Make ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose’ Reality – Please!

hard rubbish 1

Organising topics for my Life Stories and Legacies Class this term, I was inspired by the notion that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. What makes some of us collectors or even extreme hoarders?  How does that contrast with the modern penchant for minimalism and a spate of books on decluttering?

There are popular television shows about collectors and hoarders, and government brochures with encouragement to downsize. Information about over-consumption and the need to recycle can be found in many places. And despite our ex-PM Tony Abbott’s delusions, I’ll go with expert scientists and agree climate change is affected by human pollution and behaviour.

We are at a tipping point and need to consider our carbon footprint.

Planet B Doesn’t Exist
Mairi Neil

There only is one planet Earth
and we need Plan A to save it
There is no Planet B for us to live –
no matter how eccentrics crave it!

Mountains of waste at danger level
a throwaway culture created mess
built-in obsolescence’; ‘shop ’til you drop
bad habits to abandon – let’s confess!

Less packaging to be disposed of
Less plastics that poison the sea
Less chemical interference with food
Less consumption from you and me!

More recycling goods stopped working
More repurposing products useful still
More local retail and farmers’ markets
More thoughtful behaviour, the general rule!

Think before buying or disposing
Do you really need to use a car?
Can you grow, compost, and share
homegrown food better than afar.

McMansions a blight on suburbia
and planned density now a necessity
but let’s replace lost backyards and trees
because green spaces, not a luxury!

Pollute and Perish,‘ more than a catch-cry
Climate Change promises an unpleasant fate
concerned effort and beneficial action
needed NOW  – tomorrow is really too late!

mordi p.s hens 2017.jpg

Close friends have died recently and that’s always confronting as well as heartbreaking. Friends not only die but some downsize and may move away. Nearing retirement age, I find talk is not of building, renovating or celebrating new homes, but of shedding the accumulation of years, moving into retirement villages, trying a sea or green change!

 ‘Collector’, ‘hoarder’, ‘minimalist’ transforming  abstract to reality.

What particular description or category suits me?  Hint – minimalism doesn’t get a look in, especially when it comes to books but I have been known to cull some!

Motivated by the annual hard rubbish collection, I’ve made another attempt at cleaning out the shed and other rooms in the house with the encouragement and help of my daughters.

The introspection and soul-searching traumatic as I examine everything rationally, discover long forgotten items,  unachieved dreams, good and bad experiences and try to emotionally and physically discard lots of memories with the mementoes.

old memorabalia.jpg

Memories stirred by old concert tickets, boxes of photographs, postcards, political leaflets, baggage tags and souvenirs.

It’s definitely easier to go through the wardrobe and face the fact that even if the youthful 10-12 figure returns, certain items will never be worn again.

Culture Change Needed To Face Climate Change

A report about clothes and landfill recently made me consider the habit of retail therapy, indulged in at various times.

After my mastectomy, a lot of favourite clothes were rendered useless because my cleavage disappeared, but hanging in the wardrobe are rarely worn clothes bought on impulse, or because they were a bargain.

These statistics from last year make sobering reading:

Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms* into landfill  – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade synthetic/plastic fibres that may never breakdown.

Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World

There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears

Like many people, I grew up in the era where hand-me-downs were common, mending or altering clothes, darning socks and even fixing shoes, valuable skills many parents or grandparents possessed. At school, we learnt sewing by making practical items such as aprons and pyjamas before venturing to make embroidered placemats and doilies.

Maybe it is time to return to sewing on buttons, replacing broken zips, refashioning garments and thinking twice before grabbing that sale item!

I know many friends and a lot of young people who ‘op shop’ for clothes so that’s a step in the right direction but perhaps the biggest change will come when the people who make the clothes are paid decent wages and the price will inevitably rise. Nothing like ‘the hip pocket nerve’ to drive change or a social conscious.

no sweat shop tshirt

There’s History In Old Writing

I’ve uncovered lost writing notes, scribbled poems and stories, and hard copy from computers long dead and abandoned. The poem below, written after I experienced my first ever car boot sale at Mordialloc Primary School ties in with the theme of this blog.

Car Boot Sales a popular way of raising funds. They sometimes replace the traditional school fete, and for a tiny school like Mordialloc Primary, in an era where parental volunteers are shrinking because both parents work outside the home, inviting the wider community to pay $5 – $15.00 to sell items from their ‘car boot’ is less effort and less labour intensive than organising a fete.

car boot sale.jpg

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Mairi Neil (1992)

For a glimpse of our consumer society
The values some people uphold
Visit the local school’s Car Boot Sale –
And observe what’s bought and sold.

The secondhand clothes and bed linen
Some charities used to receive
Preloved stuffed toys and old hats
Perhaps all harbour nasty disease…

“Spoil Yourself” a sign above decrepit shoes
Makes you wonder at the vendor’s sanity
But no trace of humour marks his face
As he stands proudly beside the inanity!

The dealers arrive when stalls are setting-up
They rummage and poke to find treasure
Greedily grasping valuable items they spy
With their experience of commercial measure.

Mums wander around, children in tow
Conscious of a near-empty purse
Offspring demand toys, or food to eat
Whingeing children every parent’s curse.

Crafty folk proudly arrange their goods
Aware their creativity is on display
But people are hunting for bargains
Not rewarding talented work today.

A spectre-like man haunts every stall
Mr Black Moustache with checkered shirt
Tussled curly hair frames his bald patch,
Trousers reveal shoes caked with dirt.

He fills a black bag with various loot
Purchased at haggled, rock-bottom prices
Videos, cutlery, BBQ tools, chipped Esky,
Jaded jacket; a contraption for making ices!
Disappearing like steam to offload booty
Perhaps to a nearby parked car…
Returning to fossick and buy a sun lamp,
Then quibble earnestly for a pottery jar.

