Tales from the Tranquility Tea and Cake

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

Sometimes work comes in to me anonymously, this seemed to speak to the experience of so many writers I felt it deserved a home. I have spoken to the writer, anonymously, and he, or she, or they will provide a new piece monthly. So, if you are an experienced writer, or someone looking to start out on the path there will hopefully be some wisdom, some truth or at least some commonality to be found within.

Steve Cawte, Editor, Impspired.com

SEPTEMBER 2020

TWEE MEN IN A BOAT. …with apologies to Mr Jerome.

I learnt at The Quills, (do keep up), pretty early that to describe somebody’s poetry as a bit twee, maybe not as complimentary as I may, or may not, have meant it to be.

            And yes, that does seem vague as whether I was being mean intentionally or not, because I wanted to show you an example of critiquing poetry based on what you like personally. It is fraught with disagreements from those who disagree, and you find yourself defending yourself instead of defending your critique… it’s best to just keep your mouth shut.

            Twee. I have to admit that I had to google it when I got home, but was pleased to find that I had used it correctly, and that gave me a little bit of satisfaction which was enough to assuage any lingering guilt I may have had, after calling Alice’s  poetry twee, which had led to  Alice crying on Maureen’s reading time which didn’t go down well at all.

            Alice is a bit horrible, so I didn’t care if I had upset her. She has a lovely turn of phrase at times. ‘A path at night a moonlit scar’ or, ‘the pink threads in a shredded blanket sky’, being two examples I liked this week but when you hear the whole poem… it’s just a bit… twee.

As a human being she is horrible, yes, but she does have talent and I so want to like her, but I can’t, I just can’t. I won’t go into the long list of horrible things she has done, but let’s just say that at least one member of the Quills has been deported and another has had their benefits stopped for being reported for moonlighting at a mini market.

            Alan (I like Alan), calls her the Poisoned Alice, or Stalin in mittens, and he won’t even speak to her, and not just because he had a Christmas grope with Mia who is now, thanks to the “anonymous “ tip to the immigration people, presumably back in Kazakhstan..

            So, back to my critique. I wasn’t sure if I was surprised or not, that some people actively seek to be twee… that that is the style they wish to write and read, and so what if they do? Exactly.    

People can’t like everything.

They can’t.

They really really can’t.

And the ones who say they do… are lying.

And twee is an opinion, and not a genre of poetry at all, according to Sue. And Sue, who is occasionally twee-ish, but a talented writer in any style, is clued up, and so I usually listen to Sue.

            Maureen doesn’t like Sue either, so we kind of bonded over that.

            In all fairness, we only really respect critique when its given by people who we respect, or who we think we should respect. Or who we want to impress. I am as guilty as anyone on that score, and so bring several poems to choose from to read aloud, and depending on who is present, read the ones I think they will like the best. Everyone filters in their own way… of course some assume everything they write is awesome and their filter is turned off, unlabeled, hidden, tucked in the waistband of their egos’.

            But we all want critique to be good… and we all prefer good to constructive. Of course people seek advice and instruction, but that’s more in composing skills, formatting, counting syllables, etc… constructive criticism is not welcome when you have read a piece to a group of your peers (who you think you are better than)…

            Twee.

            I think its okay to be twee if you are not trying to write a homage to the Wasteland, or trying to out beat the Beats. Maureen once said that a style finds you and she is right. It does, and if you only churn out three hundred poems about your garden and robins that visit your garden and flowers that grow in your garden and the circle of life that circles in your garden, then so what?… and even if I don’t like them, they have still made the world  slightly less unpalatable.

People love Pam Ayres. They do. Thousands do. Because she delivers what they want, and not all are twee, but they are gentle and only occasionally a little naughty. I like a couple, but I do admire her resolve and her commitment… its a bit like how Katy Price thinks she’s still famous… except Pam has written her own books…          

            I am not twee. I am a lot of things, and can be twee if I wanted to be… but I am not twee.

Maureen said the style comment when asked  how she would describe my writing. It was a pregnant pause that seemed to last quite a lot longer than it actually did, and I was surprised when what she had replied with was a considered, well thought out and erudite response…

            “Maureen,”, asked Alice, “ how would you describe R……..’s writing style, as it seems to be different with each poem he reads”…….

                                                (pregnant pause)

            “ Well”, Maureen considered, “ I would have to say that style and R……. are a long way from each other at the moment.”

            Well I took it as considered and well thought and erudite answer, but then that’s what critique really is. Its a boat on the waves that your ego rows down your ear canal into your brain where you only really hear the bits that you want to… and style is just the helmsman, your passion the cabin boy (that sounds wrong now but I’m committed), and your ability the salty old sea dog of a skipper, and whether or not you call your boat the Beatnik, the Pam Ayres or The Wasteland, it will only be as seaworthy,  as any twee men in a boat.

