voice Australia on catch-up TV.
By the way, I probably should mention that I’m madly practicing for a violin performance in I think 2 weeks. Well, that’s actually more of a confession that I’ve been doing anything but, and hoping that by putting my what I’m supposed to be doing down here in black & white, that I’ll get that bow moving.
Well, I’ve been a dreadful host. I still haven’t offered you a tea or coffee and not so much as a bite to eat. Slack! Slack! Slack!
Anyway, it’s getting late. Actually, it’s now getting early. Time to bid you goodnight.
This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Alli
If we were having coffee, I’d actually suggest we trade the coffee in for a couple of bottles of water and head down to the beach with my dogs. Not that I’m a health freak but it truly is magnificent down there and it’s too easy to take it for granted. Sit inside and write my days away without stepping outside beyond my responsibilities as Driver in Chief of Mum’s Taxi.
Lady and Bilbo
Shame we didn’t catch up yesterday when it was a gloriously sunny day. It could have been a mild Summer’s day, if someone didn’t turn off the lights around 5.00PM and the sun mysteriously disappeared from the sky. By day, we’re still getting around in T shirts but you’re getting no complaints from me…just the rag trade which is now crying poor. As yet, there’s been no need for sleeves let alone jumpers.
Last Monday, I posted my Reflections of the A-Z Challenge. This includes a full list of all my posts. I have pasted of these into a document I’ve labelled “DRAFT” and the final word count reached a staggering 66, 652 words. I started writing and researching the posts two weeks before it kicked off. So, I almost combusted getting through it and I’m thrilled with the results: Letters to dead Poets: Reflections of the A-Z Challenge 2016
Emotionally speaking, the last week was a bit challenging. I found a lump on my arm recently and deciding it was too weird to explain to my GP, I put it off until last week and I’m having an ultrasound done tomorrow. I’ve had to wait a week for the appointment and that has probably stressed me out more than what the lump might be. I don’t like not knowing and I sort of figure that whatever it is, the sooner I find out the better. So far, my doctors have had so many tricks up their sleeve, that I’m quitely confident but I’m not beyond letting my mind wander. Ten years ago, this would have freaked me out completely but I’m pretty chilled. Well, maybe.
I am a bit concerned and I’ve minimised and catastrophised things in my head and there’s no point going either way until I know.
However, battling against this waiting game, the sense of limbo, could well explain why I’ve spent the last week delving back into my family history research. I’ve been pursuing my Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Gardiner/Gardner for some time without any sign of working out who his parents were or where they came from. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some convict blood and William tried to cover his tracks. Being a non-indigenous Australian, he had to come from somewhere.
So, instead of getting stroppy with or about the lump in my arm this week, I’ve been taking it out on William, whose only known crime was leaving his parents off his marriage certificate, which was fairly common at the time.
Understandibly, after being a recluse during the A-Z Challenge and reaching a dead end with William Henry, I needed to get out. So, today I went to the local markets with my husband, which gave me an unexpected boost. We met such an interesting cast of characters all over a painting I found of a mediterranean scene. The RHS was fairly full while the left hand side had a lot of empty sea. As a photographer, I instinctively wanted to crop 10cm off, which seemed a waste of space. The lady who owned the store was busy with another customer so a lady from the store next door stepped in and then my husband joined in and he started talking about “balance”. Then, the lady grabs a guy walking past who turns out to be an artist. She asks him if he thinks it’s balanced. He replies that as an impressionist, he “knows nothing about balance”. I liked that.
Hearing him talk about impressionism in art, made me consider that I am perhaps a bit impressionistic as a writer. Or, perhaps it’s just my perceptions. I see a lot of separate images or scenes, which don’t seem to fit together into a unified whole. When I ask why is it so, the pieces don’t obligingly line up into some kind of organised row like an English queue. Yet, they’re perhaps not all over the place either. I’ve simply had to accept that things aren’t always logical or fit together in an obligingly simple pattern and that is what we need to learn to accept. That is, instead of trying to bend nature to get what we think we want when we’re really swimming against the tide.