Suddenly, it’s anything on wheels
That catches his discerning eye –
Collapsible cot, battered suitcase,
Ironing board, old heater dragged with a tie!

Mr Checked Shirt returns again and again
Flush with an endless supply of cash
No doubt he’ll sell his purchases
Transformed treasure out of trash.

Sizzling sausages tantalise customers,
And baked potatoes scent the air
Joining musty clothes, potting mix
Perfumed spices strange and rare.

The sun drifts behind spreading cloud
The breeze from sea promises a gale
Startled stall holders little time to pack –
The fickle fortunes of a Car Boot Sale!

discarded vacuum.jpg

Do you like collecting things? Are you ever surprised by the things people pick up, collect, keep?

The annual hard rubbish collection for our area of Kingston was picked up on Tuesday, the regular rubbish collection day.

People were asked not to put items on the nature strip until October 9th, however, unsightly piles of discarded stuff gathered for weeks.

The early piles rummaged through with people taking items deemed useful.

I came across a group of tradies excited over a bunch of toy guns they’d ‘rescued’, exclaiming what good condition the collection of twenty or more was in as they divided the booty up.

plastic gun

It was the day after the horrific Las Vegas rampage and they looked sheepish when I suggested maybe the household had a rethink of the appropriateness of giving children replicas of sub-machine guns, revolvers, rifles et al.

Unfortunately, some scavengers often scatter piles leaving nature strips to resemble the aftermath of the hurricanes in recent news broadcasts.

pile of rubbish chelsea

The comforts of modern society are many but there are drawbacks aplenty

How sparingly can we live?  True minimalism, a balancing act with everyone having a different idea of what are bare essentials. 

What possessions can we reduce that will not affect the basic functionality of our lives?

It never ceases to amaze me what people throw away – wooden furniture whose only crime is being unfashionable or needing a coat of varnish or paint.

Solid sofas that could be refurbished, ubiquitous plastic toys needing a soak in hot soapy water to make almost new, and lots of small items easily disposed of via the bins provided for weekly garbage collection.

A walk around the streets at this time shows we really are a society in love with consuming. Maybe we can lose that reluctance to reduce as well as adopting reuse, recycle and repurpose.

Some would rather buy new and buy more, sucked in by the constant bombardment of advertising, lured by the bargain, and the ‘must have’ latest gear, technology, clothes, design – whatever.

Yet a quick survey of my Life Story Class and the students 

  • have a worm farm on an apartment verandah
  • wear hand-me-downs or op shop bargains
  • grow own vegetables, compost and keep chooks
  • make and repair own clothes
  • refashion, repair and repurpose clothes and accessories
  • buy organic when possible,
  • bake bread and cakes,
  • bottle fruit and make jam
  • recycle furniture,
  • take own shopping bags
  • have already downsized
  • nurture trees and plants
  • have discovered secondhand bargains

 

We may be grey-haired but in our hearts we are green!

Apparently, there is a law (although I’ve yet to hear it has been enforced) carrying a fine for taking stuff from the nature strips because piles of ‘hard rubbish’ are council property.

Others suggest councils hope scavengers will collect as much as they can leaving less for contractors to do because the cost of discarding rubbish is high.

The Council sends out a leaflet with a list of items not to be dumped – old paint and chemicals should be taken to a special recycling depot. Old fencing and building rubble are also not allowed. Yet walk around the streets and it’s as if community literacy is non-existent.

Kingston Council even has a place for old computers, televisions and other bits and pieces of technology. A quick check online shows they are not alone  – many councils and other organisations want you to recycle.

I’m glad of the hard rubbish service, especially the opportunity to be rid of white goods and mattresses – and there are always plenty of those discarded.

The safety message of removing doors from fridges and freezers still stipulated to avoid tragedy, whereby a child locks themselves inside an abandoned fridge and the interior magnetic release is broken, or absent.

Although, not many children play in the streets nowadays or have the unfettered freedom I had in childhood.

In this world of readily available toys,  a mountain of abandoned stuff is not an opportunity to explore and play make-believe games – they leave that to adults!

Council Hard Rubbish Collection 2017
Mairi Neil

Utes circling like crows,
four wheel drives and cars with trailers
dedicated kerb-crawlers…
people out walking, slow to a stroll, stop.
A hungry flock pick over the carrion.
The annual hard rubbish collection
reveals scroungers and scavengers,
is anyone immune?
Under the guise of repurposing,
and reusing, even recycling
we rummage and speculate about
the lives of others – frugality, luxury, stupidity, serendipity…
Hoping in their discarded trash,
we find a treasure!

I found various writing prompts on the subject so be inspired:

  1. Sit down in your character’s office or bedroom. Glance in the wastebasket. What’s inside? A photograph? An orange rind? A half empty bottle of whiskey? What we throw away can reveal surprising things about us. Write flash fiction describing the contents of a character’s rubbish bin and why it’s important!
  2. Discuss and write about bargain-hunting.
  3. Did rampant consumerism receive a shot in the arm with the Internet (eBay, websites like Gumtree) or does it encourage more reusing and recycling? Do you remember the days of ads in the local paper, The Trading Post, garage sales, car boot sales and Swap Meets?
  4. Do you donate everything to the Salvos or give to needy friends and family? Have you noticed a change in attitude by charity organisations?
  5. Are you ‘green’? What steps have you taken to live a sustainable lifestyle or do you think the human contribution to climate change is tosh? sculpture in lake.jpg

 

 

 

An Anniversary, a Book and a Celebration

KingstonmycityFinalCover copy

A wonderful launch! Thank you for a beautiful afternoon filled with love, laughter, tears and great local writing.

