Why don’t you write your own stuff?
But I do, I answered. You know I do.
Then why this?
How do you explain the notion of a commonplace book to a non-writer?
For inspiration, I say, For enjoyment, the way people flicker through old photo albums
or their smart phone galleries.
But it wasn’t quite like that.
It was modeling too,
getting the feel for writing at the top of its game, to remind you how it’s done,
for quotes like this: ‘I don’t believe in writer’s block … plumbers don’t get plumber’s block,
doctors don’t get doctor’s block.
Why should writers be any different and then expect sympathy for it?’
[ Philip Pullman]
But she didn’t get it.
You’ve got heaps of these notebooks in your cupboard, she said. What is wrong with you?
Have you no faith in yourself?
There was no point in arguing.
But when she came upon me ‘copying’ I would flinch as if caught in some shameful act.
I have been called an ostrich for burying my head in the sand,
a mole for burrowing down to my zone of creativity,
a creepy lizard by a former girlfriend,
a snail for withdrawing inside my shell when I watch TV,
but best of all a bear, Johnny Bear, a much loved character
from my partner’s childhood, who lived with Grump, his mother
in Yellowstone Park in the book by Ernest Thompson Seton
which I am now devouring like the bookworm I am.
*which animals have you sometimes been compared to?
Not Katherine Anne Paterson’s Bridge
the one that Leslie and Jess cross
to get to their magic kingdom.
Nor that bridge too far.
Not the one Over Troubled Waters.
Nor that terrible one on the River Kwai.
Not even the bridges you burn
so there’s no turning back
but that rope suspension bridge
dangling high over the gully
that me and my faithful mutt, Salem,
can’t bring ourselves to cross
photo by Andre Amaral on Unsplash.com
He had a rough time as a kid, a tough time as a teenager, and did hard time as an adult in maximum-security, an ideal upbringing for a Coffin Confessor, a calling Bill Edgar, the author, pioneered.
You need balls to be a coffin confessor, a job, if you’ll excuse the pun, he fell into. A coffin confessor gatecrashes funerals, and reads out what his client, the deceased, discloses to him on their deathbed. He is entrusted to let the mourners know the bitter truth that has been largely hidden from them all this time. There is always at least one of the mourners who receives a right royal drubbing, a public flogging by the lash of truth.
He3re is his spiel: “Excuse me, but I’m going to need you to sit down, shut up or fuck off. The man in the box has a few things to say,”
You gotta read this book. Every chapter is rivetting.
I was chatting with Worms the other day about Proust,
about his masterpiece, ‘Remembrance of Things Past’
and how neither of us had read it; Worms even found
the name ‘Proust’ intimidating; and I thought how many
of the world’s best known works I have never read,
like Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’, Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’,
even Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ and even though
everyone has heard of it, who’s read Dickens’ ‘Little Dorrit’?
There’s even a short story by David Gilbert devoted to
the George Elliot book that no one I know has ever read,
and few have heard of: ‘Adam Bede’. There must be others.
*can you think of any?
* have you read any of these books?
* what has put you off reading them?
pic of Proust courtesy of Wikipedia
I am a thief
a thief of words.
Watch out for me.
I am never at rest.
are my ears, my eyes,
the streets of my city.
I scan for the unwary face,
the frown or smile
I listen into conversations,
I elicit confessions.
I watch for
the unguarded sentence,
the revealing phrase.
I am the one with the notebook
opposite you on the bus;
the one with the slightly intent look
at your side.
Watch out for me.
I am the purloiner of language.
I snatch words
and use them as my own.
I am the poet, the novelist,
the thief of words
* from my second book, 1990. Longman Cheshire
in the crossbars of
the power pole
is saying, Hey John.
You don’t have to worry, man.
You are not one of those who bring so much courage
to the world that it has to kill you
So don’t ruffle your feathers.
Pardon? I say.
I can read you like a book, he says, speaking of which
‘But it will break you.
It breaks everyone.
But you are one of those strong in the broken places’,
as Hemingway would say.
You read Hemingway?
Of course, who do you think I’m quoting?
You are a most learned crow, I say.
But it will kill you, he says,
‘It kills everyone
the very brave and very gentle
but if you are neither of these it will still kill you
but there will be no special hurry’.
That is sort of comforting, I say. Thank you.
‘Farewell to Arms’, he adds. Due attribution.
You should read it sometime.
I think I have, but not with the diligence you accorded it.
And with a flick of his suave black wings, he flies away.
As soon as I began reading it, ‘The Ice Cream Palace,’ I began to have dairy dreams.
Don’t you know it is forbidden, I said. I banished you from my diet years ago.
But the dream pulled up to me like a Mr. Whippy van chiming.
What could I do?
I settled back into my vanilla-and–pistachio armchair and read Gianni Rodari’s deliciously delightful tale.
My eyes greedily licked every sentence.
I scooped the words up with pleasure.
They melted in my mouth.
The residue ran down my chin in rainbow rivulets.
I reckon if someone calls a book, ‘Come Closer and Listen’ they ought to have something to say.
Something vital, urgent, new. Provocative.
I leaned real close and listened. I wanted to be shocked out of my stodginess.
Take something away, to share with my mates at the pub Friday night.
But there was nothing.
Admittedly the poems are well crafted, And there are a few good ones
and even one stand-out poem but that’s it in 60 + pages.
But really it’s the same old stuff as in the previous 10 books.
God help us, we;re all in danger of repeating ourselves and if I do I pray someone
calls me out.
But it’s like I said of the Seinfeld book.
You coulda done better, Charles. You coulda done better.