I’m sure life was a lot simpler when I didn’t ask so many questions and I just sat still with what I thought I knew.
At least, I thought I knew who William Henry Gardiner was and I even have a photo.
Well, it’s getting late here so I’m going to head off. Another week is about to unfold and I’m seriously not prepared. However, how can you be prepared for the unexpected other than to be prepared to be unprepared.
Indeed, perhaps that’s why we’ve been given a smile.
Anyway, how was your week? I hope it was good.
This has been a contribution to the Weekly Weekend Coffee Share. Please here click to visit the linky and join us all for a coffee.
It’s no wonder I needed an ambulance and a stretcher when I reached the end of the A-Z Challenge. I’d researched and written a staggering 66, 652 words and these weren’t any ordinary words either. They were probing philosophical investigations into the works and lives of over 30 exceptional poets, which were interwoven with my own ups and downs through life’s milestones.
Just to recap, my theme was Letters to Dead Poets. While writing to dead poets does have an air of the macabre, the theme was simply a play on Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. If an old poet could give advice to a young poet, surely dead poets had something to offer!
Each letter explored philosophical questions such as what it means to be a man, how to deal with adversity and a poet’s heart and somehow survive. Many of these poets didn’t.Naturally, I couldn’t write these letters without addressing the tragic nature of their deaths. Indeed, I wrote this post: Dedication To A Poet Dying Young. Emotionally, this was incredibly difficult and challenging, which stretched well beyond showcasing the poets who’ve inspired me through life’s ups and downs.
It is a reflection of my own tenacity that I could grapple with these contentious issues without going down myself. That my feet are firmly planted on terra firma and my head, heart and soul are in a good place. This isn’t something that happened overnight. I have a poet’s heart and have always been incredibly sensitive and know all too well how to dance with the dark side and succumb to its charms. I have survived brain surgery and live with a life-threatening auto-immune disease. Life is no picnic. I’ve gone up in flames and somehow walked out of the ashes. Well, I was actually carried out unconscious but I’m still here.
Not unsurprisingly, I needing to balance out the heaviness and developed a lively undercurrent with the age-old battle between cats and dogs. There were poets who were famous cat lovers like TS Eliot and Ernest Hemingway and ardent dog lovers including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf and Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. My two dogs jumped into the fracas standing up for the “pollicle” dogs (poor little dogs …TS Eliot). They were rather unimpressed that there is no Dogs: The Musical!!
Quite unexpectedly, many roads led to Paris. Paris the city of love, which can inevitably become the city of heartbreak. Although heartbroken in Paris myself back in July 1992, I did a solo poetry reading at Paris’s famed Shakespeare Bookshop , which attracted the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin when they were in town.Somehow, a 22 year old backpacking Australian with her self-published anthology Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth, was following in their enormous footsteps. I have since discovered that young poets were considered “audience”. So, I have no idea how this crazed backpacker from the Antipodes slipped through the cracks and up the rickety red wooden staircase to perform.
Poetry Reading, Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris 1992.
So, after going through all of this, it is hardly surprising that I staggering across the finish line barely conscious. Every cell in my body was aching and my brain had liquefied into soupy mush. That’s what happens when you try researching and writing faster than the speed of light. You start to fall apart.
By writing so much, I clearly went way beyond the scope of the challenge, which really is about writing very short, sharp posts under 500 words and becoming something of a blogging slut getting around to as many blogs as possible every day to build new connections and expand your reader base. However, I went the other way. Instead of short and sweet, you could say I did the extended version. However, they cover significant psychological and philosophical issues and aren’t simply a handful of words…a throwaway.
So without further ado, here’s An A-Z of Letters to Dead Poets:
I delayed writing my letter to William Shakespeare by a day to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of his death on 23rd April, 1616. By the way, when Shakespeare woke up, he found his head was missing.