AUGUST 2020

COMPETITION.

Poets like to say, that there is no such thing as competition.  Between their work, nor themselves. Obviously, one has to ask therefore, why is there so many competitions for poets to enter, where they compete with other poets who don’t believe in competition… to win a competition. It is a lie. It is a lie so badly told and so badly does it stand up to scrutiny, it is as if Boris Johnson is our poet laureate, and has sworn on a copy of The Complete Idiots Guide to Making Stuff Up, that it is in fact… a fact.

            I do not enter writing competitions for a couple of reasons. The first of those reasons is that I am terrible with technology. What may seem a simple task to somebody else, leaves me in a cold panic, and I convince myself that at any minute, I will press the wrong key and send nuclear missiles to South Korea. I do not e-mail. I do not Skype. I do not play Space Invaders. I do not bank online; I do not cut and paste or tweet or instagram or spotify or anything much really. I do not even own a mobile phone. I think this is a valid reason, as most if not all competitions expect some form of electronic interaction, mostly the submitted work and the entry fee.

            The second reason why, and this one is the one we suspect but don’t like to admit, and that is that 98 percent of the time, competitions are fixed. They are, deep down, you know this is true, and though my estimate of the percentage may be out, a little high maybe, I stand by the statement.

Most poetry competitions are fixed.

They are.

This is not sour grapes. I do not enter them, for the reasons stated and also because I am not a good loser, but that’s not really the point here. How many times have you looked at the winners of a competition, whether it’s one you have entered or not and thought…

            “They’re not very good… surely there were better ones to choose from?”, I know I have. And of course, there are honest competitions out there, there are. It’s just that they are the minority.

            If you look at a winners list, as in first, second, third etc, and do a little digging, you will see that they all know each other, that they are known to the judges, or that they have all submitted to the same poetry journals, or been on writing courses given by a judge or someone in his circle, and in a lot of cases, are sleeping with each other. (Okay, the last one isn’t probably true… but it’s nice to pretend poets have an edge to them now and again).

            This isn’t all gossip and supposition. This is a popular view amongst… and this may shock you, amongst poetry journal editors. They have known this exists for years, and it is only the fact that the internet has afforded poets who don’t think poetry is competitive, a vast and multitudinous amount of poetry competitions, that this isn’t so glaringly obviously happening.

            You may disagree. That was a statement, not permission, and so you will probably be a little angry with me… so angry, in fact, you will probably write in to complain and write that this is a horrible and libellous accusation and that the fourteen poetry competitions that you have won in your brother-in-law’s poetry journal were won fair and square.

            On a positive note, because this has been brought to light recently in a number of articles written by more intelligent and less bitter poets than myself, steps are being taken to clean up the voting and award giving procedures… but like in cricket… you can only see an Australian sandpaper a ball after he’s done it… I know that makes no sense, but I always like to remind myself of when Steve Smith cried on television because he got caught cheating…

            The monthly session of the Quills was yesterday, and as usual, my post mortem was sat there waiting for me when I woke up this morning, perched on the memory part of my brain like an Australian cricketer (again, I’m really sorry)… There was the usual attendees, I won’t name them all, as some I have mentioned in previous entries, and the rest will, I am sure, be mentioned in the future.  Bob was there. And Bob, smug pretentious cardigan real ale bag of bread in his coat pocket to feed the pigeons outside Marks and Spencer’s, is a competition winner. I won’t go over old ground, and whether or not he won a fair competition or not… a competition winner Bob is. Bob has been known to go a whole session without mentioning it once, but very rarely.  Alan calls him Bob by name Bob by talent, (I like Alan), and it is true… his poetry is terrible… but a competition winner he still be.

            Bob won the Goole and District Chamber of Commerce Poetry Award of the Year For All Ages and Gender Currently Living in a Fifteen Mile Radius as Counted from Pickerstaff’s Water Tower… or the GDCCPAYFAAGCLFMRCPWT for short. And though this was in 1970 something, Bob has never risen above the heights of such an illustrious beginning. He has read the winning poem several times, mostly when Maureen says there is enough time to go round the room again.  It is… and one must remember that I have my opinion, and you have the wrong one if it’s different to mine, it is… Bob’s poetry is… it’s… but then he won a competition so it can’t be… bad… can it?   

            It is.

            Really.

            Really really bad. So bad in fact, here’s an example from a poem he read out a few days after the Grenfell disaster, when countless people lost their lives in that block of flats.

‘and I could feel the children crying, could feel the heat they felt as their skin was melting’

            ‘all because of substandard building regulations for insulation and felting’

            Horrendous, and it would be even more so if it were not so heartfelt, or if he truly did not believe it was a sincere and appropriate tribute to the victims… because if he had done it as a joke, I think I would have punched him.

