April 14, 2017
They are allowed to inherit
the sidewalks involved as palmlines, bricks
exhausted and soft, the deep
lawnsmells, orchards whorled
to the land’s contours, the inflected weather
only to be told they are too poor
to keep it up, or someone
has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns
pass laws which declare them obsolete.
I see them coming
up from the hold smelling of vomit,
infested, emaciated, their skins grey
with travel; as they step on shore
the old countries recede, become
perfect, thumbnail castles preserved
like gallstones in a glass bottle, the
towns dwindle upon the hillsides
in a light, paperweight-clear.
They carry their carpetbags and trunks
with clothes, dishes, the family pictures;
they think they will make an order
like the old one, sow miniature orchards,
carve children and flocks out of wood
but always they are too poor, the sky
its flat, the green fruit shrivels
in the prairies sun, wood is for burning;
and if they go back, they towns
in time have crumpled, their tongues
stumble among awkward teeth, their ears
are filled the sound of breaking glass.
I wish I could forget them
and so forget myself:
my mind is a wide pink map
across which move year after year
arrows and dotted lines, further and further,
people in railway cars
their heads stuck out of the windows
at the stations. drinking milk of singing,
their features hidden with beards or shawls
day and night riding across an ocean of unknown
Land to an unknown land.
March 22, 2017
Take me to your trees. Take me to your breakfasts, your sunsets, your bad dreams, your shoes, your nouns. Take me to your fingers.
December 13, 2016
1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10. Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualisation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
Rules of writing
Article published in the Guardian newspaper.
December 3, 2016
You walked in front of me,
pulling me back out
to the green light that had once
grown fangs and killed me.
I was obedient, but
numb, like an arm
gone to sleep; the return
to time was not my choice.
By then I was used to silence.
Though something stretched between us
like a whisper, like a rope:
my former name,
You had your old leash
with you, love you might call it,
and your flesh voice.
Before your eyes you held steady
the image of what you wanted
me to become: living again.
It was this hope of yours that kept me following.
I was your hallucination, listening
and floral, and you were singing me:
already new skin was forming on me
within the luminous misty shroud
of my other body; already
there was dirt on my hands and I was thirsty.
I could see only the outline
of your head and shoulders,
black against the cave mouth,
and so could not see your face
at all, when you turned
and called to me because you had
already lost me. The last
I saw of you was a dark oval.
Though I knew how this failure
would hurt you, I had to
fold like a gray moth and let go.
You could not believe I was more than your echo.
October 24, 2016
The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.
The Blind Assassin
October 1, 2016
When I am lonely for boys it’s their bodies I miss. I study their hands lifting the cigarettes in the darkness of the movie theatres, the slope of a shoulder, the angle of a hip. Looking at them sideways, I examine them in different lights. My love for them is visual: that is the part of them I would like to possess. Don’t move, I think. Stay like that, let me have that.
May 13, 2016
When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
April 9, 2016
Diary 9th April
Sweet Cheeses. Sleeting this morning – fine icy miserable sleet! It’s feckin’ April and cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra! I was breathing feckin’ steam just now in the garden! Insane!
Writers on writing:
“Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B,” says Margaret Atwood.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” says Ernest Hemingway: you can always trust Ernie to turn the act of artistic creation into a wound.
“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them,” says Gore Vidal.
“Concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening,” says Allen Ginsberg.
Desire to us
Was like a double death,
Of our mingled breath,
Of an unknown strange perfume
Between us quickly
In a naked
Langston Hughes was one of the most prominent black poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His accomplishments include publishing his first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” to critical acclaim; winning several major literary awards for his poems, plays, short stories and novels; founding theatres; teaching at universities; and being a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance and helping to shape American literature.
Hughes published his first book of poetry in 1926 and was recognized for his use of black themes and jazz rhythms in his work. No mean feat for a black man in that place and that time. One of his’ recurring themes was the limitations of the American Dream for black Americans, see, for example, his poem “Harlem”.
It will be the past
and we’ll live there together.
Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.
It will be the past,
we’ll all go back together.
Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.
It will be the past.
And it will last forever.
February 28, 2016
Catprints, dogprints, marks
of ancient children
have made the paths we follow
to the vestibule, piled
with overshoes, ownerless letters
a wooden sled.
The threadbare treads
on the stairs. The trails
worn by alien feet
in time through the forest snowdrifts
of the corridor to this remnant, this
What disturbs me in the bathroom
is the unclaimed toothbrush.
In the room itself, none
of the furniture is mine.
The plates are on the table
to weigh it down.
I call you sometimes
To make sure you are still there.
Tomorrow, when you come to dinner
They will tell you I never lived here.
My window is a funnel
for the shapes of chaos
In the backyard, frozen bones, the children’s
Inside, the wall
bickles; the pressure
balanced by this clear
We must resist. We must refuse
I said, in exile
is the first necessity.
After that (I say this
we might begin
Survive what? you said.
In the weak light you looked
over your shoulder.
Nobody ever survives.
February 2, 2016
Two-thirty comes during Testifying. It’s Janine, telling about how she was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion. But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault. We chant in unison. Who led them on? She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.
The Handmaid’s Tale