Despite writing some of the most loved and recognised love sonnets of all time, Shakespeare admitted that his track record with love wasn’t a commendation. So, he introduced me to poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.
If we were having coffee tonight, I’d invite you to join me watching Masterchef Australia. The contestants are doing an invention test using meat and three veg with English Master chef Marco Pierre White. No lamb chops with peas and mashed potato and diced carrot here. Two minutes to go and the tension’s intense. Go! Go! Go! The music’s accelerating as the plating up begins. Oops…under cooked…DISASTER!!!!…30 seconds to go! 10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1…Time’s Up!
This is cruel. Watching Masterchef when we’ve had an express meal. It’s Mother’s Day…not MummyMasterchefNight. Mummy does nothing night! Nothing at all!
The stars just twinkled at me and said, who are you kidding?
By the way, the new Australian season of Masterchef kicked off last Sunday. To celebrate, I chucked all the limp carrots out and wrote this post.
Sunday night is a precursor to Monday and the start of another week. However, at least I’ve had a pajama day and been able to take it easy. No breakfast in bed but I did receive hand made cards and flowers from the garden from the kids and a tulip from Geoff and bought flowers. I also had a surprise for Geoff. His mother passed away 16 years ago and on Saturday I found some Willow pattern china at the opportunity shop. Geoff’s Mum also collected elephants and I found a Mothers’ Day card with an elephant on it. I don’t also remember my MIL on Mothers’ Day but I did this year.
Geoff as a baby.
Tonight, I wrote about how we celebrate an Australian Mothers’ Day, while making a tribute to mothers past. More than a history, buff, I did honours in history at university and I am mindful that women haven’t always had choice. That even an education, is a relatively recent leap forward…not only for women but the general population. Indeed, an education is still beyond the reach of much of the world’s population. So, we need to be thankful. Not take what we have for granted.
A family photo with Bilbo as a pup Mother’s Day, 2007.
I also want to be thankful for my kids, my family and wallow in that today, without looking over my shoulder, which I must say I’m doing less and less now they’re getting older. To be perfectly honest, I am probably better suited to older kids and I am in much better health now too, which certainly lifts my outlook.
The Happy Family
This week, both my kids are doing the NAPLAN tests. How do I begin to explain our Australian NAPLAN tests? Parents stare at each other blankly and I’m not even sure that my kids even know what NAPLAN is and they’re about to sit the !@#@# thing. All I know is that while the teachers downplay it and say it tests them more than the kids, I know NAPLAN will definitely be counting towards my daughter’s high school applications, even though high school is 2 years away. At the moment, she’s focused on applying for our local selective high school. Try explaining that to a ten year old who has changed schools this year and is fighting a rare digestive condition, gastroparesis. She might only be 10 years old but this year has been quite stressful. She’s also learning dancing, violin, Baritone Horn and performing in the Scout Gang Show. I haven’t turned her into a performing seal doing grueling hours of tutoring. Will she regret it? Or, can she pull this entire thing off whatever it is? Sometimes, it feels like we’re collectively passing through into some other dimension and it really is full on. Naturally, we need to aim high and not settle without going for it, which like it or not, brings the whole family into the dynamic. It’s hard for a ten year old to see the bigger, longer term picture and not get caught up in the now.
Meanwhile, I’m still recovering from the A-Z Challenge. I’m now in the process of cutting and pasting my posts back into Word and print off the DRAFT. Can’t believe I wrote so much! Thank you very much for those who have checked out my posts. Tomorrow, we all post our survival posts.
I’m so sorry. I just realised that I’ve reached the end of our coffee share and I realised that I forgot to offer you tea or coffee. My apologies. I was so focused on all that Masterchef food that I wasn’t thinking about drinks. I’m a lousy host but I’ll make it up to you with a few Tim Tams. These ones are dark chocolate so the kids haven’t devoured them all.
