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.