Sant Medir

Well, it’s been a while. And in fact, about a week ago was another anniversary of starting this blog. What does that make it now? Three years? I’ve been away so long, I don’t know.

What have I been doing all this time, you ask? Well, first I finished my bloody thesis, the horrible end of my otherwise quite enjoyable Masters. That explains my lack of posts in January and February – I had no time to write.

But since then, I have done some writing. Most of it started and unfinished, like most of my work, but some done. You see, I’ve been writing for my friend’s website, 52things. The idea is that you create something every week for a year. Doesn’t matter what you create, whether it’s a poem, a cake, a painting or a movie… or, you know, lots of other things. Anyway, I’ve missed 2 weeks, and stuck to the other 14, which ain’t bad. If I miss one more week, I’m OUT. But, conversely, if I produce enough EXTRA stuff in a week, I’ll be allowed to stay in. You can look back through everything I’ve made so far here.

And I’ve been creative elsewhere too – it’s just that that technically counts as my ‘work’ (most of it is unpaid), so I can’t claim it on the 52things site. I’ve been updating the Barcelona Improv Group website (all of that content is my work, by the way), and running workshops, classes, weekend intensive courses…

Anyway, here is a poem I wrote for 52things, eagerly copied here. It’s about Sant Medir, which is a big festival in my neigbourhood, Gracia, and involves a parade with people throwing hundreds and thousands of sweets!

Sant Medir

Lethargy driven out
by thunderous drums
and wailing trumpets:
the Festival of Sant Medir.
Each thump and blart
prods me to be alert,
my calm cocoon invaded
by their exuded jollity.

I wait until it’s safe,
then, bleary-minded, emerge
to a grey apocalypse of candy –
crushed sweets and wrappers
dot the empty streets;
preferring to explore
these remnant roads,
I pick my way past
discards, spares.

Yawn-staggering home
at dark past three,
I sail round the clatter-bang
of the clean up crew,
the sweeping of weary
flourescent-vested women.
There will be order at dawn.

sant-medir-3-de-marc3a7-2008-autor-josep-fornc3a9s-i-garcia-068

Immunity, Teardrops, An Englishman Walks

Well hello there.

I’ll start with a quick bit of self promotion, and get it out of the way. In the past month or so, I’ve gone from co-running Improvised Comedy workshops and putting on the occasional show, to running a theatre company (B.I.G. – Barcelona Improv Group), organising regular shows, venues, promotion, weekends away, creating a website, AND running Improvised Comedy workshops.

The website is here: www.barcelonaimprovgroup.com , and it’s not finished… but it’s getting there. I’m making a little progress every day.

I spent the afternoon on a train to Sabadell to visit a friend (but let’s call her my financial advisor to make it sound more professional), so I got some bits of flash fiction done, and a haiku, and the themes of each one neatly flows into the next… sort of. So I’ll post them in the order of construction. Don’t be too critical – it’s the first time I’ve really gotten much done in all of hot, sweaty August. My brain doesn’t seem to cope well with the heat.

The first is heavily based on something I wrote once before – I apologise if I posted that, and am now repeating.

Immunity

He’d insisted: “When my son is born, we’re not feeding him that medication every day. What if he spits it up? It’s impractical. We’ll give him the injections – he won’t remember the pain.”
Twenty-four hours after the birth, when the nurse entered with the needle, he tried to leave, but his wife held his hand.
Five minutes later, the father emerged clasping his once-again quiet child. “Your first tears,” he whispered, “I caused your first tears in this world.” And he wept.

Teardrops

He stared at the train window; at the rivulets of rain that ran down the glass, gathering weight from the flecks as it fell. His grandmother slept in the opposite seat, her day smile washed off, leaving an exhausted sadness. Her reflection in the glass was half gone, and raindrop tears ran down her face.

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An Englishman walks
with head held high in drizzle
and doesn’t get wet

Night Email

Just a quick post to say I have a story on it’s way – one I promised way back here – the tale of my encounter with the fox spirit statues at the Inari shrine.

Inari foxes

This story was originally a tale in the original sense – told only orally, and never written down. I performed it last year at Vent!, a life-storytelling event here in Barcelona. I recorded that version, which I’m going to listen to again for refinements, but I’ve just written up the tale as I remember it. It is true… but it still sends shivers down my spine. Hope it will for you too!

