Friday, 9 October 2015

Tweets on poetry, poems and poets (collected)

Yesterday on twitter through the day, I put up some thoughts about what poets, poetry and poems can do, sometimes do, often do....

It starts with the last one on this list and finishes with the first, so there is a kind of train of thought. But you don't have to read them that way. (I rather like Marx's Theses on Feuerbach so they've ended up being a bit like some 'Theses'....but they were actually tweets. Maybe Marx invented the tweet.

Anyway, here's Rosen's tweets on poetry. Finishing (starting) with a tweet poem about war, inspired by 'Dulce et Decorum best'

War:when governments convince enough people who don't want to kill, to kill people who don't want to kill but who've been convinced to kill

Poems can capture simultaneous opposites and contradictions when the sound runs counter to the most customary meaning of the words

.'Dulce et Decorum est' must be a perfect poem because no Prime Minister so far has recited it at a war memorial. So far.

Think of political poems as if they are political speeches. Only if they are dull, do they not work. Not because they are political.

Beware when the poet says 'I'. It is not the poet. The 'I' is made of words the poet has chosen. The poet is a person.

Most poems repeat something: words, sounds, images,rhythms, meanings.Even opposites are a kind of repetition.

For poets there are no such thing as wow words. For poets all words are wow words. Especially 'the' and 'a'.

Some poems can be mimed.

Poets often walk about looking for ways to begin poems.

Try bringing together two things that don't belong together.

Poems like psychic reality. It's where the feelings are believable even if it's demons or giants or...

There are no right and wrong answers on what poems mean but it does no harm to read or listen to what others say.

Some poems cheat time: they freeze the moment. But they can't cheat the reader's time.

Studying poetry shouldn't be a humiliation.

In science the truth has to be proven. In poetry the truth can be suggested.

If you don't know what a poem means, ask yourself and the person nearest you what it reminds you of. Then ask why or how.

A poem is a poem if the writer and the reader agree it's a poem. If they don't agree, it's under discussion.

Everytime you say that something is like another you get a new angle on those two things. Poems often do that.

Many poems don't solve anything.They may start conversations that help you though.

Poets don't know all the meanings of their poems. All the meanings of the poems are made by the poet and the readers.

Poems aren't made of words. They're made of sequences of words.

A lot of poems start in a poet's mind with a query.

When children say how do you start to write a poem, I say 'by daydreaming'.

In rhythmic poems the rhythm is made by the 'foot'. In free verse, the rhythm is usually the line.

Some poems can say thing about feelings but only talk about things we can see. ‪#‎imagism‬

One way to write poems is to talk with your pen.


Poetry can change the usual patterns of language.

Poetry begs borrows and steals from all other uses of language and recycles it as poems.

Poetry can celebrate. Poetry can mourn. We choose who to celebrate who to mourn.

Poetry can say things through its sounds without telling you that this is what it’s doing.

Poetry can dream. It can analyse. It can do both at the same time.

Poetry can glorify our rulers or it can dissect them. You choose.

Poetry can stick up for the weak. Poetry can mock the mighty.

Poetry can say I Believe. Poetry can say We Believe.

Poetry can say I Am. Poetry can say We Are.

Poetry can tell stories but it doesn't have to. It can talk about the moment or the thing.

Poetry makes the familiar unfamiliar. And the unfamiliar familiar.

The poet suggests. We interpret. That's freedom.

Poetry is for everyone. In private or for sharing, we find ourselves in it.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Poem: My mother Ate Sour Milk

My mother ate sour milk.
We didn't have a fridge.
The milk was in the larder.
And sometimes it went sour.
When my brother and I came down to breakfast,
if the milk was sour, we tipped it down the sink.
It was blobby and when it came out of the bottle
it went ker-plup, ker-plup, ker-plup
and dribbly stuff flowed out too.
But it was the smell.
You couldn't put your face over the sink
while the sour milk was coming out.
It was worse than sick.
And it made you want to be sick.

If my mother was there though
she'd say, 'Oh don't throw that away,'
and she poured the sour milk into a bowl
and ate it with a spoon.
It was like she was eating white sick.

My brother and I said,
'Nooooooo! You can't. That's horrible.'
'Mmmm, lovely,' she said
and you could hear her sipping it.
Sip, sip, sip.

She tried to get us to understand.
'You know the nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet,'
she said. 'Curds and whey,' that's what this is,' she said
'We don't care,' we said, 'it's horrible.'

Our dad explained that Mum's grandfather
made yoghurt and something called
'shmatana' and sour milk.
It didn't make it any better.
Why would anyone make sour milk?

When we went to see Mum's mother,
she gave us shmatana.
That was nice.
She didn't try the sour milk on us though.
Just as well.

They say, "we can only have the welfare we can afford": a story

Mr Bill owned a shop and Mina worked in the shop. In winter it got cold and Mr Bill said that he could heat some of the shop but not all of it. Mina felt very cold.
We can't afford to heat the whole shop, said Mr Bill.
Mina didn't know anything about Mr. Bill but one day she was going for a walk in the country with her friends and one of them said, 'We're near where Mr Bill lives.'
So, they went and had a look.

It was a big house, with a beautiful garden. Looking over the wall, Mina and her friends could see a big de luxe car in the drive.

On the way home, Mina thought more and more about what Mr Bill had said about 'we can't afford to heat the whole shop.' Certainly, she couldn't afford to heat the shop. Mr Bill only paid her enough to feed herself and pay her rent. It was true, the shop didn't seem to make huge amounts of money, but it was doing well, well enough for Mr Bill to buy a lovely house and car.

So how did it all work? And why was she cold?

Grammar: it's not the name of the word that makes it behave that way...

