Friday, 2 December 2016

A sample of what I'm doing on my MA Course

I love working on my Masters Course and I’m glad I decided to opt for part-time because it is allowing me to savour every bit of creative writing that I’m producing. As promised several months ago, I'm going to share a bit of my work with you.

One of the many areas we've been looking at is ekphrasis writing. This is writing creatively from a piece of artwork and it has caught my imagination big time. My first attempt was from a picture called Messiah that is in Leicester’s New Walk Museum German Expressionist Collection. At first glance I mistook it to be representative of Hitler Youth and the Führer’s hoped-for Arian race but then I discovered that Ernst Neuschul painted it in 1919, before the rise of Nazism. He had an exhibition of his paintings closed down by the Nazis because he was Jewish. He also lost his teaching post for the same reason and managed to escape Prague just in time to save his life.

When he painted this picture he was a young artist and a yoga enthusiast, and possibly thought that the world would be a kinder place.

Based on the painting ‘Messiah,’ 
by Ernst Neuschul

The symmetry of sunbeams
across angular mountains
that hypnotic manic stare

finger on fourth chakra
body proud
yoga honed
the conceit
of youthful talent

before Juden war Verboten
before the daub of swastikas
before the last train out of Prague

I'm working on my first piece of assessed work now so I may be quiet for a little while longer. At least I'm absent from here for the very best of reasons. I'm having a great time. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

No Man's Land - a review

No Man’s Land, showing at London's Wyndham's Theatre, is not a straightforward play but then no one expects straightforward from Harold Pinter. Having said that, it was the most enjoyable and satisfying play I have seen in years. I’m still thinking about it.

SPOILER ALERT: If you’re planning to go and see this production then you may not want to read any further just yet:

The two main characters were Hirst played by Patrick Stewart and Spooner by Ian McKellan. Both are brilliant actors, amazingly brilliant actors, but Ian McKellan was especially amazing. We were close enough to the stage to be able to see each facial expression and mannerism executed with perfect timing to enhance humour, pathos and, at times, creepy discomfiture.

The story could be read in two ways. Maybe it was merely an evening where Hirst had picked up Spooner in a pub near Hampstead Heath and taken him home for drinks. The more they drank the more outlandish their conversations became. All this was punctuated by the arrival of two younger men, both apparently living in the house, one young pretty boy who we were led to think was a toyboy/house keeper and the other a rough character who could have been a minder.

The more sinister interpretation is first alluded to early on in the play when Hirst mentions the phrase ‘no man’s land’. There is a quiet ‘waft’ of eerie music on stage. As the second half progresses it becomes obvious that all is not what it at first appears to be. Hirst is disturbed by images of a drowning man. Spooner is trying to encourage him to return to his writing, become more involved with poetry. He could be trying to pull him back from some state of purgatory, whereas the two younger men could be holding him there, plying whisky and words of hopelessness. I interpreted this to mean that the three actors surrounding Hirst were his alter egos first pulling him into purgatory, then trying to save him from it.

I wondered if there would be a satisfactory explanation at the end but the final lines of the play went as follows:

Spooner: You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.

Hirst: I’ll drink to that.

The advantage of this ending was that we were able to spend a long and enjoyable supper in a Covent Garden restaurant discussing our varying interpretations of what Pinter actually meant by it all.

If you’ve seen the play I’d love to hear your interpretation.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Those Trains Again

Yesterday was a special event, an extremely belated birthday present for Daughter. She chose the Harold Pinter play ‘No Man’s Land’ starring the amazing Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. Her birthday was back in March but this play was worth waiting for. What's more, we had front row seats in the Royal Circle of the Wyndham Theatre - a real treat. There’s something magical about those small, highly decorated Edwardian London theatres and Pinter certainly gave us lots to think about afterwards. We continued to discuss the play throughout supper and during our return journey to St Pancras Station, but I’ll talk about our analysis of the play another day, with a ‘spoiler alert’ in case you’re about to go and see it. Today I have a need to discuss the journey. 