Cr Tamsin Bearsley, Mayor of City of Kingston

tamsin Mairi and Bill 2
Mayor Tamsin Bearsley, Mairi Neil, Bill Nixon AO

The Allan McLean Hall echoed with old friends catching up, and the forging of new friendships as over 100 people gathered to help Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrate 20 years and the launch of our ninth anthology: Kingston My City. Several past and present councillors attended, including our new mayor who wrote the above message in our Guest Book.

This slide show is a great record of the day:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A resounding success with healthy book sales and hopefully a rejuvenated interest in local authors, the afternoon may encourage attendance at our workshop nights at the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, or enrolment in the classes on offer at Mordialloc, Longbeach Place and Godfrey Street.

In a brief history of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I mentioned the importance of belonging to a group or attending workshops. What I said resonated with several people who approached me afterwards.

In the digital age with blogging and e-books many people ‘just write,’ which is a pity because the quality of their writing, in most cases, would improve if they joined a local writing group or attended a class at a neighbourhood house. The feedback, sharing of ideas and support available invaluable, as is the role storytelling plays in creating a connection within our community, our work, our culture, and ourselves.

Mordialloc Writers’ Group had simple beginnings. In the playground of Mordialloc Primary School, (now Mordialloc Beach Primary), I chatted with some other parents with dreams of writing. I contacted Noelle Franklyn after I saw an advert appealing for stories for the Write Now radio program on local community radio 88.3FM. Our conversation revealed a desire from locals to have a writers’ venue nearby rather than travel to other suburbs and the city.

I approached the manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, and we rented a room for $5. Five participants at the first meeting put in a $1 each. We decided to meet fortnightly, and the rest is history. Even with inflation and fluctuating numbers we’ve survived and thrived at doing what wordsmiths do – we write – and have published eight other anthologies.

Mordialloc Writers' group anthologies copy

Fifteen of our members, including myself, have branched out to publish their books or be picked up by traditional publishers and sadly some of our members have died. To honour the writing legacy of the writers no longer with us,  Dr Glenice Whitting and Steve Davies read a selection of work from previous anthologies. Glenice read extracts by Mary Walsh, Margaret Vanstone and Tonie Corcoran:

Chill, by Mary Walsh in Writers by The Bay, published 1997

Australia 1995, by Maggie V in Writers by The Bay, published 1997

Boots, by Tonie Corcoran in Up The Creek… with a pen, published 2003

Steve read extracts from John West and Stan Fensom:

Old Diggers Die Modestly, by John West in Casting A Line, published 2000

The Second Engineer’s Fasle Teeth, by Stan Fensom in Casting A Line, published 2000

Anthologies are always a combined effort and Kingston My City couldn’t have happened without the editing skills of Glenice and the proofreading expertise of Belinda Gordon, who both contributed essays. My daughter, Mary Jane designed the cover. My contribution recognised too, and it was flowers all round!

The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises.

Leo Buscaglia

The writers’ group gift of gorgeous orchids added to flowers from my daughters and sister ensuring the love and warmth felt at the launch will continue for weeks to come.

Before Bill Nixon, AO, launched the book, the other special guests, Making Waves, a spoken word choir performed three poems: Unity by Kevin Gilbert, an extract from Train Set by Dorothy Plummer and Beannacht (The Blessing) by John O’Donohue.

These three pieces were chosen carefully to suit the day. Under the expert direction of Gaytana Adorna, the poems we read delighted the audience, many of whom had never experienced a spoken word choir. Many people said the performance added to their appreciation of poetry – I hope some may be inspired to join us because we could do with more voices.

Unity by Kevin Gilbert

I am the land
I am the trees
I am the rivers
that flow to the seas
joining and moving

encompassing all
blending all parts of me
stars in my thrall
binding and weaving
with you who belong

sometime discordant
but part of my song
birds are a whisper
the four breezes croon

raindrops in melody
all form the tune
of being belonging
aglow with the surge
to life and its passions
to create its urge
in living expression
its total of one
and the I and the tree
and the you and the me
and the rivers and birds
and the rocks that we’ve heard

sing the songs we are one
I’m the tree you are me
with the land and the sea
we are one life not three
in the essence of life
we are one.

Extract from Train Set by Dorothy Plummer

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CLACK
WE LOVE TO PLAY WITH OUR RAILWAY TRACK

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CLACK
WATCH ALL THE TRAINS GO OUT AND COME BACK

When it rains and it pours
We play trains –– dry indoors
While the water on windows is streaming

We will circle the track ––
Fast forward, then back
To the tunnels, where signals are gleaming.

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CLACK
WE LOVE THE SOUNDS OF THE RAILWAY TRACK

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CRUNCH
DO WE HAVE TO PACK UP IN TIME FOR LUNCH?

Beannacht (The Blessing) by John O’Donohue

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

I invited Bill to launch Kingston My City with the following words:

 I know it’s a cliche, but really the words ‘our next guest needs no introduction’ is true! Bill Nixon has been a councillor and mayor. He is a creator, giver and most importantly a believer in ‘getting things done’. Helping many groups to start, he’s on several committees and boards. I’m not sure when he gets the time to eat and sleep!

Most locals in this room have met Bill at some time in their lives and several of the apologies reminded me to give Bill their regards. I can think of no one I’d rather launch our book considering the topic. He’s a legend, and may be one of the few people who have bought all our anthologies and read them because at a meeting a few months ago he confided he’d only just finished them all although they’d been on his bookshelf for years!

And so the book was launched with everyone invited to partake of refreshments from tables groaning under the weight of homemade delicacies. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a bakery. The hall buzzed with conversations, the flashing of cameras and the clatter of dishes as a team of writers turned into kitchen hands for the afternoon, ferrying food to tables and washing empty plates. Mordialloc Writers excellent hosts!

