Wistful Wandering and Poetic Pondering – Words Wile The Time Away.

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Travelling to and from work by train is often my writing time or time to pause, observe and reflect on life.

My notebook full of ideas scrawled as one line reminders or thoughts detailed in partial stories or poems (some may say doggerel).

I write down ideas for prompts for the class – like examining our hands – physically, emotionally, and historically.

Most people will be surprised by how many stories they can write about their own hands (or the hands of family or friends). Hands change as you age and activities or abilities can increase or decrease.

Hands
Mairi Neil 2017

These hands fumble now
where they once achieved with ease
buttons now boulders,
zips an effort,
Velcro fasteners? Oh, yes, please!

What are those raised veins saying –
the lumpy knuckles too
wedding ring too tight, abandoned
more than the veins are blue.

In the past, skin smooth and soft
and these hands were strong
a past of music, craft, and toddlers
weakness didn’t belong…

These hands feeble now
where once they achieved with ease
piano, guitar, sewing, knitting…
house renovations a breeze

Scarred from work and accidents
sun-damaged and skin dry
weakened grip and suspect skill
they’ve earned a rest, I sigh.

But wait, these hands still toil
a means to feed my passion
pens replaced with keypad
writing never out of fashion.

These trusted hands a part of me
what stories they can tell
Ignoring arthritic pain and age
I’ll write a memoir to sell!

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I’ve written about my mother’s hands for the Women’s Memoir website, USA and took a photograph of her holding a large print Bible because her Christian faith sustained her throughout her life especially in times of grief.

When my Dad was dying, I sat by his bedside holding his hands and reflecting on all the jobs he’d done since entering the workforce, but particularly those taken to improve our lives when we migrated to Australia from Scotland.

Inspiration and Triggers Everywhere

I’m interested in politics, current affairs, and world events. In this era of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, it’s difficult to switch off. 

Some days worse than others, some topics too hard to ignore – especially regarding Donald Trump, who so often dominates the headlines.

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That Wall To be Built
Mairi Neil 2017

Humpty Trumpfy wanted a wall
keep Mexicans out, his rallying call
all the white supremacists and the KKK
crawled from under their rocks to have a say.

The Grand ol’ Master, David Duke
his supporters parading as men
marched into Charlottesville one day
but were chased back out again.

Humpty Trumpfy got a bigly shock
even supporters did their block
appalled to see racist rhetoric at work
and their POTUS such a dumb jerk

Humpty Trumpfy wants adulation
each media mention a celebration
his leadership skills account for nought
allegiances intimidated or they’re bought

Humpty Trumpfy will have a great fall
decent people will dismantle the wall
the empty slogans  filling empty heads
disappear from our screens like The Walking Dead

 

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This pigeon poised and alert at Bentleigh Station

We take things for granted on a daily basis, always with the assumption that whenever we need something, it will be there. Sometimes we don’t notice small changes, only the dramatic ones.

The number of apartments, townhouses, and units being built has changed the demographics of Mordialloc where I’ve lived for 33 years.

One of the many Real Estate Agents who rings regularly trying to convince me to sell up said there has been a 60% increase in young couples and families buying into the area. They have moved here because of the charm of Mordialloc’s seaside village atmosphere – ironically the removal of stand-alone houses and the increased density of development has put that charm under threat!

C’est la vie…

My negative feelings about the “over” development of Mordialloc remind me of a song by Joni Mitchell, one of my favourite artists:

Big Yellow Taxi

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And they put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Songwriters: MITCHELL, JONI
Big Yellow Taxi lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

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mural near Mordi Station

When I returned recently from travelling overseas, I noticed a new mural on a wall in the car park behind the dentist I visit in Main Street Mordialloc. I mentioned the colourful artwork to my daughter,

“When did that go up?”

“Not, sure.”

“What was there before?”

“I think it was cartoon characters of the 90s,” MaryJane said, but neither of us really sure, yet we walk along the path to the railway station almost daily!

Maybe we’ll remember this artwork if it changes… or maybe not. Taking things and people for granted, a common failure too many of us have and the saying, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,’ sadly true.

Live In The Moment Good Advice Too

 

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C. × crocosmiiflora hybrid an invasive introduced species in Australia

Thankfully, I enjoy my job teaching creative writing because like train travel, I have the opportunity to write. Whatever topic I plan for my students, I set myself.

On Tuesday afternoon at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh last week, a student Lena suddenly pointed out the window. We turned to watch a beautiful Noisy Miner land on a clump of Crocosmia.

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The lesson reminded students to think about the power of metaphor and simile to improve their writing, particularly poetry.

I worked on a poem started on the train and then added part two, attempting to incorporate the lesson using the wonderful inspiration provided by our visitor.

Poetry in motion and fun too!

A Tuesday in August
Mairi Neil 2017

Morning

A spring-like day
warm sun is out
after hiding for awhile
she’s come out to play
to make us laugh and smile.

A new mural at Mordi Station
catches the eyes of passersby
painted while I’ve been away
A tiger feisty and bright
no room for blues today.

