Monday 12 September 2011


Darkness, by Lord Byron, is one of my favourite poems. Here's my recording of it.

by Lord Byron

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer'd not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,
And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects—saw, and shriek'd, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;
The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

Sunday 31 July 2011


July was a complete washout. No writing at all. I had other things on my mind and there was no space for anything else. Oh well.

Sunday 3 July 2011


Well, 'the book that never was' seems to be turning into 'the poem that never was', in that the few verses I've written so far are sitting abandoned, unlikely to be joined by others in the foreseeable future. This was, however, not writer's block, but simply the urge to do other things.

As you'll have seen from my last blog, I wrote an entirely new poem, and quite quickly at that - one day, from start to finish, including recording, editing and uploading the audio to YouTube. When I say 'day' I actually mean that I refused to go to bed until it was finished, so it was more of a literal 24 hours, after which I slept for a long, long time, then woke up for a couple of hours and slept again.

Yesterday (which could be counted as today, since I've not actually slept between the end of one day and the beginning of the next) saw the arrival of an idea which could have been a new poem, but which unexpectedly turned into prose. It's so rare that I sit down and write prose that, yes, I sat down and wrote, continuing until I felt I'd done enough. All being well, I'll continue with it tomorrow (actually today - it's almost midday, so if I sleep now I'll wake up later in the evening). Without giving too much away, it's a story you need to read once to find out what happens, then read a second time with 'the spectacles of hindsight' to work out what was really going on.

Tangents are welcome. They at least are signs that I am doing something productive, even if, at the same time, they show that one or more existing projects have been left behind.

Thursday 30 June 2011

Get the Fuck out of Bed

No prizes for guessing which book inspired this one. Go the Fuck to Sleep is for parents of small children. My poem is a more realistic view of parenthood when they become teenagers!

Get the Fuck out of Bed
by Nick Gisburne

It’s morning and yes, it’s a school day.
I know it’s the thing you most dread.
You can’t stay at home and you know it.
So please, get the fuck out of bed.

It’s daytime, or don’t you remember?
More classes, more books to be read.
Don’t mumble some shit about headaches.
Just get the fuck up out of bed.

It’s time for your annual shower,
And even the fleas on your head
Have called the emergency soap squad,
To get you the fuck out of bed.

Don’t ask me to bring up your breakfast.
Come down if you want to be fed.
Your sheets are still covered in cornflakes.
Want more? Get the fuck out of bed.

Your room is a dangerous war zone
And smells as though something is dead.
We’ve not seen the carpet since Christmas,
And fuck knows what’s under the bed.

You’ve battled all night on the Xbox.
The zombies screamed out as they bled.
Your eyeballs are bleary and bloodshot.
Game over. Fuck off out of bed.

I’ve just had a call from your teacher.
There’s truth in the words that she said.
She thinks you’re a germ in the gene pool
And you won’t fucking learn much in bed.

I realise school isn’t easy,
And homework means planning ahead,
But plan for a job flipping burgers
If you don’t get the fuck out of bed.

You should be out smoking and drinking
And smashing up cars, but instead
You’re typing in code on your cellphone.
Will u plz GTFOO bed?

We thought we were ready for children.
It’s why we decided to wed.
And as you’ve grown up we’ve seen changes:
You spend all fucking day now in bed.

We might have brought home the wrong baby.
The name tags were swapped or misread.
I can’t even check for a likeness
’Cause you won’t get the fuck out of bed.

You’re really a huge disappointment.
Perhaps you could live in the shed.
We tried once to have you adopted.
Who’d want you? You’re in fucking bed.

I turn away, just for a moment,
My jaw drops, as heavy as lead.
The room when I look back is empty.
Fuck me! You’ve fucked out of the bed!

My patience delivers a triumph.
To school my young offspring has sped.
Oh shit. Wait a minute. My bedroom.
Get the fuck out of there! That’s my bed!

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Slow Start but Building Momentum

Even though I started work on The Big Project (I'll have to call it that until the final title is decided upon) five days ago, I've still only written six verses. I was hoping for more but it does seem to be taking a while to get my head around the fact that a section of story I've already written as prose needs some severe changes if it's ever to work as a poem.

My first challenge was that I immediately have two female characters who are not known to each other, so great care is needed with pronouns until their names are revealed. Too many tangled instances of 'she' and 'her' will inevitably confuse things, and it can only get worse in about, oh, three or four more verses, when I introduce three more girls into the mix!

Since the poem will be divided up into chapters, I've used the device of starting each chapter with a brief hint at what will follow. Of course, it had to be in the form of a rhyming couplet:
In which Anya meets a mystery, an enemy, a friend
And discovers one on whom she can depend
That solved part of the first problem - introducing the name of the main character. I didn't want to use her name at all in the first verse, mainly because I'd already written that verse, so now I don't need to make any kind of fuss when I use her name in the poem itself for the first time.

I had contemplated changing the names of some of the characters, not least because the name Anya doesn't really rhyme with anything, but I did spend a lot of time choosing those names, many of which have meanings relevant to their place in the story, so I decided against it. However in the prose version everyone has second names and there really is no place for those, other than in exceptional circumstances which won't appear for a long while yet.

Moving on, the problem of describing each character raises its head. I simply cannot bring someone into the story and devote a whole verse to her physical appearance. Okay, actually I have done that for the 'stranger' I've just introduced, so that's my rule completely abandoned. However, the main character of the story has not been described in any great detail. We know she's a girl of school age and she's carrying a bag of heavy books on her back. The rest is up to the reader's imagination. It was always my plan (even in the prose version) to let the reader picture the main character for themselves. She is you, the reader, or someone you've met or imagined. You know what she looks like better than I do.

Many details from the prose version have had to be abandoned, and on the whole that's a good thing. As I said last time, my prose tends to be overly descriptive. I spent a couple of sentences describing how she walks between two parked cars, sees the other person sitting opposite and can't comfortably back up to find a different place to cross. In the poem it's reduced to half a line, no mention of cars, and the words are simply and with no way to retreat, which give the same meaning, that Anya is compelled to walk towards the stranger because to do anything else would be to draw even more attention to herself.

Slow progress so far then, but that is also partly because it's a huge shift in the way I'm approaching the project, as compared with other poems I've written, even the longer ones. I've had to hold myself in check, which has been difficult. The Genie Within was relentless drama, an avalanche of huge, dramatic scenes one after the other. I think that would be too tiring to read on such a large scale, although I of course want to write a page-turner. If it's all drama there is no way to introduce more drama when the narrative calls for it. When you see earthquakes and floods on TV they are shocking. When you see them over and over, day after day, it's human nature to become immune to the shock of the event. So in my case the quiet parts of a story are just as important as the 'big' events because they provide the contrast needed to lift or lower the emotions of the reader.

I do need to press on with the poem now. One verse a day is not enough! Momentum please!

Friday 17 June 2011

The Big Project

It seems that The Genie Within has given me confidence in my ability to write long narratives in poetry, such I now think I could write really long narrative poetry. How long? Book long.

My previous post about Scrivener was actually meant to go on to describe a big project I was working on, and the one for which I needed Scrivener in the first place. However, as a review of the software I thought it was better to keep things separate. This, then, is what I was intending to do with it.

I was writing a book. And the past tense is unfortunate there because I am no longer writing that book. The book was planned out in full, with a fully realised plot, some incredibly detailed information for characters, settings, everything I'd need to begin writing the actual narrative. And I did begin writing it. And then I stopped writing it.

I stopped writing it because I have a tendency to be overly descriptive when I'm writing prose. I like to be 100% sure that my readers have the picture inside their head which I have inside mine. With prose there are few restraints, and my writing reflects that - I seem to be unable to hold back and self-edit as I write.

With poetry I find that the restrictions of writing, say, 8 lines with 15 syllables to a line, are exactly what I need to convey what's in my mind, but in a far more compact, more precise way. Every word is chosen with great care. There is no waffle, no fat, no waste. And I like that. I like the limitations. I like the challenge of working within those self-imposed rules and getting the best out of the medium. Quite simply, I like to write narrative poetry.

So here I am, looking for my next project, and I recently blogged that I needed to find myself a new story before I could begin. A day or two ago the penny dropped. I already have a story. I have a big story, a plot plan I'd worked on for about 6 months before writing even a word of narrative. I have a story I could turn into poetry.

Are there such things as novels written entirely in poetry? They are few and far between, and could more correctly be categorised as 'long poems long enough to fill a book'. One which immediately springs to mind is The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which is an epic poem by any standards. Dante's Divine Comedy, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are all epics. You can dispute the word 'novel' but they are all huge pieces of work. Wikipedia's entry on Long Poems has more.

Here's a short list of other titles, more modern this time: Novels in Poetry Form. I've not read any of them but I may take a look to see what's out there.

So what's my story about? I can't possibly tell you at such an early stage, for fear of jinxing it. I can say one thing: it's not a horror story, which is the genre into which I seem to have placed myself in recent times. As such it's a departure from the kind of poems I usually write, although since I created the story before I wrote most of my other poems, I don't quite know if it's a return to the past or a projection of the past onto my future. Yes, I'm confused by that too, so perhaps it's just as well that there's no time travel in it either!

Without revealing much more, I will share with you a couple of stanzas, written yesterday to explore the possibilities. You'll notice that I use the same rhyming scheme as The Genie Within. I have no hesitation in doing that because it served me so well in the writing of that poem; it really is perfectly suited to writing longer narratives.

