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Chronology of a Poem

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The Chronology of a Poem

Dates and Times

I'm curious about your poetry writing habits. Do you set aside specific times on specific days for writing? Are you so strict that you only write odes on a Monday, sonnets on a Wednesday and villanelles on a Friday? Do you take bank holidays off, or festive days off, or quite the opposite and set to on a poem rather than watching the Queen's Speach or State of the Nation address?

I'm kind of a higgledy-piggledy person. Apart from my Sunday website post which, if I haven't been disciplined to start drafting it mid-week, I find myself on a Sunday morning writing it from scratch, as I am this morning. The majority of my poetry comes in bursts as and when ideas strike my brain. I jot them down, think a little about them and try a few ideas out, but then switch back to the newspaper article, Facebook post or film that I was reading / watching. I will dip back in and out of the poetry idea during the course of the other activity, and sometimes I'll get so caught up in the poetry I'll stop the film, and other times I won't think any more about the poetry for perhaps the rest of the week.

Distractions Distractions Distractions

I remember one of my high school music teachers who I'd often see at classical concerts in Harrogate saying to me that she and her friend often found their minds wandering in strange directions while they were sitting listening to music from Pergolesi to Penderecki. She decided that she goes to classical concerts as much for the thinking time as for the musical experience, and I find exactly the same thing — the number of poetic ideas that crop up while I'm supposed to be paying attention to something else is quite startling!

Teaching the Technology

You'll notice I used the term higgledy-piggledy in this post and my screen reader renders the higgledy part perfectly but piggledy emerges sounding like "pig lady" which I think is a dismal state of affairs — a rather disturbing genetic experiment the likes of which might appear in The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) or Oryx and Crake (Margret Atwood) certainly not PC!

As I was looking to see if I have an audiobook copy of Oryx and Crake I asked my laptop to search itself for Atwood and, as I hoped, there was a result for Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake. Rather strangely the screen reader was pronouncing Margaret as "Marge Aret". I was sure it didn't normally do that. I deduced that it was because I phonetically spelled out the name Marg as "Marge" because otherwise it sounds very close to Mark and it took me a while to spot that my new Facebook friend was a female Marg and not a male Mark! Thankfully this was easily fixed by requiring Marg to be pronounced Marge when it's the whole word only, not at the start of a word like Margaret or in the middle of a word like unmarginalized; trying to find a word with ‘marg’ in the middle of it absorbed a few more minutes of time though!

So, to get back to higgledy-piggledy, I've had to spend 5 mins of my writing time to educate the screen reader on a better pronunciation. I've phonetically written it as higgledypiggaldee which is sounding just about right — the final “-dy” being pronounced as “dee” is a little longer than a human would tend to say it, but it's the best I can come up with :)

The Poetic Ledger

Two weeks ago, 19 March 2017, I talked in Crazy Encounters of the Poetic Kind about coming from a time when computers were in their infancy — at least compared to the desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones that we're hooked up to today. My first poems date from my last years of high school and the only technology that I had access to, in addition to pen and paper, was an electric typewriter style word processor

In those days I was the kind of poet who would sit down and write a poem and finish it before I started writing anything else; oh for those uncomplicated youthful days. I used to write the date at the bottom of each poem and at some point I created a document to list all of those dates. I suspect it's about 50 poems long. I have a printout of that list which I need to scan in, at which point I'll discover whether it is a typed list of poem names to which I've hand written the respective dates, or if I typed in the name and the date. The latter would be far more preferable because scanning and OCRing handwriting doesn't always work very well.

Can I Ask You on a Date?

I'm fortunate to have electronic copies of very nearly every poem I've ever written and an awful lot of odds and ends that I've jotted down in the belief that they might one day turn into something more substantial. For some reason when I left home for university I stopped making a note of any dates that I started or finished a poem.

Sometimes I can mentally place a poem with a location where I wrote it, for example a poem which talks about ‘looking over the bay towards the far lights’ relates to when I lived in the Uplands area of Swansea in the years after we graduated, which means it will date from 1995 to 1998, most likely the earlier part of that range. From our back yard we had a view over the bay towards “the dystopian mesh of pipes, turrets, chimneys and constant smoke” of Port Talbot steel works, where often there would be fire burning from the tops of the chimneys. I love in Michael Burgess's section of that article, how he talks about “Those driving by on the M4, or just passing through on their way to Bridgend or Neath, are prone to think it a monstrosity - an ugly, nightmarish blot on the south Wales horizon”. Michael relates how it's nothing special to somebody who lives in the town. From the very first time I saw the lights of Port Talbot steel works through the train window whilst travelling alone at age 17 to stay overnight at a guest house in Swansea before attending my interview with the microbiology department of Swansea University, I found Port Talbot entirely beautiful, especially when you pass it in the dark when it looks wildly alien.

For the most part I can't estimate dates that easily any more. That's partly because I keep tinkering with poems even years after they were “finished” and it'd be an administrative nightmare updating a list of dates for each individual poem. I have enough trouble remembering what I've titled a poem from 5 years ago when I want to find a copy of it on my computer! I often end up asking the computer to search for a couple of words that have stuck in my mind from the poem, hoping that the poem will appear in the list of possible files in the search results. Ask me next year in which post I talked about getting my screen reader to pronounce higgledy-piggledy correctly and the chances of me remembering that it was in a post about chronology of a poem, or even whether it was a 2016 post or a 2017 one, are slim. If I search the my website folder for the word ‘higgledy’ then there are only going to be one or two results; if I searched for the term ‘screen reader’ there will be hundreds! This probably reveals a very juvenile side to my nature that I've never managed to shake off, but I love my poem Pooh Sticks because it means I can ask my computer to search for pooh :)

Do you keep track of what dates you finished a poem? Leave a comment if you do because I'd love some tips :)

#Chronology #Poetry #PortTalbot #Swansea #ScreenReader #Pronunciation #MichaelBurgess @WelshJourno

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