Makeover

Nylon sculpture by Rosa Verloop

Nylon sculpture by Rosa Verloop

If I were made of Play-Doh

I’d peel off my flesh –

an easy efacement

of all those minor imperfections

which combine to disgust

like finding a hair in nougat

I’d roll them together –

a smooth ball of muscle, fat and skin

spiked with fingernails and teeth

and re-sculpt to my liking

Pushing my thumbs into the pliant mass –

keeping the basic armature

of bones, dreams and intellect

But smoothing plastically away

my accumulated patina.

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Time

Time pulled and squeezed

As pliable –

As vulnerable as lead

Hammered out

A paper thin sounding board

Molecules – moments

Holding hands, tendons stretched

A membrane easily pierced

Sick Child

Late Train

Immovable deadline

Punch through –

And we scramble

Compromise

To repatch the tattered flapping edges.

 

Copyright Kasia James 2014

Cynicism

Hi! It seems like ages since I last posted. That’s partly because life is, as ever, a merry-go-round that’s spinning slightly too fast for comfort. Partly because I’ve been feeling just a tiny bit cynical about the cyber-spin of social media: the flash card life of Twitter, Facebook and even this blog. I’m sure I’ll dive in again soon as whole-heartedly as ever, but for now here’s a few lines I penned on the subject.

 

Strut upon the stage

of social media

An electronic confection

as flimsy and addictive

as spun sugar.

.

Masked and blinded

shout into the darkness

Here is my soul

but not my real face –

Desperate for approval

.

Cyber cocooned

the intangible audience

Each one misled

A galaxy of unfound stars

Wit and thought pulped –

by repetition.

More morning poetry

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, some mornings I leave ridiculously early to go work on the train, and for some reason this seems to result in little haikus popping into my head. Maybe it’s having an empty stomach, or just seeing the sun come up over the city, but I think I’m coming to quite enjoy these relatively quiet moments in a busy day.

Here’s a few more for you to take or leave as you will.

Faces downturned

A seething speeding capsule

Passions on their laps

 

Balloons in the dawn

Pinned improbably still

Hanging like dark stars

 

Cold sky fire

Charcoals graceful branches

Before speeding train

 

Possum on the wire

Racing electricity

Towards morning star

 

Blur of morning fog

Jealously hoards the light

A soft eraser

 

New colour and form

Scribbles bloom on railway walls

Illegible fame

Early morning haiku

I’ve been getting up ridiculously early to get to work lately. Here are some of the words which have spilled out of my addled brain in those dark hours.

 

Black dawn silhouettes

The hoot of a waiting train

Square of lilac sky

.

Glimpsed from a rocking train

Balloons hang improbably

Fire shines within

.

Indigo morning

Cold light pools at the station

Runner shuffles past

.

Hard white stars greet me

the air cools my sandalled feet

Hurrying to work

.

Musselshell sky

Fleeting shadow puppets

Birds in bare branches

 

Welsh cakes

March 1st is St David’s Day – the patron saint of Wales. I am perhaps a little late, but being Welsh-born I celebrated today by making Welsh Cakes for the first time.

In my memory, my mother always made Welsh Cakes on St. David’s Day, and on various other days, although this is probably the gilding of time. However, I can tell you that I loved them, and ate them in gluttonous quantities, for they are what my partner describes as ‘very more-ish’. For those of you know don’t know – they are small flat cakes – perhaps more like pikelets – full of currants, which are cooked on a griddle.

Mine don’t look quite like this…these must be the caucasian version.

Making them proved rather more time consuming than when I recall my mother doing it, which I suppose is true of a lot of the things in childhood. However, it made me happy for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it was nice to be doing something for relaxation – it’s been rather busy of late, as evidenced by my atrocious lack of attention to my blog lately.

Also, we don’t have a lot in the way of family traditions, but I like the idea of passing along the enjoyment of Welsh cakes to my lad, who has a Welsh name. I can report that he likes them just as gluttonously as I.

Finally, as I rubbed in the butter and rolled out the dough, I found the words from that great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, trickling through my mind.

Evans the Death, the undertaker,
laughs high and aloud in his sleep and curls up his toes as
he sees, upon waking fifty years ago, snow lie deep on the
goosefield behind the sleeping house ; and he runs out into
the field where his mother is making welsh-cakes in the
snow, and steals a fistful of snowflakes and currants and
climbs back to bed to eat them cold and sweet under the
warm, white clothes while his mother dances in the snow
kitchen crying out for her lost currants.

I’m sure I’ll be making them again in the future. They are delicious, even if mine did come out just like my mother used to bake – slightly burnt!

