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Endless Rejection

Despondency

Classical Music, Philosophy,

Art, Science, History,

Literature and Biography

are all grist to my intellectual mill.

 

The problem is, the wheels of my mill

are dulled at the edge, and grind exceeding slow,

producing poems and prose

that no-one wants to know.

 

Week after week, anxious, tense;

week after week, steeped in suspense.

The vain hope my luck will change; this time I won’t fail.

Then the curt dismissal: the rejection email.

 

After so much failure, I cannot respond.

I just sink deeper in my slough of despond.

Readers of this blog over the last few years will be well aware of my struggles and frustrations with getting my poems published in magazines and journals.  Apparently it’s generally accepted that most poets submitting to literary journals will have around a 90% rejection rate.  The only reasonable way of looking at it, I suppose, is to adopt a stoical, philosophical attitude to the rejections, and to rejoice when you get the occasional acceptance.  The problem for me is I find it very difficult to adopt such an attitude, and I still tend to treat each rejection I get as a personal affront.  I was provoked into writing the above poem by the latest rejection, after having built up my hopes, yet again.  I suppose I shall recover, eventually.

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The Philosopher and the Spider

The Philosopher and the Spider

The spider was trapped,

under the rim of the urinal.

We don’t know its origin,

or its means of arrival.

 

The spider didn’t know

when it had begun.

The spider didn’t know

when it would end.

The spider hunkered down,

not far from the u-bend.

 

Its daily weather forecast:

intermittent showers, of golden rain.

We don’t know if it felt pleasure;

we don’t know if it felt pain.

We don’t know a spider’s feelings,

or if it even has a brain.

All we can state, for certain, is this:

the spider lived, every day, in showers of piss.

Perhaps, for the spider, this constituted bliss.

 

Every time he needed to take a leak,

the philosopher observed the spider,

over a period of weeks. Should he intervene?

The consequences could be huge,

if he extracted the spider from its daily deluge.

How would it react? He had no idea.

He hesitated, torn between compassion and fear.

 

He did what philosophers do: he thought.

He pondered distinctions between “could” and “ought”.

Having probed the matter, in all its dimensions,

he acted, upon the best of intentions.

 

Two days later, the philosopher hung his head,

when he finally saw where his intervention had led:

the desiccated husk of the spider – dead.

I’ve had a keen interest in philosophy ever since coming across Colin Wilson’s “Beyond the Outsider” in my local public library at the age of sixteen.  It introduced me to Wilson’s “New Existentialism”, awakened my interest in philosophy and the history of ideas, and my life was suddenly transformed.

Unfortunately, philosophy and poetry have turned out to be not the easiest of bed-fellows, whenever I’ve tried to combine the two of them.  When I read about the philosopher Thomas Nagel and his encounter with a spider, however, I thought it might lend itself to poetry, and the above poem is the result.

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The Old Man and the Ice

The Old Man and the Ice

It’s the confidence that counts, that you won’t slip or slide,

come a complete cropper, land on your backside.

It’s always a gamble, walking on ice;

almost as if you were rolling a dice.

It could be a game, a bit of good fun;

but you need the confidence that belongs to the young.

 

I still remember the old man, on our street.

A harsh winter’s day; snow turning to sleet;

the ice, covering both sides of the street,

a shining, shimmering, endless sheet.

 

I heard cries of fear, went to my window;

looked out, onto the street below.

The old man, who lived further down the street;

stuck, motionless, afraid to move his feet.

Crying out in panic, clinging to the wall;

convinced his next step would lead to a fall.

A frail old man, in freezing cold weather;

trapped, alone, at the end of his tether.

 

Across the street, ignoring his cries,

a group of teenage boys passed by.

With shouts of joy, whoops of merriment,

sliding effortlessly along they went.

The energy, the confidence, the ignorance of youth;

I witnessed an eternal, depressing truth.

 

A sobering scene, in vivid tableau;

I watched it all, from my window.