I load some Myki Money
before the train arrives
slip coins into the slot
train’s on time, a win
a happy day my lot!

It is indeed a wonderful world
dear Satchmo got it right
when a warm sun shines
the uplifting joy spreads
to banish worry lines.

Redolent roses perfume paths
camellias bud and delight
enjoy each moment of warmth
‘cos too soon, it will be night.

Afternoon

With a swoop, you arrive
an empty vessel needing a refill
balancing on trembling bells

to sup on nectar deliciously sweet
a  sight not to be missed
a pleasant distraction and inspiration

A Noisy Miner unusually silent
obedient child obeying the Golden Rule –
don’t speak with your mouth full!

Sucking goodness from crocosmia
lubrication for daily performances
through welcome orange straws

an opera singer turned acrobat
pausing for tasty lunch on the wing
unaware of the Paparazzi nearby.

Wikipedia has information about both the invasive plant and the bird but please see comment below from friend and mentor in all things Aussie Bush to set the record straight in:

Crocosmias are grown worldwide, and more than 400 cultivars have been produced. Some hybrids have become invasive species, especially C. × crocosmiiflora hybrids, which are invasive in the UK, New Zealand, the American Pacific Northwest, and probably elsewhere.

The Noisy Miner feeds on nectar, fruit and insects. In keeping with its highly social nature, the Noisy Miner usually feeds in large groups.

Perhaps there’s a story behind our lone (lonely?) bird – I’ll leave that for you to compose!

Happy writing 

When It’s All Right Not To Write

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My writing journey seems to be much like my life – unpredictable, a mystery, an uphill battle, full of sudden surprises and even miracles.

Some days there is a structure  – usually my teaching days when I write with my students. Other days, there are scribbled notes, ideas and perhaps the start of a poem or story, or just an observation as I try and harness whatever fleeting thought an image, event or overheard word has prompted.

Recently, I’ve been troubled by an inability to write what and how I want, never finishing the stories or poems – not so much losing interest but struggling to find the joy and passion.

mordi beach october 2016

Sea-Sawing 1
Mairi Neil

When I walk by the sea, I am silenced
Not by roaring waves, tumultuous surf or crying rocks
When I walk by the sea, I am silenced
Not by the lapping wavelets or squelching sand
or the whispers of an ebbing tide.
When I walk by the sea, I am silenced
by the endless mystery of oceans
by this chameleon of colour and mood
by the changing horizon of merging sea and sky
by thoughts of the insignificance of humankind
and our attempts to tame, travel, and tease
and always the awesome sea can choose not to please
When I walk by the sea, I am silenced.

Pausing The Pen

As I prepare to go on what I am calling ‘long service leave’ (unpaid, unfortunately) from my writing classes, I’m hoping to rediscover my ‘mojo’ and enthusiasm for writing. I feel as stale and tired as my words as if I’m repeating myself and walking in circles.

Here’s hoping a term off, and weeks of new experiences as I travel the Trans-Siberian Railway and return to Scotland, my birth country to meet up with old friends and relatives, I’ll be able to reignite lost passion and enthusiasm.

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Tracking My Journey To Recovery

I’ll use the blog as a sort of journal to track my journey – inner thoughts as well as the outward physical events. I’ll write about the same subjects I suppose but perhaps have a fresh angle – definitely a different perspective!

Entries may be written in the moment, fragments and random happenings recorded – a different process from how I usually write. I’m a planner and outliner when it comes to publication, a worrier about whether anything I write is worth reading or if there is a mistake with research, grammar, spelling…

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I’ve been writing since a teenager and I love reading good writing – all I’ve ever wanted to do is be a writer that others want to read.

However, if I’m ever to achieve that dream and finish a couple of important writing projects then radical action is required. I’ll be 64 years old in August – a bit long in the tooth to be regarded as an emerging writer and entering the age bracket conscious that time can run out!

 

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A reminder of life’s fragility the last time I visited Stony Point!

 

Now for Something Completely Different

It’s time to remove myself from the comfort zone of teaching writing and helping others on their publishing journey. Breda now looks after the Mordialloc Writers’ Group – relinquishing that was a major step for me to take because I founded the group over 21 years ago – but the freedom I feel with the cliched weight off my shoulders is wonderful.

I’m going to fulfil another item on the ‘bucket list’ made after I survived a breast cancer interlude. Hopefully, there will be a few more crossed off the list in the future.

A couple of years ago, I went to Samoa and paid homage to Robert Louis Stevenson, a writer who inspired me in childhood.  Samoa, the first of travel adventures I’d dreamed about and promised to visit ‘one day’.

On this Trans-Siberian trip, a teenage dream will be realised and  I’ll pay homage to another favourite writer, Dostoevsky whose book Crime And Punishment, I regard as one of the top ten influences in my life. Like RLS and a few others, Dostoevsky gave me the desire to be a writer.

I’ll also be visiting the Orkney and Shetland islands, another long-held dream and the home of the wonderful writer and poet George Mackay-Brown.

Like Hillary Clinton – I aim high!