And, it’s not my greatest work, but I feel I shouldn’t be posting only news, so here’s a little haiku for you to tide you over:

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my tired eyes squint –

the screen’s glow the only light

left from this long day.

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(yes, I know, I shouldn’t write in the dark. But sometimes inspiration takes me after I’ve gone to bed, and typing it is the quickest way to get it down.)

Grandpa

Wow. It’s been so long since I was last here that I mistyped the web address to my own blog. Er… oops.

But Good News, Everyone! My deadlines for my Masters program are UP. All (!) I have left to do now is my thesis, and the final deadline for THAT is February 2013.

That’s not to say I’m going to leave it to the last minute. I will try and get as much of that done as I can during the summer… which is roasting out here.

But it IS to say that my timetable just opened up, big style. And I plan to fill the time with some writing. I’ve got a proper formal writing group that I’m going to go to almost every Thursday. I’ve got at least four other friends who want to do some creative writing this summer who can encourage me and keep me going.

And… I haven’t written anything YET. So to kick myself off I’m going to post for you…. the first poem I ever read aloud at a poetry night. I re-read it this morning, and I still like it. I wrote it a couple of years after my grandfather died, and I like the… childish voice of it. I hope you’ll see what I mean. I also consider it a bit of a tribute to the man, as my grandfather was the man who introduced me to the beauty of poetry.

I should also say that, in an unfortunate way, this has kind of become a companion piece to Jigsaw, which I guess is a more mature version, so I recommend you check that one out afterwards.

Grandpa

You could tell he was up to something
By that naughty twinkle in his eye.
He cheated at football, moved the goalposts closer,
And took his ‘goal kick’ from our penalty line.
He’d send us to sleep with tales of talking sheep,
And wake us to chase us mid-morning-shave,
A grizzly foam monster in pressed brown pyjamas.

He wrote us poems about bunnies
Who loved to eat honey
Which we found very funny,
And he taught me chess.
And we could never do quite well enough to please him at school,
We could always do better, try harder, and we did,
To please him. I loved his smile.

You don’t smile. You look confused.
You don’t laugh, you talk gravelly and slowly,
You sit in bed, and Gran gets tired, and thin,
And the nurse whispers to my Mum,
And your eyes –
Staring, coldly, trying, oh how desperately trying,
To place me, to know me, to tell me –
“How are you getting on?”
I can’t answer.

No, you’re not my Grandpa anymore.

Milk Sky

Bubbling kettle, watch –
your clean steam stirs no colour
into flat milk skies.


My parents have a very large house, but when you’re only home for 3 and a half days, there’s always something to distract you. Having lived in cities for 4 and a half years, I’d forgotten how hard it is to find peace and quiet in this house. There’s always something to do, or something I’m supposed to have done. Writing this, for example, is a nice way to put off going through my room and sorting out all the bags and boxes and drawers of things I hoarded over the years.

I know haikus are supposed to carry some hint of a season, but the weather today is so seasonless, I instead chose to write a haiku that seemed to have a lack of season. I’ve read a few haikus that gave personalities to inanimate objects (which I guess is the animism part of Shinto that I’ve always liked), so I thought I’d risk talking to a kettle. And finally, I decided that I would avoid the word “tea”.

Way back here, I argued that the haiku is an unnecessarily complex form to write in, in English… which I decided after I realised how easy they are to write in Japanese. I still haven’t decided on whether an English haiku should be 4,6,4, or 6,8,6… probably the former for mine, as I have a tendency to lay the adjectives on a bit thick anyway. I still respect the Japanese haiku as a work of creative ingenuity, and it gets my mind working, but I find it frustrating when I’m trying to ADD words to make the poem work. Poetry should be about conciseness, surely? About finding the one right word to make it work. In this case, this could be a two word poem, and I’d still be happy:

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milk sky

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Remind me one day to tell you my new theory about the pleasures of poetry taken from a neurolinguistic perspective. I can’t tell you now, I’ve left my notes in Barcelona. This Masters malarkey has just been endlessly busy for the last 3 months. I deliberately chose to do this Masters in a year and a half, to give myself more time and less stress. The

My university

reality, however, has been that up until about the first week of March, I’ve had just as much work to do as everyone doing the Masters in a year… except those people are JUST doing the Masters, and I’m teaching 14 hours a week (not including planning / travelling time), and performing stand up comedy, and running Improvised Comedy workshops, and performing improvised comedy once a month…

… but you’ll be pleased to know that from now on, I will only have about two lectures a week to attend. And I only have about 3 projects left to hand in. We’ve finally reached the time of year when all the 1-year Masters students are working on their theses, and I’m sitting back and trying to decide what to write mine about. As a result, I will finally have more time to read books for fun! And write…. as long as there aren’t more distractions!

