Spoetify #7 Here Come the Girls (Ernie-K-Doe, written very early this morning with a dreamy dog)

Taut and brisk

As I was shown

I pull the sheet under

Dream for a

Moment

Will they notice

Appreciate

My hospital corner

And wonder who created it?

All the beds

Are out

Like Orphans

I could tuck

Them in

Switch out

The light

Listen to the whispers

Till they ….

But they are

Not orphans

And I am

No governess

Kindly or

Otherwise

I push the

Bed against

The wall

With my knee

And feel again

My efficiency.

The room is as they requested it

But executed by me.

So-me. So me.

Sharp lines

Crease fold

Crisp

Smooth

Cool

‘Leave a space for us to fill’

Was their only request

With what?

Balloons

Oiled wrestlers

Bunnies

Alcohol

A vomitarium

I look at the carpet

And express my sympathies.

It is not for me

To consider

Until tomorrow.

I go to the

Middle bed

Run my hands

Over the nylon sash

Laying in wait

For the incoming queen

The Bride-to-Be

And tuck a condom beneath its folds.

Spoetify #6 Here (Christine and the Queens, written very early this morning in a kind of blank mood with a sympathetic dog)

Feel your feet on the floor

Hear the sounds around you

Of traffic, elliptical bubbles of breath

That is your here, the moment you’re in

And everything is fine if you’re here

But what if

What if even as I’m writing this I feel

Dark thundering violins

And a sci-fi indifference about what

I’m being told

To do.

I like to live in a different here

Hold a here in two hands

Cupped like a marble

Blow discretely

Let it unfold

A different here to floorboards and lorries

One where I own

A fashion house! In Paris!

Wear a crisp white shirt!

Eat the nub of a baguette for lunch,

Make decisions!

Or here is a beach at dawn

And in my here moment

I’m alone

And finally can, really can

Find my quiet

So we breathe together.

But then a truck farts past outside

I see a smear on the window

And it guides me back

To my now here.

Spoetify #5 Dancing In the Dark (sung by Ella Fitzgerald, written very early this morning with an indifferent dog)

Cut down, I swim up

Each limb rising

Till I know the separateness of me

Each part, a butcher’s cow

Labelled, distinct

Wholly beautiful

Each limb rises

Smoke, ether, ash

Climb the stairs through nightime

And if you shift your head to the left

You change from Florence Nightingale to Faerie Ball

Only I push through the velvet.

How often does no-one see?

It’s a waste to slide between electrified sheets

And join the others farting –

Become the unit once more of milk and toothbrush

Each limb rises, caressing its own circle

And I grimace

Not to be interesting

Or ironic

Or cool

Or ‘yeah I think I’ve got that one. On vinyl somewhere.’

If I could scrub myself of expectations

I would – clean. To the bone of each limb rising.

Till then I’ll dance in the dark.

Spoetify #4 Jump Around (House Of Pain, 1992, written very early this morning with a recalcitrant dog)

Today my pen is not where it should be

Not chasing over pages of insecurity

The notebook

Has removed itself

From the situation

Of my hands

I laid it down somewhere

While thinking of potato peels, Jane Russell, the plague

It seized its chance,

Soaked into the scenery

So here we are. In a spare unwritten notebook

Leaves left, from 2003

If I believe the page that came before me.

So I triple salchow back to then

When I spent £233 in rent

(a month? a week? In London?)

This punches my brain off-cortex

Sends it spinning down chats recollected.

With older people

The Do You Remembers?, who talk only of when

Fags were two quid

Milk was 10p

A car was shilling

And happiness was free

I look at 2003, at the patterns of words

That came from a woman

Who is WORKING VERY HARD

Trying to find her place in a scene

A woman who I’m very proud to have been.

Spoetify #3 What a Fool Believes (The Doobie Brothers, 1978. Written very early this morning with a smelly dog)

‘It’s still not real to me’ his mouth said.

His thin shoulders agreed

‘But I know what I saw’.

‘I was out early with the dog –

The sky though felt different today –

Vermillion and toasty

A hushed forest floor.’

He gazed at the fuzzy microphone,

spinning bewilderment.

‘I almost took a photo

But then I thought – forget it

How often do we think that

and then genuinely regret it?’

He mops his brow with the dog.