Steven Pinker has written an article in the Guardian:

and there is a thread following his article - which itself is a summary of a new book he has out.

On the thread people were getting exercised about starting a sentence with 'but'. This is because people think that when we say a word 'is' a 'noun' or a 'verb' etc, then that's what it is forever more. Part of the reason for that is because that's how grammar is taught i.e. wrongly. Another reason, it's how dictionaries list words - but that is really only meant to be a guide not a prescriptive order.

On the thread below I made the comment below. It's an attempt to focus on the fact that there is 'grammar' but the 'grammar' is not in the names and rules we invent. It's in our usage, how we say and write things. The job of grammarians, or anyone describing language, is to describe it in use. Words in use have functions and work like cogs in a machine, they link with other cogs (words) so that there is a coherent 'utterance'. Unlike cogs, which are of a fixed shape in a fixed place in the machine, words can morph, move about, change how they fit with the other words. If we are serious about grammar, and serious about helping children understand it, then that's the model we should work with and not this silly stuff about naming words and telling them that the words have to behave in a certain way because we've named them that way. Here's my comment:

"There is no essential grammatical quality attached to any word until it is used. A word is not a noun until it is used as a noun. Same goes for 'but'.  When it is used as a conjunction, it is a conjunction. When it is used as a frontal adverbial or 'sentence adverb' - as it is when it begins a sentence, that's what it is. The great mistake of pedantry is to assume that words are what grammarians have called them. It's a form of nomenclature determinism. Luckily we are human beings and not machines, so we can say, 'but me no buts' or 'proud me no prouds' (which gets a red underline from the typography nazis in my computer) but was good enough for Shakespeare. 'Hah, but 'proud' is an adjective,' they cry. Not in that sentence - one is a verb and the other is a noun."

Eye-watering sums in merger - great for the shareholders, bad for us

Anthony Hilton - no raving lefty he - the economics editor of the London Evening Standard, had an article in the paper last night about a big new merger that may or may not take place in the brewing industry. When I say big, this is seriously massive, and calls into question all the usual rubbish that lovers of capitalism talk about when they say that the marvellous thing about capitalism is that 'competition' is good for the consumer. In reality, if this merger takes place, when we go into a pub or are buying beer we will be choosing between different offshoots of the same company, under different labels.

That to one side, Hilton is against the merger and amongst the reasons he cites are as follows:

"Apart from the shareholders [who, he explains elsewhere are likely to make a big, big killing if the merger goes through] what characterises this deal is the number of losers - there will be fewer suppliers, fewer employees, less choice for customers and no doubt lots of legitimate new ways for the company to avoid paying taxes.'

Just spend a few seconds on that sentence, please. He is saying that if this merger, worth billions of pounds - it involves, yes, the world's largest brewer - goes ahead, it will result in people being put out of work, more of the same kind of thin watery crap beer, and more tax-dodging ('legitimate' of course - we don't want legal proceedings to take place by not calling it 'legitimate') - which means less revenue to the state to pay for schools, hospitals and welfare.

But this is normal market activity. This is what we have to remember. It's normal. If it's 'normal', that means it's 'right'. That means it's 'nice', that means it's 'good' for us.

But it's not. It's about making some people richer - 'shareholders' i.e. people who happen to have some money and earn money from that money by doing no work, working-people laid off and therefore instantly poorer, crap beer, and less tax.

[The potential merger is between AB InBEv and SABMiller - combined value £180 billion. Lawyers' and accountants' fees to put the merger together, $3billion. (Hilton gives those 2 figures, as I have, in sterling and dollars.)]

Monday, 5 October 2015

Great stuff down at Discover, Stratford, E.London

Something very exciting is brewing at the Discover Centre, in Stratford, East London. I know I'm biased but...

They are building an 'immersive' visit for young children based on several of my books. There are several 'habitats' or 'experiences' - the various sites of 'Bear Hunt', an old classroom (from my era), my grandparents sitting room, a chocolate cake that you can walk into and a 'dread shed'.

In each of these there is the potential just to look at things I've written about turned into an exhibit or tactile experience or read poems relevant to the habitats or write poems triggered off by the exhibits are the 'story-builder-guides' who are on hand to lead workshops.

There'll be a soundscape of sounds, words, parts of poems from me (pre-recorded) as well as some of my vids.

The exhibition is in effect a slice of my mind, which children enter.

I think it'll be a fantastic visit for children with their relatives, friends or - as during their week - with their class. It's the kind of 'education' that I really believe in: exposing children to surprising, challenging places and experiences, encouraging them and helping them create things of their own, in a safe, friendly environment.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Quick summary of what Corbynomics seems to be about...

A certain level of deficit is affordable. It has become almost impossible to make this argument. Journalists and commentators know that it's true but they seem to be pre-programmed to howl it down. Corbyn et al seem for the moment to consider that it's best to leave that argument alone. 

Instead, they are pointing out that the underlying question of Who pays for that deficit? is a better one to make. As we know, the Tories have made a political decision to get the unpaid and the low paid to pay for it, and for all of us to have worse public services to pay for it too. Meanwhile, the super-rich have made a killing. (both sides of this equation have been admitted a) by Clegg when he 'apologised' to the low paid) b) by the Telegraph when it said the quantitative easing had enabled the rich 'to make a killing' (their words).

So, Corbyn et al, appear to be saying that they will do other things to deal with this deficit: find the non-tax payers, (100 billion?), not renew Trident (100 billion?), use Quantitative Easing to finance council housing and railways (stimulates steel, concrete, glass etc production, creates employment, increases tax yield for government), increase tax take from super-rich. 

This argument would, they think (I'm guessing) put the journalist-politico deficit mob on the back foot because they would have to argue against this on the basis that it's bad for rich people and good for poor people???!!!!