I hope to see you on here again very soon.

Heavy Suit; Gentleman

Time for another update, I feel, and this one has a good bit of Japan about it.

First up is a poem I took to that creative writing group I mentioned last time. This was one of the things that the group as a whole liked, and I’ve made some adjustments, following their advice… and then a few more adjustments that might or might not work.
I wrote it in Japan, when I was first getting used to the concept of getting up at 7am and not getting home ’til 8pm and working the whole time between. I suppose being an English teacher is quite an easy-going career at times. I often get large stretches of a day with nothing to do, and I often get to pick my own timetable. In Japan, it was work work work, 5 days a week, and this poem was the result:

Heavy Suit

My suit is heavy today.

As I shrug it
on to my shoulders,
it pulls them
down into a hunch.

As I slide
my arms down the
cool black sleeves,
they grow tired…

My fresh shower legs
crawl into
stumbling trousers

I yank on socks
suffocating,
restricting,
and bolt my toes down
under leather and laces

In the end,
only my head remains
unclothed, shackled
to this endless suit.

Soon, at work, that
too will sink.

Today, my suit is heavy.

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On Sunday night, I was on stage performing something that I only had about 24 hours to prepare. This was OK, because I wasn’t performing stand up. I was telling a story – a true and personal experience from about this time last year in Japan, when I had a run-in with the fox spirit statues of Ikari Shrine. The event was called VENT! ,  which is all about telling stories from the heart, and I’ve attached a link to the Facebook page for those who are interested.

These are some of the malicious fox spirits

I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it turns out that even though the material (restricted by truth) wasn’t that shocking or gripping, I delivered it very well, and it was an enjoyable listen. At least, that’s what I was told afterwards.
I have a written version of this story that I’m working on now. The problem with that is that now that I don’t have to be entirely truthful, and I can be creative, I’m tempted to tinker with it a lot.
In the end, I’ll probably  publish here a refined version of the truth with a couple of flourishes but no drastic changes, and then use the scenario as a scene in a story I’ve been plotting on and off (mostly off) since November.

I’ll close with a silly haiku:

Gentleman

Remind me why I
live between Spain and Japan
when I prefer blondes?

Trying to Multi-Task; My Bench

I have a friend who is writing a novel, and he told me the other day that the way I’m going about things is all wrong. He just writes his novel, and he gets about 4 hours done a day. I’m trying to write short stories, I tell people, and poetry, and maybe soon, a novel or two. But at the same time, I’m trying to write comedy, to write stand up.

Now that he points it out, I see what he means. They are all different arts from one another. I have always held that the best stories are so well written that they contain bits that feel like poetry. I’ve always thought that the best novels have scenes that could be taken out and left on their own, as complete short stories (especially as so many short stories these days seem to start in the middle and finish somewhere later in the middle of events). I’ve even taken a scene from a short story I wrote and posted it on here as flash fiction, and since that time I’ve never felt inclined to post the whole story on here (mostly because it needs attention I haven’t given it). In this way, I could be said to be following a progression – from poetry to flash fiction to short stories to novels.

The comedy doesn’t fit into this. Partly because I’ve never really written comedy. I’ve written some comic scripts, once upon a time, but not for a long while. Stand up is still a new art for me, something I’ve only tried a handful of times, something I struggle to even start to write.

But the main reason that they don’t work together is that I draw on a different part of my brain when I write comedy. Whereas my fiction is inviting a reader to enter a world I create, comedy is about stepping into someone else’s world and making them laugh at the absurdities in it. They have similarities, in perception, in surrealism, in painting a picture… but they have more differences than similarities.