‘Listen, I”m not a hocus pocus kind of guy

But I trust what I see what I know with my eye

There it was – not a leprechaun or lights in the sky

Over there, twixt the glade and the sty

Was a smart little man in navy suit and tie

Handing out money and saying he’d try

To the poor little folks who were standing by

He listened to a woman, shook his head with a sigh

Said he didn’t know, was sorry, it was wrong, wouldn’t fly

He took out a pen, drew up a plan

The woman beamed, already a fan

He made one call – then it was done

Waved off the woman’s thanks, said he had to run

He liked to go where the press wouldn’t see

And that was when he spotted me

And he vanished – like that – just plain disappeared

Just me, dog and little folk – no one affeared.’

He squinted hard at the lady-with-the-mic.

‘I can see that you’re looking at me with suspicion

But there’s no reward for this – I’m not on commission

And I’ll be met in the pub with a ton of derision

But I’m sure – what I saw – was – an honest politician!’

Spoetify #2 Ladies of the Canyon (written very early in the morning beside a creaky dog)

Gloria said to dig below

So she does, for the millionth time, as she’s told to

The sand there is hot red blood of course but powder

Her mother’s blood perhaps? Old blood? Dried blood?

Thoughts swarm and meander up over, behind the horizon

There is nothing but mother’s blood

She squints towards the sun

and thinks of the crows feet far too late to stop them

The dogs trots off

Returns

With a dead thing?

No

Just green fronds

The last living thing in this godforsaken etcetera

But Gloria said dig down below.

Introducing Spoetify!

I hate a disclaimer, but I am not a poet; it is not where my hand automatically goes when I sit down to write something. Never has. That being said, the alchemy created from listening to some incredible poets at the Testify Poetry event and their headliner, Lisa O’Hare, and the fact that I am still surfing for a big idea at the moment means that I am adapting the way I get my creative cookies – hence – poetry. So I introduce you to … Spoetify! I’m going to cruise through my playlist every morning, pick a song title and write a poem inspired by that title. Listen, many, if not all, will be shit. It’s just for fun. Feel free to join in.

The Delivery Man (sort of after the Elvis Costello song and written very early this morning)

Your seams stretch tight like crocodile’s teeth as you supplicate.

Khaki khaki moves apart. You bend.

White T-shirt. Roll up those sleeves, baby,

Make me your queen of the drop off

Hard-curved calves, biceps, steel-tipped boots

Show me yourself

I didn’t catch your tattoo’s story

Too busy delving into the musk sweat of a thousand porches and side gates.

I like the sweet smell of a brown bin.

I could talk about your hands, but I bet

they all

write about your hands in their red books.

In the window like flies

waiting for anyone to arrive.

This has no meaningful title for a reason

I’ve taken a step back from writing recently – that’s what the pros call it, isn’t it? A break, a step back, focussed my energies elsewhere. This is what people call it when they have a handle on their life or at least pretend they have a handle on their life and believe in fake it till you make it.

I despised these people for a while. now I envy them.

A lot of this past year has left me feeling like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, in that bit when he’s spinning out and can hear the helicopter above him (massive para-remembering here) except my experience was not drug fuelled and the sound of the helicopter was the theme tune for Finding Nemo at 7.30 in the morning. But I sure did a lot of squinting, alternating big eye and little eye in an attempt to get a grip and at least think about getting out of my pyjamas.

I also did a lot of things that are already becoming cliched 2020 things – I homeschooled, I built a veg patch and thought about planting things. We got a dog. I’m very lucky.

But I also experienced other things that are already sadly becoming part of the cliched 2020 experience, thought it destroys me to think that such things become so commonplace that they already feel tired to write about. I tried to hold my family together with Zoom style pub quizzes, I watched older relatives suffer alone, fret about doctor’s appointments. I felt guilty about not being there, because that would be the boldest sacrifice to make, to fling a suitcase together and move in. But I didn’t. I grieved for a relative who couldn’t get the help they needed because of the ‘ongoing situation’ and died. I felt my asthma creep up again and again and grip hold of my lungs, uninvited. Not a good time to have an exacerbation.

I tried to hold it together. I specialise in writing characters who look as if they are holding it together and being very brave. This year, I became one of my characters.

And about three moths into trying to be good, a do my Duolingo, and my Yoga and writing, yes my writing! I stopped doing all of it.

And now the worlds has shifted ever so slightly again; my son is back at school (reluctantly) and I meditated this morning. Really badly, but I sat there for fifteen minutes waiting for my head to stop thinking about drag queens. I did a Spanish lesson. And then I thought about writing.