Here then are two verses from chapter one of my yet-to-be-titled project. Don't even get me started on why, even after so long, there is still no title!

Chapter One

They were dancing, they were diving, flying, floating on the breeze,
Over walls and into gardens, past the street lights, through the trees.
As she followed them, the butterflies, with subtle, golden wings,
Swept the memories and worries of a day’s unpleasant things
To a place beyond her vision, where each flash of amber light
Hid her troubles, hid reality, from sight.

Were there two, or three? They flashed and turned so quick, so hard to tell,
And she tripped and ran, caught up in their imaginary spell.
In the fading, failing daylight, now the lamps all flickered on,
And she stopped and turned, and turned again, but knew that they were gone.
She was far from school, from home, from any street she’d ever known,
And, without the golden butterflies, alone.

Famous last words: more will follow. Hopefully.


Before 2009 I'd tried to write books, or at least longer pieces of work, and failed because the complexity of the research and character/story building I was trying to do exceeded the power of the computer software I was using. Primarily I wrote everything in Word, which is fine if you're stringing together a long document, if you're writing the story itself, but for the research it's terrible.

Story development, for me at least, needs a separate page for each character, one for each scene, and many more pages just to set down random ideas and structure them in some way. You can't do that without a database. And yet a database is too rigid if you want the power of a word processor for each entry.

I also work very visually. I constantly look for pictures (and I'll say it again, this is where DeviantArt is in a class of its own) for my characters. Sometimes I have a general feel for a character and a picture will solidify that idea in my mind. Sometimes the picture will add to my original concept and suggest new areas to explore. It might be something as insignificant as eye colour or the shape of the nose, or perhaps the whole face stirs up some memory or half-thought of someone I once met, whose character can be introduced into the story.

Picture libraries are a vast resource of ideas, but a hard drive full of pictures is no use to anyone. They need structure. So again, I need software to give me that structure, and to allow me to put the pictures into my database so that when I'm writing I have the image in front of me. I can imagine what is going on inside that character's head and make notes, then later create the narrative, using the notes and the images as cues.

All that is a tall order, and believe me when I say I tried every possible solution designed to assist in the writing process, all to no avail. I can tell within 10 minutes that software isn't going to be of any use to me - if it doesn't immediately feel right I don't go beyond the trial version, and scrap it altogether. Some software manages to capture my attention beyond those ten minutes. I am, after all, looking to do fairly complex things, so if the basics are in place I might spend a few more days putting the thing through its paces. Such software is rare, and after a few days each title invariably failed and was discarded.

It was then that I heard of Scrivener, and when I read the product details I immediately knew that this what what I was looking for. I didn't even need to use it. In fact, I couldn't use it. Scrivener is for Mac computers only and I'd only ever owned PCs. Up until then I'd never even used a Mac, let alone owned one. What to do?

Compared to PCs, Macs are expensive. Yet the system requirements for Scrivener were quite low. I decided to do something crazy - buy a computer just so that I could use the software with it. It was actually quite cheap. I bought an old eMac from eBay for £40 which was a bargain. It's one of those all-in-one things with the computer and the screen in one big, heavy box. One problem: the seller said it had the version of Mac OSX (the operating system) needed to run Scrivener, but when I got it home it actually didn't. I had to download a later version and install the whole operating system again. Remember I'd never used a Mac before this point! But I got it working, I got Scrivener working and Scrivener is just an incredible piece of software.

It does all I ever wanted it to do and probably some things which I haven't thought of yet. A Scrivener project contains every single document and piece of information - text, images, links, all bundled together into one. Everything can be organised in a tree-style hierarchy, so you might have 500 documents/image/etc and they can all be arranged logically to suit your own personal needs. What's more, if you need to find a particular document you can just search for a phrase and all matching documents are brought up, ready to be selected and edited. With large projects I simply cannot work without that feature - I'd be lost in a mass of information.

While the eMac worked, of course it was an old computer (not to mention noisy!) and before long it started to creak under the weight of information I was adding to my projects. I needed something faster, so I ended up buying a Mac Mini which is a tiny, tiny, tiny computer (I currently can't see it because it's behind a book - an ordinary paperback!) with an up-to-date spec. Oh, and it runs almost completely silently which takes a lot of getting used to compared with the super-turbo fan noises of my older PCs. It was expensive, I'll not deny that, at least when compared with a comparable spec PC, but it runs Scrivener and that was my only requirement.

Of course Macs don't run PC software so I lost the use of some useful tools. Or did I? Well, no, because I also run Windows at the same time in a 'virtual machine' which lets Windows software run too. The best of everything.

If you're a writer you must - you must - try out Scrivener. Get a Mac, or get access to one, and just install the trial version and give it a go. You will love it.

Did I mention the mad, mad price of Scrivener? It's so low that I'm amazed they can get away with selling it at that price. Cost is not even a consideration. You won't find cheaper, and you certainly will never find a better piece of software designed specifically for writers, tuned exactly to how writers work.

And that, I'm happy to say, is my totally unbiased opinion. Did I mention that I like Scrivener? I did didn't I?!

Sunday 12 June 2011

Reading the meter

Since completing The Genie Within, I've done my usual thing: absolutely nothing. I become so utterly involved and engrossed in a project that when it's done it's almost impossible for me to immediately switch to something else. So it has been for the past week or so, although when I say 'nothing' I really mean that I've not been writing any more poetry. Instead I read a book and bought several more, most of which will be forever neglected on my shelves - I buy far more books than I will ever read, and in fact reading one of them is a major achievement for me. I read all day, but usually I graze on short article 'snacks' from various blogs and news sites.

While doing 'nothing' I do, however, take plenty of notes because I find that I'm constantly coming up with new ideas and fragments of story which may or may not be useful. If all of those fragments became full-blown poems/stories I'd have written half a dozen books by now - this year. But of course that's not how these things work. I make notes, notes, notes until one day one of those notes flicks a switch and turns into a poem.

Today might be one of those days when that begins to happen, so I thought it might be interesting to document when and how it happened. It's sometimes difficult to know where ideas come from, although often I'm looking at an image and something simply presents itself. This is why I visit the DeviantArt site so often. It is my primary source for inspiration, simply because there is such a vast quantity, ever-increasing, of strange and unexpected pictures. But this idea didn't come from there. It just popped up and jabbed me in the brain, as if from nowhere.

First, some background:

I like to experiment with meter. I have never studied poetry, and in fact came to it only relatively recently, but I know that my own poems don't get started until I've identified the correct meter and rhyming scheme for each one. In fact I've abandoned poems after as many as a dozen verses because the meter was either too inflexible or just gave the poem the wrong tone. You can't write a horror story with a 'jolly' meter, and you can't write a comic piece when the meter reminds you of a dirge.

The Genie Within has, in each stanza, 7 lines with 15 syllables, followed by an 8th line with only 11, which is used to summarise or emphasise the first 7. Without knowing how to describe the meter (de-dum-de-dum-de-dum is the extent of my powers!), I just know that it felt right and worked well. It seemed to be perfect for the type of story I was writing. A sample:
Seven times the turning seasons thawed the winters into spring,
And to threads of fleeting sanity his mind could scarcely cling.
Thus, encumbered with the madness of a decomposing world,
He returned before the priestess, his barbarity unfurled.
In his eyes were all the cancerous depravities of man,
And his deviant delirium began.
Castles of Carboard, my previous poem, was even more unusual: 9 lines in total, the first line not rhyming with anything at all which is something I've never tried before. The syllables for each line are as follows:
9 --- 9 / 6 / 6 / 9 --- 6 / 6 / 9 / 9
So the lines were divided into that non-rhyming line, followed by 4 lines in which the first+last and middle-two lines rhymed with each other, ending up with two couplets of different length. And it worked perfectly for the story, because for some reason the final line seemed (to me at least) to underline the whole verse with melancholy, which is exactly what I was looking for. Again, I find it hard to know why that is the case. Sometimes I used the last line to reverse everything which had gone before in the previous 8 lines - just when the girl in the story thinks things are improving, the last line brings her back to reality. Here's a sample:
The beach is their pebble-strewn playground
Skipping stones out for miles ’cross the waves
Fair and young, grey and old,
Their adventures are bold,
As they splash in the pools, in the caves.
A warm hand holds her tight
As the day turns to night,
And a crimson sun sets on the sea.
And the flames fade to ash and debris.

For what will be a new poem if it goes beyond this initial stage, all I had were a few words: 'blood and stones and finger bones' and I couldn't tell you where they came from. They just rolled around in my head and eventually I wrote them down, added to them and found this weird couplet, whose meter and rhyming scheme is unusual to say the least:
She rose from a place of blood and stones and shattered bones,
    decayed remains, corroded chains and twisted trees
A night where the wind’s uncanny breath, born out of death,
    blew tortured sighs and frigid cries, with bitter breeze
While writing the second line I was myself so confused by the meter and the positions of the rhymes that I had to divide the thing up into much shorter lines, so:
She rose from a place
  of blood and stones
  and shattered bones,
  decayed remains,
  corroded chains
  and twisted trees

A night where the wind’s
  uncanny breath,
  born out of death,
  blew tortured sighs
  and frigid cries,
  with bitter breeze
It does seem to be much simpler written out like that - it's as if each line is a verse in itself, with a non-rhyming line (5 syllables) followed by two 4-syllable rhyming couplets, and a final 4-syllable line which rhymes with the next verse (actually, the next line when they are put back together).

