In the late Spring of 1891, Greenbough Smith, the newly appointed literary editor of
‘The Strand’ received a submission of two handwritten manuscripts.
Forty years later he described how he reacted on that day—“I at once realized here was the greatest short story writer
since Edgar Allan Poe, I remember rushing into Mr. Noames [publisher ] room and thrusting the stories before his eyes ….
Here was a new and gifted story writer; there was no mistaking the ingenuity of the plot, the limpid clearness of the style,
the perfect art of telling a story.”
The two stories that excited Smith’s interest were ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Red-Headed League’
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 ?
It wasn’t the person from Porlock; it was my aunt
Who got on the bus, brought my poem to an end.
My notebook slumped on my lap as she told me
The long sad story of a friend.
When she got off I had my chance but this young bloke
Sat next to me, iPod blaring, hair swooped back.
It was the White Stripes live from Splendour.
How could I not listen ? It was Meg and Jack.
But then a cross-eyed biker got on, hair in a rat’s tail,
Skin graffitied with tatts. How could I not look?
His arms a graphic novel. Then a woman got on
Shouting into her mobile, angry as ‘The Angry Book’.
The sad sack on the other end was out for the count.
Luckily Coleridge didn’t board this bus
while he was dreaming ‘Kubla Khan’. He wouldn’t
have written a word. The poem would be dust.
picture courtesy of Pinterest by TheTatt
I don’t mind her reading passages from ‘The Secret Garden’ before breakfast each morning , if only she didn’t go around the house the rest of the day speaking with a Yorkshire accent
have you read ‘The Secret Garden’ or seen the film?
when’s the last time someone read to you?
what’s the most difficult accent you’ve had to contend with?
A short story though it may be funny is not a joke.
The last line of a joke is the punchline.
The last name of a story has no name.
You remember a punchline.
You do not remember the last line of a story.
You may remember the first —- I still remember the opening lines of David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities — but I do not remember the last.
No one does.
You tell people jokes.
You do not tell short stories.
Short stories have an author.
Jokes do not.
No one knows who the first person was to tell a joke that does the rounds.
Jokes are short.
Short stories, except those of Lydia Davis, are comparatively long.
Collections of jokes do not win Pulitzer prizes.
Collections of short stories do.
I like them both.
There is one way short stories and jokes are alike: the good ones you like to hear or read over and over again..
sketch by Harry Clarke to Poe’s classic tale
.So what’s your story? You’ve been out all day, painting the town red at night, for all we know, and just when we’ve locked up and getting ready to go out, you rock up! Nice one! I know what you want. I know what you’re after. So, what’s your story, eh? She looks up at him with her mock-innocent amber eyes, but the cat has nothing to say.
Try a Madeleine, Marcel says.
It worked for me.
So I do
Opening up the family tree
As far back as my grandma
That little old lady
Who sat me on her lap
told me stories
In the park
& always wore widow-weeds
who happily each Xmas,
Chopped the chooks’
run around the yard
do you have memories of your grandma?
photo by Alexandre Godreau from Unsplash
You okay, mate? You look forlorn.
Like the knight in ‘La Belle Dame’? I say.
‘Alone and palely loitering.’
‘On the cold hill side’. Keats, I say. “La belle Dame Sans Merci’
John Keats. Romantic poet. You must have done him at school.
This is a butcher’s shop, mate. Not an English classroom. What can I get you?
Emily Dickinson composed her poems while wearing a simple white dress with pockets for pencils and scraps of paper. She wrote in a large, airy bedroom, with two big windows facing south and two facing west at a small table 18 inches square with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen. They overlooked her family’s large property containing a large Italianate mansion among tall pines.
I hover around in my hoodie and tracky dacks, biro on the go in a cramped cell of a room at a desk sprawled with papers, magazines and bills, one narrow window overlooking a block of grimy units towered over by power lines which is why my poems are nothing like those of Emily Dickinson.