I don’t often travel by train although I have recently decided that I can no longer do long-distance driving and so am, unfortunately, going to have to increasingly rely on train travel. I say ‘unfortunately’ because, although I rarely use the train, in the last few years I’ve experienced long delays on three occasions due to someone committing suicide on the line. This happened last night. It created chaos at St Pancras. All trains were stopped and although they kept explaining the reason over the tannoy, it was cold, wet and late. I realise that somewhere, out there in the dark, a family’s life had just been devastated but I wanted to sit down, to get home. I was only thinking of myself.

The last time I experienced this kind of train delay I was travelling to visit Sister down South. I blogged about it in May of last year but the point needs to be reiterated. On that occasion I got talking to a member of staff who was escorting us on a detour back to London and she said that it happens at least two or three times a week. Two or three times a week. That is one of the saddest indictments of a civilised society that I can think of. Our way of life is sorely lacking if so many people want to kill themselves. Was it always this way? Or were people happier living in an extended family situation, with fewer material goods on offer, with less complicated job structures and less demanding work requirements? In which direction have we, as a society, let people down?

Once more, I shall clamber down off my orange box and get on with my day, but the experience has left a cold, 'no man's land' of a feeling inside me. Tomorrow I'll blog about Pinter and the play.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

How Klezmer music introduced me to Pinterest

There’s something about Klezmer music that makes me feel nostalgic. Its style is heavily influenced by music played long ago in the Eastern European Jewish Shtetls. It is said to be influenced by an even older tradition, that of the High Priests thousands of years ago in the Jewish Temples. But why would that music make me feel nostalgic? I’ve never been to a Shtetl - they no longer exist - and I certainly didn't frequent the ancient Temples. I can only assume that it is possible to inherit emotions and cultural ties. This was the music that my Grandma and her family grew up with. This was the soundtrack of their Shtetl, especially in the happy times, maybe even in the bad times too.

I started listening to samples on YouTube. As the music played, with songs often sung in Yiddish, the language that my family spoke when I was a child, I watched with a growing sense of excitement. The familiar semi-wailing tones faded from my brain as I focused on the grainy photographs that were flashing onto the screen, one after the other, and, excuse me if I use a Yiddish exclamation here, 
“Oy Vey!” 

I was looking at pictures of people, real people, in the Shtetls of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s! That was when Grandma was there, a young girl struggling, starving. I’d never seen such photographs. The hairs on my neck were tingling. I could be looking at the very Shtetl where she grew up. I clicked on picture after picture.

This is the part where Pinterest intervened. I was not allowed to look at the best photographs (or so it seemed) until I joined their Site. I’m not a technophobe but if I tell you that I asked Daughter if she knew about Pee Interest, you’ll realise that I knew nothing. Once she had corrected my pronunciation (it’s Pin-terest for those who are as ignorant as myself) she then groaned,

“Why do you want to waste your time there?!”

“No!” I protested. “It’s not to view photos of food and fashion!” and once I’d told her about the Shtetl photographs, she understood.

Three hours later, and with a bit of chatting and advice from people on Twitter, I finally managed to set up an account and now have two Pinterest Boards. At the moment they are private because I’ve not finished sorting them, but as soon as they're better populated I’ll be posting up the link. I’ve splattered this post with a few samples to give you an idea.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

You can never have too many discussions

Me reading my poem
The last month has been manic. We are still in the middle of the Jewish High Holy Days, which have taken large chunks out of the usual working week. Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year landed during the first week of my University MA Course. That week also saw the launch of the Welcome to Leicester Poetry Anthology (see details below). I was one of the readers, performing my poem, Leicester Market 1963. I was rather tired by the end of that week. 

