Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Maiden deflowered

And so I'm home. Still swaying slightly. But in one piece, as are my crew and boat.

We had perfect weather - light winds (although yesterday ended up being a little too light and I hadn't considered the full effect of the tide, so we motored the last hour back to the channel) and sunshine.

Of course the weekend didn't pass without hitches:

1. The starter motor fuse decided to finally corrode completely when we were practising man overboard. Fortunately: it was only a fender and and old coil of rope whose existence was at stake. Second fortunately: John knows what an engine without a starter motor sounds like and where a starter motor fuse might be located (unlike me) and could suggest suitable temporary replacements. Third fortunately: my natural ignorance in all things mechanical enabled me to hold up a funny piece of metal I found in the tool box and ask "what's this?" Fourth fortunately: it was a switch John could fit (see second fortunately). Fifth fortunately: we completed the above manoeuvre before the smell of diesel, the slop of boat and our position of head upside down in various lockers and comparments combined to make either one of us puke. And then to cap all those fortunates: with the engine started, the 'man overboard' fender and rope we'd lost sight of in the excitement was suddenly spotted, hauled on board and given the kiss of life.

2. The furler that allows the foresail to roll in and out easily without dropping or raising it jammed halfway open. Tug. Tug. Tug. John and I managed to get it furled in. When we picked up a mooring buoy for lunch, we unfurled it as far as we could, finished the furling by wrapping it round the forestay and dropped it to discover the twizzler that enables it to spin open or wrapped was grinding nastily. We hoisted it again, hoping it'd get us home so I could then have a proper look at it (with the help of other owners I hoped) on dry land.

After a day in dock sorting out the above problems, I was back out, with two new crew members, one experienced one not. One could show the other how to coil a rope and tie knots that wouldn't come undone (surprisingly difficult to the uninitiated). Immensely useful as I had enough to think about:

1. The bay is very shallow. We had two channels to follow that shift with the sand.
2. Getting acquainted with our second foresail on board (the furling twizzler for the foresail needs fixing so we were back to an old-school hoist up/down kind of sail).
3. Areas of where we were to anchor dry out. We needed not to be in those areas, so not fall over at low tide.
4. Light winds dance far more than stronger ones. This makes steering a more concentrated endeavour, and tweaking of sails more frequent.
5. Making cups of tea. No one (except me) really wanted to go below while we were underway.
6. Explaining exactly what we were going to do about ten minutes before we were going to do it. And trying to read faces for comprehension or bafflement.

It was knackering, exhilarating, dehydrating, frustrating (my own cautiousness more than anything), nervewracking (the depth sounder alarm beeped madly on two occasions at us being in dangerously shallow water), uplighting and ultimately hugely satisfying.

While I know I'm privileged to have a boat to take people out to sea to spend days away from our normal landbound routines, I am also extremely grateful to myself for having the skill (despite my doubts) to pull it off. There's a methodical approach to sailing (and skippering) that I wasn't sure I possessed.

The last poem I wrote came from cutting up an unsuccessful piece of prose, shuffling the best phrases about on my floor and resetting them in a list. I'm not sure this would work with working out tidal heights or coming alongside a pontoon. I had to do all that cut up and shuffle stuff in that ten minutes before the ten minute explanation to my crew. Little strips of paper are so less recriminating than stone walls or human beings.

But I do believe that my poetry brain helped me imagine cause and consequence in the same way balancing on a heeling boat trims your core muscles.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

virgin skipper

I'm taking my first inexperienced crew out this weekend, and I'm tippy-toed on a thin wire above two precipices: sheer excitement and wet terror.

Although I have sailed about 10 000 miles in my erratic career, none of them have been in this position. I've normally crewed for others and when I've skippered it's been with a co-owner of the boat who's pretty experienced too.

This weekend I'm going to have to remember the names of things; my left from right (or port from starboard, which somehow is easier, as if it short circuits my basic dyslexia); think at least three steps ahead in every thing I do, and ask my crew to do; ask my crew to do stuff, not yell incomprehensively (see note one); locate all the bits of the engine I have to check after running it; sleep when we're at anchor, in full confidence we won't drag or that if we do I'll somehow intuit it before we hit rocks; all the while looking confident, acting with a graceful authority.