Currently, I’m negotiating with the Council regarding their website hosting our E-book too, but one step at a time. Over the next few days, I hope to make the converted book widely available.

Exciting times ahead for our small group because once we are digital we can rightly claim to be ‘international’ writers with our words able to be read by anyone, anywhere in the world. Power indeed as this infographic says and power we will use wisely.

the-power-of-words-fpss-261111

A Triolet Can Be Child’s Play

d53f9f494a3bd30c67725c2d0dba4b23Before writing a serious post about Remembrance Day tomorrow, I’d like to share the lesson this week in my Writing For Pleasure classes at Mordialloc and Bentleigh.

I introduced another type of form poetry – Triolet – pronounced TREE-o-LAY. The form has 13th-century French roots linked to the rondeau or “round” poem. The triolet is perfect for line repetition because the first line of the poem is used three times and the second line is used twice. That leaves only three other lines to write: 2 of those lines rhyme with the first line, the other rhymes with the second line!

The triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. The requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines.

poets.org

tumblr_m7zsh6DxIc1rul442o1_500

A template of the triolet would look like this:

A (first line)
B (second line)
a (rhymes with the first line)
A (repeat first line)
a (rhymes with the first line)
b (rhymes with the second line)
A (repeat first line)
B (repeat the second line)

The form was often used for light, humorous themes, but like all poetry it can be a vehicle for serious themes – melancholic or philosophical reflections. Especially if the repetition marks a shift in the meaning or mood of the repeated lines.

In class, we concentrated on the structure and had fun getting the rhyming scheme right. (For rhymes just Google the word you are trying to rhyme and choose a site like rhymezone, or download a free rhyming dictionary.) We laughed at Godfrey Street when Jan wrote her poem about Triolet being mistaken for toilet and one repeated line was about ‘the loo’.

It is a pure form, but can be tricky remembering where the repeated lines and rhymes go, so I suggest using the template until the rhyme and rhythm occur without prompting.

It is also important, like any good piece of writing, to spend some time choosing the introduction (in this case the first two lines) because that will determine the theme/mood and also the rhyme scheme.

For the construction of my first triolet, I chose as my first line: “Stand behind the yellow line” and decided to make my second line: Or under the train you’ll go. (A consequence of being too close to the edge – a message repeated daily on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. )

A Stand behind the yellow line
B or under the train you’ll go
a
A Stand behind the yellow line
a
b
A Stand behind the yellow line
B or under the train you’ll go

With more than half the poem already written, I simply brainstormed some rhymes and crafted other lines to fit the train platform situation. Then, I added a title.

Terminal Triolet
Mairi Neil

Stand behind the yellow line
or under the train you’ll go
The painted stroke a warning sign
Stand behind the yellow line
a disembodied voice will  whine
as distracted passengers ebb and flow
Stand behind the yellow line
or under the train you’ll go.

IMG_0720

Spring Joy
Mairi Neil

I hear a voice, it must be Spring
A clear refrain morning, noon and night
What makes it happy, makes it sing?
I hear a voice, it must be Spring
Constant, confident the music flowing
The Butcher Birds are in full flight
I hear a voice, it must be Spring
A clear refrain morning, noon and night

image from birdsinbackyards
image from birdsinbackyards

And thinking of tomorrow:

WWI Noted
Mairi Neil

Letter writing an important skill
Expressions of love so precious
Mining emotions like a drill
Letter writing an important skill
Soldiers had more than time to kill
Words written to soothe the anxious
Letter writing an important skill
Expressions of love so precious

Writing_letters

Write a Poem You Say
Mairi Neil

Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Words, technique, emotions expected
Whether for the living or dear departed
Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Sometimes it’s hard just to get started
Brain, heart and hand not connected
Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Words, technique, emotions expected

The Triolet form can also be used to write a longer poem, perhaps beginning with a statement or observation:

Halloween
Mairi Neil

On the last night of October beware,
the witches and spirits are about
make sure you dress with special care.
On the last night of October beware,
perform some tricks for delicious fare
be extra polite and never shout
On the last night of October beware,
the witches and spirits are about.

Scary apparitions wander street and lane
Halloween is their special night
Imagination may drive you insane
Scary apparitions wander street and lane.
It’s a night for real ghosts to reign
in the dark where there’s no light
Scary apparitions wander street and lane.
Halloween is their special night.

Ordinary people may don a disguise
shadowy figures designed to scare
werewolves, wizards and witches rise
Ordinary people may don a disguise
the ‘best pretend ghoul’ always wins a prize
‘Take off your mask’ the fearless dare
Ordinary people may don a disguise
shadowy figures designed to scare

And of course, Triolet poems can be simple and poignant. This morning walking past the nursing home at the end of my street a memory was triggered:

Mordialloc Monday, November 9
Mairi Neil

The ambulance left with flashing light
With palpitating heart my emotions roam
As memory stirred of the terrible night
The ambulance left with flashing light
Resuscitation an unforgettable sight
Dad alone and prone, in nursing home
The ambulance left with flashing light
With palpitating heart my emotions roam

But here is an image I will always have of my Mother and a reflection on that memory:

Remembering Mum
Mairi Neil

I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration
I know you’d rather read than cook
I can see you sitting reading a book
Into another world with such a contented look
Did Dad envy the Mills and Boon destination?
I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration

I’m looking forward to the wonderful variety of Triolets the classes will produce next week – why not try some too and please share them with me.

Triolet can be child’s play it just depends on what you have to say!

‘Found Poetry’ or How to Find Poems Where You Least Expect Them.

Central Australia 2011
Central Australia 2011

I suppose shaping words into poems is not too hard, however, creating a poem that others like or appreciate is difficult. This task, like all creative writing,  is worth pursuing – a challenge that can be fun.