What are your family traditions? Do any of them have links to literature? Would love to hear about them. 🙂

Valentine

Image

I gave my love a poem
on Valentine’s Day
Ignoring the prescriptions
of roses and bears
to write my own
prescription

I wrote it on red paper
Black ink bleeding
My soul laid vulnerable
and exposed
Hoping for his protection
Cradled

I cut a heart in the corner
The scalpel scraping fibres
two voluptuous arcs
The paper tears a little
And I think
How apt.

Author interview: Angélique Jamail

281290_207928565923285_3810021_nOne of the women I’ve been privileged to meet over the past few months while compiling our collection of real reflections and experiences about being a mother – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ – is Angélique Jamail.

She is a sublimely talented poet, and I’m really looking forward to reading her debut novel when it is released.  Apart from being a writer and mother, she is also a teacher, bellydancer, and wearer of fabulous hats. I was lucky enough to interview her recently. Read on, lovely people, read on…

What are you passionate about today?

My family, my writing, the environment, equal rights for all genders and orientations.  I’m passionate about these things all the time.  There’s an expression I try to live by:

“Live your life so that your children can tell their children you stood for something wonderful.”

I’m far from perfect, but I try to make whatever corner of the world I touch a better place than it was when I found it.  Sometimes I manage to be successful.

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You’re a teacher, I understand. I read a quote from Barbara Trapido once, which read (if my memory serves me even vaguely correctly) “I wrote my first novel at my kitchen table in my fortieth year. A degree in English literature left me feeling that I was singularly unqualified for the task.” Do you feel that knowing too much about literature can be paralyzing to a writer?

I sometimes like to tell my students that I want to ruin them for reading for pleasure.  They look at me quizzically till I explain that I want them to understand and enjoy literature and writing so intimately that they will never be able to read something without noticing the artistry (or sometimes lack thereof) that went into writing it.  After studying literature and writing for so many years myself, this is exactly my wonderful burden, and I wouldn’t trade it.  A small part of why I teach, I think, is to share this love of the written word with other people.

But I think I understand where Trapido was coming from in that statement – the feeling of personal inadequacy while groveling in awe at the mountains of excellent literature that has come before.  I certainly do feel that, often, but somehow it doesn’t prevent me from writing.  It spurs me on and motivates me.  Part of me wants to have written literature worthy of being included in someone’s beloved canon, somewhere.  That ambition helps me get a draft down on paper.  Showing it to my workshop group, though, that’s another story!  When I have to share it with people, that’s when the feelings of inadequacy rear up.  But I also know that there is no growth without honest and constructive critique, so off those little manuscripts go.

Does poetry come to you spontaneously, or do you need to work at it?

I love the idea of found poetry, and occasionally I will write something very spontaneously and not have to revise it too many times, but more often than not, it’s a slow process from first draft to publishable poem.  I like that, though:  I want my poems – or stories, or essays – to incubate for a while.  There might be months between first and final drafts, occasionally years.  I have multiple manuscripts going at once; it’s the only way I can get anything done.

 Do you find writing longer fiction a marathon compared to the contained beauty of poetry?

I really find beauty in every form.  For me, the best part is the process.  I recently completed my first novel, which took me several years because I was having babies and teaching full-time while I was doing it, and also because I hadn’t ever written a novel before and was learning the process as I went along.  I remember there were whole semesters where I wrote only one or two chapters.

I love short forms because it’s the closest I get, as a writer, to something like instant gratification in my work.  I can potentially write a poem and revise it and have it critiqued and revise again and do a final edit in the space of a few weeks.  Writing fiction requires a different head-space, I think:  I have to imagine stories differently from how I imagine poems, even narrative ones.  And the novel was so different even from other fiction forms.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had so many different threads on a single project in my head at once.  The day after I finished the first draft, I remember, I felt very lonely because for the last year of my writing it, the characters and their interactions had been in the background of everything I did, as my subconscious tried to finish the book while I went about the other obligations of my life, waiting every day or every week to have time to sit down and write.


Poetry has been described as ‘crystallised moments’. Would you agree?

That’s a good question.  In one sense, yes, a poem (unless it’s a long form poem) can be a sharply, vividly defined moment in thought.  But I wouldn’t have immediately thought to characterize it with this phrase, I think.  I was once involved with someone who refused ever to revise any poem, insisting that the definition of poetry was a snapshot of the poet’s experience in a particular moment, and that to revise a poem was destroying that snapshot.  To each his own, I suppose, but for me, the process of making that poem – the length of my editing process – is quite different.

 


Tell me about ‘Fashion Fridays’!ladies-hats-3

A dear friend of mine, Margo, and I absolutely love wearing hats.  We had this grand plan a few years ago to bring hats back into style and started wearing them out places, but then she moved halfway across the country, and we couldn’t really do that very often anymore.  I thought that posting pictures of fabulous hats would reach a wider audience than just wearing them out and about, and I wanted some sort of weekly thing I could do on my blog that had to do with fashion – which would be my hobby if I had any free time!  So then Fashion Fridays was born.  It quickly evolved into a forum for me or other people to share fun accessories – I enjoyed having guest bloggers come in and participate! – but also to discuss real issues about body image and beauty and even wellness.  The frequency has dropped down now because I have so many other pots on the writing stove, as it were, but I’m still posting Fashion Fridays occasionally and am definitely open to queries from other writers.

