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Follow the Poet

Follow the Poet

I met a man who lost his mind
in some lost place I had to find,
follow me the wise man said,
but he walked behind.
(Lyric from 'Teachers' by Leonard Cohen)

Poetry Rhymes with Retinopathy

On 9 January 2018 I wrote a blog post for the Royal National Institute of Blind People titled Does Poetry Rhyme with Retinopathy? In it I talk about my path into blindness and the methods I have tried and the ones I currently use to perform my poetry. I was able to include links to audio performances of different technologies reading a couple of my poems.

The most surprising feedback came this week when the lady who asked me to write the blog post called me and said that one of the other departments do a monthly newsletter and would like to include my blog post in an issue ... and would I like to write a poem for Valentine's Day for them.

Yes folks, Valentine's Day is looming so you need to start ordering your bunches of flowers and boxes of chocolates, finding the perfect card or penning your own verse to your beloved! Always a sucker for punishment I replied, “I'd love to!”

So, that afternoon, I received a call from the newsletter team and I had a lovely conversation with a lady there, and it was clarified that it was not strictly a Valentine's poem they wanted but one that touches on the sense of connection that RNIB has with its members and supporters. Ideally it'll fit on a postcard but could go in the newsletter if I can't restrain my scribblings ;) I used to love poetry postcards so I'm going to write a short succinct poem :)

Blind Leading the Blind

I reckon one of those ‘finger of God’ shafts of light must be pointing at me this week demanding, “Go and tell the poetry message to the blind,” though thankfully I haven't been commanded to go tell it on the mountain! Cardiff Institute for the Blind also got in touch to ask if I'd like to visit and do a reading and perhaps a short workshop. To this I also replied, “I'd love to!” It'll be the first workshop session I've ever done, but fortunately I think it'll be a smallish sized group and only a segment of the regular 2-hour poetry club meeting. I'm delighted and impressed that there is a poetry club for blind and visually impaired people in Cardiff. The event is scheduled for April and I'll blog about the experience afterwards, you can be sure of that :)

Followers and Friends

I know some people don't enjoy the social media side of being a poet. I know, it can consume time that could be used more productively in drafting a new work, editing an in-progress piece, or submitting something to a magazine or competition. I could have written a handful of haiku or sketched out the plot for a Beowulfian epic in the time I spend writing my weekly blog posts, but I believe it is important to have a social media presence. I have received invites to read at events, to write articles for magazines, and I learn about submission deadlines and themes more often than not via Twitter and Facebook.

SO, this week, I urge you to join Twitter and / or Facebook if you haven't already, or set yourself a goal to check in at least once per week if you normally only peek at a timeline once a month. Expand your social horizons this week and find two more poets on Facebook or Twitter to follow or, even better, decide to add one new poetry person every week or every month. As 21st century poets it's vital that we expand not just our writing but our interactions online as well as in real life.

This week I followed Lavinia Greenlaw on Twitter. Although I knew her name I didn't know much about her writing. This month the Poetry Library CDs by Post service sent me a CD of her reading 35 of her poems and I love all of them! There are so many things that I can relate to in them — she talks about The Thames and London as a whole, and I spent a poetically fruitful two years working in London and writing alongside The Thames whilst eating my lunch by Lambeth Bridge, as related two weeks ago in my post, Dark Side of the Poet; I wrote a monologue for the Live Canon Playwriting for Poets course just last week in response to the prompt: The Thames Speaks. My labour of love is a poetic monologue short story in verse called Plastic Life, set entirely in London and The Thames monologue may fit nicely into it.

I have lived in London for most of my life, and have worked in different places along the River Thames, and from anywhere along the river you can see something of the city's history; sometimes a little bit of everything of the city's history.
(From the introduction to River History on the CD ‘Lavinia Greenlaw Reads from Her poems’)

London is full of unexpected and imperfect kinds of beauty, one of which is its sunset, and the wonderfully rosy-golden sunsets we sometimes enjoy are actually due to atmospheric pollution which breaks up the blue end of the light spectrum.
(Introduction to ‘From Scattered Blue’)

As I've mentioned before, I studied Chemistry at university, not English. Poems that draw science into them always interest me.

