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A little recycling

I wrote this three years ago – look, you can see it in situ here.

It’s not bad. Blimey. OK, it’s not Wallace Stevens, but I, astonishingly, don’t hate it. So you’ll have to read it again yourselves. I insist.

No snow, no frost, again this year,
No ice nor sleet nor hail;
The south-west wind brings in the rain,
The rain brings in a gale,

And twinkling Santas, reindeer, stars,
Strain against their ropes -
Not dreams of warmth and food and light,
No need for self-same hopes,

No dark, no cold, no starving night,
And this not one bright jewel,
No candle held for sun’s return,
No hopes to dash – oh, cruel -

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

The shadow of his equipage

It has been snowing, here in the Southern end of Blighty. A mere couplet of inches, and yet the public transport system is staggering about in hiccups (it took me more than two hours to get to work yesterday morning, and an hour and a half to get home again) and everything is trampled into grey slush and dirty sheet-ice. But the park I walk across was spotless, yesterday, but for the bird and squirrel tracks, and the last few autumn leaves falling onto the snow. There was a blackbird singing in a plane tree, and I thought, ‘that’s a poem. I know there’s a poem about a blackbird in the snow. Where’s Google when you need it‘.

And then I went back to work and more or less forgot about it until this evening. Oh yes! Friday! Poetry! [Oh, give it a rest - Ed]. So I did look it up, and the poem I meant was Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens. And I had been particularly thinking of the thirteenth, and last, section: ‘It was evening all afternoon./ It was snowing/ And it was going to snow./ The blackbird sat/ In the cedar-limbs.’

The odd thing is, I had remembered the poem as being rather affected and only intermittently interesting. And now, the more I read it, the more I like it. The haiku-like structure. The quasi-mythical outbreaks hinting at whole worlds of untold story in sections VII and XI. The strange journey it takes you on, in and out of simplicity, from one blackbird in the snow, to an ‘I’, a man and a woman, multiplying into heraldic creatures haunting the poem, as sign and countersign of themselves (and a small part of my brain says, sable a blackbird countercoloured Or, to go with the coach and equipage), hunting something, someone, through the sections, before collapsing back into a numinous starkness, crossing the river (rivers are Highly Significant to poets who know their mythology. Lethe. Styx. Etc.) and coming to rest as the single blackbird in the snow again.

[On the other hand, Section XII still sounds like a spy's sign and countersign in a Terry Pratchett spoof. As for 'bawds of euphony' in section X? Oh, FFS, really].

Eh. No doubt there are people out there who love the bawds of euphony, infelicitous as they may sound in a poem based on a kind of zen, stripped bare, imagist aesthetic. On balance, I still like it very much. I think I see what he wanted the bawds of euphony for, for the echoes of ‘bored’ and ‘phony’, and the grubby taste of tawdryness, of prettinesses for popularity’s sake, against the unadorned birds and the green light. It possibly sounds much dafter to a 21st century ear than it did at the time – it was published in 1917. Think on that.

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Posted in Poetry | 2 Comments

NaBloPoMo finito

Well well well. I posted every day for a month.

[Was there a point to this? - Ed.]

Now you come to mention it, I’m not to sure there was.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010 | 5 Comments

Just saying

It’s supposed to snow tonight. If it does, getting to work tomorrow will be even more of an arse than usual, as public transport in this country Does Not Do Snow. Last winter, the train-tracks points froze and the tube-lines shut down and the buses couldn’t even make it out of the garages because of the ice on the roads. The A&E departments were full of people who’d gone for a walk in high-heels or trainers. All around us, more weather-wise countries were snickering themselves silly while heartily whacking on the snow-chains and pulling on their wellies.

(I rather hope it does snow. I quite fancy a day off).

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 2 Comments


In this modern world, I am anachronistic. Or do I mean anachreontic? [Probably not - Ed.] I still have to get S to set the – oh, what do you call it? The box with the hard-disc in that watches telly for you and plays your DVDs [the DVR] – the DVR (thank you) for me. I hate [ Now, now. 'Hate' is reserved for Nazis and people who let their dogs crap in play-grounds], alright, dislike nearly all celebrities and I absolutely hate (yes, hate), the journalists who write about them. I think sitting in a park with a bottle of pink lemonade and the newspapers is a far, far superior way to spend an afternoon than going shopping. I can even cook, and by cook I do not mean ‘reliably reheat M&S gastropub ready meals and shred a cos lettuce’, or ‘do exactly what Delia says’, I mean cook. (Steak and kidney pudding. Fresh pasta. Roast goose. Risotto that is creamy and silky and luxurious and crucially not a solid lump of overcooked stodge welded together with grated cheese. Lasagne (with fresh egg pasta I made myself, bechamel I made myself, and ragu I made myself (we were once fed a ‘home-made’ lasagne when I could see the empty jars of Dolmio on the drainer behind us). Pizza from scratch. See? (Sadly, I am defective at cakery. Scones like bricks, alas alas)). And I like books, peace and quiet, opera, writing poems, and a nice cup of coffee and not, say, MP3-players, clubbing, all music written after 1980, watching reality tv-shows, and beer.