Hope you’ve had a great week and I look forward to catching up!
At last, I feel capable of giving you my full attention, instead of having a head full of alphabet letters corresponding to dead Poets. May 1st… the April A-Z Blogging Challenge is over for another year, although for me “over” is rather semantic. These letters have now been re-classified DRAFT and I will be adding a few more poets, editing and then it’s P for PUBLISH.
By printing these plans in black and white, it’s my way of converting dreams into action and moving things forward. I have been working on the Book Project in various guises for 9 years so I am very excited and relieved to get this far. Don’t know how many words I’ve polished off so far but I finally have a solid manuscript. Phew!
As the challenge drew to a close and the family and dogs were feeling well and truly abandoned, I’ve stepped out of my cave and touched base with the real world.
This week, the kids returned to school. This means I have more time to write uninterrupted during the day although I’m back in Mum’s Taxi so not completely liberated.
Friday night, we went to see Jungle Book at the movies with the kids’ Scout troop. You might not be aware but the Cub Scouting Movement has very close ties with Jungle Book. Baden-Powell, who the Scouts Founder, was friends with Rudyard Kipling and asked him for the use of Jungle Book’s history and universe as a motivational frame in cub scouting. In 1917, junior members became known as Wolf Cubs.
Anyway, we all enjoyed the movie. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the 3D version but the scenery was breathtaking. I doubt I’ve ever watched the full movie before so that’s a good sign, if you’re thinking of going. We’re not entirely sure how authentic it was and there were elements reminiscent of other movies. Geoff and I are both feeling we need to re-read the book.
If you’re a Kipling fan, you might enjoy his poem: If
We’ve also had a few family games of Boggle over the weekend. Our son is particularly keen and resilient. When you’re playing with four people, it’s hard to get much of a score and the kids have been lucky to get more than a couple of points. Geoff always doubles my score. Even though our defeat is swift and comprehensive, our fighting spirit has not been quashed.
Dog Beach. Photo Rowena Newton
This week, I need to get back into my beach walks with the dogs. No more excuses.
Thank you for joining me. I hope you’ve had a great week and I’m looking forward to finally catching up with you again.
PS: I’m now watching a show called Bondi Rescue set with the lifesavers on Bondi Beach. They have a bagpipe player on who is doing a fundraising tour. They just showed the lifeguards trying to play her bagpipes and the sea gulls leaving the beach in droves. The sound was woeful! Also, had the first episode of Masterchef tonight and I blame that for scoffing 2 Tim Tams in quick succession!
Phew! We have finally reached the end of the April A-Z Challenge, and in a curious fusion of the contemporary Madden Brothers with 17th Century Baroque poet, John Donne, We Are Donne.
We studied John Donne’s poetry at school and both of these poems are the perfect accompaniment to my Letters To Dead Poets.
Death Be Not Proud –
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Photo: Matthew Black.
Thank you very much to everyone who has accompanied me along this journey. Or, simply popped in now and then. Your company along the road has been much appreciated and it’s been fabulous travelling along this “road not taken” together and to bring our islands together into a connected community…even if our paths never actually cross in “the real world”.
Every journey reaches an end. Not a dead end but a place of transition, rebirth and a turning inwards before turning outwards again. This is a place of rest, sleep and ZEDs.
You have worked hard. It is now time to recharge your body in the pauses in between words and ideas and listen to the whisperings of your spirit, the tinkle tinkle of the winds blowing through the leaves and the twittering of your colourful lorikeets and hold your family close. Walk along the beach with your dogs and cleanse your being in all that healing sea breeze and just be. You can not be a non-stop human doing without breaking down.
Too many poets fly straight into the candle flame without taking due care. Poets don’t have to die young. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time but although I had a short life, it bore fruit.
I will leave you here with the wisdom of a man who greatly inspired me, Rabindranath Tagore:
The Wisdom of Tagore:
“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”
“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
“The small wisdom is like water in a glass: clear, transparent, pure. The great wisdom is like the water in the sea: dark, mysterious, impenetrable.”
