A Short Story is not a Car

A Short Story is Not a Car.

At the writers’ group, the first one I went to,

we were issued a list of things to check

when we’re critiquing each others’ stories,

the usual things like plot, character, setting, dialogue.

We’d put a tick or a cross depending whether the requirements were met.

All well and good.

Yet I couldn’t help thinking of the checklist that mechanics fill out

when they’re servicing your car.

So I said,

“A short story is not a car!”

This put a brake on proceedings.

They didn’t know what I was driving at.

but I felt I was onto something.

I pushed the pedal even further.

We were heading for a collision,

the tutor and me.

I didn’t know what the perfect metaphor was

nor did anyone else

but I was darn sure it wasn’t a car.

Everything Small and Modest

Everything Small and Modest

Robert looks happy here.

Eyes lit up like lamps

full of wonder..

He is on one of his long walks

from the asylum,

He has spotted something.

Perhaps it is a wood pigeon

clearing its throat.

Or a song thrush balancing on a twig,

beak open ready to burst into song.

Everything small and modest

is pleasant and beautiful. Robert declared.

He looks dapper here, and in good  health

certainly better that he did when he was found

dead in the snow that Xmas day in’ 56,

the photograph that ghouls pore over.

He didn’t write much in those last years

at the asylum , letting himself off the hook,

declaring, I am here to be mad, not to write.

  • pic courtesy of pinterest

Breviary

K’s fond of haiku,

Michael senryu, its jokey cousin;

Mia, ‘a struggling author’ writes tiny tales,

Richard American sentences,

put them together,

and what have you got?

a slim, selection

of shorts,

a breviary of brevities

a pocket book of poems

for the wee small hours

Echoes

Raymond who ? she said .

Raymond Carver , I replied , the American

short story writer and poet .

Never heard of him , she said

and being a year eight standard I was inclined

to believe her .

And yet it was startling how Carveresque

her writing was .

Phrases like “ I will never know where — what

shall I call him — this man has gone “

spring particularly to mind .

And I thought of the nine year old boy who wrote

like the Dickens in Pickwick Papers , for instance ;

another who wrote florid full-on verse

like Chris Marlowe

and the highly strung girl who came for one term

and wrote like Emily Bronte

though none had ever read these writers

and the year nine autiste who at times

wrote like them all .

Sylvia who ?

the manic depressive from the back

of the class called

black hair slashed across her face

as I read the opening lines of her poem

to her father

fuelled with fury and neo-Nazi imagery .

Never mind , I said

as I wondered whether the ghosts

of dead writers

had come to inhabit the young

and whether over the next few years

I’d meet an embryonic

Will Shakespeare

an Oscar

or antipodean Dostoevsky .

Collect their juvenilia .

One day I’ll make a killing

*pic courtesy of pinterest

Writing School

I was in writing school again.

The teacher, Mr. Wiles, was tall and totemic.

He was disparaging a writer that was currently in the ascendant.

‘His prose is loose and lumpen’, he said. ‘It clumps along the hallway of sentences like Lurch in The Adams Family’

*pic courtesy of Wikipedia

Rusty

When I was a kid in High School we learnt things ‘off by heart’:

poems by Keats and Coleridge, extracts from ‘The Ancient Mariner’,

soliloquies from ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’, whole passages from Dickens;

chronologies of The Persian Wars, War of the Roses,

biographies of the Tudors; not neglecting the sciences, we memorized

physics and maths formulas,chemical equations, and slabs from The New Testament —

we were walking Wikipedias; now I’m a big kid, into my senior years,

I’ve grown rusty, which is why I’m in the backyard walking up and down —-

the bees must think I’m mad —- learning by heart my NEW mobile number

which everyone but me knows





  • what things did you learn ‘off by heart’?
  • do you still remember them ?

No Special Hurry

The crow

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.

Where Celebrities Grew Up

Reading an article by David Remnick,

editor of ‘The New Yorker’

since 1998

I discovered

he was born in Paterson, New Jersey

the same place as Philip Roth,

the novelist whose biography Remnick was profiling,

as was Ginsberg,

the man who wrote “Howl’

that poem that still echoes down the decades.

the same place too

as William Carlos Williams,

the man who wrote ‘the red wheelbarrow’

and wait for it,

Lou Costello,

the comedic partner of Bud Abbot

whose films split our sides

in the fun house of the fifties;

what do they have in the water of Paterson, New Jersey,

that so many famous people

grew up there;

it must be quite a place

The Worst Thing

“What’s the worst thing?” I was asked in my zoom workshop.

“The worst thing? What a writer can do? Let’s see.” I said. “The worst thing is being staid”.

I had to spell the word to make sure they got the right meaning.

“You know what ‘staid’ is?” I asked.

:Yes,” Tamara answered. “Unadventurous. Dull.”

“Correct. And you know where the word ‘staid’ comes from?”

There was silence.

“It’s the adjectival use for the past tense of ‘stay’ which is ‘stayed’ so the worst sin of a writer is being rigid, unadventurous, unchanging, unwilling to take risks, staying the same.”

I let that sink in.

“Living things evolve,” I said. “Let your writing evolve. Take risks. Don’t worry if some don’t take off. Others will hit their mark. But you don’t know if you don’t try.”

We took a short break … and we all came back a little different.





  • do you agree? what do think the worst sin a writer can commit?

The King and I

Like George V1, the king

subject to stuttering

I had a speech therapist too

who taught me how

to word switch

to philander with synonyms

I could slip into

how to pace myself

and summon the scribe

of stutterers before me

Lewis Carroll

Neville Shute

Updike

& dear old Aesop whose thoughts

often outran

the tired tortoise of his tongue.