            He is one of those poets that think they are needed. That his poems are little pools of heaven that we might float on above and beyond the flames of the hell that is affordable housing in half derelict concrete egg boxes .He thinks he can heal the world, and God bless him, he isn’t a bad guy, just a bad poet, and I am pleased he won something, once.

            Competition is alive and well. It is in all of us, and cannot be dismissed by the virtuous, or by the non-participants like myself. It is there every time we hear a rivals work, there every time we open a poetry book, every time we finish a line, for doesn’t the biggest competition of all occur right in the heart of us… it does. 

            A famous stone mason once chiseled above a door about it not being about the winning , but about taking part, and though I am paraphrasing, it also said in smaller chiseled letters, that competition is how you spin it , and that not all of us will get caught rubbing sandpaper on the ball.

JULY 2020

THE POETS PROBLEM WITH STICKS.

Maureen doesn’t like me very much.

I added the very much bit… what I really meant was Maureen doesn’t like me at all.

She is our leader, our founder and our resident red pencil grammar Nazi. Even when we read out loud, she can hear the mistakes as if she is reading them over your shoulder, it is an amazing talent, honestly, it is. But then Hitler could paint a bit, and apparently remember whole conversations from years back… maybe dictatorship and being artistically mediocre go hand in hand. Perhaps genocides only happen because some general was told his macrame was not up to scratch.

            Anyway, as usual when talking about Maureen, I have ended up with Hitler so I will move swiftly on… except it’s difficult to move on from Maureen. Maureen is present. And when I say present I mean present as in she is everywhere… as owner also, of The Tranquillity Tea and Cake, she has been imprinted over her twelve years of ownership into every floorboard, into every seat and cushion and is a singular entity spread into the very space the teashop inhabits.

Maureen is also not very good at writing. Harsh perhaps. I myself am no Terry Pratchett, nor Wilfred Owen, nor… other writers that have actually sold something, but it is true nonetheless. Maureen is bad. Really, really bad.

            At the Quills, we always review what one of us has read out, and as you well know, critique is only welcome if it comes in the same shape of gushing praise, and a wow or two. Now, if you happened to read last month’s issue, you will have read that I said writing is easy, and it is, apart from all the hard bits I also mentioned, writing is very easy indeed. Critique, is not. Easy. To give or to take. That, is, if the critique is not in the same shape as gushing praise, and the wows are more of a… ”oh”, then it is crushing, disheartening, suffocating and, as we all will not admit, smugly funny when aimed at somebody else.

            I won’t be discussing critique today, as I don’t want to.

            Maureen is bad at writing and has the boundless lack of self-awareness on the matter that all bad writers share. What Maureen does have though, is the self-awareness that her name is lacking in the poetical department, that her name does not quite match her poetry, her ethereal, fey poetry she seems drawn to and relishes in, or as Alan likes to call it, her Malice in Blunderland stuff. (I like Alan). Maureen Spittle she realised, does not cut the mustard, and so she sought a name more suited to bosky glades or meandering streams.

            Delphine. That is her pen name. Just … Delphine.

            People are drawn to Maureen. Much how a black hole will eventually suck the very life out of the universe… and I get it, I do. She is passionate about writers and writing, she puts on open mic nights for spoken word, (everyone gets ten minutes, Delphine gets what Delphine wants), she founded the Quills, helps us all self-publish, (a subject I will return to in future entries), she attends everything artistically related in our grubby little town and will help anyone with their grammar, if they want it or not. But she doesn’t like me… at all.

            Why you ask.? Yes, you did, one of you at the back asked, and I will be glad to tell you.

The reason she doesn’t like me… at all, is clouds.

            Clouds.

            A few years back in what must have been in the early days of my appearances at the Quills, Maureen, (I refuse to call her Delphine in my own sanctuary of righteous indignation), and I had an argument about clouds.

            Now, I am no meteorologist, to the extent that I just had to look up how to spell it, but I know two things about clouds as they pertain to a writer. The first thing is, clouds already have names. They do. You know they do, you may not know all of them and you might misname them, but you know some, like cirrhus and cumulus, etc… no… no etc, that’s it, I know two, but what I do know is that there isn’t a type of cloud in the sky that doesn’t have a name. There are sub genres of clouds within subgenres of clouds, named for height and depth and colour and speed and mass and shape and time and longevity… a cloud is and never is, just a cloud.