I try to bring new ideas to class, to stretch the imagination of  students. It’s good to  move  out of  comfort zones, adapt, perhaps extend and improve writing skills. Many of my students went to school in an era where poetry was defined by set verses, set rhymes. They usually read works by  Wordsworth, Tennyson, Byron, Keats, Coleridge, Rosetti, Hope, Eliot… great and famous poets, but they provide only a small percentage of the poetry written, not only in our culture, but elsewhere.

A way of learning about poetry and how poets work is to write your own poems. Writing a Found Poem means you don’t start from scratch – rather you look for words, phrases, similes, metaphors, headlines, titles, – any text that appeals to you – and use it in a poem. You find interesting or ordinary prose  – look for strong verbs, concrete nouns, words with a richness and interest that fires imagination.

Found poems are excellent for understanding the essence of a piece of writing or seeking the essence not apparent in the prose. You choose words and distance yourself from the original writing while creating a different form by transforming the words into your poem.

War Exhibited
Mairi Neil
(a found poem from an article in Royal Auto magazine)

Night follows day
Rain turns to sun
And tanks roll
20,000 kilometres away.
After extensive planning,
As if choreographed
Buildngs are devastated
barbed wire erected
parapets protected.
But the impact of war
Profound.
These are real people
Not artefacts.
Giant screens
In our lounge rooms
Evocative deep shadows
Of horror revisited
in sequence
Locating, arranging, recording
With focused narrative
Newsreaders
Force us to embrace
The world at war.

Maybe there is a snatch of conversation you recorded in your writer’s notebook, an idea triggered by a piece of junk mail, a moving phrase in a story, a striking word in a newspaper article, a fascinating headline or book title.

Hopeful Ageing
Mairi Neil
(a found poem from advertisements for seniors)

A health breakthrough
Exceptional
Extraordinary
Coordinated
Ultimate comfort
Never again
Aching joints
Problem toes
Swollen ankles and feet
Strained muscles
Hand pain
Knee discomfort
Blemishes and age spots…
CLASP
A body shaper
Angled
To improve blood pressure
Mobility without straining
No slipping, sliding…
Warm, soothing, soft as silk companion
Retain independence
Quality of life
Reduce exercise
GRIP
And take advantage of
Extra support
Never needs sharpening
Perfect relief
What is this breakthrough?

Why – it’s a miracle!

Poems – short or long, form or free verse –  language rearranged, emotions hidden until the possibilities of language explored and shared.

Unknown-2

Using existing text to construct a poem lessens the demands of writing, but gives the opportunity for creativity and imagination. When a poem eventuates there is a sense of satisfaction. It increases a knowledge of words and builds confidence.

The Necklace
Mairi Neil
(a found poem based on The Necklace, a short story by Guy de Maupassant)

She drew near
‘At last it is done!’
I examined my sister closely
As if for the first time.
No jewellery –
Where was the necklace?
She was the prettiest
No need of fancy dresses

Where was the necklace?
It is done…?
‘Are you not making a mistake?
Selling an inheritance worth
Millions’ – I turn away
‘How dare you!’

She was always the prettiest
Now she is the wealthiest.
What blunder of destiny
Made us sisters?
My unhappiness chokes me –
Or will strangle her…

Found poetry helps demonstrate we can all construct poetry using the everyday as inspiration. We learn how poetry works and how to experiment with poetic form, using the various creative tools and language conventions we know, in an enjoyable way. Writing found poems is about keeping your ears and eyes alert to the possibilities of ordinary language.

Unknown-1

To have fun is rule number one!  If the poem is written in stages it helps lessen the sense of panic and confusion some students have when asked to try something new and ‘think outside the box’.

Ten Simple Steps For Writing a Found Poem

1. Choose an article, a short story, a novel, a cereal packet, junk mail, newspaper headlines, obituaries, letters, bulletin boards, menus, advertisements – whatever piece of prose you want. You can even use several sources for one poem. Check your notebook for ideas, dialogue, words you may have noted.
(NB: Do not use other poems or song lyrics – they’re already poetry!!)

2. Find 50 to 150 words you like – cut them out, highlight or underline them. Remember these must be interesting words, but not necessarily unusual – strong words the key.

3. Copy the words/language (it may be a phrase) in the order you ‘found’ them.

4. Study the words carefully (this is why 150 is a good number) and remove any that are dull, offensive, sound a bit ‘off’. Reduce your number by half. With the words left, you can change punctuation and tense of you want, perhaps capitalise – a word may be a common noun easily adapted to a proper noun etc. , make the words into a possessive or plural.

5. Work on these words, maybe pare some more, until you have a cohesive poem developing. You might have to add a few words of your own although the secret is to make minimum additions – it is a found poem after all!

6. Arrange the words – maybe key words are put at beginning of lines, or perhaps the end. Maybe words going together can be split and put on different lines. Think of ending each line on a notable sound. Keep the reader’s interest . What are you trying to say?

7. Read the poem aloud as you work, listen to where you want to pause. Do the words sound good and is pacing right? Listen for the rhythm.

8. When reading your poem consider a title.

9. With found poems the rules are yours – you can change fonts, use form poetry, be as creative as you want. There are few conventions to worry about – and anyway you make the rules just as you choose the words to include!

10. As a footnote, or included under the title you can give credit to the source of your found poem(see above), particularly if all the words are taken from a story or novel.

eg. From Chapter Four, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
     From Mordialloc Chelsea News, What’s On Section.
    Overheard while waiting for a train on the Frankston Line.
    From Myer’s Winter Catalogue.

The process of recasting the text you are reading in a different genre will help you become a more insightful reader and develop creativity in thinking and writing. Don’t be too concerned about the ideas in the article/story you choose, focus on the words, the headings, the language.

