And now, at last, the blog is here for you:
It’s feet are light, and look! It’s rhyming, too.
I think I’ve mentioned that one of the pleasures of being back in Edinburgh is getting to use the city’s libraries, whether the National Library or the city’s own Central Lending Library on on George IV Bridge, the MacDonald Road Library near the top of Leith Walk, or the local Blackhall Library. Edinburgh Council’s library app even lets you scan a book’s bar code on your phone, check if it’s in stock, and reserve it for pick-up.
In this year of the centenary of the First World War (I think that’s the most appropriate term for it), leading literary light of Leith Kevin Williamson mentioned @TalesOfOneCity when recommending Chrisopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914. Not knowing much of the details, I promptly got the app and reserved the book.
Given @williamsonkev‘s position as the founder of Edinburgh’s epochal and much-missed transgressive literary magazine Rebel Inc. and curator of the city’s poetry-showcasing Neu! Reekie nights it seemed both appropriate and inapt that in my visit to pick up The Sleepwalkers, I should pick up a copy of Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within.
The book is intended to be an introduction to the workings of English-language poetry that will allow the amateur enthusiast to enjoy the hobbying production of her own work. In this, a number of observations are recorded that reverberate with me. Not least of these concern why a poet would submit herself to restrictions of metre (and possibly, rhyme), rather than expressing her thoughts in the most direct manner possible.
Quoting Wordsworth (In truth the prison, into which we doom/Ourselves, no prison is), Fry reflects both that “[i]t is often the feeling of the human spirit trying to break free of constrictions that gives art its power and its correspondence to our live,” and “[p]oets sometimes squeeze their forms to breaking point, this is what energizes much verse.”
Yesterday, I sat mulling over one of the book’s exercises and the view out of the bus window. I was to create a non-rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter “in which the first line is end-stopped and there are no caesuras” regarding “precisely what [I] see and hear outside your window.” Then a second couplet with the same meaning, but incorporating enjambment and at least one caesura.
It wasn’t meant to be good, OK? Just meet the technical requirements. And there was a time limit. But as I contemplated the words and the scene outside the window, I became aware of how much of the language around me naturally adopted the flowing form of the iambic pentameter; how much more closely I was looking at my surroundings; how squeezing the meaning of a thought into a strict structure requires closer consideration of that meaning. A very Zen exercise. And, perhaps, a reason why I return to Alan Spence’s Glasgow Zen a quarter of a century after I first read it.
I hope Mrs Stroke Bloke won’t mind me relating some details of our early courtship. Walking along Brooklyn’s Court Street, appropriately enough, she suggested that we get into the habit of writing haiku for each other. Flush with the ardour of new love, I committed to a haiku a week. Years later, I’m still ardently amorous, and although my haiku don’t arrive like buses, I like to think the average frequency is pretty close to where it’s meant to be.
ways to love. the discipline
of restricted form.
(March 7, 2014)
It’s a brilliant exercise that keeps love fresh and multi-faceted, and creates an awareness of the enjoyable effort involved in that maintenance. And Mrs Stroke Bloke tells me she came up with it herself, clever thing. No wonder I like her, like her.
Once I get through The Ode Less Travelled, I think I’ll have to dig out George Nelson’s How To See, in which the epochal American designer writes about “how to recognize, evaluate, and understand the objects and landscape of the man-made world.” Even if I need about as much help with seeing things as describing buses.
The upside of arranging ideas in metre. Reorganising the things we see. The discipline of roiling passion. Where does this fervor for extracting value from adjustment and examination come from, I ask myself?
I like to think that some of the seeds were sown by my personal brush with Alan Spence as a kid, but It’s certainly been encouraged by the experiences of autumn 2012 and after.
The aftermath of stroke has been a year-and-a-half of coping strategies and adjustment. Cramming unfeeling feet into shoes with fingers, like shoehorning words into iambic pentameter with a troachic substitution. Forcing structure onto life. Daybeforeblogday. Blogday. Dayafterblogday. And a lot of stroke survivors have it a lot worse than me, but squeezing the tasks of life to breaking point across this new frame has created something I like.