Numbland

Today I’m delighted to host a pantoum poem by Vincent Johnson, a fellow member of Holmfirth Writers Group.

Numbland  (pronounced Numland)

England is dead, long live Numbland the New
where folk now live their virtual lives
devolving the sum of all that they knew
to vast and inaccessible archives

where folk now live their virtual lives
consigning their essence, at terrible cost,
to vast and inaccessible archives
where context and meaning  are all but lost

consigning their essence at terrible cost
with smartphones and tablets now in control
so context and meaning  are all but lost
dumbing their culture, and numbing their souls

with smartphones and tablets now in control
of all that they think of and all that they do
dumbing their culture, and numbing their souls
and shrinking from things they knew to be true

of all that they think of and all that they do
devolving the sum of all that they knew
and shrinking from things they knew to be true.
England is dead, long live Numbland the New.

Here, Vincent discusses the origin of the poem:

I just listened to Radio 3 play called ‘Folk’ by Nell Leyshon set in 1903 in Somerset, about Cecil Sharpe’s song-collecting, and the provenance of the oral tradition. One of the most moving plays I have ever listened to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000vwq2.

I was sad to be reminded of the disappearing England of my childhood, crowded with memories of pastures, hedgerows and lanes, and we children innocently playing games in carless streets. There were no computers, no smartphones, and somehow it seemed we were happily more connected to the here and the now…I know that life changes and moves on, and it’s perhaps morbid to hang on to the past, but, without being blind to the many advantages of technology, it feels like we have lost so much and are in danger of losing more.

In response, I wrote this Lament as a Pantoum (a poem where the 2nd and 4th lines of the 1st verse become the 1st and 3rd lines of the second stanza, and finally the first lines are repeated as a conclusion), in (more or less) iambic pentameter. It begins with a proclamation adapted from “The king is dead, long live the king!” usually made following the accession of a new monarch. The epanalepsis (paradoxical repetition) subliminally invokes the spirit of the pantoum.

*****

Vincent is a well-travelled agronomist, and science writer/editor supporting international agricultural research for a food-secure future. Aside from performing and singing with early music ensembles, and getting his fingers dirty in the garden, he nurtures a passion for sharing philosophical perspectives through poetry, but is still searching for his contemporary voice that can provoke and amuse. He lives in the Troubadour cradle, near Montpellier in the Languedoc, South France.

Come and Visit

From time to time I like to host short pieces on this blog from other writers. I thought it was time to put out one of my occasional invitations to anyone out there who would be interested in sharing something here.

I’d welcome poems, flash fiction or extracts of longer pieces (including books). Up to 500 words, please – plus a few words about yourself and if you wish, a few about any book or event you would like to mention, and any links you’d like included (up to 150 additional words). It would be good to send a picture to go with the piece as well, if possible.

I’m happy to host up to two of these a month. It’ll be first come, first served, so there may be a short waiting list.

I look forward to hearing from you. You can e-mail your pieces to me on tim.e.taylor@talk21.com.

Ordinary Others

I am delighted today to host a piece by Hertfordshire poet Jonathan Wonham – an extract from his book Ordinary Others, a collection of prose poems exploring the hopes, fears, fantasies and dreams of sixteen characters. The book is illustrated by Suzanne Smith, who has kindly shared the picture that accompanies this piece.