Titration is the slow addition of one solution of a known concentration (called a titrant) to a known volume of another solution of unknown concentration until the reaction reaches neutralization, which is often indicated by a color change.

I drive back along the river
like I always do, not noticing.
And something in the light
tears open the smoke from the power station chimney.
Each twist and fold
the construction of its slow, muscular, eventual rise
and there, right at the edge of it,
a continual breaking up into sky.
(opening stanza from ‘From Scattered Blue’ by Lavinia Greenlaw, transcribed by Giles L. Turnbull)

Just like titration and just like cookery adding just enough of the right ingredients can be the difference between a poem rising or falling flat ... like baking Yorkshire Pudding with self raising flour rather than plain flour (don't try this at home, if you use self raising flour your puddings will prove contradictory and remain a sulky mess in the bottom of the tin!) The inclusion of a hint of science can tip the poem across the border, from neutral to slightly acidic, creating a colour change and making your tongue tingle and your toes curl.

#Poetry #Science #Cookery #Blindness @LaviniaGreenlaw @CardiffBlind

Published inblindnesseducationPoetry


  1. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    Often wondered about writing a blog myself. Thanks for the tips Giles!

  2. I very much enjoyed this, though social media presence is increasingly a mixed blessing.

    I often encourage poets to have one, but then I end up talking to people who are overwhelmed by it, and indeed I have to keep off FaceBook or Twitter myself in order to get anything done, these days. And when people fall out in FaceBook threads, it wrecks my whole day — I really hate it when somebody says something nasty.

    I believe some holidays advertise themselves as Wifi-free. It’s a thought!

    And I like to read blogs, but now I can’t read all the bloggers I follow because I haven’t got enough life. I don’t blog more often than once a fortnight or three weeks, because I feel guilty about asking people to read me when I don’t have time to read them. What is the answer please? Go and tell it on the Facebook, but I may miss the posting.

    I still like letters. Those things on paper, which I think you CAN read with your magic glasses, right? 🙂

  3. Giles Giles

    I am not a heavy FB and Twitter user becuase I simply can’t keep up with everything. My Twitter app lets me set up individual buffers from people I definitely don’t want to miss a tweet by (Sphinx Reviews is one of them!) so I check those maybe twice a week plus any direct messages or mentions. My timeline receives over 1000 tweets per day so finding a tweet amongst those is needle in a haystack time! Likewise FB I am sure I don’t see half of what my friends post because FB makes algorithmic decisions about what it thinks I want to see, grrrr. I wish my marvelous glasses could read letters but sadly not if they are handwritten. They can read typed letters but that’s it. I cannot hand write much anymore. Signing and dating and writing to whomever on the inside cover of my pamphlet is as much as I can manage, and that took practice. When you can’t see what you’re righting you’ve no sense of how large or tiny the text is, and I struggle to tell how much space I’ve got on the line, or whether I’m writing in a straight line or at an angle with my current line veering up into the previous line! I find it very hard to write even my name in a noicy place because I have to mentally spell each letter as I write it because I need to think how to shape the letter! In short, I need to practice handwriting but I need it as little as I do Braille! If I wrote notes for poems by hand I couldn’t read them afterwards … There is a device in America that is a clipboard with a single metal loop that stretches across the width of an A4 page. It is on a pole down the side of the clipboard so it can be moved up or down one line at a time. I would practice my handwriting if I had one of those, but they are an American item that doesn’t show up on eBay and although the item is affordable postage is always crazy (like $200 by FedEx) … there’s probably a poem waiting to be written, The Lost Art (and Affordability) of Handwriting :/ xx

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