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When I’m in holiday mode, perhaps I’ll rediscover the joy and spontaneity I’ve lost and succumb to the mystical process of mind linking together random observations, thoughts, dreams and sudden ideas into storylines and poems.

Sea-Sawing  2
Mairi Neil

When I walk by the sea, I am calmed
heartbeat slows, breathing even, steps linger,
imagination sparked as dreams awaken.
When I walk by the sea, I am calmed
shells crunch underfoot, sand soft or solid,
seagulls whirl and twirl their aerial dance.
When I walk by the sea, I am calmed
blueness stretches to meet blueness or
stormy grey prances with white caps,
the horizon a promise of somewhere else.
When I walk by the sea, I am calmed
worries, fears, a bad day assuaged –
this too will pass a mantra of healing and rebirth
When I walk by the sea, I am calmed.

Playfulness Is Not Out Of The Question

My first published poems were for children and I’ve always been attracted to manipulating words for fun. Perhaps my creative journey needs to return where it began!

I know poems don’t have to rhyme, in fact in some poetry circles it’s almost a criminal offence to write what they consider ‘doggerel’ aka anything with a rhyme. However, I love playing with words, love puns and absurdity.

Sea-Sawing 3
Mairi Neil

I must go down to the sea today
to see the waves and splash
I must go into the sea today
salt water will cure my rash!
The sea has healing powers –
that’s what Mum told me
so, don’t take Nature for granted –
especially the magnificent sea.

You can play in the ocean,
swim, sail, and even water ski
it’s such a wonderful playground
so, always look after the sea.
Don’t pollute the water
home to creatures great and small
because if you listen carefully
you’ll hear the mermaids call…

Here’s to rejuvenation and a renewal of purpose or perhaps I’ll return from my journey and decide to knit and craft – reminders of a lovely period in my life when the girls attended a Steiner school and we immersed our lives in all things natural.

Time will tell.

… what we call the Creative Process is in no way limited to art or to individual acts of creating something. It is in fact, a large ongoing movement in our lives, a force that has its own will and its own purpose, and which we manifest on many levels but in definite sequences… a profoundly sacred process… visible in all aspects of my life…

Burghild Nina Holzer 1993.

 

Flex Writing Muscles With Flash Fiction Fun

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Mordialloc beach storm brewing

I can’t believe the term holidays are almost over and my  list of ‘things to do’ has morphed into ‘things I should have done’.

I hear my Mother’s voice ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions...’ Mum loved quotes: proverbs, Bible texts, aphorisms, lines from poems or classical literature and it’s amazing how many come to mind – imprinted on my brain like the times tables from school.

C’est la vie

At least, I’ve almost finished preparing my lessons for the four classes starting soon, and I’ve caught up with some friends, but the clearing of clutter to renovate the shed didn’t happen, nor clearing the boxes of papers from my study.

Maybe spring cleaning will work …

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While filing away old lessons and researching and planning new ones I came across pieces of writing I’d written in class or on the train to work. Such a welcome distraction. The inevitable editing and polishing began until in some cases the original words barely recognised.

I don’t need any excuse to play with words or write and often when I come across a poem or story I can’t remember what the prompt was or why I wrote it!

Like this poem from 2o12, which was buried among notes in a lesson about dialogue!

Sea Dance
Mairi Neil

Shattered nerves soothed
By waves in a slow waltz
One two three four
One two three four
Lapping at feet, teasing the sand
The glittering sun
A silver ball suspended
From an azure ceiling
The vast ocean
A mirrored dance floor
A crooning breeze snatches
Troubles away
To where white sails flutter
And dolphins dream
One two three four
One two three four
Waves in a slow waltz
Soothe shattered nerves.

Mordialloc beach storm clouds gathering.jpg

Of course, the recent Federal Election and the prospect of a hung parliament is an entertaining (and worrying) distraction. Listening to all the politicians putting their particular spin on an extraordinary turn of events will no doubt fuel many writers, albeit comedians.

However, what it will mean for Australia is anybody’s guess and it is certainly keeping journalists busy. They have no trouble filling the 24 hour news cycle. The rest of us get on with life and hope for the stability promised.

An Election Limerick

Malcolm Turnbull, the PM in Oz
Who decided to be the LNP boss
Well, he turned out a dud
Just like Kevin Rudd
Their poor judgement Australia’s loss

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I discovered a piece of flash fiction with a title that seemed to fit the election result so will share it to show what can come from a prompt I have used a few times over the years in classes. And like most fiction there is a lot of truth because here is a link to where I got my original idea.

Feel free to ‘have a go’ if the prompt triggers a story or poem:

The Writing Prompt

You were walking on the beach this morning and came across a bottle with a note in it.
Were you alone?
Why were you at the beach? Is that important?
Who put the message in the bottle?
Where did the bottle originate?
What does the note say?
How long was the bottle in the water?
Will you have to do something/take some action?
What are the consequences?