“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.”
“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.”
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
“Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it.”
“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”
“I am restless. I am athirst for faraway things. My soul goes out in a longing to touch the skirt of the dim distance. O Great Beyond, O the keen call of thy flute! I forget, I ever forget, that I have no wings to fly, that I am bound in this spot evermore.”
“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”
Australian Golden Eagle: Photo Geoff Newton. Tasmania 2005.
Take care of your dreams. Sleep on them but don’t leave them under your pillow. Let their wings grow and carry you up to the stars.Yet, never lose touch with the Earth. You don’t want your dreams to burn.
Softly I am leaving,
Just as softly as I came;
I softly wave goodbye
To the clouds in the western sky.
The golden willows by the riverside
Are young brides in the setting sun;
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
Keep undulating in my heart.
The green tape grass rooted in the soft mud
Sways leisurely in the water;
I am willing to be such a waterweed
In the gentle flow of the River Cam.
That pool in the shade of elm trees
Holds not clear spring water, but a rainbow
Crumpled in the midst of duckweeds,
Where rainbow-like dreams settle.
To seek a dream? Go punting with a long pole,
Upstream to where green grass is greener,
With the punt laden with starlight,
And sing out loud in its radiance.
Yet now I cannot sing out loud,
Peace is my farewell music;
Even crickets are now silent for me,
For Cambridge this evening is silent.
Quietly I am leaving,
Just as quietly as I came;
Gently waving my sleeve,
I am not taking away a single cloud.
(6 November 1928) See Note.
Dear Mr Xu,
For the last month, I have been writing Letters To Dead Poets. At last, I have finally reached “Z” and in a sense, my journey is over. You are: “The End”.
This means that I am also doing my own leaving. At least, that was the plan. However, this has become the first step of a much longer journey, which has unceremoniously been labelled: DRAFT.
Of course, “DRAFT” in no way reflects this gruelling, personal odyssey. Indeed, rather than “DRAFT”, it should be stamped “VICTORY” instead. After all, I’ve been working on numerous incarnations of The Book Project for 9 years and now I’m finally on my way.
Moreover, “DRAFT” fails to reflect how much I’ve grown and changed in the last month. Indeed, I’ve left a flat, hollow version of myself back at the start and at least now, I’m more aware of my ignorance. I don’t know whether my writing has improved from all of this reading and research but I have. You could say that I am the New Improved Version or in modern lingo I’ve been relaunched as Rowena 2.0.
This journey has been superfood for my soul!
However, as much as I would like to believe you could write a life-changing book in 30 days, I know it’s been rushed. Unfortunately, this is but the tip of the proverbial ice berg of what lies ahead and much of this work will also be going on underground, which is neither glamorous or exciting.
Anyway, this letter is not about me. It’s about you.
I’m here to ask about how you become a poet. Do you feel there was something inside you, some kind of “poet seed”, just waiting for the right time and that mix of sun and rain to germinate and grow? Or, were you made? If we took a humble lump of clay and processed it through a poet-making factory, could we pump out: “The Poet” where you turn the handle and poetry flows out, like an electric mincer?
Given that so many poets seem to go through the proverbial mincer themselves, I also have to wonder whether we should be watering poet seeds or manufacturing “The Poet” anyway.
I don’t know whether it was just bad luck that you died in a plane crash when you were 30 and Shelley drowned in a yacht at much the same age and Sylvia Plath also took her own life at 30.
Being a poet, really does seem to turn you into an endangered species. Wouldn’t we be better off in a much safer line of work such as becoming a stunt person? I think even they outlive us poets.
