Tuesday, 20 March 2012

For My Brother Nigel

It's 23 years now since all our lives changed forever. One bright April day when my dear brother Nigel set off on a borrowed motorbike to return home from a game of rugby. Home to his wife and three young children. But he never made it home.

We don't know to this day just what happened. It seems that he came off his bike, was rolling properly - as motorbikers do - but his bike was bouncing along the road behind him and landed - thwack on his head.

He was, and remains, severely brain damaged. We were like twins. Just 15 months apart in age, we did everything together as kids. I looked after him - he was my little brother.

Writing found me. And this is a poem I wrote soon after. I became pregnant 6 months after his accident but couldn't cope with the pain, and didn't want a child born into pain. Also the child would have been a 15 month gap from my daughter. I was convinced he was a boy.

An image remained with me. When Nigel and I were kids we loved the cartoon Journey To The Centre Of The World. It had a skeleton of Arnie Sachnussen which pointed the way. One day, his finger raised and pointed. It reminded me of then.

I've just discovered this poem, and now feel able to share it. I'm sure it still needs work, but although I've written many versions, this is the first one.

Having an Abortion After My Brother’s Road Accident

He would have had blonde curls
and a dimple in each cheek.
And sometimes he's standing there,
a boy who reaches up a soft
boneless hand to mine.

Or, I catch the merest glimpse, as if
I am able to peek into an alternate universe
where you run across impossible soft grass.

Click. Breathe In.
Click. And Out.

Now I see you.
Tubes snake in and out of a face
so inflated it's almost comical.
For a nanosecond I think its not you.

But there was a baby curled tight as a male
seahorse loops its tail around its young;
who then floated free, to be beached too soon

from a warm ocean of promises.
You were the boy whose laughter
could have broken the hearts of fallen angels.

Click. Breathe In.
Click. And Out.

Over your bed a machine beeps and traces
lines of existence, while nurses and doctors
glide by as if on the castors of a nightmare -

Stopped, silhouetted against a remembered hill
green and dark with long shadows.
It's time to go home. C'mon, we can run home.

Together. Click. There's a hole in your throat,
a direct route to where you are hiding
torn and fragmented. Breathe.

And so I offer up my past and future,
my human sacrifice to the gods in white coats
who take the now and surgically purge my body of you.

Because you would have told daft jokes
given me joy, kicked a ball, been that boy
I never forgave for leaving - even though once,

for one brief moment his finger, your finger
raised as if by itself, as if to point the way
to The Journey to The Centre of The Earth.

Click Breathe In.
Click. And Out.

And when a palm reader says I have
three children, when I have two. Yes, it's
definitely three children - I know she means you.

Who went tumbling on a bright April day.
Jack without Jill. Oof, oh shit. Oof, oh shit.
Then splat. As if all those childhood scrapes

had foreshadowed what was to come.
Luckily he's only bumped his head
we'd joke - your scalp marred with little white

elongated oval scars, stark in your American
style crewcut. Catapaults, cardboard box boats,
bang bang you're dead. Not humpty yellow, but deep red.

Then I see your eyes big as the star child
who turned in deep space to Straus's waltz
You look up at me and take my hand.

Click. Breathe In
Click. And Out.

All the kings horses with sirens wailing
white coats, green coats, white coats, theatre clogs
white coats, green coats, white coats, theatre clogs.

As somewhere, stranded on a white sheet,
the skeleton of Arnie Sachnussen points the way.

So I kick hard in my amniotic sac
kick up to where the sun is born
As every day I breathe - I choose Life.

Deep breath in. And out.

© Rosemary Dun 2004

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Girl Who Didn't Wash Her Hair

These days one has to beware posting work on one's blog else it's ineligible for competitions - but the poem here has already won a Leaf books competition and been published in their anthology Balancing Acts.

I wrote this poem whilst at an Arvon course on writing a poetry collection. One of our tutors was the marvellous Moniza Alvi. And it was there that I met David Tait (ok name dropping over ...). Not long after I arrived for our 5-day retreat I realised I'd forgotten my shampoo! Eeek! I faced two options, either ask someone if I could borrow some of their shampoo, or try not washing my hair for a week. After all, I'd heard that after a while hair cleans itself etc. etc. and I wondered whether it would grow into dreadlocks. Two days later, with greasy hair I cracked and asked a fellow student for a lend of her Herbal Essence. And I wrote this poem. Because, after all, when you're a writer everything is potential material. Ha ha.

The Girl Who Didn’t Wash Her Hair

One day, when she awoke, she gazed
at her reflection in the mirror,
could see her crimson hair cascade
as if the sun had claimed it for its own,
polished it until it glowed dark as a sun burst.