Irene Myers

Irene Myers was always a good friend to her neighbour Doreen inseparable in this life you might say like a pair of kids most days in the kitchen sipping tea eating biscuits sharing secrets you might say they were intimate Irene Myers and her friend a meeting of minds they had a special kinship especially in the mind of Irene Myers perhaps the most devoted of the pair she adored her friend relied on her company so when unexpectedly it happened Doreen passed away one bright Saturday morning Irene Myers felt her neighbour’s spirit come into her all of a rush it fair knocked her flat she knew her friend had died right then and there but her spirit had stayed on earth in the body of Irene Myers all the hopes and fears of her neighbour’s spirit now residing inside Irene Myers the body of Doreen was cast away but her soul had decided to stay most unfortunate or was it fortunate but anyway most uncanny Irene Myers took on the voice and mannerisms of her friend spoke just like her it was most strange that voice coming from an entirely other place it was shocking to anyone who knew Irene Myers to hear another voice in place of her own a kind of ventriloquy even the lady at the cornershop noticed it there was unfinished business but what was it that held her spirit here Irene Myers still had some role to play in her neighbour’s final departure from this earth but how many weeks would this go on at night-time Irene Myers lay in her bed listening to her neighbour talking there were things she’d never said in all those years together in the kitchen secrets and threads she rattled on it was Irene Myers’ daughter who thought to call a medium a meeting was arranged she came one afternoon in March a shady unlit room where Doreen spoke through the open mouth of Irene Myers and with some coaxing explained that she Doreen had given up an accidental son that’s what she said this son so far unknown to Irene Myers or so she said and Doreen’s spirit could not quit this earth until she saw her offspring given up at birth and never seen again outside the sky a dirty grey the double-glazing blown the drapes grown tired the medium spoke in kindly tone to the haunted spirit inside Irene Myers telling her she was free to visit her son to make peace with him and depart from this earth Irene Myers blinked twice her friend had gone as quickly as she’d come she had let go of her she had stepped out of her at last.

Suzanne Smith

Suzanne Smith is an artist she likes art she likes George Grosz Suzanne Smith is a private person she has her own life apart from the lives of others she’s not a big mixer Suzanne Smith doesn’t mix up her life with other people’s lives she doesn’t mix her own achievement with other people’s achievements Suzanne Smith never said “I want to be alone” but she might have done though not completely alone Suzanne Smith loves drawing.

Jonathan Wonham

Jonathan Wonham is a poet he likes poetry he likes John Berryman Jonathan Wonham is a complicated person he can wear several hats on his one head but Jonathan Wonham has chosen to wear one hat Jonathan Wonham thinks people wearing several hats look odd to him Jonathan Wonham has a new motto “one head one hat” even though he has a few hats but his brother has more hats or at least he used to have Jonathan Wonham loves writing.

You can find out more about Jonathan’s work via his Facebook page.

Ordinary Others can be purchased for £ 5.00 + £ 1.50 P&P
By Cheque to : 105 Benslow Lane, Hitchin, Herts, SG4 9RA
or by PayPal payment to wonham@mac.com (please use friends and family option)
Remember to include postal delivery address

Russian Doll

Been a bit quiet on here recently, so time for a random poem, methinks! This one is in the Poetry Kit online anthology, Poetry in the Plague Year.

Russian Doll

How often did I yearn
to put down the briefcase,
take off the tie, the suit,
to cast away the fetters
of commitments and be free? 
I would become a Russian doll, 
discard in turn each level 
of this life, to reveal at last
the boy who was just sleeping
under those coverlets of years.

In time, the suit, the tie, the duties 
fell away: not so the years.
Too late, I learned: they are not layers
to be put aside like winter clothing
but strata hardened into rock. 
Not a carapace, but part of me. 
The child inside departed long ago 
and left behind a hollow casting 
of himself: merely a box 
of threadbare memory. 

Style and the Solitary

Today I am delighted to host an extract from Miriam Drori’s new crime novel, Style and the Solitary, published tomorrow (26 April) by Darkstroke.

In Style and the Solitary, the man accused of committing a murder in a Jerusalem office is unable to speak up for himself, or to speak at all to authority figures. But in this extract, the chief inspector doesn’t know that, yet. He’s hoping he can wrap this case up quickly, because… Well, you can read it for yourselves.

“Hello, love,” Chief Inspector Barak Elad said to the phone in his hand. “Look, I’m really sorry… Yeah, I know, but something came up… Shira, believe me, I wish I could. But this one’s serious. Look, if you can do all the packing, I’ll try to get back in time, but I can’t promise… Yeah, I’ll do my best.”

Barak returned the phone to its holder a little too hard and spoke to the woman at the other desk. Rachel Paran. “She’s fed up. I don’t blame her. I promise her a holiday and then I tell her I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it. And it’s not as if it’s the first time. Honestly, I don’t know why she stays with me, but she does.”

“You’re lucky. But she’s lucky, too. She knows you do what you can.”