Writers often say you have to be in the right mood to write. I say that part of the great skill in writing is in training yourself to get into that mood, and the other part is bloody-minded persistence. I’m trying to get into lots of moods at the same time, and I’m not winning at the persistence – yet.

Anyway, I have two stand up comedy performances at the end of the month, so I need to spend a good bit of my writing time preparing for them. And maybe, after I’ve performed those gigs, I’ll have some more comedy in me, some more material, and I’ll write more and perform more. Including my old jokes (if I can find them), I’m probably nearly at the point of having three sets, which is wonderful.

But I miss the fiction, so for the rest of this month, I will try my darnedest to do two things – poetry and comedy. They may be totally different, but at least they are both about editting and cutting down and getting to the point as quickly as possible. And progression, and building on what went before. And over the summer, I’ll sit down and get some flash fiction and some big old short stories out of my brain.

Until then, some poetry!

My Bench

Come, sit. This is my bench.
I sit here, often,
staring out across the pond.
My stick rests just so.

Folks here know it’s mine.
I sat on it in the frozen cold
last year when my wife died,
stared out across the pond.

I sat here after I retired.
We moved here together,
all peaceful. She chose it.
I chose our bench.

I’ve had benches before, and others:
that ink-stained desk at school,
a bunk, a cabinet, a peg,
all mine once, all remembered,

all solid. Now they’ve all gone,
my memory stays… ’til my memory goes.
And this bench, too, you see?
But I’ve got a plan.

It’s not truly yours
’til it’s marked with your name.
So this bench is In My Memory.
Plaque’s made, missing a date.

Who knows where I’ll go next…
but I’ll be on this bench.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Blog! Makeshift

Hey guys,

It doesn’t feel right to apologise when the reason for a shortage of new material is that I’m going out and living my life, and having fun and earning money (even occasionally doing both at once).

But I will apologise, because I know that the life of a writer involves sacrifice. It involves missing out on some exciting nights and adventures, it involves sitting inside on sunny days (although I’m currently writing this in my brother’s garden, so maybe there are ways around this one).

So, sorry that, now, at the end of my second year on this blog, I don’t have much new to show you. I’ve been doing my writing thing, the forty hours, and I’m closer to thirty as I’m approaching the end of it. And, unfortunately for you, a lot of it has gone into working on my stand up comedy (which is very difficult to post here) and my Spanish (which would be boring to post here).

When the system was working, though, it was really working. A chart with hours to complete, a daily time tally of how many I’d done…. which is why, starting at the start of May, I’m going to aim for 40 hours a month, every month. Because in this new blogging year, I want to look at getting myself published – probably only in very minor ways. I want to read my poetry at poetry nights, and send short stories to creative writing groups, and all those things that most people do at university. I’m starting to develop a growing sense of pride in my work, and it deserves more of my time, you see.

Having said that, it makes it difficult to post a new piece of work. Often, it takes me a bit longer to develop pride in my work, and this one could probably still lose a verse in the middle. Incidentally (and connected to the poem), I met some wild boar when I walked around the hills of Barcelona.

Makeshift

The storm has passed;
emerging from his dark hole,
the boar sniffs the corners
of his makeshift shelter.

By light of day,
he tentatively explores.
He has temporary security;
he can afford time to forage.

An adult male, his needs
are few – to eat and drink,
a place to sleep,
and hopefully to mate.

He returns to the hole at dusk,
once more carefully checks
his surroundings, then
settles down to sleep.

Though winter is approaching,
he doesn’t gather supplies
or make changes to his home
as a more settled beast might.

Each morning, he sighs
and pulls a creased shirt out
of his suitcase, then, shivering,
shrugs it on and goes out.

Gràcia

Well hi there, Blog.

A lot of the graffitti here is thankfully more "art" than "marking your territory like a dog."

It’s been over a month, but you might be pleased to hear that good stuff is happening, and a lot of the stuff troubling me last month has disappeared, leaving much more minor problems to fix. First off, I found a flat. I signed a contract, I moved in, I bought a bed and some basic furniture, and I now live in Gràcia. For those of you who don’t know Barcelona, Gràcia is my favourite part – quiet in the day, fun at night, trees and narrow streets and sunlit plazas without the smells and petty theft of the old city centre. It’s also MUCH MUCH quicker to and from work, and I even sometimes have time to go home for lunch.

