Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Category: poetry

My Gothic spring continues…

The manuscript of KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE is open in front of me, and my collection The Last-but-one Samurai and other stories is currently being edited. Meanwhile Angélique Jamail has featured another of my Gothic poems from 2010 on her blog…

candlelight

I’m having a Gothic spring…

… amongst the snake’s head fritillaries. Meanwhile…

… in 2010 I was writing all kinds of poetry, from sonnets to brutalist ‘Lithopoesis’. During that year I put together a little collection of Gothic verses, many with a wry twist of humour, under the general title of The Wraith’s Complaining Mouth (a line from one of the poems), with no idea whether I would present them for publication or what. They have sat in my portfolio since then. During the current ‘National Poetry Month’ in the USA, my friend Angélique Jamail is honouring me by featuring some of that collection, starting with the sonnet ‘Selena’. Click on the picture below to be transported to her blog to read the poem and see what she says about my old Gothic work…

Selena

… and the manuscript for KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE has been returned from the editor’s desk, with suggestions and corrections for me to pore through. I plan to launch into that this weekend.

The Spring 2016 Showcase at ‘the zen space’ is now published!

10Another quarter of the year has rolled round, and I have been busy putting together the latest offering from the zen space, the e-zine of which I am the editor, publisher, and wot-not. This time there is no set theme, and the illustrations by Vincent van Gogh are totally irrelevant. Or you could say their irrelevance is relevant, and if you wanted to sound really clever, you could say it’s the spaces in between that are relevant. Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice, as they say. Except of course the zen space is absolutely free. Click here, or on Vincent’s self portrait to be transported…

The Elvish Knight. (Child Ballad 4)

Rackham detail

 

A knight came out of the fairy land
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And he’s asked a lady for her hand
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

First go and fetch me your father’s chest
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And then put on your Sabbath best
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Go down to the stable and meet me there
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And it’s I on a colt and you on a mare
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was she on the white and he on the bay
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Three hours before the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was over the moss and over the mire
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
It was over the bush and over the briar
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was he as the groom and she as the bride
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And they rode till the came to the cold river’s side
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Dismount, dismount my lady fair
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For it’s six pretty maids I have drowned there
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Take off, take off your silken gown
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For it’s much too fine to sink and drown
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

First draw your brand and crop those thistles
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For I cannot ’bide their jags and bristles
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then he’s turned around for to crop them all
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And she’s catch’d him around the waist so small
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then she’s thrown him over the water’s brim
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Oh I’ll surely drown for I cannot swim
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Lie there, lie there in the water deep
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Now close your eyes and go to sleep
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then she’s up on her horse and she’s rode away
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Three hours before the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Now a magic bird in her window high
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
It’s begun to prattle and begun to cry
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Oh do not prattle and do not scold
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And your cage shall be made of the finest gold
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Now her father on hearing the bird did say
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Oh why do you sing at the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

There came an old tomcat my life to take
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And I called to my mistress so she would wake
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

__________

As you know, I like composing (new) versions of Child Ballads. The poem above – song, rather – is a version of Child 4, often known by such titles as The Outlandish Knight and May Colvin and False Sir John. When I do this sort of thing, is it folklore or fakelore? You decide.

The illustration at the top of the page. is a detail from Arthur Rackham’s May Colvin.

Other stuff for you to see today: My one-off artistic statement, and some guest poems on the site of my friend Mari Sanchez Cayuso – desert poem 17, desert poem 18, and desert poem 19 – definitely not Child Ballads.

 

It doesn’t hurt to ask, but don’t build your hopes up.

watchOver six months ago several things came to a head seemingly all at once. Firstly the flying of the Confederate flag – or rather its lowering – became an issue all over the southern states of the USA. Secondly a prominent activist was outed as trans-racial. Thirdly, Harper Lee’s publishers released Go Set A Watchman.

The latter was significant to me. Harper Lee had always been a heroine of mine, for writing one of the monuments of American Literature – To Kill a Mockingbird – and then retiring. I wanted to do the Scottish equivalent, but as soon as I published my second novel that was out of the question anyway – that fact always makes me smile.