I don't know how far I'll be able to take this poem. I usually experience some difficulty with ultra-short rhymes (4 syllables in this case) and these two lines are, on reflection, really no more than lists, so it will be interesting to see if I can add a narrative in future lines. Of course I can always add lines which don't follow the same meter/scheme, which may shake things up a little. Oh, and it might help to think of a story for the poem - as I'm writing this I don't have one at all!

While I can't foresee this being a long poem, that is no bad thing. I need to broaden my skills, so a short piece will be just the thing. In fact this overly-long blog will almost certainly be longer than the poem itself, so perhaps I should finish here.

A day later, as I suspected, I have a definite problem: I have no story! I've written more, but the more I've written doesn't have any attachment to anything. I have the beginnings of a character but I don't know who she is and why she exists. So, like many of my ideas, this one is being filed away for now, until I find some place for it/her at some undetermined point in the future.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Ready... or Not

Today I finally finished writing what has become my longer ever poem!

Except... it has a significant plot hole, so I need to add an extra verse to paper over the cracks.

So it's not ready after all.

But it'll be soon I tell you, it'll be soooooon!

Which is a great way to excuse the inclusion of this video for no apparent reason:

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Progress Report - The Long Haul

A while ago, in fact seventeen days ago, I posted this little nugget:

My current poem is definitely approaching the 'end game', although it will probably be several more days before it's completed to my satisfaction. I did a full read-through of all I've done so far and it took me almost exactly 13 minutes, which is long by my standards... and I have long standards! In fact only 'Little Red Ruby's Head' is any longer (24 minutes). Perhaps this one will get close but I doubt it will be any longer.

Evidently my predictions were slightly off, because the poem is now by far the longest work I've ever created. I haven't done a complete read-through from beginning to end because, well it's an exhausting task, but I estimate that the poem is now just over 30 minutes long, which certainly breaks the tape in the race to achieve a 'long' poem.

However, when I say 'end game' now, I'm not just approaching it, I am definitely in it, writing the final dramatic scene, about to bring everything to a conclusion. I could say 'end of the week' but 'end of the month' might be more realistic, given that it's only 7 days away.

I'll be posting the complete poem here as soon as it's finished, and before I record the audio for my YouTube channel, so for the almost-zero people who read this blog, you will be the first to know about it.

How much am I enjoying writing this poem? Every day, whenever a new verse has been completed to my satisfaction, I read it out loud and, knowing that it's exactly what I wanted to write, it's an amazing feeling. I smile. I sometimes clap, in an embarrassing, child-like manner! And I realise that the 3, 4, 5 or more hours I spent forging 6 lines of perfection was time well spent. That's why I write poetry. That's the feeling I miss when I'm between poems, searching for a new one.

In fact it's almost tempting to make the poem longer, so that this feeling never goes away, but in the same way that I can't predict how long the poem will be, I also cannot in any way influence its length. I know how it will end. I write towards that ending. How long that takes, how many lines, how many verses, how many days, are all things out of my control. I'm also now wanting to get to the end, because the anticipation of the feeling of achievement I get whenever a piece of work is complete is starting to become unbearable!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Wizards of Wordcraft

Tim Minchin is almost certainly one of the finest comedy songwriters and word magicians on the planet. Others, myself included, can only aspire to have the merest fraction of his talent.

In fact he's so good he's deserving of a little more of your time...

Monday 16 May 2011

Writer's Block - A Blip

I had a blip yesterday. Or was it the day before? I lose track of time because I write for most of the night and then climb into bed well after dawn. But Saturday was a day in which I was not writing for the most of anything. I didn't write at all. I was attacked and critically disabled by the dreaded writer's block.

It surprised me, it really did, because during the writing of this, my latest poem, it hasn't happened to me at all. I knew exactly where the story was going each day, and if it took a turn away from the original plan I quickly amended the plan, always for the better, and headed off in a new direction. Except on Saturday I found myself painted into a corner, having absolutely no idea how I got there and wondering how the hell I was going to get out again.

I'll try not to reveal any of the actual detail, but now that I'm approaching the end of the story I of course want a big finale, so I dreamed up an impressive-sounding plot device to get me there. Except it didn't. It just got me nowhere, stuck in a rut.

I decided to sit in front of the computer all day until inspiration re-appeared.

It didn't.

Then I decided I needed a break (from the pointless nothings I'd been doing all day) and perhaps I would then return fresh and inspired.

No luck.

More than a break then, why not go to bed? I don't usually sleep 'off schedule' because then I wake up at irregular hours and am more often than not in a bad mood until I set my internal clock back on its proper path again. That's exactly what happened. I woke up in a foul mood, made worse because I still had no inspiration, and sat there seething.

Finally, I gave up, watched TV, didn't bother even thinking about writing. I decided that the next day I would try again, though if nothing happened I would probably have to bypass my dead-end by cutting out some of the poem and re-writing it with a different plot device. I hate doing that, but reversing out of a cul-de-sac is much better than being stuck at the end of one going nowhere.

Today (yesterday? Sunday!) I fully intended to ditch my last three verses and rewind my story. But guess what? I sat in front of the word processor, read through those three verses and thought 'I know where I can go from here'. The block had been removed. And in fact today I wrote more than is usual for me on a normal day, so it's averaged out pretty well over the two days.

What's more, the path I'm taking with the story is now firmly in the 'let's finish this sucker' department - the end is very near now and I should be done in perhaps two or three days, subject to the usual revisions when this first draft is complete.

Writer's block is awful. Thankfully, it's almost always temporary.

Don't remind me about the mega-project which is lying unfinished precisely because I got writer's block, under exactly the same circumstances, a couple of months ago. That one is a little bit more than 'a blip'. However, I've put it out of my mind and I'm focused on what I'm doing right now. Progress is good, so that's as good as it gets.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Screaming Search

One of the more unusual searches I've had to do has been Googling for this:
Can you scream without a tongue?
Unfortunately I found only pages which would not in any way be regarded authoritative - no more than someone's opinion - so in the end I just held down my own tongue to find out what noises I could make. Some of those sounds are much more pathetic and miserable than a scream, so perhaps that's the way I'll take the story; some kind of guttural gurgling, which handily ties in with my previous post about alliteration.

This page is steering me towards a 'yes' answer to the original question, and I include it because I found it interesting in a 'listening in to someone's chat' kind of way:
I could always find someone without a tongue and ask them.

Or maybe not.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Alliteration... in Moderation

Alliteration is definitely my friend when I'm writing horror poetry. When drama edges toward melodrama, a little alliteration is agreeably acceptable and automatically allowed! Hence:
As the doors exploded inwards with a blast of shattered wood
Striding through the smoking splinters, sneering savagely, he stood
However, if every line used alliteration the story would lose some of its weight; this is not a comedy but is, rather, a darkly dangerous diatribe... er, there I go again. The example shown above is an extreme case - 6 words beginning with 's' is on the edge of ludicrosity (a word which the OED tells me is rare but definitely real even if my spelling checker refuses to accept it).

More commonly, I will simply pair two such words together, as here:
...whose life was surely lost
...ground to powder and to paste
The mad magician’s whisperings...
Its pages, ripped and ruined...
Notice that you don't have to put the two words immediately next to each other for the alliteration to come into play.

As with all things, alliteration should be used in moderation. Unless of course you write a whole poem based entirely around words which begin with particular letters of the alphabet. Which of course brings me to this...

H P Lovecraft's ABC
by Nick Gisburne

Ancient and accursed, the amorphous arborescence grew
Blasphemously barbarous, as if for brutish beings who,
Croaking and cadaverous, convulsed in cryptic catacombs
Daemons decomposing in discordant, diabolic tombs

Effervescent effluence effused from every eldritch source
Fluctuating fluids festered, fecund with a foetid force
Gangrenous and glutinous, they gurgled on their grisly way
Heaving in a hellish haze of horrors, hunting hapless prey

Iridescent insectoids infested Earth's infernal isles
Jabbering, their jaundiced joints were jellified in jaded piles
Killing in kaleidoscopic kingdoms kept beyond our ken
Lighting up their loathsome lanterns, leprous lunatics, once men

Monstrous mottled monoliths maintained malignant mysteries
Necrophagous nightmares noted in neglected histories
Of octopoidal oligarchs, obliterated, overthrown
Palsied and pulsating to a protoplasmic pyrophone

Quivering, each quadruped's quiescence quantified its fear
Restless and remorseless, the repugnant raptor's reek drew near
Slobbering, it shuffled spectral sinews with each seething breath
Teeming, thrashing tentacles transacting a traumatic death

Underlings, unearthly, ululated in unhallowed tombs
Viscous vapours vomited in vortices from vanished rooms
Weakened, withered walkers wailed with wasted, wormy, waxen skin
Xanthomatic xerophiles drank xylene with their xeno-kin

Yearning now, we yield to you, to Yog-Sothoth, and yea, your name
Ziggurats we build with zeal at this, the zenith of your fame

The full text of H P Lovecraft's ABC can also be found on my DeviantArt page.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Eradicating Weakness

Yesterday, almost certainly because my sleeping was interrupted (I had to set the alarm clock to be up early), I wrote very little, and what I did write was absolute rubbish! I'm currently between two major events in the story, and the connecting piece I'm trying to put together was so lightweight and wishy-washy that I almost wondered if I'd actually written it with a different brain. It was particularly disappointing given that I'd only just posted a relentlessly grim video, showing my 'disturbing influences'. Why I then descended into miserable mediocrity is anyone's guess.