“Haven’t you ever wanted to settle down with someone?”

“I’m married to my job. I don’t think I’m cut out for bigamy.”

Barak shrugged, scrutinising his colleague. Short hair, never painted her nails or dressed up – not even for parties. Always in straight trousers and flat shoes, even when that wasn’t uniform. Very good at her job, yes. But she missed that extra something, that umph that made a good detective excellent. Being married to the job was probably the reason. She didn’t easily take on other personas when necessary. Too much the professional police officer.

For Barak, there was room for both in his life – his wife and family, and his job. Emotionally, physically, neither could be fully satisfying without the other. But one part of family life was impossible: making plans. Everything he did with Shira had to be spontaneous. That’s what got her down. It wasn’t fair on her. He would make it up to her. Definitely, absolutely, no question about it. He loved his wife even more than his job.

“Eilat, wasn’t it?”

Barak nodded. “Sea, sun, beach, luxury hotel, vibrant nightlife. And snorkelling. We were both looking forward to that. We just wanted a week away from all the tension. Is that too much to ask?”

“Why don’t you let me handle the case?” asked Rachel.

“I don’t know. This is a murder. I’ll tell you what. If I can get him to admit it all now, it should go smoothly after that. Then I’ll leave it to you.”

“I hope it works out.”

A message buzzed through. “Prisoner ready and waiting.” Barak stood up. “Wish me luck.” He placed his lips around an imaginary snorkel and made swimming movements with his arms on his way to the door.

About Miriam

Miriam Drori is the author of several novels and short stories. Her latest novel, which launches on 26th April, 2021, is her first crime novel, set in her home town of Jerusalem.

When not writing, Miriam enjoys reading and (when permitted) hiking, travelling and folk dancing. Miriam is passionate about raising awareness of social anxiety.

Miriam can be found on her website and blog as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere. Do follow her for news of events, including an exciting joint online book launch in early May. She’s also considering an online party on launch day.

Both paperback and ebook versions of Style and the Solitary can be ordered now from Amazon.

Health and Safety

I thought I’d share this bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers last week. The theme was ‘health and safety’, so I tried to imagine the most difficult circumstances in which to be a Health and Safety officer. The piece takes the form of a dialogue between two former Chinese officials who now find themselves in the court of a certain Mongolian warlord ….

****

Wang Chu, may I speak with you?

Of course, Li Feng, it’s a pleasure to see you, and good to see another Chinese face. Who would have thought a year ago that you and I would find ourselves here? What strange times we live in.

And yet, we survive, despite everything. How wise was the decision to surrender rather than resist? We have seen with our own eyes the fate of those who chose to fight.

Indeed! And how extraordinary that we should both now be performing the same roles we fulfilled for the old emperor in the service of our new master. It is to his credit that he recognises the benefits of Chinese administration.

That brings me to the purpose of my visit. I am here to see you in your professional capacity.

Excellent! How may I help, Li Feng?

I have experienced a significant downturn in my job-satisfaction.

I’m sorry to hear that. Are you under-employed? Do you feel that you lack a role in the new administration, perhaps?

On the contrary, there is a great deal of work to be done. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the activities of the Mongol Horde present unprecedented Health and Safety challenges. And between you and me, Wang Chu, current practice leaves much to be desired. I recognised this at once on taking up this post, and threw myself energetically into research. Five weeks ago, I completed my 82 page report,  with 31 recommendations and an action plan to address them. Quite frankly, I feel it’s the best work I’ve ever done. It’s after completing the report that my job satisfaction has plummeted.

Did the Great Khan take issue with your report? Reject your findings?

Not exactly. He simply leafed through the pages in a rather cursory way and said “very good.”

Well, that’s a positive response, isn’t it? Surely he was endorsing your report?

Wang Chu, you know as well as I do that the Great Khan is illiterate. I offered to talk him through the main findings one by one, but he simply waved me away. I held out hopes that he would get someone to read it to him and summon me again, but I’ve heard nothing. And all the signs are that it has been completely ignored. I visited the site of the last siege. Ground covered in blood, dismembered limbs and heads everywhere. I was appalled. Think of the trip hazards! Not to mention the fire risk. Flammable materials, unprotected naked flames. Half the city was already on fire. And as for sharp object hazards, don’t get me started. I feel I’ve been wasting my time, Wang Chu, I really do. May I speak in confidence?