And, I can knit.

There are several standard, I-must-roll-my-eyes-now, predictable reactions I encounter when I accidentally let slip that I have half-a-sock in my satchel [of course she has a satchel. She dresses like an impoverished graduate student. She's in her 30's. It's so undignified]. They are :

  1. The Granny Surprise. Basically, the person who has spotted the knitting, is astonished that a woman under 65, with most of her own teeth and wearing jeans, can knit at all, and becomes convinced that I am therefore exactly as frumpy, sexually conservative, politically backward, intellectually fossilized and physically decrepit as the worst and most offensive stereotype of an old lady imaginable. The contrast of this mental image with my jewfro and Jerry Springer the Opera badge does their little head in, and they run away very quickly. Which is probably for the best.
  2. The New Black. This person, rather rarer than the above, has read an article in a newspaper about the craft resurgeance, or has seen a photograph of Julia Roberts knitting on set, and now thinks I am ‘being cool’. I am not being cool. My mother taught me to knit when I was six in a desperate attempt to get me to hush up and stop bothering her (didn’t work. ‘Mum, I’ve dropped a stitch… Mum, I’ve got too many stitches… Muuuuuuuum I can’t bind off… Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum it’s all tangled…’). Impressed at my cool, this person either a) demands lessons, or b) whips out his or her own knitting and suggests we get together. As (as I have mentioned) I have been knitting since I was knee-high to a grass-hopper and am really quite good at it, and the other person has been knitting for approximately fifteen minutes, I motor through a lace sock on five needles and they struggle with a garter-stitch scarf. And I can no more teach knitting than I can teach breathing. It ends swiftly, and we never speak of it again. It’s quite emotionally wearing.
  3. The WTF. This person is, temporarily at least, mesmerised. Especially when I don’t bother looking at my hands (I don’t need to, my hands know exactly what they’re doing. They only feel shy when I look at them). They even move seats on public transport so they can see me more clearly. They call their friends and tell them they are watching some bird actually knitting (or crocheting. Apparantly the difference is irrelevant to anyone not actively engaged). It’s quite sweet.
  4. The Entitled. This person is usually an acquaintance or relation. Because I knit, and enjoy it, they assume I want nothing more than another good reason to knit, and start demanding articles of me. Usually large, fiddly ones. When I point out how much the yarn alone costs, they look offended (for a jumper? In pure wool? £50, easy). Surely I’d happily spend £50 to make a sweater for someone I don’t even like that much, solely for the sheer love of knitting? Surely? Next time, I will point out I also charge £5 an hour, bargain at less than the minumum wage, and a sweater takes several weeks-worth of evenings, and the whole comes to £250 please. See how they like them apples. Never mind the fact that I absolutely do not want to knit a sweater/hat/king-sized blanket at the moment, because I am exploring lace, or socks, or fiddling bits of string, and did I mention I do this for my own amusement? This one can turn ugly, as the Entitled refuses to comprehend the ‘no, sorry’ and nags, then whines, then bitches about me and my vast and astonishing selfishness to others. (I once tried ‘I will make you a sweater when you make me a leather-bound note-book’ and got a lecture, and actual lecture, on the cost of materials and time. It took all evening to coax my right eyebrow back out of my hairline).
  5. The Impregnator. This person, not usually an acquaintance, luckily [or Reed would slap them], assumes that whatever I am knitting is for my gestating baybeeeee and goes on and on about my baybeeeeeeeeeee and meanwhile I am clearly making a sock for a man with size twelve feet or a sweater for a lass with a chest like two watermelons in a hammock. This was violently embarrassing when I was 18. Now, it’s more of a heavy-duty wound-salting, what with gestating babies being my greatest failure so far. I swear, I will not be knitting for a child of mine until its head is crowning. As for the gushing nitwit in front of me, nothing, nothing at all I can say in any tone of voice, nor the evidence of their own eyes neither, can convince them that I am not pregnant. Gah.
  6. The Indifferent. This person is, on the whole, the most relaxing. They do not care than I am knitting. They ignore the knitting. We talk about the weather, or Guillermo del Toro movies, or asparagus.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Reed, I carry on knitting.

And I do knit for entirely selfish, self-centred reasons (the Entitled are right about that). I do not actually want to make lovely things for my loved ones. Sometimes, I make something and think it’d look very nice on a loved one, so they end up with a present. Sometimes I get slightly insistent with a loved one, because I want to make this, and they’re the only person who could wear this, and therefore would they kindly accept it gracefully and stop fussing. Sometimes I have random scarves in the house that no one needs, but I am happy, because I knitted with a yarn that intrigued me and now my itch of curiosity is scratched. I make a lot of socks, because they are portable, and because a hand-knit sock can be cheaper than a high-tech hiking-sock, and yet fit better and not have a stupid bloody annoying seam scraping your toes raw inside your boots. I make a lot of shawls, because I am a mad young hippy and I am planning on a long and exciting future as a mad old hippy. But mostly, I make things because they’ll be a challenge.