With the near-coincidence of these three things, it occurred to me to write a short story, set in 2015, in which a young female couple, one of whom is of mixed racial heritage, have a rendezvous in the Alabama town where one of them has her roots. Together they see how the town has coped with the realities of the twenty-first century. The central event in the story is the lowering of the Confederate flag at the town’s courthouse; but also the couple visit, in passing, an elderly lady who can remember her childhood in the town, during the Depression. My story remained unfinished. I had planned it as a tribute to Harper Lee, and it only really made sense if I could call the elderly woman ‘Jean Louise Finch’. This was, as I say, to be a serious story and a tribute, not ‘fanfic’. So I did the polite thing and got in touch with Ms Lee’s publishers to ask permission, leaving the story unfinished.

Well, seven months later, long after I had forgotten about the project, I got my answer. No. Not only could I not call the elderly character ‘Jean Louise Finch’, I could not use any character names out of To Kill A Mockingbird or Go Set A Watchman. That’s fair enough, I guess. Not only that, but I could not call the town ‘Maycomb’. Okay, I can see the logic in that, given the interdict on character names. But apparently I could call the town ‘Monroeville’ if I wanted. Well thanks, I know I could – any writer is free to set a story in a real place – but the point would be lost. In any case, seven months after the event(s), the moment for the story has passed. It remains unfinished.

But I thought I would share a passage with you, just for the heck of it. Very little else of the story has been written, and now probably won’t be; so what you have here is a little insight. The accompanying pictures are of the old and new courthouses in Monroeville – and just to be clear, the new courthouse can be seen to be flying the Stars-and-Stripes and the Alabama State Flag, not the Confederate flag, which was another reason why fictionalisation was necessary. By the way, the story was to be called The Standard of the Camp, which is a reference to Numbers 1:52 and Numbers 2:2 in the Bible.

*
monroeville1

Judith parked the car a few blocks away, and we walked hand in hand, joining one of the little streams of people approaching from every direction to swell the small crowd in front of the building. It was indeed a small crowd as a proportion of the population – only a few hundred – but unless a person had a reason to wish to be there for what was, after all, only a minor piece of history when taken with the bigger picture, why make a fuss and stir yourself? To Judith and me, with our own union being also a small part of a bigger picture, there was a reason to come. There was to be no ceremony. Simply, at six o’clock, the Confederate flag was to be lowered from the flagpole outside the courthouse, never to be raised there again. It was to be an occurrence, that’s all.

“Has that flag always flown here?” I asked Judith.

“Not sure,” she said. “The way I heard it, it wasn’t raised anywhere at all until the nineteen-twenties. There’s a picture somewhere of the old courthouse during World War Two, and it had the Stars and Stripes on the flagpole, and another picture taken during the Cold War that shows the same. Someone told me that a group of local politicians pushed through some measure when Obama got elected President. But hell, I’ve hardly ever been down this part of town before, so I wouldn’t know.”

“I guess people didn’t really notice until it became an issue.”

“You got that right!” said someone near me.

I get that. When something is just part of the scenery you don’t notice it. Then one day it’s gone, maybe a tree is cut down or a building demolished or something new built, and the best you can do is wonder what’s wrong with this picture. The Stars and Bars on a biker’s jacket or tacked up in the back of a neighbor’s garage can just be scenery. Until someone decides to become a semiotician, and – bam! Just how important to us all was disposing of this symbol? Apparently it was important to APT and WSFA as they had cameras there, so it was potentially news.

The clock at the old courthouse began to strike the hour. A side door of the newer building opened, two uniformed court bailiffs came out and began to walk diagonally across the lawn towards the flagpole. The buzz in our little crowd died down. I could see that a reporter from one of the TV stations had stationed herself between the cameras and the flagpole and was talking into a microphone. There were no salutes, there was no fuss, one of the bailiffs untied the hoist from its cleat, and began to hand-over-hand it. The flag began to descend, slowly. As it did, a knot of men nearer the front began to chant.

“USA, USA, USA…”

I could see a veteran’s cap, I could see a biker’s bandana, I could see a couple of hand-held Stars and Bars being waved.

“God, they say we Americans have no sense of irony, and they’re right,” said Judith.

“Look at another way, honey,” I said. “The way these guys see it, the ideal of the United States is that the whole is not greater than its parts, there is no over-riding principle that can impose itself on a constituent state, and indeed upon the right of an individual’s expression. In some way that’s what they believe in. In their view of history, that’s what the Confederacy was fighting to establish and the Union was trying to crush.”

“That’s an extraordinary opinion to come from an African-American,” said a voice behind me. I looked over my shoulder at the woman who had spoken. I hadn’t heard any hostility in her voice and I couldn’t see any in her face.