The story you write can be fantasy, adventure, horror, humorous, historical, mystery, romance…

Mixed Messages
Mairi Neil

Janet scuffed the sand oblivious to the cry of seagulls and crash of incoming tide. The dullness of leaden clouds grew darker by the minute. Hunched over with hands stuck deep inside her Duffel coat’s pockets, she struggled against the wind.

Straight from the Arctic – cold and frigid – the words Ben used to describe her last night.

She sidestepped a surge of white foam, stumbled over a green bottle vomited ashore with other debris. The jolt made her focus for a moment on something other than her own misery, then she noticed a scrap of paper inside the bottle.

She peered through the sand encrusted glass. The bottle, a peculiar shape with glass reminiscent of the bedside lamp inherited from her grandmother and supposedly from the 1800s.

Wary of touching anything the sea threw up, Janet used her booted foot to roll the bottle free of seaweed and entangled driftwood.

The sea harboured unpleasant creatures; animals that bite and sting.

Janet shuddered, remembering the stab from the stone fish she’d unwittingly stood on as a child. The pain of poisonous spines, the brush with death and disaster – a story her mother retold to anyone who’d listen. A story reinforcing Janet’s anxieties – not just of the sea, but fear of anything unknown.

Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! The chants of school bullies still hurt 30 years later.

‘You’re scared of your own shadow.’ Another taunt Ben threw at her last night when she offered reasons why she didn’t want to travel to Doha.

‘Not shadows, Ben! Bombs and terrorists – no place is safe over there.’

‘Do you realise how much money is on offer? The lifestyle we can live if we move there?’
It always came down to money with Ben.

Emotion almost choked her as she picked up the bottle before the angry sea reclaimed it. She strode to the bluestone wall separating sand and promenade and sat on the cold bricks. A nearby stick ideal to dig out the weathered cork.

A few shakes and canny manipulation meant the note fell into her hand. Faded paper and blurred ink. However, the scrawled letters clear: HELP!

Janet began to shake, her imagination haywire, heart thudding.

Was someone captive on a ship? Abandoned on an island? Robinson Crusoe sprang to mind – when was that written? Janet tried to remember.

How far away from Australia was the island? What about pirates? Treasure Island’s murderous crew not that far-fetched. Plenty of people imprisoned, tortured and abandoned on the high seas over the years.

Today, the media full of refugees fleeing horror, needing help. How many migrant ships lost at sea? People seeking a new life in another land, survivor or survivors struggling in a lifeboat, minimum supplies gone, burning sun blistering skin, salt water driving the occupants mad…

She breathed deeply, inhaling the freshening wind. Ben always accused her of indecision and procrastination. She straightened her shoulders and with bottle and note in hand, started towards the town.

I’ll call into the police station first. What if they think my ideas fanciful? Tell me they have too much important work to do regarding border security. They’ll dismiss the note as a prank. Maybe accuse me of mischief!

Better to go to the local museum. Double check if the bottle is old or a replica. Ease the fear that someone isn’t desperate for help.

A sixth sense made Janet turn to stare seawards. With the worry over Ben and distraction of her find, she hadn’t scanned the bay this morning for ships heading for the city or leaving for distant oceans.

She loved speculating about their journeys – a not-too distant ancestor had been a sea captain – ‘the sea’s in our blood’ her father always said.

A white speck on the horizon moved fast becoming bigger like an expanding balloon.
A speedboat?
Was that a hand waving – arm pointing?

Janet looked around. No one else on the beach this dreary winter’s day. Even the regular dog walkers avoided the icy weather.

She edged towards the sea like a child worried about seeing the store Santa. The boat bumped over breakers, mounted waves, stayed on course, heading her way. Two people visible – one waving, shouting and pointing. At the bottle?

Her bottle.
How did they know?

A minute later, the boat skidded and juddered onto the sand. A sleek motorboat equipped with the latest technological wizardry. One of the men had binoculars around his neck, the other an earpiece hooked into a radio.

‘The bottle please, madam,’ said the man with binoculars, reaching out a gloved hand.

‘We’re from the CSIRO,’ chimed his companion.

‘The bottle. CSIRO,’ Janet repeated their words. Confused and flustered, she felt an anxiety attack beginning, chest tightening, breathing difficult. Heat in her chest moved up to her neck burning her face. Her legs quivered.

‘How did?’ she began to speak, but gloved hands interrupted.

‘Inside the bottle, there’s a tracking device stuck to the bottom.’

Janet hesitated as if he spoke Swahili. She reluctantly held the bottle up for examination. A glimmer of sunlight managed to break through the bruised clump of clouds now suffocating the foreshore. She noticed a tiny pebble, shook the bottle, it refused to dislodge. A transmitter?

‘Oh,’ she whispered.

Her imagination flew to spies, espionage, invading armies, dredged up a story her grandfather told about the war; explosive devices masked as innocuous wrack washed ashore. Ordinary people blown up because of their curiosity.

She pushed the bottle into outstretched gloved hands. The driver of the boat began to speak.

‘We’re testing the power of waves and…’ his explanation cut short by gloved hands pressuring his shoulder.