Needless to say, today everything will be ruthlessly hammered into shape. I've set myself very high standards with this piece of work, and I won't let them slip, even for a relatively minor piece of the plot.

Sample 'weak' lines written yesterday:
Thus, in generations numbered by the histories of men,
I saw nations rise and flourish, march to war and fall again.
And their replacements (subject to any further changes and improvements), written today:
Thus, in generations chronicled by histories of lust,
Savage nations, once triumphant, fell to slaughter, burned to dust.
'Numbered' = weaker than 'chronicled'
'Histories of men' = weaker than 'histories of lust'
'I saw nations' = weaker than 'savage nations'
'Flourish' = weaker than 'triumphant'
'March to war' = weaker than 'fell to slaughter'
'Fall again' = weaker than 'burned to dust'

Those are just two vastly improved lines. In this poem I don't do weak!

Saturday 7 May 2011

The Genie Within

I've worked on this for a long, long time. Enjoy...

The Genie Within
by Nick Gisburne

I am genie, I am foetus, ripped from ancient, mortal womb,
Scarred, disfigured, and forgotten, in this prison, this, my tomb,
For the one who so confined me, by whose snares I am enslaved,
Was infected by the vices of the ruthless and depraved,
Painting dark, discordant visions of the kingdoms he would rule.
Yet this sorcerer was man, and thus a fool.

Fighting storms, defeating oceans, through profane and shattered lands,
He sought out the faceless horrors, who, with shadow-blackened hands,
Came to slit and cut and rend him, to appease their shaman-queen,
But his poisons brought them madness, for his arts were base, unclean.
Yet their priestess, crazed and crippled, dragged in bloody chains of steel,
Sacred pathways to the gods would not reveal.

Spitting oaths of heathen sulphur, with the acid taste of greed,
On the altar to her demons he drove into her his seed,
For their spawn would suck her secrets, passed as memory and blood,
And a birth would leave it helpless, this the madman understood.
Thus, impatiently he waited for the life that was to be,
And it grew within her womb, and it was me.

Gaining teeth and bone, I swam within that violated place,
And as foetus, and as shaman, lived in me a dying race.
Creeds and curses of the ancients, brutal histories of war,
Filled my toxic, tainted organs with a rage both fierce and raw.
Yet in form my flesh was fragile; she who bore me bade me wait,
Till my appetite for vengeance she could sate.

She was queen and she was priestess; hers were powers dark, arcane,
And she breathed the cryptic prayers of her race in tongues profane.
As three changeling moons were counted, and the fourth waned and was gone,
Still the gods, opaque and silent, begged for pity, gave her none.
From this prison of damnation only death could bring relief,
And its price was pain, and misery, and grief.

With the slow and twisting whisper of an age-corrupted oath,
She began the incantation which might save or slay us both.
Lacking relic, root or powder for the ritual to come,
With a breath of bitter malice she bit down upon her thumb,
And the crack of bone and sinew, and the tear of nerve and skin
Now at last awoke the gods, Lords of the Djinn.

Spitting out the severed digit, threads of air began to turn;
In a ring of crimson vapour, rising up, they seemed to burn.
And around us flowed the menace which had heard a mother’s call,
For no spell or trick of mortal, neither charm nor hex nor wall,
Could repel the ancient demons, from whose arms the skies unfold,
And whom none who hope to live can dare behold.

She was kneeling, bleeding, screaming, as the flames consumed her eyes,
And within this fractured body, in my darkness, came her cries.
As she hissed the final couplet, as the spell was sealed and sung,
The immortal gods embraced her and tore out her living tongue.
Through her sacrifice, her torment, though I tried I could not see
If in love or hate she did this thing for me.

Though her body, mute and blinded, fought with pain and clawed at life,
From my sight all shadows lifted, peeled away as with a knife.
And these eyes beheld the margins of a universe now mine,
A malignant, brooding nightmare of the demon-gods divine.
But though genie, I was foetus; only birth could free my soul;
In this mortal womb my powers were not whole.

He returned, the loathsome keeper, and ignited into rage
At the blind, disfigured priestess lying broken in the cage.
Striding forth, he moved to beat her, but fell back as though bewitched,
For the runes of nameless devils on her face were crudely stitched.
Foul abominations writhed in tattooed evil on her flesh;
Unhealed scars of grim protection blazed, still fresh.

They were symbols none could fathom and a shield no man might break,
But contorted in his fury, he avowed that he would take
Not a step nor breath nor heartbeat to divert him from one end:
This, to penetrate these damnable defences, and to send
To her death his shattered victim, now so brutally defiled,
And to rip out, from within, her unborn child.

In a fog of dark delusion, he traversed the blighted earth,
Leaving mutilated watchmen yearning, eager for my birth.
At the moment of emergence, in a feeble, mortal state,
Only then could I be slaughtered, and for this their knives must wait.
Yet the hex upon the priestess stayed my growth within the womb;
This the sorcerer knew well, and planned my doom.

I was genie, yet was foetus; knowing all I could do naught.
Thus, the price of our protection: pain and power, jointly bought,
For the Lords of Djinn, though mighty, are capricious in their schemes,
And delight in machinations to confound the simplest dreams.
All were locked in this conundrum: to succeed was but to fail,
Yet our captor’s mind was sure he could prevail.

Long he journeyed, through decaying and disease-polluted lands,
Scouring cities smashed and splintered by abominable hands.
Jagged fragments, penned with ink-blood from a murder victim’s throat,
Were deciphered, pieced together on a still-born’s coffin coat.
And in dialects unspoken since the continents broke free,
He found spells on graven stones beneath the sea.

Fusing opiates and toxins, mixed in moonlight, and debased
With the bones of stolen children, ground to powder and to paste,
In the hides of slain cadavers, bound with sinews and with strings,
He poured grave-dust from the sepulchres of long-forgotten kings.
Grisly fetishes and talismans of vile, unearthly beasts,
All were fashioned by the slaves of pagan priests.

Seven times the turning seasons thawed the winters into spring,
And to threads of fleeting sanity his mind could scarcely cling.
Thus, encumbered with the madness of a decomposing world,
He returned before the priestess, his barbarity unfurled.
In his eyes were all the cancerous depravities of man,
And his deviant delirium began.

As he paced with all the menace of a predatory beast,
He surveyed the shackled woman, as though hungering to feast,
And reciting from an esoteric tome of ancient lore,
In a low, corroded vessel burned the horn and tooth and claw
Of a copper-scaled leviathan dragged shrieking from the seas,
Spreading smoking silhouettes of grey disease.

Daubing ashes with the fingers of a plague-infected hand,
He drew death-signs joined with spiderish calligraphies of sand,
And the bloodmarks from the soles of his own torn and blistered feet
Painted zodiacs and labyrinthine patterns of deceit.
Tangled viscera of sucklings pulled from mothers as they fed
Wreathed a ring of bleeding thorns with living thread.

From the deeps below the chamber came a dread, primeval roar,
Brick and stone were split asunder, and within began to pour
First a column, then a river, now a cataract of flame,
And its acolyte, eyes twisting to the priestess, screamed her name,
And apocalyptic fires, from the kingdoms of the dead,
Rained in maelstrom and fury on her head.

She was crushed beneath the torrent and its monstrous, seething flows,
And the sorcerer, triumphant, howled defiance to his foes,
At the demon-gods, defeated, who had kneeled before his might,
And, abandoning their priestess to her death, had taken flight.
But as I, one of their number, gave protection to her soul,
She grew powerful and passionate and whole.

Though her flesh was seared and blistered, yet her spirit flowed within,
For her child was foetus, genie, demon-god, Lord of the Djinn.
And exulting in her torment, she rose up, the shaman-queen;
In her sightless eyes burned starshine from a sky no soul had seen,
And a spinning web of silver drove with crystal shards of light
Through the fire, through the madness, through the night.

He had raised the dark inferno from its diabolic place,
But a fist of frozen fragments smashed the flames and sealed the space,
And they fell to form a shimmering and luminescent pool;
On its waters lay the body of the sorcerer, the fool.
Yet the gods would not release him; such a death too low a price.
Only misery in life would now suffice.

Given spells of time eternal, he must walk within this room,
For to leave or die would cast him to infinities of doom.
And a thousand spears of sorrow stabbed the necromancer’s heart,
Knowing how the demons mocked him, scorned his lamentable art.
For the Djinn may not be vanquished; all who challenge fall and fail.
In this universe of fear, the gods prevail.

Even now, one spiteful triumph still remained within his hands:
Though we lived, yet we were captives, in the grip of iron bands.
In this bleak and foetid prison, we were granted no respite,
As our keeper muttered baleful words of lunacy by night.
And in days filled with his ravings, deep disorders of the mind,
Only fleeting peaceful moments could we find.

In that septic place, turned sour by the wretched stain of death,
Long I yearned to hear the rattle of the jailer’s final breath,
But the scab-encrusted pages of a foul, forbidden text
Stayed the moment of his journey from this realm into the next.
And the shaman-queen, imprisoned, lived immortal, as did I,
And the years flowed on for we who could not die.