Today happens to be a gorgeous day of clear blue sky and sunshine, here in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England.  The enticing hints of Spring are somewhat deceptive, however,  as it remains surprisingly chilly, for the time of year.  Nothing like as chilly as it was a few weeks ago, when we had the last of three blasts of wintry weather directly from Siberia – nicknamed The Beast From the East.  It was the first appearance of “The Beast”, back in February, that inspired The Old Man and the Ice.  The actual incident described in the poem happened a couple of years ago.  It made an impact upon me, but I made no attempt to write about it, at that time, and it was only when the brutally cold weather returned in February that I was reminded of the incident.  I always find narrative poems like this quite difficult to do – compressing a lot of information into a brief format – but I hope I’ve finally managed to convey the essence of the situation.

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Cognoscenti

Cognoscenti

I started to read poetry.

Some of it made no sense to me;

I could not see how this was poetry.

 

The poetry that made sense to me

had rhythms and imagery;

had meaning, and beauty,

and this came to be

what I thought of as poetry.

 

I started to write poetry;

what I thought of as poetry.

 

The poetry that made no sense to me

was acclaimed, widely,

by the cognoscenti.

 

This was dispiriting for me.

It meant that my own poetry

would, in all probability,

be ignored by the cognoscenti.

 

And so it proved to be.

All aspiring poets, sending their poems off to literary magazines and journals, must get used to receiving rejections.  But there comes a time, when you have periods of endless rejections, and nothing ever seems to be accepted for publication, that the whole business just seems depressing and futile.  I’ve always known that my poems can be seen as “old-fashioned”, in that most of them use conventional rhyme-schemes, and that doesn’t seem to go down well with the editors of poetry magazines these days.  It’s not surprising, then, that most of the poems I submit for publication are invariably rejected.  It does get depressing, but, just when I’m starting to feel really desperate, the occasional acceptance will suddenly come out of the blue, and that’s enough to keep me going.  I started this year feeling optimistic, as usual, only to get rejections from my first two attempts.  What really frustrates me is when new, young poets come along, writing what seems to me to be meaningless gibberish, and they are praised to the skies, go from success to success, and, within a few years, are themselves presiding over literary prizes and awards – all because they are instantly recognised by “the cognoscenti”. 

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The Best Way to Cook an Egg?

Perfect Poaching

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

But why would you want to? It seems such a waste,

no matter how good the omelette tastes.

 

An egg, the perfect package, so simple, so neat;

wholesome nutrition, a delight to eat.

But how best to cook it; in so many ways,

the pros, the cons, leave your mind in a haze.

 

To fry, to scramble, to coddle, to boil,

can all be messy, or entail use of oil.

Calorific consequence, excessive fat;

to be avoided, no need for that.

Simple poaching is not free from troubles;

the white can fragment, amidst seething bubbles.

So, how to cook it? Aye, there’s the rub;

but my proposal goes to the nub.

 

Poach perfect eggs, in a poaching pod.

It floats on the water, cooks gently, in steam;

safely delivers the egg of your dreams.

A free gift of nature, from Mother Earth;

another page, in the oeuvre of the oeuf.

Eschew wasteful omelettes, be kind to yourself;

think of the clutter, the calories, your health.

Be at ease with the world, in peace with your God;

poach perfect eggs, in a poaching pod.

I’ve always liked poached eggs – as long as they’re cooked by somebody else.  Whenever I stay at a hotel, I invariably opt for Poached Eggs on Toast for my breakfast.  Yet I’ve always found poaching an egg to be quite a tricky procedure, with the result that, when cooking eggs at home, I usually end up frying them, as a quick and easy option.  I saw a TV programme recently in which eggs were said to have an ingredient that was effective in protecting your eyes against age-related problems such as cataracts – but you had to eat at least six eggs a week, to bring this about.  Inspired by this news, I suddenly became obsessed with finding out the easiest way to poach an egg, with a view to having a poached egg for breakfast every day.  The final outcome of my researches resulted in my purchasing a couple of “Poaching Pods”, which also was the inspiration for the above poem.