“I guess I’m repeating something I heard from someone here in town,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong. To me that flag is just what they say it is – the symbol of white supremacy – and although I’m not from these parts myself, I’m glad to see it taken down. It’s just that the person who gave me that idea also told me that something like nine out of every ten Confederate soldiers had never seen a black person, let alone owned one. They didn’t decide what the flag meant. Somebody else did.”

“Hmm.”

Judith nudged me, and I turned back. People had their iPhones out, taking pictures of the lowering. Some were taking selfies.

“You want a picture?”

“Nuh-uh. No thanks.” For many reasons I did not.

The flag came to the end of its journey. The guys chanting fell silent. I stood on tiptoes to watch the two court bailiffs detach it from the hoist and fold it without any flourish. One of them tucked it under his arm and they began to walk back towards the courthouse. What would happen to it now? As long as it never flew again, did I actually care? Judith and I turned to go.

monroeville2

*

I recall a similar thing happened when I had an idea for a full-length adventure novel featuring a character created by a fellow-Scot. Her creation was not a pleasant character, he was in fact the arch-rival of her protagonist. But I saw in him the potential lead in a story about a cynical adult wizard. So I wrote to her publishers and asked for permission. And of course the answer came back in the negative. Now, I am all for authors protecting their intellectual copyright, given current social and commercial circumstances. I feel no rancor to either Harper Lee or to JKR because their people said no. Indeed, my cynical adult wizard – Agent Delta of the Chthonic Intelligence Agency© – still exists on my virtual drawing-board, is not named as anyone in any other work of fiction, inhabits a milieu nowhere near any boarding-school, and may come to life in a way that infringes no copyright.

1On the other hand, when I got in touch with Irvine Welsh and asked if I could use his name as the central character in an epic poem – Welshday – in which he journeys through the city of Edinburgh in the company of an inebriate detective and a living statue, in a tribute to James Joyce’s celebration of ‘Bloomsday’, he replied “Why not! Go for it!”. All of which leads me to the point of this post: it doesn’t hurt to ask. Countless authors have based novels and stories on pre-existing characters – the Flashman novels, James Bond novels by Kingsley Amis and William Boyd, and so on. Sometimes a living author will hand on the baton willingly to a successor, and the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.

As it happens, Welshday was never finished either. I know the concept of unfinished writings seem strange, almost like the idea of failure. But I draw the analogy with a painter’s studio – no one finds it strange to find drawings, sketches, studies, and unfinished works there, so I have no qualms about admitting to countless novels, stories, and poems that never made it (yet!) to completion. In fact Welshday gave rise to some good stand-alone poems, so here’s one of them for you. Our journeying hero and his inebriate companion visit a bar in Leith, where they are accosted by a Russian seafarer who claims to be the only survivor from the sinking of the submarine Kursk. It’s a sestina:

 

Old Rimbaud said, “Let’s go and take a glass
of whiskey in a jostling pub I know.”
I, like a sodding numpty, dogged his steps,
And tracked him to a clapped-out, frowsy dive,
Where half the clientele were missing ears –
the other half were shouting to be heard!

We’d been there half an hour when I heard
a Russian sailor tap the falling glass;
he grabbed my sleeve, said “This is for your ears
alone, no other bugger has to know.
I heard my skipper calling dive-dive-dive,
as I slid down the conning-tower steps…”

Old Rimbaud, blootered, sunk down on the steps;
the Russian bellowed at me, to be heard.
“The air inside gets hotter when you dive,
the sea is slagged and dark as bottle-glass.
The ghost of every bugger that you know
floats by, and there’s a pounding in your ears!”

His sliding, slootered accent hurt my ears.
I thumbed my belt and slipped some salsa steps;
I said, “Now tell me something I don’t know,
no half-arsed, half-cocked tale already heard,
no shite enigma darkly in a glass,
no bonny buck-and-wing, no duck-and-dive!”

He scowled at me and, miming a crash-dive,
resumed the tale that battered at my ears,
while I, to ease my pain, sucked at my glass.
“Kolesnikov took all the proper steps,
and we went aft – perhaps you might have heard –

but when you’re frigging shark-bait, boy, you know!”
I shut him up, and said, “Here’s what I know –
no fucker made it home from that last dive –
They all asphyxiated, so I heard!”
He laughed, he jeered, I stopped my ringing ears,
and sat down with old Rimbaud on the steps,
to spit at all the demons in my glass.

When ghosts well from a glass you always know,
You’re sitting on the steps of some sad dive,
and though you stop your ears you’ll still have heard!