Janet retreated a few metres before turning and running towards the promenade. She slowed to catch her breath and shove her shaking hands into pockets.

Wait ’til Ben hears about this, she thought. Will he believe me?

She spun around to get more details about the men, but the boat was already speeding out to sea.

What just happened? What if they were lying? Were they scientists or Defence personnel? Were they even Australian?

A gust of wind whisked her sigh seawards.

She wouldn’t tell Ben. Why invite another lecture of what she should have done? How the world had changed since 9/11 – Australia included.

Ben can go to Doha or anywhere else for that matter. On his own. Stay there for all she cared. Amass his millions at the expense of the poor.

The wind died down, and the dark clouds scudded out to sea as if being towed by the speedboat. Janet threw her head back and laughed, surprised at the sound.

She hadn’t heard herself laugh or felt so relaxed in a long time.

It was over between her and Ben. No indecision or procrastination now!

The winter sun a pale promise in the clearing sky as she strolled home.

 

Today you are you.

That is truer than true.

there is no one alive

who is truer than you!

Dr Seuss

Poetry – a way to release and remember our inner child

You get your ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

Neil Gaiman

I spend much of my time thinking up writing prompts and triggers to inspire my students and then more time planning lessons around the craft to improve the readability of their writing.

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Often we write for ourselves, but if most of us are honest, we write to share our thoughts and ideas and receive a boost to ego when someone appreciates our words. Competitions or requests for submissions on a particular topic are good exercises to flex writing muscles, move out of comfort zones, find a home for a story or poem, or just enjoy the challenge of polishing a piece to share with others.

For this reason, I make an effort to send work to Poetica Christi Press who, as their latest anthology Inner Child, boasts have been ‘Proudly publishing Australian poetry for 25 years.’ I also encourage my students to send their work ‘out there’…

inner child anthology 1 inner child anthology 2

Tomorrow Poetica Christi will launch another anthology.  I’m thrilled not only to again have one of my poems selected, but also a poem from one of my students, Jan Morris who excels at performing  Aussie Bush Poetry usually with a backdrop of a painting she has done. Her canvas for the paintings, old curtains salvaged from op shops – curtains with special backing to block out the sun.

Jan with her artwork:illustration

Jan incorporates humour in the short stories she writes in class and is an example of someone who makes the effort to ‘Always look on the bright side of life‘. A retired nurse and a widow of a Vietnam veteran affected by Agent Orange, she has an amazing stockpile of sad stories, but chooses to concentrate on blessings, jokes, eccentricities and funny events!

In the Foreword of the anthology the editors say:

…the inner child is celebrated, recalled, reinvented and shared. The poems are a poignant, honest and often humorous reminder that our inner child is only a heartbeat away.

 Jan reminisced about her childhood when milk was delivered by horse and cart:

inner child anthology Jan's poem

Another poet in the anthology is Avril Bradley, whose poetry often wins awards. Avril is widely published. I first met Avril when we were both involved in the Red Room Company’s Poetry about the sea project. (Several of the poems are still online on Flicker and I guess will be forever!)

inner child anthology Avril's poem

Winner of the Poetica Christi 2014 prize was another accomplished poet, Chris Ringrose:

inner child anthology Chris Ringrose

There are many other poets, some with several poems. Each anthology inspiring other writing and giving me something to aim for to improve my own efforts.  As someone who doesn’t consider themselves a poet – rather a writer who tries to write poetry – I’m thrilled one of my poems was included. It tells the story of an object from my childhood, a link with my mother and my children. It’s the kind of poem you can write in a memoir or life story class and as I often tell my students, ‘memory poems’ are a great way of recording the past.

I wrote about a shell that sat by the fireside in Scotland when we lived there, then sat on the sideboard when we migrated to Australia. I have no idea what beach it was first washed up on or its true origins – writer’s imagination kicked in. I may never have written this poem, if the prompt of the competition hadn’t arrived in my email box!

the shell is at least 62 years old- definitely older

inner child anthology my poem

This poem by editor Leigh Hay made me smile, reminiscent of the day I caught daughter MJ trimming Barbie’s hair!

inner child anthology poem by Leigh Hay

I can’t attend the launch because I’m volunteering at Open House Melbourne tomorrow – my fifth year at this event. However, I’m sure there will be plenty of others attending – the wordsmiths of Poetica Christi Press put on a wonderful afternoon tea, great performances by some of the poets and always a lovely classical musical recital. If I close my eyes I can picture the hall and the event, but I’m so glad I have the book to dip into whenever I want to get in touch with my Inner Child!

Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.’

C.S. Lewis

Ten Steps to writing  your own memory poem:

1. Write down in a couple of sentences of the first memory you have as a child when you were outside by yourself, or another vivid memory you often think about.

2. List the words: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

3. Next to these words jot down whatever you experienced related to these senses.

4. Write what happened: what were you feeling at the time? Where were you? Why do you think this memory remains significant? Write this in prose so you get everything down.

5. Revisit the words you wrote alongside the 5 senses. What descriptions capture the emotions you have written about in your prose?