Weeks passed. Seed brought by the winds
caught in her tangles, took root, grew wildflowers:
tom thumb, cowslip, ragged robin, harebell.
They poked their way through her locks,
wound themselves like garlands on a bride’s head.

As she strode down Park Street, someone called out,
‘I love your hair. Where did you get those flowers?’

Next, dormice arrived to make their nests
up near the nape of her neck.
And bluebirds came to feed and sing
Zippedy Doo Dah on her shoulder.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Engelbert Does Eurovision

So today I had another spot on local radio Dialect - broadcast on Bristol Community Radio Sunday from 2pm. So, I decided to write a topical poem - yes, the surprise decision by the BBC to pin our Eurovision hopes on 75 year old Engelbert Humperdinck. He of the long sideburns and cheesy songs like "Quando Quando Quando"!!

So, has Paul Gambacini and his fellow band of selectors gone stark staring mad or is this a stroke of genius! Hoping to stem the tide of hatred towards the UK from the rest of Europe with some melody brought by the writers of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful". The funniest part of this was the comment by Ireland's repeat contestants John and Edward Grimes - the mighty Jedward - who said "We didn't know who he was!" "Yeah, that's right John." "So we had to look him up on Google." "He looks cool, John." "Yeah, Edward, but his name sounds like Humpty Dumpty."
I've always been struck, personally, by Engelbert's likeness to wooden puppet Virgil from Thunderbirds!

Here it is, then. My poem.


Who will come to the rescue,
Dear ole Blighty is in trouble.
All of Europe hates our singing,
and our Little Britain bubble.

It’s enough to drive past winner -
Sir Cliff Richard – to hard drink
Fear Not!
Auntie Beeb has pointed her finger
at - Englebert Humperdinck!

Yes, Engelbert, Englebert,
the hopes of GB rest on you
Oh, Engelbert, Oh Englebert
Just do better than boy band Blue!

He’s the man who brought the Tom Jones – hurrn –
to the sideburns on his face.
Like Virgil from TV’s Thunderbirds
Can he rocket to First Place?

They hope SO!

A 75 year-old Vegas crooner
call him The Hump – don’t call him The Hoff
Paul Gambacini asserts he has the swoon factor
his Euro fanbase won’t see him booed off

So Engelbert, dear Englebert
more orange than a Tango
Forget he’s a sixties Herbert
singing “Quando Quando Quando."

He kept Strawberry Fields from No 1
on the Top Of The Pops hit charts
With his mellow Last Waltz song
twanging the G-strings of randy grannys hearts.

He’s good at darts! – I made that up!
He’s largely made of cheese –
Well, he does come from Leicester
A mate of Charlton Heston, and The Bee Gees

A nation’s fate rests with menopausal women
who crave an Engelbert Humperdinck booty call
By pinning our hopes on Please Release Me
via James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”

He’s not The Hoff he’s The Hump
Has sold gazillions across the continent –
I’ve heard he’s quite a grump
Fingers crossed he’s not incontinent.

So, when he takes the floor at Azerbaijan,
with his Ronseal coloured LA-fried tan
How will this veteran fair
with his rock-hard hair-sprayed hair
against Europop spandex frockers,
and Norwegian head-banging goth rockers?

He’s our last hope against Jedward –
those prize twin Irish numpties
They can’t pronounce his name –
they say “It sounds like Humpty Dumpty’s!”

So c’mon!
There is no denying
old Hump is pretty dashing
The time is here UK,
to give them Euros a right good thrashing.

Cheer on our Engelbert of Humperdinck
a choice either brilliant, or downright queer
He could take us to the brink – he could!
He could really triumph this year!

But wait! Euros are still smarting
from David Cameron’s taunts
While he’s busy growling “veto”
They’re bringing out their null points

Smarmy Dave believes he wags the dog
but he’s a toothless bull-dog cur
Europe prepares to vote – Bog Off!

Oh well, there’s always next year!!

It’s the diamond jubilee, you know … oh and then there’s the Olympics – I hear they’ve booked Blur …

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Bristol Pound

I am now a regular poet at Dialect Radio station, and yesterday, Tuesday 28th was my latest spot. It wasn't until the Monday (27th) that I was given the subject matter - The Bristol Pound. Eek a bit short notice, but I thought I'd give it a go and write a suitable poem. If you've not heard of the Bristol pound it's a new proposed local currency - along the lines of a similar scheme in Totnes. Finally we're twinned with hippies. It had to happen!

I thought I'd post the poem here as - because it's topical and performance based, the poem itself has a shelf life. If you want to hear the poem it's being broadcast on Sunday round about 3.30pm.


I promise to pay the bearer, the
equivalent of a pound
I promise to pay the bearer, a
part of Bristol town.

