Author photo by artist, Walter Bakowski

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Portrait of Edith Murtone, fiction writer

Scarlet nail polish and lipstick.
Plastic surgery on her once-prominent nose.
Edith summers in Cornwall,
winters in Athens.

Her latest novel is selling well.
The cook and the gardener
will each receive a Christmas bonus,
compensation for enduring 
Edith’s moods and temper
when she finds living
harder than writing.

Characters like Clarissa and Harold
appear to her
as she drives, 
as she walks along the river.

eldest of two daughters,
an amateur botanist and watercolourist, 
infatuated with her piano tutor.

a neighbour’s only son,
asthmatic, excused from sport.
Interested in astronomy
and the treasure underneath Clarissa’s skirt.

the primary emotion that moves plot and pen,
stirs the serpents in the garden.

Images crafted into words,
words crafted into images.
Truth and fiction,
lying down in the same bed,
no longer strangers
to each other.

The white heat of writing—
thoughts, visions
becoming words,
lifting the writer and the reader
beyond the page,
to where the self is seen,
an ant
struggling with crumbs,
one day to be crushed 
beneath a wind-blown twig.

On a good day, five thousand words.
On a bad day, the snapping in half of pencils—
the study mirror reflecting
Edith asleep on the sofa,
one shoe missing, 
an empty brandy bottle
in her lap.

Edith waking
with hangover—
legs of straw on which
to inch and tilt
towards the horizon
of the kitchen sink,
a much-needed glass of water.

straightening cushions on the sofa,
lighting the day’s first cigarette,
asking the walls
what post-war England could be 
if Nigel’s plane hadn’t been 
shot down over Berlin.

The roulette wheels spins,
the white ball
comes to rest on zero.

Not every player 
will risk as much again.

Edith alone
with her characters.
Maybe in the next book,
Harold, through his telescope
will view the flare and fall of a comet,
an arc of light that once scarred the heavens,
now reduced to a photo, data in a journal.
Clarissa will disturb his ordered world
by becoming pregnant.  

The characters’ world changed by 
a birth,
a wavering allegiance,
an affair revealed.

All that threatens and excites,
asks us to consider again 
human nature
as it slithers away
from definition,
Edith will examine
in her next book.

Already she knows its title,
writes it out neatly
on a fresh sheet of paper.

Tomorrow will be a good writing day.

Pruning and sifting your poetry

When you've written poems for a few years, it's worth doing a count of certain words you've used. If get to the happy state of having a Selected Poems published you wouldn't want to see that you've used the word "banana" in nine of your poems. I've realised in my twenty-years of writing poetry I've now used the words "sparrow" and "sofa" enough. I'm going to consciously refrain from using those two words in poems. I've had my quota. If you keep using a word you're arguably resting on your laurels, kicking back in the same old comfort zone. Refresh your poetry with fresh for you words.


I've heard and read too many poems that include the word "silence". I find in reality that if you stop and listen at any moment you'll hear something - the wind, a lorry rumbling past, the sound of a car shifting gears, a neighbourhood dog barking, a birdcall. I can't recall the last time it was truly silent - that is, I could hear no sounds whatsoever. I encourage poets to question each time they're about to use the word "silence". I encourage poets to ask themselves why they are going to use the word "silence" in their poem, to ask themselves "Is my use of that word accurate, true? Does its use ADD to the poem, improve the poem?"