Of course! Nothing you say goes beyond this tent.

Between you and me, Wang Chu, [leans forward and whispers] I think the core of the problem is that … Ghengis Khan does not take Health and Safety very seriously.

Yes, Li Feng, I feel I understand your situation. But why not see this setback as a challenge. One you may yet overcome, with patience and persuasion. And it may help to compare your situation with that of those less fortunate.

Such as?

Such as myself. Unlike you, I really don’t have a proper job here. You are only my second client in seven months. The first was a captured general who was about to be impaled on a stake – I must admit, I struggled to bring out the positives in his situation. Otherwise – absolutely nothing. It seems that the Mongol Horde has no use for a wellness counsellor. 

pic: Mark Cartwright. Licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Still Waters?

I’m thrilled that one of my poems, Still Waters?, is featured in the current (May 2021) issue of Writing Magazine, where it is expertly analysed by Alison Chisholm. The magazine is available here (or in W. H. Smiths, etc).

I thought I’d share the poem itself here too:

Still Waters?		

The air falls silent; trees stand 
motionless above the facing shore.
Their twins that hang below it
are still swaying – ever so gently –  
to the quiet singing of the pool.

I throw a stone
and watch it smash those trees 
to splinters. Rings of light
flow outwards, disintegrating
softly on the shore.

Each ring is fainter; 
in time, the patient trees
reconstitute themselves,
becoming whole again
but not quite still: those waves, 
no longer visible, have been absorbed
into the music of the pool, its memory
of every stone I ever threw.

How it all began …

It has occurred to me that it’s been a while since I posted any of my prose on here. So I thought I’d share this little piece that I wrote back in October.

How it all began …

The forest was dying. Where once great trees had stretched unbroken from horizon, now long grasses swayed in the wind. What trees were left were solitary, stretching out long roots to seek out every drop of moisture from the arid soil, or huddled in little clumps where a hollow allowed a little ground water to accumulate. Only the banks of rivers and lakes still held narrow bands of thick woodland, squeezing their inhabitants into enclosed spaces where they must fight each other for dwindling resources.

But, if you were fast enough, smart enough, and wise enough to know where and when the next crop of fruit would ripen, there was still a life to be made here. The apes had survived, thrived even, when so many other species had moved on or died out. They had the agility, the intelligence, the wisdom to make sure there was always enough to eat. But with this new environment came new risks. No longer could the apes spend their whole lives in the canopy, moving from one branch to another, to another. No patch of forest was big enough now to sustain them on its own. They must move from one to the other, take their chances in the long grass to find the next fruit-laden tree. Apes were not built for grassland. Their knuckle walk was steady and serviceable, but never fast, and it kept their heads low, below the level of the waving grass that restricted their view to what was right in front of their eyes. It screened them too, but there were hunters on that grassland that could smell them from hundreds of metres away, and catch them long before they reached the safety of the next tree.

There was a young ape that liked to fool about, walking on its hind legs. The older apes disdained it, but the youngster did not care. It would do as it pleased, and when its troop made the trek from one clump of trees to the next, it would maintain this two-legged gait, enjoying a view denied to the others. One day, as they knuckle-walked along, oblivious, the youngster’s high pitched shrieks alarmed them. The big males gathered around the mothers and babies, and confronted the leopard that had been stalking them. Faced with a wall of teeth and and a hail of stones, and unwilling to fight for its meal, it retreated.

It was not long before all the young apes in that troop, and some of the older ones, adopted the habit of walking on their hind legs. And it was not many generations before their descendants became more successful, more numerous than those of others who still maintained the old knuckle-walking ways. They were adaptable, intelligent creatures. But they were still apes: what that odd habit of theirs would ultimately lead to was something utterly beyond their comprehension.

Welcome, Allison

I’m very pleased to host a short piece today from flash fiction/short story writer and blogger Allison Symes.

Time by Allison Symes

‘You won’t know what to do when retired, Judy.’

‘You’ll be back here in no time. You’ll get bored, Judy.’