But what to write about when nothing has happened? Well, when so much has happened but none of it is what I want to write about? I’m trying to bizarro myself – my natural instinct would be to keep hurling myself at the page like a bird at a window until one of us breaks.

But this time I’m sitting it out. I will do my journalling. I am very slowly editing a piece of theatre – maybe two lines a day. And as soon as I get the inkling to do something else (which usually happens within the first five minutes of writing)I am walking as far away from it as I can. This year has sucked all the grit out of me and if my writing pace is geriatric as a result, so be it.

The veg patch out the back still contains no vegetables, just mud. But inevitably, there are weeds and things pushing through the surface.

Green shoots. Upwards. More cliches, but still.

Great, said the people

‘Great’, said the people, ‘shielding is terrible but at least you’ll be sealed in. you’ll be really able to ‘get stuff done’, you’ll be the shutterstock photo of productivity, scribbling away, steaming cup of coffee – no, turmeric tea – to hand. You’ll be wearing glasses, even!’

‘I don’t wear glasses.’

‘No, but in the photo you are,’ said the people, and by people I mean the idealistic voice in my head.

‘But I have a 5 year old to look after’

‘That’ll be great, too!’ said the people. ‘He’ll be acquainting himself with nature, independently making dens in the garden, exploring twigs. You’ll come together for meditation and a wholemeal muffin and he’ll put himself to bed. In the meantime – you’ll finish all the ideas floating around in your head and start new ones – podcasts, plays, poems, prose – you’ll generate all the pees!’

Great. Great.

Need I point out that the idealistic part of my mind was inaccurate in their prediction? I feel little sense of failure – more a battered pride, like a defeated rugby player, as I write this down before you. I did write some monologues and did a couple of fantastic workshops (more later). We did a little bit of home learning most days and on some days we only watched one film, which has become the seal of academic excellence in our house. My son has returned to school thinking that dollars are our national unit of currency from the amount of America he has imbibed, but that will be lost over time.

Childcare aside, I cannot avoid the image of the blank page which has loomed large during lockdown life. The blank white page is what writers have in common (along with crushing self doubt). And of course, the people (the idealistic voice) thinks that a blank white page is a brilliant bedsheet to doodle, to scrawl, to play on.

Now that my son is back at school, there is finally space to contemplate the blank white page – but there is nothing to fill it with. And now, when I need them most, the people are quiet, watchful, aware of the buzzing and droning of a million tiny other voices gaining momentum on my feeling of potential and positivity, ready to cut it off at the the legs. I walk away, think, and by think I mean watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for a bit.

Problem is that there’s been no stimulus for the LONGEST TIME. As a shielder, I’ve missed tuning into the overheard dialogue of the outside world; the initimate breathless chat of 2 joggers, the abrupt tone of an old man on a mobile phone that he doesn’t trust, the odd triangulated conversation outside the Pound Bakery. Not the stuff that’s already been turned into a line for an actor to say but the raw stuff, the fucking ridiculous things we say, I say, every day. I miss human contact as well of course – I’m not a psychopath – but I really miss the source material provided by being outside.

As one door closes, another one etc etc. I’ve been fortunate to have regular work coming in and I’ve taken proper advantage of the online goodies offered by great writers in the form of online workshops. A session with Jenn Ashworth organised by Arvon reminded me that, yes, now is weird, and yes, lowering one’s own expectations is also good. Also, as a substitute to those snatches of overheard dialogue, go on to messageboards for inspiration. Replace your ears with your eyes and trawl Reddit or Mumsnet for character ideas. You’ll miss the nuances of accent and emphasis, but you’ll have a pool of anecdotal inspiration as big as the universe.

From Anna Jordan’s fantastic workshop with Without a Paddle Theatre, I’ve thought about being a bit less precious about the blank page. It doesn’t have to be neat, it’s not a Personal Record of Achievement (Remember those, anyone?). It’s a living document, so fill it with notes, lists, automatic writing. It doesn’t have to be a script. As soon as you make a mark on it, you’ve made a mark.

And from a Q and A session with Simon Stephens, hosted by Up ‘Ere productions, I learnt a most reassuring thing. Writing is not just sitting at a desk, being the shutterstock photo. Writing is also thinking, walking around, reading, watching films that are relevant to my WIP or made by a creator that I admire or want to learn about. So even though my life over the past 4 months has been smaller and more compressed in scope, it has not been empty. that being said, I don’t think I can justify watching Minions as part of my research process.