On Teaching Creative Writing

“The problem of the writer is not to produce writing; there is plenty of it. It is – and this is the heart of my message – in one sense to suppress writing, to defeat facile expression, to control the verbal abundance most of us generate, to be, fundamentally, a critic. It is to become not a writer but a re-writer, sifting, challenging, revising and questioning one’s own expression until what is produced becomes inescapable, the thing that, in all authenticity, it is necessary for this writer to write.”
Malcolm Bradbury

Source: https://literaryreview.co.uk/should-we-teach-creative-writing

Enjoyed reading this essay that is all the more relevant in present times. To think that Bradbury wrote this in 1979!

Effervescent Verse

“Bloody men are like bloody buses —
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.”
― Wendy Cope, Serious Concerns

The world needs more poets like Wendy Cope. While I am all for the avant-garde experimentalists who write in obscure paragraphs of footnotes reflecting morosely on the ideas that weigh down their verse, many of my favourite poets tend to rhyme, at least most of the time. But I love reading Wendy Cope more for the humour that bubbles above her rhymes, that often masks sad and wise observations on life.

This link came up in my twitter feed in honour of her birthday:
https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/17/10-of-the-best-wendy-cope-poems-everyone-should-read/

One of the many joys of being single is the ability to empathise with and laugh at her poems on the single life like A Christmas Poem. The brisk, dismissive tone is both funny and poignant, far more than the sentimentality in Flowers or The Orange. And yet, the ‘head does its best but the heart is the boss’, says Cope (Waterloo Bridge).

“Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I’ve found a safe mooring,
I’ve just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.”
― Wendy Cope, Being Boring

Her poems are anything but.

Poetry as Birdsong

More than once I have tried to record the sounds of birds singing on a spring dawn. Most often I have tried this while sitting in a tiny college room behind my beloved Banbury road. But each time, the recording comes out as but a frail echo of the original sounds, reiterating yet again that something as pure as birdsong can only be experienced in the moment.

In the spring I had the pleasure of listening to Liz Berry reading her poems in the characteristic Black Country accent. It was as soothing as listening to birdsong on an early spring morning. Poetry that touches the audience’s heart and connects them with the pure and pristine part of their minds, which is the pinnacle of all great art.

On Bullies (Short Fiction)

Last week a cousin recommended a movie to me when I mentioned how much I had enjoyed the premise of Island City. It was an excellent film about bullying, he said, set in a sleepy hill-station in the nineteen-seventies. I almost decided to watch it when he mentioned without spoiling the story, that the bullies do not get their comeuppance in the end. It was more of a whydunnit, the pleasure of it was watching the subtle nuances of the settings, characterisation, and dialogue among other things. I crossed it off my list immediately. The world needs more stories on bullies getting their due, and they always get it three times over, as per the law of karma.

Despite the absurdism, I loved how Island City hinted that a system which suppresses its members to the level of treating them like machinery will be eventually destroyed from within, by the very members who conform to it, a kind of fitting reply to the Orwellian notion of loving Big Brother. It was pleasing to see a tyrannical man rejected by his family and forgotten soon after his death. That they chose to replace him with a ridiculous character in a lowbrow soap added a layer of pathos to the otherwise happy ending.

So I told my cousin how as a fresh engineering graduate, I spent six months as an intern in a multi-national company in a godforsaken coastal town. It was my first exposure to the real world outside the safe walls of the college classroom, and it was not pleasant. It certainly had something to do with the atmosphere of that place, chockful of negativity and the rudest people that I have encountered anywhere in India. I saw co-workers being bullied and was subject to bullying myself. It has been long since I left that place and I never think of it anymore, but when my cousin talked about bullies and bullying, a few incidents and three characters come to mind – let us call them Daya, Joseph and Biju, names changed for obvious reasons.

Daya was a smug midget who along with another unpleasant woman would extort lunch coupons from the young interns every day. One morning everyone in the office found a hamper of Belgian chocolates on their desks. My desk was empty. I heard Daya telling her accomplice proudly that she had taken my hamper, along with that of a few others. A minor theft which could have been forgiven and forgotten if only she had not added that she was confident that I was too meek and mild to ask her for it.
Joseph, the ugly office bully who picked on the quieter team members in every way that he could, harassing people with bullying emails that were copied to his stooges, and pawing at the good-looking interns around him. He came from a murky background of student politics and talked ceaselessly in a fake accent through which his small-town origins easily slipped through. He was an interesting case study into the mindset of a bully – his bragging about the royal treatment that his juniors gave him at college was in sharp contrast with how his juniors among the interns dismissed him as a street dog who could only bark and would cower as soon a stone was aimed at him, turning away his boorish visage and lowering his yellow eyes that showed glimpses of his ratty soul.
Biju’s innocent countenance masked a character prone to making vulgar remarks at the female interns. A short chap bursting with attitude, he followed Joseph around like a flunkey, listened to him bitch about co-workers and then carried tales of what the fellow said around like leftovers,  miming that street dog’s barks. Discussing software structures in a team meeting, he commented slyly that the girls of the team could do their structural analysis on the stage at the next open house. One of the interns, a feisty local woman from a nearby village was outraged. ‘Get your sister and your grandmother to come and do their structural analysis on the stage!’ she fumed. ‘And why not get your mother to fly down from Abu Dhabi and join them?’ He just stared at her with eyes as wide as saucers, making no reply.