Thus, in generations chronicled by histories of lust,
Feral nations, once triumphant, fell to slaughter, burned to dust.
And as witness to the unrelenting centuries of old,
I lived on within the priestess, she in suffering and cold.
But the mad magician’s whisperings were silent now, and still;
In his eyes a void no age, no time, could fill.

From a mould-infested corner came an awful, tortured cry,
As the madman split the silence and implored the unseen sky.
In his hands, the book of demons, which bestowed eternal life,
But its pages, ripped and ruined, as if savaged with a knife,
Fell in ribbons in the filth of the contaminated floor,
And its rhymes would be repeated here no more.

Fearing not their retribution, to the gods he gave this sign,
And he cursed, and clawed the binding, tore the covers from their spine.
Without spells or incantations, now his death-clock must resume,
But, demented and delirious, he staggered through the gloom.
For a time he eyed the priestess, with a gaze which lingered long;
Then he stumbled to the doorway, and was gone.

It was doom to leave the dungeon, so the demons had decreed.
Vast, unutterable torment, where the nameless horrors breed,
Was the fate of all blasphemers, those defiant of the Djinn,
And the sorcerer had stared into their pit and plunged within.
Yet as priestess and as genie, in this cage of steel and stone,
Still our destiny, our fate, remained unknown.

Through long ages of confinement I had roamed the demon skies,
For my sight could pierce the darkness of my mother’s sterile eyes.
Now I sought to see the sorcerer, whose life was surely lost,
But a veil of shade enveloped me; its cloud could not be crossed.
In that suffocating sanctum, without vision, without light,
We were smothered by the choking cloak of night.

With our captor gone, and leaving none to guard us in his place,
The enchantment could be lifted and my growth resume apace,
And the priestess, knowing now that she might birth me without fear,
Scratched a changing-charm, a counterpoise, a call the Djinn would hear.
But an everlasting emptiness was echo to her spell.
Why the demon-gods were silent, none could tell.

And again the years relentlessly swept forward, ever on,
Yet was found no sense, no meaning, in this cold oblivion.
I was genie, and made nourishment to keep our bodies whole,
But no force can feed a faltering and long-forgotten soul.
Then at last, when even magic failed to count the endless days,
Came a sound, a voice, an incoherent phrase.

And the doors exploded inwards with a blast of shattered wood.
Striding through the smoking splinters, bathed in lantern-light, he stood,
And I saw, as if a blindfold had been lifted from my sight,
It was he, the dark magician, twisted hair grown long and white.
At his neck were coiled contraptions, pumping poisons through his head,
And he roared, “Behold! The demon-gods are dead!”

Words beyond all comprehension, and impossible to be,
But he opened up a window to his mind, and I could see
That the world had turned in turmoil with immeasurable pace,
And its industry and science gave the demon-gods no place.
Thus the Lords of Djinn had faded, only shadows in a dream,
Overthrown by gods of iron, steel, and steam.

They had waned before the sorcerer had torn apart their book,
And the blazing storm of vengeance they had promised never struck.
Spared, he schemed, and seeking answers in a world beyond his ken,
Ever older, ever wiser, he controlled the minds of men,
For among them he alone recalled the necromantic arts,
And contaminated unsuspecting hearts.

Building crouching metal giants, smoking beasts of bronze and brass,
He had marched the dread behemoths from their citadels of glass,
And no man could match his mastery, no other seize control
Of these engines of destruction, belching fumes, devouring coal.
Yet his avarice, unsatisfied, rapacious, craved for more,
And he dreamed to drown the world in blood and war.

But the power of a mortal, even one so great as he,
Could not split the mighty continents, nor freeze the raging sea.
Only demon-kind might harness so malevolent a force,
And in ages lost in legend now, the seer had sought its source.
We, the three, bore final witness, for the gods of old were gone,
Yet, in this forsaken place, their line lived on.

We were mother, father, foetus; raped and rapist; child of sin;
Though unborn, I was yet genie, demon-god, last of the Djinn,
And the sorcerer, through aeons, now returned to claim his prize,
Though in this he once had fallen to the judgement of the skies.
Yet the scars and signs and symbols carved into a mother’s skin
Now no longer stayed the man’s malignant grin.

With a shiver of foreboding, apprehension at the thought
That the shield of ancient magic could evaporate to naught,
I searched wildly for solutions, for escape, for half a plan,
But without the gods there could be no protection from this man.
Speaking low into an orifice within his strange device,
Now he turned a copper coil, first once, then twice.

There was silence, still and deadly, in the cold, infected air,
And though seeing, hearing nothing, for a time I was aware
Of a presence, of a shadow, of a thing beyond the gloom,
And a shimmering of dirt and dust fell down into the room.
Now the walls began to tremble, and the floor to sway and shake,
And the ceiling split and cracked, as if to break.

And an agonising screeching, as of steel dragged over stone,
Rent the air with tortured dissonance, vibrating blood and bone,
As a screaming, spinning spiral pierced the darkness from on high,
Spewing rock and brick and boulder as it tunnelled through the sky.
Now it slowed, reversed, retracted, through a black and smoking shaft,
And the sorcerer, its master, only laughed.

For in this were barely traces of the wickedness to come;
Born of distant, rhythmic throbbing and a deep, metallic hum,
Grating, grinding limbs of metal pushed and probed their way within,
Sinking long, discoloured fingers through the ceiling’s stony skin,
And arrayed above our heads now, these appalling hands of steel
Spread like spokes in some infernal web or wheel.

Now they writhed and turned together as their pistons strained and hissed,
And extending further, faster, each colossal metal fist
Struck the bars of this, our prison, wrenched apart the feeble cage,
And the priestess, pawn and victim of one man’s undying rage,
Lay defenceless and defeated, and though crippled, mute and blind,
Sensed the squalid putrefaction of his mind.

I was genie but was helpless, locked as foetus in the womb,
And the sorcerer, euphoric, crossed the wreckage-scattered room.
Yet he hesitated, nervous now of subterfuge or trap;
After centuries of waiting, what could steal the chance to tap
Untold powers, untold riches, untold evil, from his hand?
Such a moment no sane mind might understand.

But all doubts were snuffed and smothered, circumspections choked by greed,
And the skeletal appendages, with violence and speed,
Seized the limbs and neck and torso of their prey, with hook and claw,
And in helpless, screaming terror stretched her form across the floor.
Yet her life was not surrendered; I, in mercy, stopped her heart;
She was dead before they tore her flesh apart.

And the air, the toxic aether, as it swirled about my face,
Seared the organs of my body, drew from every point in space
Vast, immeasurable energies, cascading through my veins,
And in seconds I would shatter and escape these human chains.
I was foetus, I was genie, I was demon-born and Djinn.
But then... glass; a jar; the madman threw me in.

I was flung into the vortex of an amniotic sea,
And I strove to break the vessel, tried in vain to struggle free,
But the power of the demons would not rise to my command;
By some witchery, some devilment, some force had stayed my hand.
And my eyes, beneath the surface, saw him bend to fix the lid.
There was little I could do, but this I did:

I was powerless to exercise the vengeance of the Djinn,
But as foetus, born of woman, I was blood and bone and skin.
Thus, I swam and broke the surface, saw the sorcerer’s surprise;
Biting hard into my tongue I spat cold blood into his eyes.
He was blinded for a moment, but the lid was sealed and snapped,
And within this jar of glass I floated, trapped.

At a signal from the mechanisms draped about his neck,
Iron fingers pulled their master through the shaft, up to the deck
Of a ship no lucid architect could formulate or build,
For its framework and its furnishings, its character, were filled
With the twisted tastes of deviance, psychoses spun with hate,
And such horrors only madness could create.

Yet we moved through air, not oceans, crossed the aether, sailed the skies,
And the sorcerer steered onwards, scanning storms with eager eyes,
For these elemental forces would soon bend to his command,
But his rhapsodies were tarnished, for he failed to understand
Why, within this glass, this prison, I stared up at him and smiled.
Did I look now as his victim, or his child?

We descended to a fortress on a cliff of ice and stone,
And to leprous, shambling creatures far below us, ropes were thrown.
As they hauled us into place between two soaring minarets,
Clouds of vapour boiled and billowed, spewed in swirling, angry jets,
And the snaking arms and fingers used to cut me from the womb
Pulled the two of us, together, through the gloom.

If the ship took shape from nightmares, here were terrors forged in death,
For the walls were thick with bodies, frozen in their final breath.
Cold cadavers, silent legions, lined each corridor, each hall,
Each new slaughter more appalling, for one man had killed them all.
But the final act was blacker than the space between the stars:
Rows of tiny, frightened children, dead, in jars.

They were dragged, the weak, the helpless, to this palace of despair,
And the madman breathed his blasphemies and starved their lungs of air.
At the brink of suffocation, when dull eyes could plead no more,
He sucked out their strangled spirits, for each essence would restore
Fragile fractions of existence, life prolonged for precious days,
With a soul preserved in sick and savage ways.

Of the poisonous perversities collected in this place,
None were tainted with more evil than the sorcerer’s own face,
For each violated victim, every cracked and shattered spine,
Drew its torment in his features, with a deeper, darker line.
And his eyes had known the anguish of the numberless, the dead,
And reflected only night and shades of red.

And in me he sought the power, the omnipotence, the might,
To envelop humankind in an eternity of night.
All the centuries of murder, all the children made to bleed,
Paved a sacrificial pathway to the altar of his greed,
For in this, the deepest chamber, in his vicious killing-room,
It was I he planned to conquer and consume.