Where we got:
trip hop, drum & bass, dub step, hippy rave-on
We’re a city AND a county
we never did like Avon.

We got babbers and dappers
The Downs are gurt lush
over in Sneyd Park – it’s all millionaires
and dead posh.

Bristol promises the bearer
an extra ‘L’ on Sarah – Sarahl – see?
If you’ve not already heard
we add an ‘L’ on the end of words.

Bristol cities is the name for ladies baps
though we’re the home of Plimsoll, gym shoes are called daps.

We’re the home of Cary Grant,
a popular film location
We introduced Eddie Shoestring
and Casualty to the nation.

We got Tricky, we got Banksy
our river’s cleaner than the Yangtse.
We gave the world pirates, Bluebeard, smugglers and the rest
We’re the gateway to the picturesque Mild West.

It’s true we are marred,
our past scarred by slavery
Now we’re far more multi-cultural
enjoy a rich black history.

Though Bristol’s city centre was blown to bits
in Second World War Luftwaffe bombing blitz.
We survived though nearly ruined by Bristol Town Planning
who displayed as much finesse as a concrete loving Bernard Manning

Still, we have quakers and bakers
Pieminster, Frys and Cadbury
Tobacco, air balloons and the Beebs Natural History
It’s a mystery – don’tyou think? –
why Bristol doesn’t shout
of its richness and its coolness
of just what it’s all about.

So, in keeping with our innovation,
our vibrancy all round.
It’s a pleasure to introduce the new Bristol Pound.

Coming soon to a Bristol near you.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Remembrance Day: Mum and Dad

Remembrance Day: Mum and Dad

There are many myths and stories around my parents long and happy romance, but the most memorable were those years during the 2nd World War. It not only brought them together, but changed my mother’s world out of all recognition.

My mum grew up in one of the poorest areas in Bristol at the time, in a nineteen-thirties slum: a go to bed hungry, wear raggedy hand-me-downs, no shoes slum. Her life before Dad was pretty much Dickensian. A mother who despised her, a step-father who brutalized … Dad would say to us kids – ‘Don’t ask your Mum. She had a horrible life back then.’ What I do know is that her step-father was a violent drunkard – Joe Knowles – who worked on the docks and who’d buy firewood, chop it up small, and send my mother out with a cart selling bundles door to door at the age of 10 just so he could buy more beer. Or send her off to pawn his best suit until payday when she’d have to go and buy it back.

Dad said that he first clapped eyes on Mum at a local school’s sports day. He’d stopped to watch, his eye caught by the pretty girl stuck fast in the ground-level netting of the Obstacle Race. He said he knew then.

Later, when Dad (a handsome Home Guard soldier) was patrolling a patch of Easton near the railway line – he lived in a two-up-two-down bursting-at-the-seams-with-a-large-family house in Barton Hill – he bumped into Mum by the bridge. On their first date, Dad told Mum they’d be together for at least fifty years. These days he’d sound like some crazed stalker, but this was the War years, he was smitten, Mum had film-star good looks and a lively intelligence – it was romance. It was love. It was fifty-four years until she died.

Those war years were some of the happiest of Mum’s life. Not only the war spirit of -we’re all in this together - or the stolen kisses, the dances, the Yanks over-sexed and over-here … but also because for the first time Mum was in the same billet as girls from all walks of life. Mum’s best friend was an upper middle class girl who taught Mum how to speak, instructed her on all matters etiquette. This transformed Mum from what she considered herself to be - an uncouth working class girl - to a confident woman. It gave her aspirations and helped their later social mobility up to the middle classes. Dad already had an easy affability which meant he could fit in anywhere.

So, The War moulded my mother. It saved her in many ways too. She’d insist Dad was her knight in shining armour (raised on the Golden Years of Hollywood!). And who could blame her? One in a million, your dad, she’d say. Handsome, talented, liked by all – and could handle himself in a fight. He once punched Joe Knowles on the nose when he caught him threatening Mum. Yes, one day I shall write about it. Maybe here is a start.

So, today – 11/11/11 - I shall think of Mum and Dad. Of their getting married on a forty-eight-hour pass, of their strolling arm-in-arm down Wine Street and all those other streets which were wiped out during German nighttime bombing raids of WWII; of how - sharing a lover’s walk - they had to dodge the fires, witness sights, screams, smells none of us can imagine; as the Great Blitz of Bristol happened all around them, and how The War shaped a whole generation. How it shaped them both.

