Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Divergent Thinking

According to a study, quoted by Sir Ken Robinson in a recent lecture called Changing Paradigms at the RSA, 98% of children between the ages of 3-5 are divergent thinking geniuses but only 2% of people over 25 are. I'm thinking that this guy is in that 2%

Don't you just wish you were five and he was your dad?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

I can't be bothered

to type anything, but I feel I haven't posted for rather a long time, so here's this:

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Tomorrow I will take the first of five classes teaching 10/11 year olds how to write poetry in a nearby school. Yesterday I managed to press the bottom out of my French Press

coffee everywhere!

So today, instead of continuing the work on my lesson plan I have spent the morning trying to work out how to make myself a cup of coffee.

I have an old, on the hob, espresso pot somewhere. But I can't find it. It was rubbish anyway, I could never get a decent cup of coffee out of it. It would either boil over, spewing brown all over the place or, if I kept the heat low, take for ever and the resulting coffee would taste stewed and ghastly.

I sat here at my desk, for some hours, with Ted Hughes's book Poetry in the Making open in front of me, staring at my blank screen, trying to be satisfied with tea. When I remembered a visit, late last summer, to my old art teacher. He lives in a gorgeous, rambling house in the midst of the Galloway hills and as we sat at his well used kitchen table his wife made the most delicious coffee with nothing but a cone of kitchen paper and an old jug. So I tried it,

and it worked.

It wasn't quite as good as when made in my usual way, but it tasted like coffee and thus enabled me to get back to that lesson.

The class project is Space and the Solar System, and the teacher wants me to fit in with that. Not having any poems, at my disposal, about space I have been trying to work out how to inspire poetry on that theme by sharing with them poetry on other themes. I only have an hour a week for five weeks. I have no idea what, if anything, they know about poetry already, and no idea if they like it. If they are anything like I was at that age they don't. I found poetry alienating as a child. I hated the tum-ti-tum of it, and the subject matter that poets covered didn't speak to me. Having loved nursery rhymes pre-school, the way poetry was taught once I got there put me off for decades. I still don't like most of the Canon, all that stuff about beauty in clever couplets, sonnets, and neat quatrains. My experience of the world is much messier than that. I suspect that few of the kids I'll be teaching are gentlemen with private incomes so I am now trying to find a few poems that are: a) written by people who they can relate to, b) don't have too much violence or death in them (I have been warned about the possibility of stirring unpleasant memories), and c) able to provide the necessary spark.

I think I have come up with a plan that could work. Each week I will cover a different area of the general theme. Currently I'm thinking along the lines of 'The World' by which I mean landscape, weather, vegetation and the like; 'Creatures': the type of animals and insects that inhabit the world; 'People': thinking beings who are conscious of their existence, and, perhaps, 'artifacts' anything the conscious beings make or have made. I'm hoping that by giving them examples of poems that describe those aspects of this planet, they will be able to make the leap to another.

So what I'll do tomorrow is try to get them to imagine a world on another planet by reading them a few poems about this one and then discus those poems in a bit of detail. Then I'll give them a set time, Hughes suggests ten minutes, to write a poem on the subject. Now I just need to find some good examples. What do you think of this one, will it do to start?


This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Found in The Rattle Bag, which is aimed at children, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Canon

Mary, my exneighbour and fellow blogger, kindly passed this award my way. In return I must tell about a few things that I love. Mary did a great job of this herself, describing in loving detail her old black shoes and her leg-warmers, and I am going to carry on in that prosaic vein.

I read, recently, in the book of Seamus Heaney interviews (Stepping Stones) this quotation: ‘Love is not gazing at each other wistfully, but looking in the same direction.’ I have a tendency to use the word ‘love’ in the gazing wistfully sense about anything from a dress to a bowl of soup. What I really mean is I admire, lust after, am hugely impressed by, whatever has grabbed my attention; it is having some enjoyable effect on one, or more, of my five senses. But that’s not love. It may lead to love once the excitement has died down, but love is about longevity not instant sensual gratification; it may be great to look on something beautiful but you’re going to want to get on and do something else eventually. Love is something to do with shared purpose, shared vision: harmony. When it comes to non-human entities, therefore, the ones I love are those that help me on my way. And here, in an order of no hierarchical intention, are a few of them:

My washing machine: I don’t want to smell and I don’t want to look like a bag lady. Neither do I want to spend hours hand-washing my thick-knits. I have been discovered by my great task* and it consumes time. My washing machine has a hand-wash programme that mimics the most talented laundress, it has never shrunk or mangled a single item of my clothing even though I have tested it to the endth degree. This allows me to get on, fragrantly.