In this festering cathedral towered sinister machines;
Monstrous engines of insanity, they turned to form the means
To a damnable dénouement, to a final, fatal act,
For the keys to all creation they would ruthlessly extract.
With the universe his empire, as a god this man would sit,
But to such as he a Djinn does not submit.

As we moved between the monoliths of copper, steel and glass,
To a pedestal of marble, wrapped in snaking coils of brass,
Bursts of white, electric fury writhed and twisted through the air,
Yet he seemed to walk among them without danger, without care.
Now he stopped, and looked, and saw me, sole survivor of the Djinn;
On my face was fixed a cold, malicious grin.

In his eyes, concern, confusion, and in mine, disdain, contempt.
Setting down the precious jar, he leaned in closer to attempt
To communicate his anger, to instil in me the fear
That my death, my execution, and his victory were near.
For as genie I was helpless; yet as shaman I was not,
And this truth, though I remembered, he forgot.

Days before, dismissed as insult when I spat into his eyes,
He afforded it no thought as he returned with me, his prize.
Yet the blood, long disregarded, from my body, from my veins,
Now unseen, unknown, had spread, and smeared his face with scarlet stains.
As the priestess had before me, so I sealed the shaman charm,
Bared my teeth and bit down hard into my arm.

And the sorcerer, recoiling as I raised and clenched my fist,
Saw the blood begin to surge around my body and to twist
In a spinning, crimson helix, then a toxic, turning cloud,
And it veiled me in the mantle of its ever-shifting shroud.
But the spiralling subsided with a final, swirling pass,
And I pressed my hands and face up to the glass.

From the stains, like smoky spider-silk, came whisperings of air,
And they swam in smoothly separating strands of something rare.
Fleeting filaments and fibres probed the features of his face;
Searching, sliding, now insistently, they turned in time to trace
Subtle shapes and twisting tendrils, touching dark, discoloured skin.
Then, as needle-points, they swarmed and surged within.

And he staggered back, bewildered, features frozen, fixed in shock,
Twisting at the strange device about his neck, as if to block
Or destroy the things within him, as they burrowed deep inside,
But his instruments were worthless, and with nowhere now to hide,
As I looked upon his face, he mouthed a silent, wretched plea,
And the vengeance of my shaman blood burst free.

With a million screams of fury, splintered knives of fractured flame
Tore and twisted through their victim, and his blood and bone became
An infernal mass of blistering and mutilated meat.
Bloated stumps of blackened fingers willed the fires to retreat,
But they writhed and danced and turned again to spear his cursed soul,
And his evil heart was burned to smoking coal.

As the body sagged, it knelt into a pool of blood and fat.
Strips of severed muscle peeled away, and smoked and hissed and spat,
And the carcass pulsed with septic tides of ulcerous disease.
Yet a corpse could not repay me, nor a martyr on his knees,
For his lungs, his throat, his lidless eyes, each raw and tortured sense,
Kept alive would bring me final recompense.

I am genie, I am foetus, ripped from ancient, mortal womb,
Scarred, disfigured, and forgotten, in this prison, this, my tomb,
And the one who so confined me, by whose snares I am enslaved,
Kneels at last before the keeper of the power he once craved.
And he looks at me, and I at him, with cold, immortal eyes,
As I wait for my release, that I may rise.

And as genie, and as demon, last and greatest of the Djinn,
I will rule this world, this universe, and all who live within.
And to you, to my deliverer, the one who finds me here,
You have listened to these legends and I sense, I see, your fear,
But let thoughts of untold riches, vast rewards, dispel your doubt.
Break the jar and free the genie. Let me out.

Inspired by this image, from the mind of dholl

The full text of The Genie Within can also be found on my DeviantArt page.

Progress Report / Disturbing Influences

Progress Report

My current poem is definitely approaching the 'end game', although it will probably be several more days before it's completed to my satisfaction. I did a full read-through of all I've done so far and it took me almost exactly 13 minutes, which is long by my standards... and I have long standards! In fact only 'Little Red Ruby's Head' is any longer (24 minutes). Perhaps this one will get close but I doubt it will be any longer.

It's never my intention to sit down and write a poem of a particular length. I just tell the story until the story is told. In fact with this one I've spent the last few days going back to insert extra stanzas because I'd passed over certain aspects of the tale a little too lightly. Equally, I don't try to pad things out either. If I've spent several hours writing half a dozen lines and those lines don't work, out they go.

I've been spending an enormous amount of time putting each word into place, perhaps because this poem is more 'literary' than anything I've written before. This is far from the light touch I've used on the 'fractured fairy tales' I've written - I've really been trying to use the power of the English language to set the tone and draw you into the story.

Work continues, so we'll see how good it is when it's done.

Disturbing Influences

Perhaps I don't really need to say much about this video. It is, however, somewhat related to the poem I'm writing, so please bear in mind I'm working from this picture when you watch (as much as you can stomach of) this video:

Music: Orplid - Auferstehung

Monday 2 May 2011

Yorkshire Dialect - Capstick Comes Home / Stairfoot Rarndabart

In my previous post I mentioned that I spoke with a particular dialect. However I didn't mention what it was. I'm from South Yorkshire, England, which for historical reasons and for purposes of identifying the dialect is also called the 'West Riding'. Here's a perfect example of the accent, which was recorded 30 years ago when I was at school - I still remember this being played on the radio (it was high up in the top ten of the music charts!) and calling people 'spawny-eyed, parrot-faced wazzocks'!

Ee, them wer t'days!

This one's even more local. Stairfoot Rarndabart even mentions Wath, abaht a mile away from ar 'ouse:

The how and the why and the what I’m doing

If you’ve been watching my YouTube channel you’ll know that there have been no new videos for 2 or 3 weeks now. This is not because I’ve been idling my time away, or have abandoned things altogether. It’s a simple case of writer’s and reader’s block.

I’ve spent a long period of time searching for the inspiration to write something new, and at last have found such a thing and have begun to write again. Not daring to distract myself, just in case the tentative grip I had on my writing was lost, I’ve even neglected to update this blog, which of course was only recently launched.

Right now I’m making good progress with my new project, so I’ve decided that this would be a good time to write something about myself and how I approach my writing.

I currently write poetry, and only poetry, and find the challenge of doing so both enormously frustrating and, I’m pleased to say, extremely invigorating. I am a slow worker. When writing I literally just sit in front of the computer and grind it out one line at a time. After five hours, I may have done no more than two or three lines (as happened recently), but so long as they are good lines that’s all that matters. Such things are rare, however, and I almost invariably manage to pick up the pace later in the day.

I endlessly switch between my work, a thesaurus, and a rhyming dictionary, and have a trail of discarded lines or fragments which are slowly pushed down the page as I add more to the poem. It’s all trial and error. I know what I have to say, so have a general idea of what the next few lines will be. Can I find I suitable word with which to end the line? Of course it needs to rhyme with another line - is there an appropriate word for this? If not, the thesaurus can be used to change the word, then the rhyming dictionary can find a new rhyme, and so on.

In fact almost every word is analysed and considered, put through the thesaurus, checked against the rest of the poem (did I use this word earlier, do I need it later, am I using it too often, can I use an alternative, is the word too ordinary or indeed too pretentious?).

I love rarely used, even archaic words, which are particularly well-suited to the dark subject matter I prefer, but sometimes they are an impossible fit. Today I needed a word for someone who has studied something and memorised it, and it had to be no more than one or two syllables (so ‘memorised’ itself was out). The thesaurus gave me this:
verb ( conned , conning ) [ trans. ] archaic
study attentively or learn by heart (a piece of writing) : the girls conned their pages with a great show of industry.
Con really is the perfect word for my purpose, but for the fact that in modern usage it so forcefully means ‘to do or believe something, typically by use of a deception’ that it’s impossible to slip it into position. The search for another word continues!

I have tried to write book-length fiction before and have ALWAYS abandoned such projects because I feel unable to hold on to a story for so long. Or perhaps it’s because prose doesn’t have the rigid structure of fixed-form poetry - I enjoy writing poetry partly because I’m forced to find words which fit the rhyming scheme.

My main difficulty, though, seems to be in the starting of a project, and that of course is 100% writer’s block. I have a mountain of ideas, hundreds of them, some with quite extensive and detailed notes, but until the first few lines of the poem suggest themselves to me, it’s impossible to take them any further. I’m trying to convince myself to accept that that’s how it’s going to have to be, but because I know how much I love the writing process, it’s hard when I have the ideas and the time and yet the first lines are nowhere to be found.

I find inspiration and ideas from the DeviantArt web site because it contains such a wide variety of artists and styles that every day I know I’ll see something amazing. There are so many talented people in the world. Sometimes a piece of art will instantly suggest a story to me, which is how this, my latest poem, began. The original picture (link here) is one thing, but my mind jumped from that image to ‘genie in a bottle’, which in itself is quite an ordinary idea. But I then returned to the original image, which suggested something much, much darker than any traditional stereotype of a genie. Disney wouldn’t touch my version, that much is certain! Mine tells of how he became trapped in the bottle... but that’s all I can tell you until the poem is complete.

The stories in my poems are very vaguely outlined before I begin, but with few exceptions things change almost immediately and the plot seems to write itself as I go along. More often than not that’s determined by very minor things, such as choosing a particular word because I can’t find another rhyme. I actually like the way that turns out - the poem is dictating to me what it wants to do, while I in turn try to come up with more lines to fit the constantly changing framework. The ‘five hours for two lines’ I mentioned earlier came about when I put my foot down and refused to listen when the poem was telling me the rhyme wasn’t going to fit. I won, by the way!

