Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: poem

Poetics: Difficulty 2

When I posted a short article on ‘difficult poetry’ a while back – and here I jump in and admit that I tend to shy away from explaining my own poetics – I didn’t realise that another poet, one whose work I admire, was going to pick up the ball and run with it. Daniel Paul Marshall (no relation) has thought long and hard about the subject, gone deeper into the issues, and written more on the subject than I could hope to. I commend his article to you.

Dylan Thomas

Daniel mentions Dylan Thomas. Thomas is a poet who had a great influence on my writing at one time. I didn’t try to write like him, but rather I felt myself drifted along on the flotsam of his words, his transferred epithets, his god-knows-what. So I thought I would celebrate him today with one of my ‘easy’ poems from the past. This is a straight-down-the-line sonnet I wrote in 2008, and it uses some of Thomas’s words, as quoted by Daniel.

Closing time at Laugharne

I miss you – yes I do, you boozy Celt!
I’ve half a mind to hear you spin a yarn
While you, with pints of stout beneath your belt,
Traipse homewards through the rainy streets of Laugharne,
From Brown’s Hotel, where we propped up the bar
Till closing time. What’s closing time to me
Or you? Come on – the Boathouse isn’t far –
Down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack sea!
There’s pen and paper ready for your muse,
A bottle, and some glasses for a toast,
We’ll sit, and laugh, and rhyme a while, and booze –
But, Duw, dear lad, you’re nothing but a ghost!
Can such as you go, gentle, into night,
Or did you rage against that dying light?

Sergeant Cuff names a rose ‘Catherine Earnshaw’

I had a CRAFT moment and clean forgot about the April issue of Jersey Devil Press (the May issue’s already out, as you would imagine!). I have a poem in that April issue, with the title Sergeant Cuff names a rose ‘Catherine Earnshaw’. It was originally intended for their ‘Victorian Mash-up’ issue, but the editors slipped it in ahead of that. Jersey Devil Press is notoriously difficult to get something accepted by, unless you hit precisely the right note for them, so I’m belatedly proud. This is the first time I have submitted a poem to a journal for about five years (I stopped while I was writing my collection I am not a fish and I never got started again), so I’m doubly pleased.

Check out the April issue here, and maybe keep an eye on JDP as a whole, as there’s always some good stuff in there.

1

The Two Magicians (Child 44)

12I have returned, once again, to the Child Ballads. This is my reworking of the song we know in Scotland as ‘The Twa Magicians’; it concerns a woman whose virginity is tried by a persistent suitor, the magical lengths to which she will go to preserve it, and the magical lengths to which he will go to take it. It exists in many versions, but in most the woman is a high-born lady and the suitor is a blacksmith. With this one I can ‘hear’ a tune not dissimilar to Ralph Stanley’s version of ‘Matty Groves’, but paced up and with a picked banjo accompaniment. I love the phrasing of folk songs, I love the patterning and balance, I love the peculiar syntax and the way that narrative connections often get lost in the transmission from singer to singer, and this is what I try to capture in my adaptations.

It’s of a lady highly born
and silken soft her skin,
And to her door a blacksmith came
to beg her let him in.

You lusty, dusty, coal-black smith,
sing me no lying song.
You’ll never have my maidenhead
that I have kept so long
.
No lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
will share my marriage bed,
I’d rather lose my young life
than lose my maidenhead.

It’s she with skin as white as silk,
and he with coal-black hair
Says marry me my darling one
and be my lady fair.

It’s she’s become an old oak tree
all standing in the wood,
And he’s become a woodman bold
to fell her where she stood.

It’s she’s become a salmon grey
all swimming in the book,
And he’s become a fisherman
to catch her with his hook.

It’s she’s become a silver star
all shining in the night,
And he’s become a thundercloud
to hide her out of sight.

It’s she’s become a tiny fly
all buzzing in the air,
And he’s become a spider bug
to catch her to his lair.

It’s she’s become a corpse so grey
all in her coffin bound,
And he’s become the cold, cold clay
to cover her around.

It’s she’s become a hare so swift
all running on the plain,
And he’s become a greyhound tall
to fetch her back again.

It’s she’s become a praying nun
all dressed in grey and white,
And he’s become a canting priest
to preach to her all night.

It’s she’s become a barquentine
all mizzen, main, and fore,
And he’s become a captain bold
to steer her back to shore.

It’s every step that she has took
there’s he took two as well,
And where they both have vanished to
no tongue can ever tell.

You lusty, dusty, coal-black smith,
sing me no lying song.
You’ll never have my maidenhead
that I have kept so long
.
No lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
will share my marriage bed,
I’d rather lose my young life
than lose my maidenhead.

Burning Man 2016

3There’s a lot that can be said about the Burning Man festival, held every year in the Nevada desert, and not all of it is positive. But the one thing that I support is that its internal function depends on everything being free – not bought and sold, not even bartered, but free. Everything is, somehow, paid on. Now, of course I don’t attend, for many, many practical reasons, but this year I have had a remote presence. Not only did I write the script for the Guild History of I Tamburisiti di FIREnze, as posted here before, but I also provided some poetry for display there.

This poem, and this, are among several that were displayed inside the portable toilets!

This one, however, was displayed in the Temple.

I have to say that I am very glad to be able to contribute something to the overall experience of Burning Man, and to do it with no thought or expectation of anything in return. It’s a principle I admire, support, and wish to foster.

4

©Marie Marshall

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 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!

Edge – BHS 2015 Anthology

I have a haiku in Edge, this year’s anthology…

Edge 2

Veronica’s Rosary

veronica-francoVisit Poetry Life & Times to read ‘Veronica’s Rosary’, a new poem by myself.