Arrange your word list, break the words into lines, add punctuation if desired, determine the use of white space, the lay out, and you have created a found poem!

images-4

Good luck and happy writing!

Creatively Writing Life Experiences

10418168_891265247559133_7772529688516245159_n

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Maya  Angelou  1928-2014

The advantages of attending a writing class, or group, or having a writing buddy, are the support and encouragement received, plus the motivation and discipline to write.

You may be a writer who never suffers from writer’s block, but many writers procrastinate and find excuses to do anything, but write. (I’m enjoying the fourth cuppa of the day and have completed a heap of tasks, which could have been ignored, just to avoid putting pen to paper for this post!)

Mind you I have been writing all weekend – compiling and editing a class anthology, including my own contributions; also preparing the final lesson for the eight week course coming to an end. However, I have other partly finished poems and stories needing attention, which have  fallen victim to my writer’s avoidance syndrome!

DSC_4766-1

The part I love about lesson planning for my diverse classes is coming up with new triggers and prompts, researching ideas to be innovative, and then hearing the different interpretations writers share, after splurging or writing stream of consciousness for 10-15 minutes, or in some classes half an hour.

10382724_336499536510354_8474893454558012419_n

Words, ideas, concepts, sounds, smells, experiences, memories, music, books, films, songs, people, places, sights, anniversaries… so many simple and complex triggers to produce meaningful, entertaining, memorable and often astounding poems and prose.

10730913_600500680054869_8830373869691908146_n

Today, my oldest daughter turned 29. Childbirth and first time motherhood life-changing for me and I didn’t need much prompting to write about the experience, events, or my feelings.

However, as always with writing about motherhood,parenting, or similar experiences, there can be widely different connotations, interpretations and perspectives. Writers can always find a new angle, or reflect on an old piece  of writing and wonder how it can be improved, or even rewritten. (Most of us are perfectionists and I for one find it difficult to ‘let go’ and declare a piece finished!)

Here is a poem I wrote while I was struggling as a new mother, a reflective piece written recently and some creative non-fiction from years ago that won the Wellspring Women Writers’ Award:

Fruits of Labour
Mairi Neil

The seed was planted
in love, warmth and joy.
And grew.
A strawberry, an orange
a watermelon…
I ached to hold the fruit –
to have the fruit taste me.

Suckling at the breast,
being nurtured,
vulnerable.
Then almost too quickly,
the helplessness…
became a powerful force –
the controller of me.
Peeling me each day,

strip by strip,
by strip.
Sometimes I am a strawberry,
scraped lightly…
then an orange torn apart –
in big thick slices.

My juice is squeezed,
drop by drop,
by drop.
The growing seed must
be nourished…
Peeling, squeezing, nibbling –
unaware of the bruises.

Anne Courtney Neil – newborn 24/5/1986anne's birth 3

Crossing Borders
Mairi Neil

The most definitive life-changing event I’ve experienced was becoming a mother. The miracle of birth, a cliche often written about in poems, romanticised or demonised in novels, and in memoir or personal essays, upheld as a must for every woman, or an experience to be avoided or fraught with peril!

My sister-in-law Cheryl, came to visit me in Jessie Mac’s a few hours after Anne was born on May 24th 1986. Cheryl produced, two boys, the first grandchildren for my parents, and whispered to me, ‘welcome to the club.’ I knew what she meant. I felt different.

The exhaustion of labour and the pain of the unexpected episiotomy overshadowed by the elation of holding a delightful, warm bundle of humanity in my arms. A gorgeous baby girl, with blonde fluff as hair and the same brilliant Paul Newman blue eyes as her proud father.

Awestruck, I wondered, how had I managed this? My amazement and shock heightened by Anne arriving three weeks early. Her premature birth meant I had only a vest and one nightie for her. My Mother’s Irish superstition insisted it was bad luck to have too many ‘baby things’ before the actual birth, and I had only finished working full-time a couple of weeks before and refurbishing secondhand nursery furniture took precedence over shopping!

Thank goodness friends and family arrived with baby bundles, many handmade, especially by my talented older sister, Cate who made nightdresses and knitted bootees, hats and jackets, plus a lovely white crocheted baby shawl.
Perhaps it was the shock of the premature birth, or my unpreparedness, but when I brought Anne home to Mordialloc, it was almost a month before I could say, ‘Mummy’s here,’ in response to her cries. Instead I said, ‘Mairi’s here’, ‘Mairi will change your nappy’, ‘Mairi will feed you now’. Life as a mother seemed surreal, the responsibility scary.

Only husband John, knew how uncertain I felt, the fear that I’d wake from this dream to find the wonderful miracle a mirage. Only John understood my lack of confidence – could I measure up to the expectations of my parents and others?

Married before, John had grown-up children. I appreciated his calmness and confidence. As an older dad with years of experience, he was more relaxed than me, despite so much of Anne’s birth and babyhood being a first time experience for him too. He hadn’t been at the birth of his other three children, but had been with me for Anne’s. He didn’t share much of his first wife’s pregnancies either because of being in the Royal Navy. Attitudinal change wrought by Women’s Liberation and feminism hadn’t filtered through either when he and Valerie were together.
My two sisters had spent their lives cooing over babies, wanting motherhood, assuming it was a natural progression once married. I never did. To me, motherhood was a choice not an inevitability or necessity. However, Anne was very much planned and loved. I even went on a special diet, to clean all toxins from my system, in an effort to ensure the best outcome possible for conception, pregnancy and childbirth.

I’m sure, the irony of me producing the first grandchild – and a female one at that – before either of my sisters was not lost on those who knew me. The sojourn into the nuclear family stakes at 33 years old made me a late starter – not for the McInneses though because my parents married in their late twenties (Dad, 27 and Mum, 28). The popularity of the contraceptive pill, meant women had reproductive choices they never had before and I wasn’t alone in delaying motherhood.