When I wrote ‘Little Red Ruby’s Hood’ I wanted a rhyme for ‘lamp’, which was supposed to go on to reveal a room in a house. When all I could find was ‘ramp’, that opened up a whole new avenue for exploration in an underground world for which I had no plans at all. That kind of thing really doesn’t work when you’re writing novels. I’ve tried the ‘write it and see what happens’ method and it just leads off into rambling dead ends. Conversely, I’ve also planned in fine detail the whole plot of a novel, then felt too restricted by it when other ideas suggested themselves as I was writing. If I spend months developing a plot, then five chapters in realise that the writing of it is making me want to abandon the original and go off at a tangent, I end up throwing out the whole thing, knowing that my a great deal of my careful planning was all for nothing. Novels, at least for me, are too difficult, though of course my opinion may change one day. Poetry is also a lot of hard work, but I can always see an end to each project. Perhaps the certainty of knowing I can get to that end is what keeps me going.

The other side of my YouTube channel, the majority of the videos on there, constitutes the readings of other people’s works, and from that I really did discover a love for poetry that I’ve never had before, not even a year or two ago. I now read more poetry in a month than I’ve read in my whole life up to this point. I’m a bit of a Luddite, however, in that I only really enjoy rhyming poetry. Non-rhyming poetry, at least to me, seems to be just a collection of words put together to demonstrate someone’s vocabulary. That does sound terribly snobbish now I’ve read it, but I do prefer the rhythm of a rhyming scheme. Finding the right scheme for my own work is also a major hurdle, and another reason why I sometimes fail to develop my ideas into finished poems.

I do enjoy creating the videos of the works of others, but my voice isn’t suited to everything I enjoy reading, so I generally concentrate on what I call my ‘voice of doom’, which is why H P Lovecraft features so heavily. I love to discover new authors, or at least ones which are new to me - A C Swinburne is a good example, whose work was one of the most pleasing discoveries I made while casting about for new things to read. I have a ‘to do’ list for recordings, and his section of the list just keeps getting longer. Thomas Lovell Beddoes is another one. I almost always read poetry aloud, rarely in my head, and if I get to the end and enjoy the experience I’ll usually add it to my ‘to do’ list. I will probably never record everything, but the list also serves as a favourite poems list.

Sometimes I start to read a poem out loud and realise that I’m enjoying it so much that I have to break off and record it, without actually having read the whole thing before I do. That was the case with Swinburne’s ‘Dolores’ and if I’d known how long the poem was I probably wouldn’t have attempted it! Things can be deceptively long when they’re displayed on web pages.

Stories are much more challenging to record because of their length, and because I frequently stumble over my words when I read aloud. That’s not evident in the final videos because I edit out the mistakes, but the editing process is so very time consuming that I only infrequently attempt a long piece of work. Making the mistakes as I’m reading can also dishearten me, which isn’t so bad if the story is short - I can still push on towards the end. But if I know there’s a lot more to come, and my voice isn’t behaving itself, I’ll sometimes abandon the project.

Once I recorded quite a long story and realised I’d read it with completely the wrong (dull) tone of voice, which of course no amount of editing would change, so after a few weeks I went back and re-recorded it, simply by sitting in a different position and projecting my voice more forcefully.

I like the range of styles it’s possible to use when recording for a video, from the ‘voice of doom’(!) right down to almost a whisper. The poems I write do tend to be ‘dark’ but I’ve tried to add some emotional content too - in writing ‘Castles of Cardboard’ I’m surprised that my tear ducts didn’t go on strike because I’d been over-working them! That poem was inspired by Hans Anderson’s ‘The Little Match Girl’, which ALWAYS makes me cry, and I wanted to write a poem which had exactly the same effect on the reader or listener. If nothing else, it certainly worked on me!

I have no real ongoing plans for my YouTube channel, or indeed for this blog, other than simply to record things I enjoy, or to take a break when other things are happening. My recent gap (no video for 2 weeks is a long time) has been primarily the frustration of not finding the inspiration for a new poem (my last one was written 4 or 5 weeks ago), which eventually stopped me recording even the works of others, not wanting to ‘waste’ time while I could be writing... or while being unable to write!

There are some other things I’ve been looking at. I re-discovered an old 1960s British comedy show recently which is full of malapropisms, and I love that kind of wordplay, so it’s half in my mind to write something of that sort myself, in poetic form of course. And I come from a place which has a strong regional dialect, so I’m considering writing a poem in that dialect. I’ve had to re-train myself to speak in that way (although regular telephone calls to my heavily-accented mother certainly help!) because I moved away from the area long ago and lost much of the 'lingo', but it’s another challenge I think I’d enjoy.

I have a recording of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which is one of the few older recordings I’ve never put back on my YouTube channel. Unfortunately it’s not as good as I’d like. It was done very early on, before I’d worked out how to put some drama into my voice (I’m not entirely sure I succeed even now!), which is why I’ve not uploaded it again. I think I might have to record it for a second time. That is one for the back-burner though - it’s a long, long poem and I need to be in the right mood for it.

When I write about myself I do tend to ramble on a bit, which is another reason I’ve not dared to put a blog post like this together - having made a tentative start on a new poem it was more important that I kept it in sharp focus. However, a change in pace at this stage will certainly not harm my work, given that I’m a long way into the project. But perhaps this is where I should, finally, bring my wanderings to a close, so that I can get back to work!

Thursday 28 April 2011

Late Bloomer - Lovecraftian Sex Education

Lovecraftian Sex Education? No further description is necessary...

Sunday 24 April 2011


What more appropriate story could there be on Zombie Jesus Day (Easter Sunday) than this...

by Nick Gisburne

There are chapters in time, scarce but sweet and sublime,
When our destinies change for the better
It was on such a night, by the luminous light
Of the moon on the mountains I met her

Blessed with venomous grace, and a half-eaten face,
Her proportions were crooked, yet pleasing
Clothing spattered with stains, having hunted for brains
She was drooling and groaning and wheezing

There was blood on her teeth, from the body beneath,
From the veins of a freshly killed victim
She had started to pull at the base of the skull,
Which was split where she’d viciously kicked him

It was love at first sight, and I dreamed that she might
Feel a similar, soulless attraction
So I watched as she fed from the now-severed head,
And I thrilled at her sweet putrefaction

Though her hunger was vast, she was sated at last,
And lay back on the motionless torso
From her disfigured hips to those festering lips,
My heart ached for her then even more so

So I reached through my chest and abruptly did wrest
Through the ribs my necrotic old ticker
Though corrupt with disease, I discharged with a squeeze
Any lingering poisons or ichor

With my worm-ridden heart came a wish to impart
Passions putrid as each grisly tumour
And this organic waste, tough and toxic to taste,
Showed my helpless desire to consume her

Her eyes swivelled to mine for the very first time,
Black and bloodshot, but still in their sockets
When her leprous lids blinked, I responded, but winked,
For my spare eye was lost in my pockets

She clutched tight at my heart and bit into a part
Of the succulent, scabrous aorta
Hers were cancerous teeth - two above, three beneath -
Plainly perfect for ripping and slaughter

Steeped in sickness and death, tainted meat gave her breath
An alluring, malodorous foetor
I was dizzy with lust as a congealing crust
Of my heart blood grew thick on her sweater

I could see her succumb as she licked out the scum
From a ventricle, raw from dissection
And we both of us knew what we wanted to do
When she’d swallowed the final infection

She was shy and remote, for her delicate throat
Had been cut by a struggling stranger
But I beckoned her near, re-attached her loose ear,
And gave promise that I’d never change her

It was then that we kissed, though we both had to twist,
For our limbs were diseased and distorted
Swapping spittle and blood, we fell down in the mud,
Our vain efforts to stand soon aborted

From the dank disrepair of my pox-ridden hair,
She tore clumps with a sensuous vigour
For this ghoul, I confess, grunts were hard to suppress,
And her filth made my entrails grow bigger

With a ravenous lust she grew frantic and thrust
Frenzied fingers deep into my belly
It was almost obscene how she ripped out my spleen
And compressed it to quivering jelly

And responding, of course, with malevolent force,
I pulled hard on her ulcerous liver
It was rancid and grey, oozing pus and decay,
And the seep of its sores made me shiver

I was lost in her charms as those skeletal arms
Reached around me, my kidneys to cripple
Renal arteries ripped and together we sipped
On a slippery, sulphurous tipple

With the nails of my thumbs I slit open her lungs,
And we rolled in the tar and the cancer
Now astride me, her groans, and the crack of dry bones
As she haemorrhaged, highly enhanced her

On that cannibal night, in the carnage and blight,
Our disgusting devotion grew stronger
We had eaten our fill, and would both be there still
If our smaller intestines were longer

We dismembered till dawn, and the mouldering morn
Found us wrapped in a visceral blanket
Mixing lymph, blood and bile in a mixture most vile,
As a tribute to love we both drank it

Vital organs we’d shared, so we hunted and snared
Two unwilling but generous donors
And my love was now blessed with a silicone chest,
Which for both of us came as a bonus

If there’s ever a chance for a taste of romance,
Find a zombie and woo her and wed her
Ever hungry she’ll stay, but there’s no easy way
To find someone who’s stronger or deader

She’s the love of my life, my insatiable wife,
And we shuffle in curious manner
On our victims we feed, and together we bleed
She has eaten my heart - Zombrianna

The full text of Zombrianna can also be found on my DeviantArt page.
Stock image used in this video:
Marcus Ranum -

Wednesday 20 April 2011

The Conqueror Worm

Make sure you watch the video at the end of this post, which tells the whole story with animated cut-out paper puppets. Incredible work.