The Winter 2016 Showcase at ‘the zen space’…

… is now on line! This time round, haijin and poets from all over the globe have been taking pot-shots at crows, and the result is murderous. Visit here, and join in the caw-rus…

0210201013250013

So, what are you doing if you’re not writing?

Apart from feeling guilty, you mean? No, seriously, that is an issue.

authoressWhen I think about it, my output over the past few years has been quite something. I have to remind myself that, since about 2005, apart from having finished four novels (three of which have been published and the other is with my publisher awaiting publication), having had at least two-hundred-and-fifty poems published in collections, anthologies, magazines, and e-zines, having written enough short stories to fill over two volumes, I have taken part for five years in a poem-a-day project. So why stop? Why stop that poem-a-day, and why halt progress on my latest novel after 20,000 words? Well, let me be clear about this – I needed a break, and believe me I’m feeling the benefit. Output had taken over from quality, and I was exhausted and frustrated.

So where does the guilt come from? I don’t know. Maybe from the little imp on my shoulder who keeps whispering to me, “You’re an ex-writer, that’s what you are! Now you’ve stopped, you’ll never start again.”

Maybe, in fact, it has to do with the continuing output of fellow-writers I respect. There they go, merrily taking part in NaNoWriMo and suchlike, galloping though the creation of a novel in a single month, filling their blogs with poetry, writing columns of advice for colleague-authors, posting their goals and how they have achieved them… I could go on line now and find, with ease, confident articles on the discipline and routine of writing, and below each I would find an almost endless roll of comments thanking the writer for his or her sage advice. And I would know that, try as I might, I couldn’t stick to anything like such a routine. I might manage it for a week… ten days…

And yet, there’s all my output. I must have had some impetus and discipline somewhere. You would think so. A colleague said my writing was ‘visceral’, meeting that it sprang from emotion, from feelings rather than thoughts. When I consider that such movements in art and writing as modernism, expressionism, and imagism have influenced me, I guess she could be right. Certainly when I set out to write something, with certain exceptions, I do not start out with the goal of reaching a goal. By that I mean that my work is seldom driven by the end, I do not start my novels, for example, with the resolution of the narrative already in my mind*. I describe such a practice a ‘male’ writing, by which I mean it is driven along by the desire to reach a single climax, to use a sexual analogy. It’s the authorial equivalent of ‘getting your end away’. And it is something that is so ingrained in our culture, that it is hard to counter, hard to offer any other way of doing things. As we say in Scotland, ‘it’s aye been’, or at least its ingrainedness gives that impression. Writers like Virginia Woolf showed us that it simply didn’t have to be so, it didn’t have to be the unwritten rule that we all revered like Holy Writ. Yet it lurches along still, like some kind of zombie. There, that’s today’s thought – ‘Zombie male writing’.

To me, there was so much left undone in modernism, as though they picked up the ball, ran with it, passed it to the next author, who just stood there and let it drop. I know, I know, my mixed metaphors are murder today…

Where was I? Oh yes – what have I been doing if not writing. Well, same as ever. Holding down a job, editing, playing my part in family routine, coping with physical and psychological conditions (my own and others’), reading, in fact all the things I was doing while I was writing. Y’know, I wonder where I found the time to write so much! So will I let all these mundane necessities fill the available time, will I become used to them, so used to them that I will one day forget to write, forget that I ever wrote? Well, let’s face it, one day we will all close our eyes on daylight and not simply forget what we were but lose the forgetting too. Life is about letting go. So it is, of course, possible that I will never write again, ever.

Possible, but improbable.

Despite the imp on my shoulder, I’m not an ex-writer. Hell, what am I doing right now if not writing? I haven’t stepped away from my work entirely. I jot stuff down, the odd word, the odd phrase, the odd idea. I go through my unpublished corpus to see if there is anything worth submitting to a poetry magazine**. Ideas on how to progress my novel – the one I’m half way through, the one I always wanted to write – keep circulating in my head. And anyway, competing with the guilt-imp is the wee wight on my other shoulder, telling me that if I don’t go back to writing someday soon, I’ll end up in that charming little beauty spot located, I’m told, near Harrisburg PA.

Near Harrisburg PA

Gonnae no dae that! Gonnae no!

__________

*Many writers claim not to do this, but frankly it’s what most of ‘em do!

**I haven’t submitted anything since about 2013, at which time I devoted all my energy to writing a collection specially for a publisher. The result was my prize-nominated I am not a fish.