Last week was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. We fasted to ask for forgiveness for all our sins – another busy day, then! The fast was broken by a lovely meal with a group of old friends and lots of friendly chat and discussions; my kind of evening. The next morning I ran a meeting with the planning team of our Thinking Allowed monthly discussion group. The topic this month will be Why Trump? and inevitably there was much discussion during the planning process.

This week is Sukkot. People erect a temporary structure called a Sukkah in their garden and eat meals out there. It must have mainly leaves for a covering and I think you should be able to see at least one star through the roof. I was honoured to be invited to the Rabbi’s house to eat in their Sukka. It was a fascinating – if slightly chilly - evening with lots of in-depth discussions ranging from archaeological findings in Jerusalem to the meaning of beauty. You can never have too many discussion sessions. I was in my element.

In-between it all I’ve been trying to get to grips with the MA Course. One of the fascinating aspects of this Semester’s work is Research in Creative Writing, the study of the actual writing process; what goes on in my mind when I plan to write, get down to writing, rewriting. It’s a difficult concept to get a hold of because a lot of the planning and honing happens while I’m doing other things and often when I’m not even aware of it. Take this blog post for example:

I decided to relate the business of my month and to introduce this idea of researching creative writing. I am now sitting at the computer typing this with no pre-prepared notes and no plan to redraft (this was not the case. I redrafted a little). It’s more like a chat with you although I suspect the actual content has been percolating in my mind over night, having decided last night to write it. One of the problems with trying to study a subject like creative writing scientifically is that we are human beings and don’t perform well in laboratory conditions – but it is providing me with plenty of material to chat about. Like I said, you can never have too many discussions.

How would you analyse your creative writing process?

Poetry anthology, "Welcome to Leicester" is published by
Leicester-based Dahlia Publishing 
and was edited by
Emma Lee and Ambrose Musiyiwa.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Induction Day

An MA in Creative Writing? At my age? What would the other students think? What would they see when they looked at me? After a stern pep-talk from Daughter and a third outfit change I was ready to face them all.

On campus I was surrounded by students wearing red lanyards, bearing their plastic encoded ID. It was over 30 years since I had graduated from Leicester University. There were no plastic encoded cards in those days, never mind lanyards around people’s necks. Doors were opened with keys, metal ones, and our student ID card was just that, a card, folded into a booklet with our photograph stuck inside. I still have my old ones and have been known to use them as after-dinner entertainment. It was the hair. Year 1 shows me with straight, dare I say, boring hair. In Year 2 it had become a little more ruffled but by Year 3 I was sporting a full-blown, shoulder-length, curly perm, chestnut black with a hint of red.

Just the sight of all those red lanyards made me childishly enthusiastic at the thought of sporting my very own. The large hall in the Charles Wilson Building was set up as a temporary ID issue point. From the door I could see members of staff handing over lanyards with the regularity of a car production line but, as I entered the hall, I was stopped by a security guard.
“Can I help you, Madam?”
“I’ve come to collect my ID card.”
“You mean, you’re collecting one for somebody else?”
My eyes narrowed. “No, it’s for me.” I was trying to keep the anger from my voice.
“Oh!” he said. “How…”
“Don’t!” I snapped but he continued anyway.
“How very brave of you. Well done.”
I was lost for a suitably stinging retort.
“I’m doing an MA!” I barked as if that explained it all, as if there was anything that needed explaining. I thrust my head up and strode past him into the hall. I queued at the wrong desk and then, lanyard hanging awkwardly around my neck, tried to exit through the entrance door. It took a coffee, a strong one, for me to half-recover but I was still seething. I needed a good experience to end the day. Would I find it in the library?

I now had my seemingly endless reading list and I asked the librarian how many books I could take out. She checked my ID card and replied, but it was noisy in the reception area and, please remember, I’m not as young as I was.
“Pardon?” I said. “Did you say 14 books?”
“No,” she grinned. “I said 40.”
Forty books! A perfect end to an almost perfect day. MA in Creative Writing? I’m ready for you now.