One part of me knows it's like a performance: relax into it with the confidence I know my stuff; remember I have a willing audience (cum crew); and enjoy this choice I've made (I could after all spend the weekend on the sofa watching Nip/Tuck dvds). That's the excitement side. The other part of me knows that it's also potentially much more dangerous than a performance, these people's (and my own) lives are dependent on good decisions and mental, emotional strength. That's, obviously the terror. never was one for responsibility ...

I'll (hopefully) let you know how we get on next week.

Monday, 18 May 2009

top read

I've had a flurry of great reading recently. And am currently thoroughly enjoying A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth. Brilliant writing and a compulsive character in Annie. Fave lines so far:

"I saw her turn towards the man she was with and start gesturing at him drunkenly with an unlit cigarette. 'Do you remember when we were like that? Quite happy to lock oursleves in all weekend so we could stay in bed and eat pizza? Where does it all go to, eh?' she laughed bitterly and looked at Lucy, who wasn't listening, as far as I could tell. 'You've only been together a year. You wait and see. It'll get to the point where you don't even like each other anymore.'
"In the dim, sausage-smelling quiet of my kitchen, I held onto the edge of the draining board ..."

I'll keep you informed as to how it pans out

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Interview with Ian Seed

I thought as a change from me blathering about a book I've read recently, I'd talk to its author and get them to do the talking ... so the first in an irregular series. Me in the big leather chair (laptop open, at a slight angle before me) and in the spotlight: Ian Seed.

SARAH: Anonymous Intruder is split into three sections, which is how I'd like to approach this conversation. Section One, Rearrangements, seems to me to be a poetic equivalent of Edward Burra, a destabilising, slightly intimidating shift of perspective. Lifting off from the line The heart doesn't have any nerves of its own, which I see as the heart of the poem 'Check Out Girls', the nerves of many of these poems seem to come from all directions. How do you approach a narrative in a sequence of poems that, to me, unfolds on a looser, less sequential reading?

IAN: I would perhaps use the word ‘unsettling’ rather than ‘intimidating’. Certainly I don’t mean to intimidate in the sense of making a reader feel stupid. However, I do want to make readers feel unsure of where the poem is going to go next. I see the imagery and layouts of the poem as an invitation to join me on an unknown journey rather than a way of being exclusive. But certainly if you are looking for a straightforward story with a beginning, middle and end, or a poem with a meaning that can be translated into prose, then you are going to be disappointed. I think we need to go a little easier on ourselves with poetry. You can fall in love with a line or an image and spend the next twenty years trying to understand it. Which is fine - we should allow ourselves to live with this uncertainty and open-endedness.

SARAH: How much is the journey 'unknown' for you?

IAN: Certainly when I start writing, I don’t know where I’m going. In other words, I rarely start with any kind of subject matter in mind. It is only when I am drafting and shaping that I start to get an idea of where the poem or piece of writing wants to go. Or it may be that certain words and their sounds and associated images simply appeal to my sensibilities. Rather than being ‘about’ something, the poems or pieces become composed around a theme - and perhaps it would be more accurate to speak of interweaving strands than themes. However, even here I may not be able to understand what these strands are until sometime afterwards.

SARAH: In Voices, you write a precise tragedy of relationships. Now afraid to negotiate beyond the sound of our breathing in the dark sums up the theme of this section. How far do you think it possible for these relationships to be viewed positively?

IAN: I’m not sure I want to think in terms of ‘positivity’ or ‘negativity’, which I find a little restrictive. Having said that, I believe that the positive aspect of ‘Voices’ comes from its sense of movement. The whole section can be seen as a kind of dialogue both with a lover and with those parts of my own self which, in these poems, I am trying to come to terms with. The fact that there is a dialogue going on is positive in itself. There is too - if I may resort to an archetypal image - a sense of death and rebirth, e.g. ‘the old ritual dried at source, malleable for the first time in defeat […] Only a few miles from home.’ (From ‘I That Was Near Your Heart’).

SARAH: I like the idea of there being a dialogue in this section. Where do you imagine the reader/listener stands/sits in this dialogue?

IAN: I would imagine the reader or listener swapping chairs. Or better still, sitting alone in an empty waiting room and hearing voices from different places, and not being sure who is speaking and who is being spoken to. The listener would at first feel a little frightened and disorientated, but then begin to be interested in what the voices were saying and seduced by their tone and language.

SARAH: Some of the pieces in Shadows were published in the first Flax anthology as short fictions, which still feels almost honest (!) They certainly contain the most 'plot', yet also still hold the poetic beauty/pain that is so resonant of your work. a prayer whispered in your bones is a favourite line of mine. Who would you choose to direct these if they were turned into short films, and why?