 

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Fish Friday

Fish Friday

What cook worth his salt could contemplate

putting such an array on a plate?

 

A dribble of peas, a pitiful puddle;

his mind must be a mushy muddle.

 

The cod in batter is so dry,

it petitions a tear from my eye.

 

And what can be said of the chips?

Triple-fried? Just read my lips.

 

St. Peter risked life on the seas,

for victuals so different to these.

 

This shrivelled, misshapen cod;

a fist in the face of God.

 

How can I bring myself to eat

this farcical Fish Friday Treat?

Regular followers of this blog will know that I frequently write poems provoked or inspired by food and drink.  Recent examples of this are poems about cherry tomatoes and peach schnapps.  The Song of the Cherry Tomato was intended to celebrate the delicious nature of such miniature tomatoes, and the ease of eating them.  Fish Friday, on the contrary, was provoked by one of the most disappointing meals I’ve ever been served in a restaurant.  I’ve always enjoyed eating fish and chips, and have written poems on the subject before.  There’s something about the connections with fish and the Christian religion, together with the habit of eating fish on a Friday, that tend to generate poetic imagery.  I would have liked to have written in a more celebratory tone, but the food that was offered to me on this occasion was so awful that I was left with no alternative.

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The Poem I’ve Rewritten the Most

Airs

 “Airs! Airs! Look! Airs!”
The dumpy woman next to me
tugs my sleeve, insistent.
I must turn in my seat;
try to follow her gaze.

This is a nightmare journey:
trying to travel by train
in England, on a Sunday.
No trains, it transpires,
just this ancient, battered bus,
stuttering through towns, villages;
stopping, incessantly, stopping . . .
Now, it trundles through open countryside.

“Look! Look! Airs!”
What on earth is the woman . . .
Airs? Heirs? Where? . . .
I look. I stare.
Nothing. But wait . . . There!
Stock-still; next second
a pale brown streak
across the shimmering field.
Those ears! Quicksilver motion;
thrilling, so rare . . .

The woman’s eyes shine with delight.
My spirits lift, with sudden insight.

It was back in April 2013 that I completed what was to be the first version of a poem with the title “Airs”.  I went on to post the original version in this blog in February 2014.  Since then, it has undergone innumerable alterations, and I’ve never been completely happy with it; but I think this latest version is probably as near as I’ll come to being satisfied with it.

The genesis of the poem is quite simple.  I was sitting in a crowded bus, travelling through open countryside – it was supposed to be a train journey, but, due to the inefficiency of the train service on Sunday, I found myself on a slow, antiquated bus instead.  The woman sitting next to me suddenly tugged on my arm, and started repeatedly saying the word “Airs!” – that’s what it sounded like, to me, anyway.  It was only after a few minutes of concentrated gazing into the surrounding countryside, trying to follow what the woman was looking at, that I finally realized what she was actually saying – and it’s taken me over four years, trying to express it in a poem.

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Song of the Cherry Tomato

The Song of the Cherry Tomato

Welcome me, greet me;
it’s so easy to eat me.

Smell me, feel me,
admire my compact shape.

Then pluck me from my vine,
just as you would a grape.

Stroke me, preen me;
the best way to clean me.

Place me, with my friends,
in a plain, white bowl.

The colours, the arrangements,
are good for the soul.

Paint me, write poems to me,
if such art is your goal.

Or just pop me in your mouth,
and devour me, whole.

While eating some cherry tomatoes recently, I suddenly got the urge to write a poem about them.  I had previously written a poem about tomatoes in general, and it hadn’t worked out  particularly well, but this time I was inspired by the beauty and simplicity of these tomatoes – and how ridiculously easy it was to eat them.  I started out with some ideas about how easy it is for us these days, compared to our ancestors having to hunt, kill, and labour with their hands to provide food for their families.  But the whole thing started to become over-elaborate, until I suddenly got the idea to write it in the “voice” of the tomato.  After that, the poem flowed along quite easily.