6. Cross out or ignore everything else unrelated – a poem, like a short story doesn’t have to include everything and is stronger if you concentrate on the important details.

7.What emotion do you want to convey about the time? How do you want the reader to feel after reading it? It will probably be complex, but no one is going to read your exploration/explanation about what you were trying to do! They’ll be reading your poem and interpreting it from their point of view and experience. However, it’s always a bonus if people “get it” and understand the emotion of the writer.

8. Remember poems don’t have to rhyme, but usually there are line breaks and punctuation so the reader knows the rhythm and captures the mood of the poem. Think of pacing – do you want the words to move slowly or quickly over the tongue.

9. Write your poem now – whatever way you want – remember to include action – strong verbs, concrete nouns, the emotion you felt.

10. Revise your poem by cutting out any words or phrases that don’t fit in with the feelings and mood you decided to create.

Let the poem sit for a few days before final revision – and if you’re anything like me, you’ll revise it every time you read it!!

Happy writing! And please feel free to share your poem or thoughts.

Colourful Words

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I can remember when Petula Clark released Colour My World in 1966; I had just entered teenage with hormones rampant, aching for romantic love. The lyrics of this song resonated more than Rabbie Burns’ A Red, Red Rose, a poem-turned-song I knew well because of my Father’s  love of Scotland’s most famous bard. However, it was the 60s, transistor radios and pop music aboundedColour My World had a catchy tune to match memorable words.

You’ll never see a dark cloud hanging ’round me
Now there is only blue sky to surround me
There’s never been a grey day since you found me
Everything I touch is turning to gold

[Chorus]
So you can colour my world with sunshine yellow each day
Oh you can colour my world with happiness all the way
Just take the green from the grass and the blue from the sky up above
And if you colour my world, just paint it with your love
Just colour my world

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What is the difference between poetry and song lyrics?

 It is certainly true that poems are taught (for better or worse) in classrooms and made a part of the canon of literature, whereas songs, especially popular ones, usually are not. If song lyrics are studied in school, often it is ethnographically or anthropologically, to learn something about a culture, not as literature per se. What I suppose some musicians want is not to be considered poets, but for their lyrics to be read with the same respect they imagine poems are…

The ways the conditions of that environment affect the construction of the words (refrain, repetition, the ways information that can be communicated musically must be communicated in other ways in a poem, etc.) is where we can begin to locate the main differences between poetry and lyrics.

Matthew Zapruder, poet, translator, and editor, Boston Review 2012

This week in class we had fun using colour in our poems. I went on the Dulux Paint site and printed off their colour palettes to distribute, not only to have many colours and shades as triggers but also to encourage the use of the innovative and descriptive names given to the colours.

Colour is all around us, affecting our mood, it’s a given that it adds to your writing – sight being one of the most important of our senses. Add a colour when describing and the detail makes the image clearer. I have two beautiful books about poetry addressing the use of colour. Written for children, I discovered them in a local op shop and in the words of another song ‘bless the day’ I did.

 Writing Poems by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark focuses on techniques and forms of verse, with examples and exercises encouraging children to experiment with their writing. Poems include:

Colour
Christina Rossetti

What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!

and

Grey
James Reeves

Grey is the sky, and grey the woodman’s cot
With grey smoke tumbling from the chimney-pot.
The flagstones are grey that lead to the door;
Grey is the hearth, and grey the worn old floor.

The old man by the fire nods in his chair;
Grey are his clothes and silvery grey his hair.
Grey are the shadows around him creeping,
And grey the mouse from the corner peeping.

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In Hailstones and Halibut Bones, a delightful children’s classic, described correctly as ‘adventures in colour’, Mary O’Neill’s magnificent poems, explore a particular colour, the colour spectrum summed up by the last poem in the book:

Colors
Mary O’Neill

The Colors live
Between black and white
In a land that we
Know best by sight.
But knowing best
Isn’t everything,
For colors dance
And colors sing,
And colors laugh
And colors cry –
Turn off the light
And colors die,
And they make you feel
Every feeling there is
From the grumpiest grump
To the fizziest fizz.
And you and you and I
Know well
Each has a taste
And each has a smell
And each has a wonderful
Story to tell…

Unknown

We had wonderful discussions about colours in my classes – we all have favourite ones, particularly regarding fashion and what colour we believe suits us. There were passionate debates about shades and names. About writing reflecting happy and sad moods.

Cheltenham, Tuesday, October 21, 2002
Mairi Neil

Opposite the cemetery
on the bus shelter roof
there’s a drumbeat dirge
this wintry day
in springtime Melbourne.

Grey sky
Grey pavement
Grey faces
Grey tombstones…

A river of vehicles
flowing past
swishing, swooshing
dispersing grey puddles
splashing kerbs.

Roy Orbison’s, Pretty Woman
explodes from a passing car.
Pedestrians pause
eyes a-sparkle
lips stretch into smiles…

At the cemetery gates
a daffodil yellow taxi
ferries a passenger
her pain masked
by rain-splattered windows.

Swamped
in a tsunami of grief
I too, no longer anyone’s
Pretty Woman.