Sadly, my older sister, Cate would never experience childbirth as the day I found out I was pregnant she was told she’d need a hysterectomy after IVF had failed and her painful and intrusive endometriosis had spread.

Learning of her physical and emotional pain and the crushing of her motherhood dream, made me hesitate to share my joy. How could I be excited and chatter about the future to her? I’ll always be grateful for the magnanimous way she not only accepted my news, but was genuinely thrilled and happy for me.

Cate was one of the first to visit me in hospital and cuddle Anne, her future goddaughter and was as excited about my second daughter, Mary Jane, three years later. My sister married a widower with two young children, fulfilling her wish to be a mother and is now a doting grandmother – a border I’ve still to cross!

anne's birth

Cradle Thoughts
Mairi Neil

The rain splatters against the lounge-room window; soon a steady beat. Tears seep from the corners of my eyes to become a relentless flow. Powerless, I’m trapped by a tiny being, barely a month old.

My milk is faltering and daughter, Anne protests — a squeal of anger and frustration. Advice rattles in my head… relax, let the milk flow. The more I try, the less I succeed. Anne’s pale skin turns scarlet. She increases her efforts to suck. The pain in my nipple excruciating; I remember a stupid joke from high school, about crippled nipples. Tears almost give way to a giggle. Mum used to struggle between laughter and tears at times of crises – perhaps hysteria is genetic.

The rain eases to a gentle pitter-patter; I picture the nappies suspended from the clothes hoist, waterlogged. A resigned sigh escapes and my milk gushes. Anne’s sucking gentle; rhythmic. Dried tears lie hot on my taut cheeks, below eyes that feel puffy and gritty. I reach for a tissue to remove the huge teardrop suspended on the tip of my nose.

I was a supervisor at the office, BC (before children), coping with calamities, thriving under pressure, meeting deadlines. Now washing soaked by a sudden downpour of rain reduces me to tears. I hope that somewhere in the cupboard there is a packet of politically incorrect disposables put aside for a rainy day!

The telephone’s shrill interruption makes Anne jump — and me curse. It always seems to ring the minute I sit down to feed. Again I’ve forgotten to bring the contraption nearby yet I bought the extension lead to ensure minimum disruption to breastfeeding routine. ‘Mind like a sieve’ must have been coined for new mothers. With Anne attached to my left breast like a leech, I shuffle towards the telephone fastened to the kitchen wall.

‘Hello … We’re fine, Mum. I’m feeding at the moment. Can I ring you back? … You sound upset… If it’s important tell me now … Oh, God! Is there someone else? … Why has Cheryl left? … How’s Iain taking it? … What about the boys?’

Anne presses on my arm. I feel like I’m holding a house brick. She whimpers as I struggle to manipulate the telephone and hold her one-handed. The distraction interrupts the milk supply; tiny nails knead, hard gums bite.

‘Yes, please ring back later … no wait… I’ll ring you back, because I don’t know how long I’ll be…. Of course, I’m upset, but I need to know… We’re a family, we care for each other. … I love you too… ’

I sink into the armchair, stunned, disoriented. My loud curse not just because I’d forgotten to bring the telephone within reach again. Battleship grey clouds loom large floating past the window, darkening the room, matching my mood.

Anne suckles, content, winding down; her sea blue eyes now tightly closed. I stare at the fine golden fluff on her head, her soft creamy skin. From above the nose with eyes shut, her high forehead makes her look so like Iain’s eldest son. It wasn’t so long ago when I held him the day he was born. The tragic news takes on a deeper significance; inexplicable fear gnaws at my stomach.

Cheryl’s whispered, ‘Welcome to the club,’ at the hospital after Anne was born, still a vivid memory. Her acknowledgement that I’d entered the exclusive ‘Motherhood’ made me feel special and proud. I’d matured as a woman – belonged to the world my mother and others, trail-blazed. They could pass on accumulated knowledge and expertise. We looked at each other through new eyes, relating in a different way.

My sister-in-law produced the first grandchildren – two boys. She became my confidante; a reassuring voice during pregnancy, her experience more recent than Mum’s; saved me money by passing on baby paraphernalia and advice.

Where is she now? I relive the bewilderment in Mum’s voice, ‘Cheryl has left Iain and the boys. She said that she should never have got married; the children were a big mistake. She feels trapped, depressed; needs time to find herself.’

I think about my feelings, as unbidden, tears trail down my face.

How will Iain cope returning home to Mum and Dad with a toddler and soon to be preppie in tow? And what of Mum? At sixty-three years of age, Nana is going to be a full-time mother again. Papa will sacrifice his retirement chauffeuring children to kindergarten and school.

The rain drizzles; tears dribble down my face. This time, I cry for my nephews, for my brother, Iain, for my sister-in-law, Cheryl, and for my parents, especially Mum.

In a deep sleep, Anne’s mouth gapes. Her cherubic face presses lightly against my emptied breast; soft baby breath drying the moist nipple freed from tugging gums.

My eyes scan the room. I could walk away from this house. Renovated, with love and hard work, it represents unremitting toil now. Floors to vacuum and wash, benches to scrub, layers of dust to clean, relentless tasks, only noticed when not done.

I stare at my wedding photograph atop the display cabinet. I could even walk away from John, although he is understanding and loving, the only man I ever saw a future with and my best friend. Tears squeeze from my hazel eyes as I realise passion and deep companionship has been replaced by a daily struggle to keep on top of essential chores, and to get through the night with minimum disruption. Anne rarely sleeps, breast feeding on demand exhausting, life one traumatic day after another.

When John rings each evening from work to say, ‘the cavalry is on its way’ in a jocular voice, the words are appropriate. Oh, how I look forward, to handing Anne over – to be amused and bathed by her Dad, before she demands feeding. No one told me how to cope with a baby that slept in twenty-minute snatches during the day, lengthened to two-hourly dozes at night.