Anyway, for those of us too far down the poet path to turn back, it’s 1928 and we’re returning with you on a brief tour to Kings College, Cambridge. You were there as a literary researcher 1922-1923. Hungrily devouring a rich poet soup blended with Shelley, Keats, Hardy, Tagore and the French romantics and symbolists, must have nourished you like a super food. You translated poems into Chinese. In 1922, you returned to China and became a leader in the Modern Poetry Movement. In 1923, you founded the Crescent Moon Society, named after an anthology of poetry by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and in 1924, you worked as a translator on Tagore’s controversial tour of China. In 1928, you briefly returned to Cambridge on a tour. That’s when you wrote: On Leaving Cambridge, which is now learned by children throughout China.
Reflecting back to Virginia Woolf’s investigations into what it takes to be a woman writer, did you have a room of your own and independent means? Is that what allowed you to flourish? Or, was it something else?
Anyway, what Woolf forgot to mention, was that you also need to survive. Being a poet almost seems synonymous with tragedy. Even when such tragedy seems accidental, random, pure chance, that there’s no chance about it. Of all the millions of people living on this planet, once again the lightning bolt has stuck the poet…not someone else!
I thought you might appreciate this verse from Yeats and you can just substitute “lad” with “poet”…
“A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.”
― W.B. Yeats
Anyway, I should be safe. I’m working undercover driving Mum’s Taxi and posing as a suburban “housewife” (not my words, I can assure you!! Actually, our poor house has been orphaned…especially through the last 6 weeks!)
I am truly sorry that you life was cut so tragically short and you journey came to such a sudden, horrific end. It doesn’t seem fair that you didn’t get to finish your story.
Well, speaking of journeys drawing to a close, my trains due to depart, heading back to the shed. Indeed, the train whistle’s blowing right now.
This translation is taken from Peter Pagnamenta (ed.) “The University of Cambridge: an 800th Anniversary Portrait”, (London: Third Millenium Publishing, 2008), page 29.
The featured image shows a memorial stone at Cambridge featuring the first and last lines of Xu’s poem.
For the last six weeks, I’ve been working on a series of Letters to Dead Poets, which have been inspired by my own experiences of reading these poems, being inspired by the poets as well as the happenings in my own life. I’ve re-read poems, discovered new poets, as my footsteps have forged ahead through virgin soil. Yet, there has also been this other force, which writers through the ages have called “the muse”. Yet, who or what is it really? Could it be the spirits of poets past posting ideas into my head like letters into a mail box? Is it my subconscious mind or even God?
Irish poet William Butler Yeats had a strong belief in the supernatural, which is reflected in his response.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
― W.B. Yeats
At last, I finally received your letter. I’ve repeatedly tried reaching you throughout the last month, watching as you’ve plucked out but a select few of my colleagues to receive your letters. It’s been an agonising wait, not knowing whether I would be chosen. Thank you. Your letter means the world to me. I am most honoured…and relieved!
By the way, if I ever come back on a more permanent basis, I’m going to change my name to Aardvark. I spent most of my life waiting, waiting…A,B, C,L,M,Q…! Even after death, it’s taken an eternity to get to “Y”!
Getting back to your letter, my dear, you asked so many questions. Too many, for me to respond to each one individually and give each their due. Besides, I am but a poet and “what can be explained is not poetry”.
However, before I offer a few over-arching observations, please know that “I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”
Wisdom – WB Yeats:
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”
“People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.”
“This melancholy London – I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.”
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.”
“You know what the Englishman’s idea of compromise is? He says, Some people say there is a God. Some people say there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two statements.”
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
“Why should we honour those that die upon the field of battle? A man may show as reckless a courage in entering into the abyss of himself.”
“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”
“All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.”
“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”
Knowing how you’re a romantic at heart, here are a few thoughts about love:
“Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O Never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.”
― W.B. Yeats, In the Seven Woods: Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age
“WINE comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and sigh.”
― W.B. Yeats
Of course, being an Irishman, love is also touched by tragedy…
“A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.”
― W.B. Yeats
By the way, the questions haven’t stopped since I reach Byzantium. Indeed, my journey has barely begun. Eternity awaits!
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”