I left that company and that town soon afterwards and never looked back until the talk about this particular movie brought back unpleasant memories of those three wretches. I wonder if Daya’s penchant for petty theft, Joseph’s criminal bullying tactics and Biju’s verbal harassment of co-workers and cheap backbiting got them into the hands of their human resource team or the legal system of whatever country they happen to infest. If not, I am sure that they will receive in kind what they once gave out, three times over. And if they don’t, they will see their children (assuming they have any) pay the price. For karma gets everyone in the end.

The world needs all the books and films that emphasise this.

A stanza of poets and a chapter of authors (Philip Ardagh)

Loved this poem by Philip Ardagh which talks about the rendezvous between ‘a stanza of poets and a chapter of authors’ by an idyllic river, where they exchange words ‘like glittering prizes’.

https://twitter.com/PhilipArdagh/status/885799102688243712

A stanza of poets and a chapter of authors sounds like a delightful way to describe writers whose essence lies between the lines of their work. A scene of playwrights, perhaps?

On Kindles

Somewhere I read that the word ‘kindle’ was used to refer to a group of kittens that were born together. In this context, the word ‘kindle’ is synonymous with ‘litter’, but the former sounds so much more pleasing and sweeter. Speaking of kindles, nearly ten years after I voted on Nathan Bransford’s blog that I would never switch to an e-reader and that ‘a paper book would have to be pried out of my cold, dead hands’ (or something to that effect), I got myself a Kindle for Christmas. The obvious advantages of an e-reader notwithstanding, I don’t find it very different from a real book. While there is something comforting about holding a physical book, picking it up, turning the pages, placing a bookmark in it and so on, in the end, a Kindle serves equally well. For the fictive dream is the same, whether it arises from the lines on paper or a screen.

A Song for Late Summer

This poem that popped into my mailbox today suited the season (late summer – early autumn) and the weather.

Song
If space and time, as sages say,
Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
Yet let them be divine.
T.S. Eliot

Burn the Television

“Human beings are difficult,” he goes on. “We’re difficult to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other and we are mysteries to ourselves; we are mysteries to each other … Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are?”
Amit Chaudhuri, Why television writing has become the new home of verbal complexity

A few months ago, I looked up Big Bang theory after a gap over three years and was unpleasantly surprised – The geeks have mutated into sad stereotypes, science references have made way for silly discussions on relationships, Sheldon has lost almost all the quirks which once made him unique and the subject of scholarly articles like this one – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/07/amit-chaudhuri-praise-difficult-language, Raj is made to link up with an older charwoman(!) and the humour completely lost in the transition from a well-written sitcom to an average soap. Reminded me of one of the best lines ever written in a self-help book – ‘Burn the Television’.

On Being Consciousness

” Their voices were melodious and unsentimental, almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without straining, have experienced levitation.”
J.D.Salinger, For Esmé with Love and Squalor

We were talking about the song of Amairgen among other things in the pub, and a friend forwarded this to me soon afterwards. While the liberals oppose the teaching of Sanskrit in Indian schools, this happens elsewhere in the world.

On Superfluous Copy-editors

By “editor” I suppose you mean proofreader. Among these I have known limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semicolon as if it were a point of honor—which, indeed, a point of art often is. But I have also come across a few pompous avuncular brutes who would attempt to “make suggestions” which I countered with a thunderous “stet!”
Vladimir Nabokov

I enjoyed this article in which the author refers to copy-editors as “irritating, pusillanimous time-wasters. Primitive, mindless creatures whose instincts drive them, antlike, to make slavishly defined changes.”

http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2015/05/08/dumb-copy-editing-survives/

Two copy editors whom I worked with were all that and more – pathetic characters who tried to justify their work by mangling the prose beyond recognition and who took sadistic pleasure in making uncalled-for actual edits in the text, when all they had to do was simple proofreading for spelling and grammar. Thankfully my editor rejected everything done by the first, while the second still managed to inflict some damage to the prose in the process. Yet another lesson in publishing, to avoid superfluous over-editing by presumptuous copy-editors.