The Conqueror Worm
by Edgar Allan Poe

Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!

That motley drama- oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.

Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

Monday 18 April 2011

The Nameless City

The Nameless City by H P Lovecraft has a building tension that quite literally had me gripping my seat as I recorded it. I'd not read the story before, so as an experiment I decided to read it for the first time as I was speaking into the microphone. When I'm recording a long story I tend to wave my arms around when it gets to the dramatic parts, just to get myself more involved in the story, but that sometimes disrupts the recording itself, so instead I held onto the seat of my chair to prevent this. By the time I'd finished, without realising it I'd put so much strain on my arms that they ached for hours afterwards! Not knowing the story beforehand hopefully added a little something to the telling of it - I was discovering it just as its narrator was also seeing the events within it unfold.

From what I know of the story, this is the first of Lovecraft's Cthulthu Mythos stories, so it all descends into unspeakable madness from this point forwards!

Link to full text of the story.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Castles of Cardboard

Castles of Cardboard was one of the more challenging poems I've written, not because of a lack of ideas, but because of the themes it covers. I found myself so emotionally attached to the character in the story that, knowing how it would all end, it was a struggle not to cry at times. And at times I just gave in and did it. I was certainly hoping that some of that emotion would translate into the words of the poem, and I'm optimistic that that's what happened.

The reading/recording was extremely straightforward, which for me is a sign that I've done everything right - as I'll probably explain in later blog posts, sometimes I find the process of recording and editing a total nightmare. Not so with this one.

My inspiration for this was quite a well-known story, though if you haven't listened to this already, revealing that would be a huge spoiler, so I won't mention it here. Certainly towards the end it should become apparent.

Castles of Cardboard
by Nick Gisburne

Her face isn’t one you would notice
And you’d pass with no more than a glance
But she’s looking at you
For a hint, just a clue
That perhaps she has half of a chance
And you’re stopped by those eyes
Filled with sorrow and sighs
“Please, I know what I say will seem strange
I need help - can you spare me some change?”

So how many times have you said it?
“Not today” or “I can’t” or just “No”
You can bet she’s heard worse
Every possible curse
That the many she asks can bestow
But she tries all the same
Because this is no game
If she doesn’t there’s nothing to eat
So she begs in the snow-covered street

You give her a pittance. Feel better?
Do you think that’s the help she most needs?
And to you what’s the cost
Of the coins you just tossed?
You’re so filled with the warmth of good deeds
She’s forgotten and gone
And your life carries on
When you gave her that miserly sum
Did you notice? Her fingers were numb

At sunset the shops are all closing
Busy customers rush to their homes
If they notice her there
They avoid her, aware
These cold streets are the places she roams
Doesn’t one of them know
She has nowhere to go?
But at least she is free now, cut loose
From the past, from the years of abuse

In fairytales step-mothers beat you
But then step-fathers, they can do worse
And the princess of course
On her magical horse
Unaware of this menace, this curse
Soon discovers the cost
Is her innocence, lost
And the monster, the source of her fears
Brings her tales full of sadness and tears

She couldn’t tell, nobody, ever
But her Grandma knew something was wrong
She was told of a place
Where a princess could face
Any evil with courage made strong
And she learned how to build
Magic castles and thrilled
To explore and to venture inside
In a place she felt safe and could hide

And building tall castles of cardboard
With their walls rising strong to the sky
In old boxes she hid
And their magic undid
All the hurt, and her eyes, almost dry
Could see wonderful things
Giant creatures with wings
She could soar through the clouds, to the sea
And in castles of cardboard be free

The castles were never defeated
But her Grandma surrendered at last
And the words that she spoke
As the young girl’s heart broke
Were remembered long after she’d passed
“Always live for your dreams
And whenever it seems
You are lost, think of me.” And she smiled.
“Now’s the time for us both to leave, child.”

With nowhere to raise up her castles
The girl formed a desperate plan
Her life here was done
She decided to run
To escape from the monster, the man
To the city she stole
And her singular goal
Was to find a safe place of her own
And to build a new castle, alone

But cities aren’t safe for a princess
For they harbour a dangerous breed
In the light of the day
She was no easy prey
But the night comes with terrible speed
Filthy strangers would hurl
Foul abuse at the girl
Till in some ruined alley or street
She’d pile boxes and make her retreat

Today came the snow, and her castles
Are all broken and twisted and torn
Fallen cardboard her bed
She now rests her young head
On their ruins and tries to stay warm
But the bitter winds bite
Through the long winter night
And she finds no defence from the cold
As its long, icy fingers take hold

And what of the money you gave her?
What cuisine was it lavished upon?
Do you think it went far?
One small piece of a bar
Of a chocolate something, now gone
She lies hungry and weak
And is longing to speak
To the woman who’ll calm her despair
To the woman she knows is not there

She paces around like a tiger
So determined to conquer the chill
But this tiger is sick
Cold and hunger so quick
To extinguish her strength, yet she still
Thinks of Grandmother’s face
And is granted the grace
Of sweet moments of sleep, which she takes
But the wind soon returns and she wakes

She pulls something out of her pocket
An old lighter she’d found in the street
And she pleads for a flame
As she whispers the name
“Grandma, please warm my fingers and feet”
From the wheel spins a spark
Leaping out of the dark
And a flicker of light in the breeze
As she sinks to the ground, to her knees

The pale amber halo glows brightly
And she stares at its magical light
Twisting shapes that she sees
From her memory, trees
Rising up to imperious height
Grandma sits on a stump
And to see the girl jump
You’d imagine she might even fly
But the sun disappears from the sky

Her shivering fingers have faltered
Without colour or feeling they fail
But those faces she’d seen
And the trees - they had been
Just a glimmer, one part of the tale
So she has to see more
And she searches the floor
To find something to kindle the flame
Digging deep in the filth without shame

But water and snow have spared nothing
Just a precious few boxes survive
But she needs them tonight
For inside them she might
Keep her fragile young body alive
But perhaps she won’t miss
Only one, and if this
Is the price for a glimpse of her dreams
She will pay, and pay gladly it seems

She tears her old castle to pieces
And the pitiful piles on the floor
Are two chances to burn
To let Grandma return
But she cannot and dare not spare more
Small but certain, her smile
Fills with hope; the first pile
Takes the flame and swells up to a blaze
And its shapes reveal glorious days

The beach is their pebble-strewn playground
Skipping stones out for miles ’cross the waves
Fair and young, grey and old
Their adventures are bold
As they splash in the pools, in the caves
A warm hand holds her tight
As the day turns to night
And a crimson sun sets on the sea
And the flames fade to ash and debris

These visions, so vivid and vibrant
Fill the girl with great joy, but such pain
For the bitter-sweet sight
Of her loved one this night
Brings a yearning to hold her again
It can never be so
And the lighter is low
It can bring only one final dream
As she summons the flame her eyes gleam

It catches a corner and flickers
But then sputters and hisses and dies
For the cardboard was wet
A reality yet
To betray itself deep in her eyes
She says nothing, quite numb
But is soon overcome
With a sickening ache of despair
“Grandma, please! Won’t you show me you’re there?”

A swirling chill rushes around her
Chasing ashes high into the air
And one ember descends
Still aglow, it extends
Its ephemeral life to her care
And her whispering breath
Saves its fire from death
And she nurtures this gift from above
Just as someone had once shown her love

It grows, and burns ever more surely
As she finds the dry tinder she needs
So intent is her gaze
She forgets now to raise
Up her eyes to the scene her flame feeds
Till a murmur, a word
In the shadows is heard
And an old woman whispers her name
As if drawn to the flickering flame

A voice, then a face, though still distant
But this shade is no ghost of the past
Through the smoke, through her eyes
Through the kneeling girl’s cries
Her Grandmother returns now at last
And the old woman’s smile
Now approaches, for while
The flames grow she will shelter the girl
But the smoke starts to thicken and curl

The last of her castle of cardboard
Burns low with a guttering light
And its princess now screams
As her Grandma it seems
Will return to the shadows of night
In her grief and despair
She looks wildly to where
The dry boxes, the last of their kind
Pull a bare thread of hope from her mind

She drags them with reckless abandon
And she builds up the fire once more
Till it burns with such heat
That her heart is complete
And she dances and circles the floor
For her Grandma is there
Tying bows in her hair
And her tears are of joy as she weeps
Till in Grandmother’s arms, she now sleeps

They found her in cinders and ashes
Near a circle of steps in the snow
Yet the chill could not chase
The warm smile from her face
And what wonders she saw none could know
Far from hunger or cold
Though she never grew old
Never cared for a child of her own
Still her journey was not made alone

She burned all her castles of cardboard
And their walls blazed far up to the sky
The old boxes are gone
But their magic lives on
And her beautiful eyes never cry
They see wonderful things
Giant creatures with wings
And she soars through the clouds, to the sea
And in castles of light she is free

The full text of Castles of Cardboard can also be found on my DeviantArt page.