Harrumph! My colleagues were wrong. I’d planned my retirement. I wanted every day to have something I’d look forward to – and it was going brilliantly.

On Mondays, I had Book Club. On Tuesdays, I went swimming. On Wednesdays, I was at the WI. On Thursdays, I would visit an English Heritage or National Trust property. On Fridays, I went to creative writing classes and later in the day cooking classes. (I can cook all right but you want to improve on what you do and I can now make a mean lamb rogan josh if I say so myself).
I saved weekends for boring things like housework, getting my shopping delivered and so on. The weekends are for families to be out and about. They don’t need me in their way. I refuse to be in theirs.

I lost my Joe years ago, poor love. Cancer is a devil. He was 50.  We weren’t blessed with children either. But I’ve always known Joe would want me to live for him so that’s what I did at work and then in retirement.

Then bloody Covid-19 came. To begin with it was okay. I still have milk delivered and I’d used online food shopping for years. But  I missed going out. I couldn’t have returned to work even if I wanted to then. Everyone was furloughed. From what I last heard on the community Facebook page, it looks as if my old firm won’t survive at all.

I got used to Zoom so still have my Book Club and WI but no swimming. I soon tired of “visiting” places by online means only though. I love walking for miles around these places and then going to their cafes for lunch and afternoon tea etc. Can’t do that at home!

The positive though has been my creative writing classes. Not only are they continuing on Zoom, I’ve now drafted several stories and I’m submitting a couple to publishers next week. I’ve had good feedback and if I don’t try, I won’t know, will I?

Oh I so want to feel the air again, to be able to walk as far as I want, and not have everyone shy away from me because it’s clear I’m in my sixties and may be vulnerable.  I’ve never let my age get in the way and I resent a bloody virus for forcing this on us all. And I worry. Will people resent us older, “vulnerable” ones? I hope not but fear so.

I suppose I could write a story about it and have my heroine find a way of defeating the thing. I wish I could trample the thing to death for inflicting this misery. Trust me, I’d do it in a flash if I could.

Allison Symes is a published flash fiction/short story writer and a blogger. Her fiction has appeared in anthologies from CafeLit and Bridge House Publishing. Allison loves reading and writing quirky fiction. She discovered flash fiction thanks to a CaféLit challenge and has been hooked on the form since.

In her flash stories, Allison will take you back in time, into some truly criminal minds, into fantasy worlds, and show you how motherhood looks from the viewpoint of a dragon amongst other delights.
Allison’s first flash collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again, was published by Chapeltown Books in 2017, with the follow-up, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, released in 2020.

Allison blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today, an online magazine, every Friday and usually writes on topics of interest to writers.


Author Links

Website: https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com

Amazon Author Central: http://author.to/AllisonSymesAuthorCent

Chandler’s Ford Today Blog Page: http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

News and a Poem

A couple of bits of poetry news today. Firstly, I’m delighted that I will be involved in #HavePoemsWillTravel, an online event hosted by award-winning performance poet Rose Condo for World Poetry Day on Sunday 21 March. Should be great! You can book tickets for the event here: #HavePoemsWillTravel Tickets, Sun, Mar 21, 2021 at 6:30 PM | Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!

Secondly, I was thrilled yesterday to receive my copy of Survival, the anthology from the recent Hammond House International Poetry Competition.

I thought I’d share one of my two poems from the anthology:

West Shore    					

This place possessed you:
the essence of it, borne on sea spray
sank into your bones.
Fleeting light on soft grey waves,
their lilting sussurations
flowed through eyes and ears 
to sow a seed of it in you 
that took root and grew
like sea grass, swaying 
in the tides of life
but tenacious, holding on
to bring you back, and back again.

It was two-way osmosis:
pervading everything, this shore 
in turn was steeped in you.
Elsewhere, you left a vacuum,
nothing but aching emptiness,
but here, replanting 
ancient footsteps, I sense you still
within the glint of sun on water
the salt taste in the air
and the soothing surf
that reassures me
‘sshhh, I am at peace.’

Pic: Tom Pennington: Strand lines on West Shore, Llandudno CC BY-SA 2.0