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Books do Furnish a Room

Books do Furnish a Room

Penelope Lively borrowed
the above quote from Anthony Powell,
to write about her “relatively meagre”
personal library of 3,300 books.

Of course, she is an eminent,
prize-winning author. She is not
living in my tiny, one-bedroom flat,
where my personal library of 1,100 books
seems far from “relatively meagre”.

I look at my thirty-three bookshelves
– I don’t have any option;
there isn’t much else to look at,
in my tiny, one-bedroom flat.

Those ramshackle, odd-looking shelves,
that I bought “for easy self-assembly”,
that took me half a day to assemble,
and I still ended up screwing the shelves
in the wrong way round.

Those huge, handsome, blonde
shelves I got from the charity shop,
that I thought were so capacious
I would never fill them in my lifetime:
now they are overflowing.

I can’t help thinking that too much of my life
has been consumed in populating these shelves;
that too much of my life has been spent in reading,
instead of the life I should have been leading.

But it’s not the fault of the books,
or the shelves. I don’t want to be unkind;
for, as well as my tiny, one-bedroom flat,
these books have furnished my mind.

In my last post, about second-hand bookshops, I mentioned that I had recently completed two contrasting poems about bookshops.  After those two poems, I liked the idea of writing a third poem, to complete a trilogy of poems about books, and I thought I could write the next poem about my own books and bookshelves.  This was fine in theory, but I then had a few problems in trying to find a starting-point for the poem.  I was familiar with the phrase “Books do Furnish a Room”, and thought I could use that as the title of the poem.  I then looked the phrase up on the internet.  It confirmed that the quotation was from one of Anthony Powell’s novels, but I then came across an article by Penelope Lively, in which she used the quotation to write about her own “personal library”.  As soon as I started reading her article, and saw her description of her collection as “relatively meagre”, I immediately got the idea for the above poem.

 

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Denying the Dealer

Denying the Dealer

A hand on my wrist, two eyes fixed on mine.
He was scrawny, dark-skinned, in a loose-fitting shirt.
He’d seen life in the raw, clambered up from the dirt.
“Come ‘ere, mate.” He whispered; looked quickly around.
He had the edge, now; I’d already lost ground.

He showed me his boxes; watches on display.
“Best quality, mate; yours for five quid today.”
Harassed, all my life, by encounters like these;
my heart was now hardened; immune to such pleas.
My demeanour proclaims me a mild-mannered mug;
but in these scenarios, I am more like a thug.

I was firm, unmoved by his confident spiel.
He persisted, still sure of sealing the deal.
He pushed three boxes into my bag, with a grin.
I pulled them out, gave them straight back to him.
He pleaded: his family, his kids, their needs.
I walked off, impassive, taking no heed.
He pursued me, wildly, eyes now confused.
Again the three boxes; again I refused.

He stood, despairing; looked up at the skies.
I’d seen the look of disbelief in his eyes.
“I had you nailed as a mug, and I’m always right.
You were sure to roll over; no hassle, no fight.
You had the full treatment; the best I could do.
You weirdo! What is it that’s wrong with you?”

I started this blog in April 2012, which means that I’ve been publishing a new poem, every two weeks, for over five years now.  It’s not so easy, to come up with a new poem every two weeks.  From time to time, the wells of creativity run dry, and I admit that I am going through one of those periods at the moment.  I plead this in mitigation for the fact that the above poem – Denying the Dealer – bears a marked similarity to an earlier poem, entitled Dodging the Dealer, that I published in this blog on February 7th 2013.  Following on from my comments in my previous post about how much I admired the comic poems and parodies of Wendy Cope, I started looking back through some of my own attempts at comic poems, and came across Dodging the Dealer.  I thought it could do with quite a bit of revision, and, by the time I’d finished, I thought I’d modified it and stripped it down so much that I could justifiably call Denying the Dealer a completely new poem.  Well, almost!

 

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