 Number two, is that writer’s and particularly poets, spend waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long and waaaaaaaaaay too much effort, in trying to describe clouds, by not using the names that already exist for clouds. And yes, I know that that is our job, to present the world through the prisms of a kaleidoscopic eye, but come on…..I just can’t get excited about clouds, but here came the problem with Maureen, for as lazy as I am in the describing a cloud department, even I know it is lame to call a cloud a ball of cotton wool… and had to say so…

            “Thank you, thank you, now if… yes R…

            “I liked it in principle Maureen… but”

            “Delphine, it’s Delphine”

            “Yes, sorry… I like the bit with the meandering stream… but the cloud “

            “What about the cloud”

            “You said it was like a ball of cotton wool…”

            “Because it was… it was like a ball of cotton wool”

            “But don’t you think that’s a bit cliche”

            “No, R… I don’t… that’s what it looked like…

            “Yes, okay I get that, but couldn’t you have found a better way of saying that”

            “Why would I? When that is what it looked like”

            “You might as well have said the cloud looked like a cloud then…”

            “That’s what I did do… I wrote that the cloud. looked like a cloud that looked like a ball of cotton wool”

And if it wasn’t for Brenda jumping in and saying she thought the poem was marvellous, especially the bosky glade bit, I think we would still be in that cotton wool loop now.

            I will leave you with this, because Derek is about to read his poem… it will be about the bypass, but hey ho. We mustn’t sweat the small stuff so much, a cloud mustn’t be a cotton wool ball, EVER, but it can on occasion, be honoured by simply calling it a cloud., despite saying earlier a cloud is never just a cloud., that was science… It is much the same with sticks. Sticks cannot be much else, when its being a stick, because when it’s not a stick, but a machine gun or a pirate’s sword in a young boy’s hand, it is still a stick, at heart. And as any writer, and especially poets will tell you, these are the very sticks we flog ourselves to death with…

                        yep… it’s about the bypass.

JUNE 2020

TWAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT .

Writing is easy.

            There, I’ve said it.

            It is.

            It’s only the bits that you don’t like that are hard. Like grammar, and spelling, and finding the time and a pen that works or a computer that’s free. Those bits make writing hard. There are lots of other stuff that is hard too, as the more you get into writing, the more you find out that you are not doing it right, and, or, doing it well.

            Every line you write is a skipping rope waiting to trip you up……with bad analogies most likely….or was that a metaphor  ?……you see, the more you write, and the more you read about writing, you realise that everything has a name. Metaphor, analogy, scansion, conjugation, elision percussive, metre, pentameter, assonance, simile and prosody to name but a fraction… and do you know what? You don’t need to know what things are called… you don’t. You really don’t.

            So, writing is easy and unless you are taking a Creative Writing course where they demand you do know the name of things, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your assonance from your elision…all that matters is that you have got your words down, in an order that you are happy with.

            For example… you may have written…. ‘Billy’s boyhood bully is now a builder’…it isn’t necessary for you to know that that is alliteration… of course you have noticed the preponderance of “b” words, of course you have, you are not alliterate, but knowing its name doesn’t make it more “b” does it…and likewise , you don’t need to know that when you wrote  “Billy’s boyhood bully is now a builder, and when he turned up to give him a quote on a new conservatory, Billy told him to bugger off”, you were employing both repetition and colloquialism…it is enough that your point was made.

            There are perfectionists.

            Of course there are.

            There is.

            And they are easy to wind up. For instance, having typed the above, I can hear a mob forming, sharpening their red pencils and lighting torches, smiling maniacally and salivating over the thought of burning me at the steak…sorry. But, I find it fun…..except, knowingly messing with the grammar police, is actually hypocritical in a way, as I need to know grammar and the names of things to actually take the mickey…….my only redemption is that there will be mistakes in here that I had no control over, and the name for that is hubris.

            Which brings me to a very good point.

            Do I actually believe in what I have just written.

            Do I?

            It doesn’t seem likely, as I am after all, a writer, and writer’s lie. This isn’t a textbook, it’s a journal entry, it’s an inky whinge and at its very best, a salutary tale of what happens to failed novelists.

            Not all poets are failed novelists, I will grant you that, but I think the percentage is high enough that even now, you may have wandered off in your head to that cardboard box beneath the bed,  or for your finger perhaps, to direct the mouse to waver over that file marked NOVEL NUMBER ONE….and though I have never attempted a novel myself…I feel your pain..I really really really do because we are all in this together.

            Writers who tell you we are all in this together are talking out their backsides.

            We are not.

            And yet we seek the company of others like ourselves,  for writers can convey empathy as well as any estate agent., and though its not the comfort of strangers exactly, it is close, as in we just want to be in the company of others who are as equally frustrated, delusional, and as miserable as

we are, for we are all just empty castles with great potential and excellent views.

            Every Tuesday nearest to the last of the month, I could have said that better but I don’t care, I attend the Tranquility Tea and Cake shop, where at three in the afternoon, along with several other amateur ( is amateur fair?….yes….very fair), writers for two hours of gaudy show and tell. We all sit there, sometimes six of us, mostly nine or ten, and read out the reams of genius we have prepared.

We are known as The Quills, and though not exactly a gang, we are formidable, in the way that I can’t actually think of… and….oh, I have to go now, Maureen is staring at me, I think we are about to start…….