Also, I have more teaching time than I did, and can afford the rent on my new place. Which, by the way, is only mine. Sharing a flat is so much a part of life in Barcelona that when I tell friends I have a new place, they say, “What are your new flatmates like?”, and I get a little thrill when I get to tell them that I have privacy, independence, my own space…

Also, despite all the busy-ness with this, my writing hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t flourished... but I suspect that now I have a chair and a table (and no internet connection at home yet), I’ll be writing a lot more. In fact, watch this space, because I might instigate a personal NaNoWriMo as I have in the past – by which I mean, I give myself a month to write 50,000 words. Of anything.

So now the only problems are things like getting an internet connection working at home, and buying furniture, and getting a couple more private classes. And you know what? These problems are fun! So, life is good.

Here’s a pair of haiku for you to kick us off:

“Prolong this winter – ”
knowing you will leave in spring,
I thank the frosts.

Though time will not slow,
you watch clouds form from my sighs,
and make memories.

And second up. I had a little go at writing a Ferlinghetti style poem like I mentioned back in January.

When I’m old
aaaaaaI will cross the road just before
aaaaaathe light starts flashing green, then red
aaaaaaaaaaaaso the busy busy cars
aaaaaastop impatiently
aaaaaaaaaaaacaught between their self-inflicted stress
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand real,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame-inflicted respect
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa(‘coz I’m old and slow)
aaaaaamaybe I’ll stumble
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafor kicks.

But I won’t do it now
aaaaaaaaaaaaaas they won’t wait yet.

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Hopefully I’ll see you all in a week or two, rather than the month-long wait you’ve had since the last post.

Happy New Year – Orange and Ferlinghetti

Happy New Year!

And with the new year, my new old life, as I’m calling it. New computer, old city, old friends (but not that old), and new home. New plans, old advice. I could, put probably shouldn’t, go on.

As I mentioned in my last post, this all centres on my return to Barcelona.I lived here from September 2007 to March 2010, and now I’m back. Just briefly, some weird things:

I keep saying (or starting to say) the Japanese expressions for “good morning”, “excuse me”, “just a second”, “thank you” “please” “and”, “but” and “ummm….” (the last one is “e-to”, and I even funnier looks for that one than the rest.)

I walk out of a metro exit and feel so confident in my knowledge of the streets and slopes of Barcelona that I walk the wrong way for a street or two.

I see beggars in the street. Not THAT weird, but then, I only saw two in 7 months in Japan. I give them money, and then remember that I don’t have a job or a permanent house and am living on the goodwill of friends… so I should probably save my cash!

Here’s a little haiku for you:

Slouching by a bin
I peer for pips by streetlight
and tear at orange flesh

I’ve got some short fiction brewing, but rather than rush it so I can post it, I thought instead I would post a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m living just outside the city right now, and catching the train in, so I have plenty of time for reading this book my friend Raoul lent me. I’ve yet to read a poem in his collection “A Coney Island of the Mind” that I haven’t gotten something out of. Some of his poetry is designed with jazz in mind, and all of it is cleverly formatted across the page. Usually he’s more light-hearted than this poem that I’m reprinting (without copyright permission – sorry! But it’s advertising, right?). And I apologise; usually a new year poem is more cheery than this.

In a surrealist year
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof sandwichmen and sunbathers
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadead sunflowers and live telephones
aaaaahouse-broken politicos with party whips
aaaaaperformed as usual
aaaaain the rings of their sawdust circuses
aaaaawhere tumblers and human cannonballs
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafilled the air like cries
aaaaaaaaaaaawhen some cool clown
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapressed an inedible mushroom button
aaand an inaudible Sunday bomb
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafell down
catching the president at his prayers
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaon the 19th green

aaaaaOh it was a spring
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof fur leaves and cobalt flowers
aawhen cadillacs fell thru the trees like rain
aaaaaaaaaaadowning the meadows with madness
while out of every imitation cloud
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadropped myriad wingless crowds
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof nutless nagasaki survivors
aaaaaAnd lost teacups
aaaaafull of our ashes
aaaaafloated by

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I chose it because it reminded me of the museum I visited in Hiroshima. Which I suppose I can give a positive spin by saying that I’m moving forward with my new old life, learning from the lessons and experiences of the last year.

‘Til next time!