I wrote this poem the day I returned to work, a month after my husband’s death when the whole world did indeed seem grey.  But what of those who are colour blind? Those who struggle with limited colour in their lives. Well, we poets are adaptable and will write about anything!!

The Colourblind Birdwatcher
U.A. Fanthorpe

In sallow summer
The loud-mouthed birds
peer through my hedges
As brown as swallows.

In an acrid autumn
High-flying birds
Splay in formation
As brown as magpies.

In the wan winter
Audacious birds
Besiege my windows
As brown as robins.

In sepia spring
The punctual birds
Resume their habits
As brown as blossom.

At the other extreme, people who hear, taste or smell colour exist. They have synesthesia, a rare neurological condition in which two or more of the senses entwine. I’ve had several student writers over the years with synesthesia and they’ve produced amazing work.

After the class discussion, we wrote a poem together just to get into the swing of thinking about colour before our splurge time of free writing –

Tuesday Class Poem – Godfrey Street, Bentleigh

Tuesday, a scarlet day, like a magnificent sunset
It’s a blushing woman, ‘Gone with the Wind.’
It’s a juicy Victoria plum dripping sweetness
It’s a burning bush splashing golden sparks
It’s the last glass of claret enriching palates
It’s a heated argument getting out of hand
It’s a colicky baby seeking comfort

Monday Class Poem, Mordialloc Neighbourhood House

Red is Monday, in writing class
A happy day full of friendship
An energetic day like an express train
A red-leg day watching doves dance in the garden
A fired-up day flickering like flames
An angry day falling out of bed
A passionate day – beware of love
A taxi day stopping at all the traffic lights
A red-letter day writing in class

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Encouraging each other to ‘think outside the box’  we splurged using the paint cards as a starting point:

What Colour is Tolerance?
Mairi Neil

Green comes in forty shades
The Irish folk group sings
Soft moss by rivers streaming
Tarragon glory of fairy rings

Ireland the true emerald isle
Celtic forests delight and intrigue
Crushed pine perfumes the air
Woodland ferns soften history’s deeds.

When English mist descended
Paradise green became no more
Even Dublin Bay laced with blood
Years of bomb blasts and gore.

Like the famed Amazon jungle
Impenetrable; peace seemed futile
But as spring buds banish winter
Persistence gave reason to smile!

From green felt to cameo silk
Ireland’s metamorphoses proudly displayed
Acceptance of all shades of green and pink
In May 2015, history is made!

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Greening Me

Mairi Neil

I want to be green
Because the grass is green
Grass grows everywhere
I’d travel far across lands
Meet up with different grasses
Grow anywhere and fit in

I want to be green
Because Kermit the Frog is green
A reminder of childhood
Innocence, laughter and fun,
Easy to be green, like Kermit
Revisiting a joyous green

I want to be green
Because many vegetables are green
The ones really good for you
Green vegetables are nutritional
I’m glad to be healthy and alive
A tasty green too

I want to be green
Because my mother was Irish
The Emerald Isle in my blood
Celtic music and folklore
Memories of Mum in my heart
Green the colour of my love.

Unknown

Colours of a Writer’s Day
Mairi Neil

What is blue? Ink is blue
When my pen flows free and true
What is white? My notebook page
Words rolling raw at every stage.
What is violet? My thoughts a jumble
Ideas, emotions, fears all tumble.
What is brown? My desk is brown
Where I smile and also frown.
What is green? My garden’s green
Daily relief from the computer screen.
What is yellow? My lamp is yellow
Evening air oh, so mellow.
What is red? My editing pen…
Write, rewrite, rewrite again!

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Autumn Feast
Mairi Neil

Frenzied and flaming
Leaves flicked in the air
Scattered by a bitter wind
Whistling through the park
From the icy southern ocean.

Falling autumnal leaves
A plush velvet carpet
Colours of a Caribbean dawn
And Moroccan dusk.

Children skip and skitter
Cherry Ripes and Candy Canes
Giggling and rosy-cheeked
Kicking and throwing leaves

Into nutmeg clusters
Roasted pumpkin piles
Sunflower symphonies
Ruby fountains
Grecian garlands
And emerald delights.

The crunch and crackle
Scuff and crinkle
Perfumes the air…
Eucalyptus, pine, mellow maple
Mature oak, liquidambar
Eastern spice and lemon chiffon.

The sky a Damson dream
Angry clouds of volcanic ash
Dissipate and make way for
The marble swirl of autumn glory
Truly a feast for the poet’s eye!

Next week it will be exciting to read the polished poems produced by the writers and any new inspirations they produce.

What role does colour play in your writing life?

Prompts as Inspiration – Writing Classes help Creativity and are FUN!

“Writing will fill your heart if you let it… will fill your pages and help fill your life.”

Julia Cameron

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I received The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as a gift from a student after my husband John died. The student empathised with me, understood the effect John’s death was having on my writing ability, even the desire to write. Philip lived with schizophrenia and depression – he understood trauma and grief well, albeit  from a different perspective than mine.