My mini trampoline: Most days I can be found sitting at my desk writing, and most evenings sitting in my armchair reading. Neither require much movement. I don’t like to be taken away from them for too long but I have noticed that reading becomes difficult and writing becomes impossible if they are all I do. A bit of fresh air and frantic movement solves the stagnation problem, so my mini trampoline is a real boon. It lives in my shed so I don’t have to go far to use it, and about three or four times a week I spend an hour or two happily bouncing to music. When I get back in I find almost all my erstwhile, apparently insurmountable, problems can be tackled with ease and many will have evaporated completely. An added bonus is that I no longer sit in a pool of my own flesh.

My hand-blender: Suddenly velvety smooth soups are easy, mayonnaise is a breeze, and my favourite lunch – banana soya-milk smoothie zinging with chili – can be made directly in the glass, so washing up is halved. All in all it saves a huge amount of hassle. I inherited this from my late mother-in-law which somehow gives it added resonance.

My fridge-freezer: I have two hungry men to feed. I want to feed them and I want to feed them well. I could easily see myself spending hours in the kitchen trying to make delicious, nutritious meals from cheap ingredients, every day. But, thanks to the freezer part of the fridge-freezer I don’t have to; it’s just as easy to make a huge batch of soup, stew, or pasta sauce and freeze them in meal sized portions for other days, so this is what I do. It means I don’t have to choose between my family and my work which would be like trying to choose between my heart and my lungs.

My computer:
I don’t think a day goes by without me feeling immense gratitude to whoever invented the computer. I’m pretty sure that without it I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Imagine having to redraft by hand, or even on a typewriter: rubbers and Tippex, who needs them? On a computer whole blocks of text can be moved around the page; I can play about with punctuation and syntax; change the form of a poem in the blink of an eye; nick bits from earlier work; skit about from page to page or piece to piece. Work is play with no fear of getting it wrong, because on a computer you actually can undo, and all these possibilities for exploration and experimentation mean more chance of eventually getting it right. I can also have several projects on the go at once without living in a storm of paper, everything I ever wrote is stored, and easily accessed, in this one little box. Not only that, but with fast internet access I rarely have to go anywhere: most of my research, and shopping, can be done right here at my desk. And, of course, one of the best things about it is that I can be in contact with like minded people all over the world any time of the day or night without having to make arrangements or spend any money. Poverty is not an obstacle in the cyberworld.

Update: my memory has just been jogged by a visit to Scarlet's place: I am supposed to pass this award on, to how many others I don't know, so I will choose: the lovely Scarlet herself, Hoodchick, Jane (although I'm not sure how she will fit love into the theme of her blog but she's a poet so I'm sure she'll manage it), Savannah, and Conan,because I would love to read their takes on the subject should they wish to accept.

*Have a look at Nietzsche's autobiography Ecce Homo for an explanation of this apparently pretentious term.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sea Change

I woke up to a goodly snow splurge this morning, everything was crisp and white like best country house hotel napery. Bob, in Kent for his best friend's birthday bash weekend, phoned to say that he was stranded there.

I've been reading Jean Sprackland's collection Tilt and in it there is a poem called 'Ice on the Beach': something I've never experienced. This seemed like the perfect opportunity, so I dug out my old duffel coat, filled my insulated mug with coffee and dragged Stevie off. Unfortunately the Solway coast was, apparently, the only part of the UK mainland not to have been affected. Still, it was lovely and as we were stomping around, the sky began to lower and an icy wind got up. Bloody freezing but afraid of just missing what we'd come for we went to the Teapot, a little hut-cafe, for hot chocolate and a bun, and sat ourselves at the window. But all we got was a light flutter.

The tide was going out so we walked over this ridge of sand to a little islet.


Darkening sky.