‘What did we do with our time before you arrived?’ John often asks Anne, while cuddling her lovingly. ‘Important weekend chores were cleaning the car and my shoes, ready for work on Monday – and ironing clothes,’ he confides to her wide-eyed smile. Adding, ‘tasks that don’t always get done now.’ Anne gurgles or giggles in reply. I flinch with guilt.

The struggle of changing nappies and trying to stay awake to nurse during the night lonely and exhausting. I often worry that Anne will fall out of bed if I fall into a deep sleep, or perhaps she’ll get hurt snuggled between us. John loves waking up nestled close to Anne’s tiny warm body, unaware that the sleeping arrangement is unplanned. The effort of returning Anne to her bassinette pointless when she wakes so frequently.

John sleeps soundly, blissfully ignorant of the battles in the middle of the night — and, like a martyr, I let him sleep while resenting his ability to sleep untroubled. His demanding job not a regular nine-to-five office routine. The two hours driving to and from work dangerous if he lacks sleep and I’d never forgive myself if he had an accident.

Last night, Anne screamed with colic pain, a depressingly regular occurrence. The breast failed to comfort and I fought an urge to hurl her through the window, or throw her to the ground. I craved silence, and sleep.

I stared at John comfortably snoring in bed and wanted to punch him hard. To make him share my suffering, to punish him the way Anne was punishing me. I shook him awake more roughly than usual, yet he jumped out of bed and took Anne without protest. Fleeing the bedroom, I sat at the kitchen table with head in hands weeping deep uncontrollable sobs. I cried from utter exhaustion. I cried because I couldn’t prevent Anne’s pain. I cried for lost patience, for having feelings of resentment and violence, for being inadequate, for lost sexual feelings. I cried because no-one had told me this was motherhood.

Anne’s screaming stopped. John came through to the kitchen with his tousled hair and boxer shorts, looking like a teenager woken late for school. Accepting my outburst as normal, he said, ‘Come on love, she’s sound asleep – come back to bed.’ He gently massaged my neck and shoulders. ‘Remember the infant welfare sister and all those books we read say that you must sleep when the baby sleeps.’

The words sounded so rational, yet sleep was impossible. I sat sniffling at the table. Without further discussion, John made me a cup of tea and returned to bed. When I finally collapsed beside him, fatigue overwhelming, I knew that in a few minutes the alarm would announce another day and I was filled with dread.

* * * * *

From the window, I see sparrows dancing and splashing in a puddle, their carefree flapping the antithesis of the exhaustion and worry taking hold of me. Oh, how I understand why torturers favour sleep deprivation.

‘What stops my soul being destroyed is your vulnerability and times like this,’ I whisper to Anne, placing a kiss gently on her soft down-covered head. ‘You are so beautiful asleep, so innocent, so cuddly, – I don’t ever want to leave you.’

I think of how she murmurs with delight at the sound of my voice, and John’s. Tiny hands playing with my face, searching for my breast, grasping proffered fingers. A fragile defenceless human being, who will selfishly suck my life-blood because of her in-built survival mechanism, yet my body explodes with emotion when she’s near. She triggers an all-encompassing feeling like no other; is part of me in a way that John can never be. She grew from me, and is forever attached, our future intertwined. The controller of me.

I stare unseeing, wondering why Cheryl has rejected the boys now. How long has she been struggling with her feelings? Will she, as Mum believes, change her mind? I shiver. What about me? I think of Mum’s workload – constantly nurturing, answering the relentless demands of six children. Was she daunted, did she want to run away? ‘I’ve never met anyone that rivalled your mother in caring for children.’ My father’s boast implies that somehow everyone else falls short in the parenting stakes. Did Cheryl feel that pressure?

How do you explain that parenting has changed without offending your own parents? Anne is the centre of attention for everyone in our circle of friends and extended family. John regularly telephones to say he loves me, but now begins with, ‘How’s my little princess?’ Is it normal to feel neglected and sometimes resent your own child?

Strangers offer advice; friends and family visit more often to see the baby. Did Cheryl feel resentful, or smothered? I place Anne in her pram before rescuing the washing. I’ll ring Mum later after talking with John. It’s important he knows the thoughts this news has triggered.

An image from childhood surfaces — Mum muttering while baking scones. Six-year-old me interrupts thinking she’s making conversation. I’m ignored and realise that at that moment I have become invisible. Mum is talking to herself.

During my childhood, mum often muttered to herself while doing some mundane task. It was her way of coping with stress. Perhaps, she too felt overwhelmed, found the drudgery; relentless work and incessant demands of children too challenging. Did she have other techniques for coping? What adjustments did she make to her dreams and desires? Did she feel her identity disappeared? I want answers to these questions rather than what type of formula she fed me, or when I was toilet trained.

Am I normal and will the person who is me survive motherhood?

I want to talk with Cheryl in case my journey follows a similar path. Perhaps we can help each other to enjoy mothering. I want parenting to be a positive experience for John and me and for Cheryl and Iain.

I stop in the hallway and glance sideways at the mirror. Are my lips moving?

anne's birth 2

Your Mother Is Always With You

Your mother is always with you…

She’s the whisper of the leaves
as you walk down the street.

She’s the smell of bleach in
your freshly laundered socks.

She’s the cool hand on your
brow when you’re not well.

Your mother lives inside
your laughter. She’s crystallized
in every tear drop…

She’s the place you came from,
your first home.. She’s the map you
follow with every step that you take.

She’s your first love and your first heart
break….and nothing on earth can separate you.

Not time, Not space…
Not even death….
will ever separate you
from your mother….

You carry her inside of you….

Sherry Martin