He turned up early one morning with a much-loved, dog-eared copy of The Artist’s Way saying, ‘This helped me through a tough patch.’  He thrust the book into my hand and left like a gust of wind. My surprised thanks followed him down the driveway. ( Still in pyjamas trying to shake off the exhaustion of yet another sleepless night, I wasn’t in a fit state to receive visitors!)

The book and subsequent ones I’ve read by Julia Cameron, kept me engaged with writing and more importantly teaching writing. I needed to have an income, to make my plan to give my teenage daughters a choice of  educational opportunities, a reality. To regain enthusiasm for teaching writing meant I had to regain the passion for the written word and the energy to write!

Julia’s book did the trick and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been teaching for over fifteen years and have become more expert at creating prompts or ideas to help people write in class regardless of whether it is fiction, non-fiction, poetry or memoir.

Here is my piece of flash fiction, or slice of life and a poem from the prompt

The scraping sound got louder…

“Mum… Mum,’ Anne’s voice rose an octave on the second ‘mum’. I hurried into her room. ‘What’s wrong?”

She’d been complaining of a headache earlier and I wondered if some other pain had manifested. I wasn’t expecting her reaction.

‘Shh, shh. listen…’

‘What…?’

‘Listen to that…’

‘To what?’

‘The scraping sound – there’s possums in the ceiling.’

I froze, strained to hear the noise, silently praying it wasn’t possums. I remembered the stories friends related about dealing with possums taking up residence in the roof and groaned.

‘Shh,’ Anne hissed, ‘do you hear it.’

Sure enough the scraping sound got louder. ‘Those three little possums nesting in the jasmine weren’t there this morning.’

It was my turn to shush and signal Anne to be quiet. Scratch… scrabble… silence. The scraping inconsistent and intermittent. I stared at the offending corner of the ceiling, tried to envisage the colour-bond roof and eaves. Where could a possum get in?

Scratch… scrabble… silence.

‘Mice,’ I said, ‘it’s a mouse – there’s not enough room in this extension for possums to get into the roof. This part of the house has a flat roof.’

‘It’s too noisy for a mouse, mum.’

‘No it’s not, they climb up the inside of the walls – probably where your room adjoins the old part of the house – they use the lathes like ladders.’

Scratch… scrabble… silence.

‘Your Nana always said mice in the ceiling wear hobnail boots.’

The ceiling fan whirred and hummed. Doves cooed outside.  Anne smiled, and resumed working on her laptop. I returned to the kitchen to finish baking for my writing classes, but the scraping noise triggered fear – not of mice in hobnail boots, but of a rat gnawing through electric wire – or perhaps plaster.

I’d ask Mark next door to check the roof – just in case. An electrician, heights or small spaces never phased him. Since John died, he’d often come to our rescue. I sighed and stirred the cake batter with more vigour than intended; mixture splashed onto the bench. Rats indeed!

A conversation from years before in the school canteen sprung to mind. Carolyn Plattfuss regaled me and other mothers on duty with details of a frightening experience. One day, although her baby was asleep in his cot, she had an overwhelming urge to check he was all right. She tiptoed into his room just as plaster started to crumble and fall from the ceiling in the corner where the cot hugged the wall. The lumps missed the now crying baby by centimetres.

Carolyn rushed to the rescue as two large rats fell, coupled together and squirming; they landed in the cot scattering plaster debris. Carolyn grabbed her son with  trembling arms and raced from the room. She slammed the door, but  had the presence of mind to jam a towel underneath the door before ringing pest exterminators, who caught and removed the rodents.

I shuddered. Standing silent and still, I craned my neck towards Anne’s bedroom; holding my breath I listened.

Scratch… scrabble…scratch…

Mice having fun on the lathes? Please let it be so. I picked up the phone and dialled Mark’s number. Maybe he’ll be free tomorrow to go up into the roof and check. Until then there will be little sleep in this house tonight!

Aurora snuffled at my legs, wagging her tail, hoping for a treat. Love you to bits, I thought, but sometimes it would be helpful if you could morph into a cat!

Scratch… scrabble… scratch

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Night Visitor

Mairi Neil

Oh, little mouse, I sit here sewing,

The children are in bed.

I was seeking relaxation,

Now I’m listening to you

Instead!

You’re scrabbling in my roof, I hear your feet

Against the ceiling.

Are you on a family outing –

Is that a baby I hear squealing?

Now you’ve run into the kitchen

And put on your hobnail boots.

There’s scraping noises

From the chimney

You obviously don’t mind the soot.

Is that a clatter and a bump?

Perhaps I’ll get a cat –

I’m sure I hear a gnawing

Little mouse,  are you a RAT??

Students came up with a variety of possibilities for scraping sounds and everyone had several stories of different genres about mice, rats and possums – including me!

window open and a cool breeze, window blind scraping intruder at the window man on roof painting and preparing spouting possums on a tin roof exhaust pipe loose concreter/plasterer working tree branch on door

They utilised various settings – why not ‘have a go’ too? Have some fun exercising your creativity.