I understand you’ve also dabbled in bellydancing. Do you see any parallels between dancing and writing? From the outside, one seems to be very public and extrovert, and the other very private (at least in conception) and introvert.

I have terrible stage fright and have to force myself to get out in front of people in order not to be terrified of what others will think of me.  This may be one reason why I teach, in fact, as teaching has helped me conquer that fear at least somewhat.  Bellydance was a natural choice for me:  I’m Lebanese-American and grew up around the dance, and I started doing it as a young adult because it was really fun and healthy exercise.  I also discovered that it’s a wonderful way to improve one’s self-concept, both in terms of body image and in terms of self-confidence.  As one of my teachers once explained, if you can control your body, you can control your personal space, and if you can control your personal space, you can control your life.  Ultimately I had to quit performing and teaching dance because I didn’t have enough time to devote to it.  I found I was spending all my creative energy on choreography rather than writing, and while dance is wonderful and exciting, it wasn’t really feeding me intellectually the way writing does.  When forced to choose between the two, writing won out, but I do miss dancing.  I miss it very much.

.
How on earth do you find time to write, work and raise children? Has having children influenced your writing?

Well, I’m incredibly fortunate in having a very supportive partner.  My husband actively helps to make sure I have the time and space to write when I need it – including sending me off on Saturday mornings for writing dates with my close friend Sarah Warburton, who’s also a novelist, while he handles the kids and the house and whatever elaborate breakfast requests our little ones have dreamed up — and he’s also probably my biggest, most encouraging fan, as well as a sharp beta reader.  I’m positive I couldn’t do all of these things with any sense of competency without his being a full participant in every aspect of our home and family life.  I know some writers don’t get that, no matter how much they deserve it, and I know how lucky I am.

I think the biggest influence being a working-outside-the-home mother has had on me lately is to (nearly) eliminate writer’s block.  When you have five projects going on and next to no time to work on any of them, you tend to get really focused when that writing time does come along!  I also learned, once my first child was born, to let some things go.  For example, when my children were babies, I let go of the idea that I would get teaching work done at home and consequently also let go of the idea that I wouldn’t work through lunch at school.  Trade-offs, you know?

Having children really focused my writing, too, because it wasn’t any longer some neat thing I could say I did for fun while teaching paid the bills.  Suddenly I began thinking about quality of life and what kind of stable future I wanted for my family and what kind of role model I wanted to be for my kids, and then writing was not just my passion but also a focused career path.  It just so happens I also love teaching and have a position at a really excellent school.  The trade-off there is that I’m fortunate in the place where I work my “day job,” but I don’t get to write full-time.

The truth is, there’s never enough time to do everything you want to do all at once.  When I left dancing, one of my teachers told me not to worry, that dance would always be there waiting for me when I was able to come back, and that I could in fact have everything – but not all at once.  Finding the work-life balance is one of the major spiritual conundrums of our day.  I won’t pretend that I have anything under control on a consistent basis.  But I keep trying, and I keep taking things one chunk at a time.

There are days when all of this can be stressful, certainly, but right now, we’re making it work.  Right now, that’s okay.

You can read more from Angélique at her blog at Sappho’s Torque, or connect with her on Facebook.

Holidaze

ManlyFestivalAccommodationFig beards and stiff araucaria tails guard

the slap and cold clap of the boat-bobbing sea,

salt licked, with weed in its teeth.

Clear as jelly, it wobbles

on the plates of empty oyster shells.

Old ladies turn on their towel spits

and oil their hot brown crackling.

Children flap and prance,

rub sand in their eyes,

and are comforted by proud pale parents,

their suit-bare tattoos

self consciously displayed.

Ah the joy of drawing a breath free

of the stuffy cushion of the mundane!

The paper-cut rasp of salt,

sticky dribble of ice cream, damp crumple of clothes,

Feet basted with hot tar, and the persistent,

gritty embrace of sand, sand everywhere.

Until the muddle and hurry subsides like the predictable sea,

and we throw open the doors to sit mesmerised by fairy light glow,

and the chime of masts in the indigo night.

Copyright Kasia James 2013

The struggle

Insignificance
is the atheist’s dilemma
So many babbling mouths
and bubbling minds
and stories
So many.
Billions conceived
and inconceivable.
Arrogant insanity
to think one might be special
Unique.
A bittersweet paradox
One life must be
intricately worked
Embroidered
To pretend purpose
Bare of the comfort
Of a conveniently omniscient God.