So, what’s happening?

The problem with keeping web site content turning over is that, for a writer like myself, there are long periods where nothing much appears to be happening. That’s not the case, of course, but on the other hand, much of what is actually happening is ongoing stuff, or issues regarding which I’m waiting for someone else’s action.

vic1I could say, I suppose, “I’m still writing my next novel,” but how many times can I repeat that before ‘no news is good news’ becomes simply ‘no news is no news’? As it happens, I am still writing that novel. What’s it about? Well, I’m playing my cards close to my chest on that one, for many reasons, not least of all that it is a dynamic project that has changed course several times already. That’s largely because the leading character has taken over – the novel is not only in her unique voice, but governed by the way her unique mind works – and she is defying the concept of an end-driven story. I can say that it is the novel, or if not the novel then one of the novels, I have always wanted to write. Also that it is set in Victorian London, or is set there as far as can be gauged, given that the leading character’s psychology has telescoped the entire Victorian era into her short life. There will be murders and detection, but also obfuscation and doubt. English folklore characters from the countryside will encroach onto the bustle of the metropolis, there will be both psychic fakery and psychic peril, and a strange, silent figure will stalk through the narrative.

What I actually need to do at this stage is to allocate more time to writing this novel, the main obstacles being sleeping, cooking, eating, washing, and cleaning. Plus ça change. Something needs to give, so if you happen to see me in town wearing yesterday’s blouse…

Other projects currently maturing include:

  • Providing oversight and further ideas to a Scottish screen-writer, who is currently working on a screen adaptation of my short story about girl gangs.
  • vera1Assembling a chapbook-length selection of my poems inspired by the 16th century Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco, to present to a Scottish publishing house during their twice-yearly ‘window’.
  • Various poems and short stories currently with publishers and competition-promoters – I won’t mention what and who, because there is nothing more boring than a blog post that says “Hey guys – I just entered a competition!” only to be followed shortly after by “I didn’t win!”

fmcuh-cover-2001Meanwhile KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, the sequel to my novel From My Cold, Undead Hand, is now with P’kaboo, and is awaiting publication in due course.

So you see, there is a lot going on, just none of it exactly seismic. I have decided, however, to suspend my daily blog of poetry fragments, in order to give myself more breathing space. I know a daily snippet of poetry seems like no big deal, but I actually spend the bulk of my scheduled on-line time dealing with it. I shall continue to write fragments, when I feel the ol’ urge in me, and I might occasionally post one or two, but for now I think standing down from the daily obligation would be a good thing for me. I was one of several poets originally taking part in the daily project, and I think I’m one of the few who is still doing it five years later, so perhaps I deserve a rest. Please feel free, however, to go over there, look through the archives, and leave me some comments if something catches your eye.

I shall, I promise, keep you posted if anything interesting happens.

A free copy of a major poetry anthology!

How would you like a free copy of a book that has been described as ‘a groundbreaking anthology of poetry’?

I was privileged to work on the editorial team of The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes: Anthology of Sonnets of the Early Third Millennium, which came out in the winter of 2013/2014, and brought together a collection of formal poems all written during the new century.

Producing the anthology was not a smooth ride, there was much pain bringing it to birth. During its production, one member of the editorial team left under less than happy circumstances. Since publication date, that person has made a point of touring each and every web site that invites reviews – Amazon, Goodreads, etc. – and leaving lengthy, detailed excoriations of the book. Whether these ‘reviews’ are an honest opinion or the product of pique I can’t say, but I can say that they greatly distressed the Editor-in-Chief, who invested time, effort, and money in the production of the anthology.

The ‘reviews’ in question have, undoubtedly, damaged sales. So the Editor-in-Chief has decided to offer a free PDF copy of the anthology to anyone who is willing to read it and to write one or more reviews on the various sites. They do not have to be glowing reviews, just honest ones, and the more the better. It is not possible to have the openly hostile review removed, but more balanced opinions would help to redress the situation.

If you would like to volunteer to help out, please email me (please use the ‘Readers, fans, and friends’ email address on my ‘Contact’ page), and I will arrange for the Editor-in-Chief to send a PDF copy to you.

Thank you.

phoenix-1-500

The Autumn 2015 Showcase at ‘the zen space’ is now published.

The Autumn 2015 Showcase at the zen space is now published, and this time it’s all to do with fridge magnets! Have a look here or click the pic.

premium-resin-3d-magnet-japan-shinkansen-or-the-bullet-train