IAN: That's not easy. I’m not sure these pieces would work as a film, unless they were used as starting points. I am pleased that some of the imagery has a cinematic quality, but readers then need to create their own story around it. Perhaps in atmosphere I would like to think there is a slight affiliation with the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, with his studies of breakdowns and mendings in relationships. But of course there’s also a lot more going on in his films around the society of his time.

SARAH: How much would you say your work reflects what's happening in our society now?

IAN: A question which is enough to give most poets a bad conscience, I imagine! And perhaps rightly so. In any case, I think I had better avoid the issue of the meaning of a ‘committed literature’, which your question could lead to and which is simply too huge to deal with here. I can say, however, that my work is in some sense also a commentary on the sometimes transitory, fragmentary, and even exploitative nature of relationships (though I feel at risk of sounding a little pompous here). As American poet Leonard Gontarek puts it: “Ian Seed is not kidding. Anonymous Intruder he names it, this paean to human contact in the twenty-first century. In-your-face and tender.”

FX Thunderous applause. I turn to face camera and close: You can read more about Anonymous Intruder at Litter, Rupert Mallin's blogspot, Stride and Intercapillary Space.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Flax Picnic

This photo is an indication of how well the Flax picnic went (despite siling rain) - one take and all twelve faces are smiling, looking at the camera and appear reasonable, rational human beings!

We had a lovely afternoon listening to the brilliant range and quality of work from Flax writers. Nearly all the publications were represented by writers (including the forthcoming poetry anthology, due out in June).

It was an event to make me proud of the writers we've published, and underlines the belief that Flax is tremendously supportive of the writers we work with. And this is returned by the stregnth of the relationships with the writers.

So, from top down (and left to right as we go): Ian Seed, Mark Carson, Gill Nicholson, Brindley Hallam Dennis, Elizabeth Burns, Polly Atkin, Marita Over, John Siddique, Andrew Michael Hurley, Pauline Keith, Jennifer Copley and David Borrott.

Good to have an opportunity for reflection and self-congratulation!

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Spread of Poetry

I went to the Wordsworth Trust poetry reading last Tuesday night, with CK Stead and Katharine Kilalea. I know I like programming and anthologising with diversity and variety, but this event excelled itself.

CK Stead is a veteran of the poetry world, with a new collected works that was as hefty as War and Peace, while Katharine is celebrating her first volume, One Eye'd Leigh. And this distance travelled was evident in their choice of poems to reading and delivery of them.

Katharine's talent is in the sweep of her images, which in a reading did at time overwhelm - I just couldn't keep up. But I could hear, that reading in my own time, these images would stretch me between the two continents of Europe and Africa that obviously preoccupy her. She is clearly a poet at the start of a long career - perhaps too eager at times topresent all her wares all at once.

Carl is, obviously, further down that track. His poems were tightly wrought reflections of (mainly) his 'non-belief' in religion and fascination with philosophy and philosophers. His delivery was calm, interspersed with thoughts on what he had written and possible reasons why. But what impressed most was his fearlessness - reading rewrites of psalms and ironic odes to God - in a church. He said he hadn't realised where we'd be when making his selection, but the location added another dimension, a resonance of belief and counterbelief to the work.

These poets at ends of the spectrum illuminated each other's work in a way I relished. We do not read (or write) in isolation, and such programming exemplifies the literary cannon.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

At the Lighthouse

Spent the weekend in an old lighthouse cottage. There's no lighthouse at the cottage now, just the transit light.

You can see the wind farm in the distance. There, because it is very very windy most of the time.

But great for hunkering down - no shops, no neighbours (apart from the field of swans), no internet, nobody else but me. So I read a lot of poetry. Fave lines of the retreat:

Some truths are now called trivial, though. Only God approves them.
Some humans who disdain them make a kind of weather
which, when it grows overt and widespread, we call war.

from Second Essay on Interest: the Emu, by Les Murray.

The spread of this poem is awesome. I think it tapped into me because of my new daily view: not only was I by the sea, facing south west, into the prevalent weather, but the land is very flat. The vastness encouraged me to spread my own thinking, to sink into a wider, more relaxed perspective. My usual view is of the terrace opposite.

I don't think I'm the only one to have lost a sense of the epic. How can we keep it when we're going about our daily business in the clustered streets? How can we remember to look up and see the sky and its stretch of weather to come and weather we've had?