I also knit because I’m good at it. Yes, because I’m good at it. I knit for the satisfaction of making a thing that looks exactly how I meant it to look, and fits how I meant it to fit. I knit to feel competent. I knit because what I knit exists, and is, self-evidently, a sock, and no one can tell me it isn’t. I knit because sometimes I have to pull whatever I’ve just made to pieces and start again, and because I know that, though tiresome, this is not a disaster. I knit because I know eventually I will work it out and make something reasonable. I knit because if I do give up and bin the sodding thing, it’s no big deal, it’s only a handful of string. I knit because knitting has no Editor [hey!]. I knit in the hope that one day I’ll learn to write the same way.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 4 Comments

What good am I?

It’s Saturday evening, and I am sprawled in an armchair, watching cheesery and nonsense on the television, and already having oh-God-it’s-Monday-on-Monday anxst. Because on Monday I will have to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, and when I could’ve been curled up into a duvet roulade bellowing incoherently at John Humphrys, I will be shivering half-naked in the bathroom, bellowing incoherently at the old geyser.

And then I will go to work. In the gloom and the cold. And for what? I have three degrees, my job is of the professional sort that needs post-graduate qualifications (allegedly. It probably doesn’t) and yet, eheu, I get paid less than the ‘three A-levels please’ post in the admin offices the main duties of which are entering room-bookings into a spreadsheet (If I am very lucky and work very hard, I could be promoted into middle-management, and still get paid very little (no one gets paid much in Libraries) for doing a job I will now loathe. There are no more promotions without management. Management is mandatory. Even if it gives you hives).

And while I’m whining, the damned commute takes over an hour, and it’s not the sort of commute where you can sit down comfortably and read a good book. You can, if you like, be squashed uncomfortably and drop your good book irretrievably under the hooves of your fellow commuters. So I get paid really not very much for seven hours a day, and the job actually takes over ten hours of my day off me, ten hours in which I do not get to do that which I want to do. No, I can’t do what I want to do in my lunch-break. I have to eat lunch, go to the bank/chemist/supermarket/card-shop/weird-place-that-sells-CD-cases, check my non-work emails, use the loo, avoid the more talkative of my colleagues, read the good book always assuming I didn’t drop it, and generally decompress because sharing an open-plan office for more than three hours on the trot makes me feel like screaming ‘everyone get out of my room! Now! Stop breathing my air! Stop breathing my air!’

The strange thing is, I like my job. I really do. I can actually do my job without spraining anything, but it’s not so easy it’s brain-mincingly dull and repetitive. My colleagues are rather nice (some of them are very nice; a few are nuts. It balances out). My boss is very kind and understanding about my ugly health issues and need to take two or three days off every month in order to lie on the bathroom floor (it’s less hassle than going back to bed between gastric revolts). Every now and then the Powers That Be cut our funding by another eight trillion percent, and we all run around in small circles shouting ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!’ while our jobs specs are hastily re-written for us, but so far none of us have been fired or made redundant against our wishes. And there’s a recession on, so having a job is really quite wonderful.

And mid-day people-overload freak-outs aside, I do go a bit weird if I spend days on end at home with no one to try to look sane infront of.

So I usually shut myself up at this point. I have a job, the job is good, good is the job, all is good.

I just wish I hadn’t wasted all the time I did have, back when I had it, on not knowing what I wanted to do with it. I don’t think I ever meant to spend it on commuting and wishing my colleagues would bloody answer their mobile phones.

Posted in Bibliothecaria, NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 1 Comment

Thus in winter

I was pootling about the internets, as you do, looking for decent sonnets written after 1700 [as you do - Ed.], and I found Edna St. Vincent Millay. Why did no one tell me about Edna St. Vincent Millay before?

I like this one in particular. The sestet is haunting me.

Sonnet XLIII

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, Poetry | 1 Comment

Writing begets more writing

You are quite right. Last night’s post was unforgivable. Next time it’s all gone like that, I shan’t post at all, OK?

OK. Where were we?

I am writing a story. I have written pages and pages and pages, and there’s any amount of supernatural shenanigans, also, a library, annoying co-workers and a cat with halitosis. And at some point I will have to let the Editor hack away at the first chunk [i.e., halve the adjectives, correct all the continuity errors, remove anything libellous - Ed.] and post the remains here. I do not know when that point will be. I hope it will be soon. This is all Solnushka’s fault. I must go now. I have a werewolf to reconstitute and I need an encyclopaedia of Norse mythology, also a hot-water-bottle and some cocoa.


Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 2 Comments