They’re gone now. Soon I shall visit that spot where they first met. You can just make out the bridge which crossed the railway line. It was demolished long ago, and is now a cycle path. I can almost imagine them there, Irene with her dark hair and long legs, Charles with his strong walk and uniform. They’re both eighteen, their future before them. They’re laughing, smiling, stopping for a kiss, lighting a cigarette and gazing up into the night sky. Their story not told – yet. xxx

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Moody Stories

My daughter unexpectedly had the afternoon off today – she’s a medical student – apparently the hospital has Legionnaire’s Disease – anyway, she rang to ask me which Billy Wilder film she should watch. We’re both movie buffs and love the old classics. What’ve you got? I said. Well, she said, I’ve a choice of three: Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, or Sunset Boulevard. Wow, all great films, I said. Yes, said she, but which one?
Then it came to me. OK, I said, it depends on what sort of mood you want to be in. Because Some Like It Hot is upbeat and will make you smile, The Apartment is moving yet sweet – kind of somewhere in the middle because - Sunset Boulevard is tragic and sad. So, c’mon what mood do you want to be in?
This whole conversation got me thinking about writing a story or a scene, and how lately I’ve come round to considering mood. Just what mood am I going for with which scene. Or - and sometimes more importantly, (as I do like to write in close viewpoint) – what kind of mood is my main character in? Then I can check through my short story and/or scene and/or chapter and ensure that this mood is conveyed through story.
I think it’s useful to think about how we want our readers to feel about the story, overall. I know that I’ve had to rewrite actions and dialogue to reflect better just what mood my main character is in. I feel this brings extra clarity and truth to my fiction. The action is then driven even more by my main character(s) and I am better able to convey theme through mood. Sorted.
Mood is something I now look for in students written work. If there is an overall mood to a piece then I reckon that deserves extra brownie points!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bridge Over Troubled Writing

So, I’m listening – yes listening mostly – and watching, of course the wonderful BBC3 documentary about the making of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. One of the best albums of all times.

Listening about how it was made, the creative processes, put me in mind of creative writing too. The music producer and Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel talked about how they made the sounds, how they created that unique mix. How important it was to, instead of add echo, to actually go into an echo chamber and record in there. How instead of doing separate voice tracks the boys recorded together on one mike and then recorded separately, all perfectly in sync, and then put together Again and again they talked about how they got such great sound and textures by not over-mixing and using gizmos but going out to different settings – from corridors to churches - using musicians, instruments, people, and how these were sounds and textures which could never be replicated by machines or in the studio alone. Not that they didn’t use machines and recording studios, but “instead of adding on the hand claps we decided to actually go out and find an audience to do that.”

It made me think about how many new creative writers feel that the only way to write is on the keyboard. They think that pen and paper are anathema. They can’t see/ feel that the texture, the gradations, the flow is different with paper and pen. Yes, of course I use computer, laptops, smart phones, (I’d use an i-pad if I could afford one) – but there’s no substitute for the creative flow which goes from brain through body, down arm, to hand. Just watching Art Garfunkel describe how they made music, using the whole of his body, gesticulating, those large – sculptor-like hands – brought to mind the feel of writing and crafting with paper. Writing with which you can take actual scissors and cut and paste with actual glue, write on index cards and physically move these around a table, lay them out on the floor. No amount of Scrivener or other similar programmes will ever replicate this. I can usually tell which of my students have written a passage by hand first, and which have done so straight onto the screen.

I agree with the writer who said – you have to get stuck in and get your hands dirty. I maintain that an over-reliance on keyboards is bringing the hackneyed, the plinky-plonk, the over-edited into creative writing. I want mine to soar, to be origami, to be moulded with my body and hands in a way that the squareness of screens and keyboards can not. I don’t want to be penned in – or should that be keyboarded in.

Our lives are full of typing – from text through to i-pad to emails to report writing – all of which is great. It’s all words. But I still maintain they’re not reaching your visceral brain. What is happening is writing which is too much in the head, or too much in the heart – i.e. either striving to be “clever” or “intellectual” or too gushing and purple prose. What is needed is some of the groin/ the visceral/ the getting those finger nails dirty. I maintain you’re more likely to connect there when employing pen, scribbles, freewriting from brain down hand to paper.

At times I’m accused of being too old or a Luddite to understand. Not so. I agree with Pablo Neruda who said "The keyboard separated me from a deeper intimacy with poetry, and my hand brought me closer to that intimacy again.' Pablo Neruda. And novelist Anne Tyler agrees that the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper gets her imagination back on track and Clive Barker said that for him, handwriting is 'the most direct assocation I can make between what's going on in my mind's eye and what's going to appear on the page.'

It seems nuts to me to chuck writing by hand out of your writer’s toolkit. It’s invaluable, and nothing gives you the same flow or the same words. I’m not saying abandon the keyboard, what I’m saying is give the p’s (pen and paper) a chance (yeah, rubbish John and Yoko joke).

Back to S & G – dontcha just love Bridge Over Troubled Water?