Blogs Aloud

A tributary post and poem of mine in June 2012 to Mancunian Punk-Poet John Cooper-Clarke, The Jaundiced Junket, led several commenters (Anna from The Girl in the Hat and Daniel from Being Sixteen) to suggest that they would like to have heard me read the poem part of it.

I responded that I would give it consideration but subsequently no such reading materialized. This was not however from disdaining the idea. I did create a recording on my mobile phone of another fiction post, Because I Can, where I adopted a rather sinister tone in the voice of its sociopathic subject but was not entirely happy with it – on the playback I could hear my chair squeaking and at another point I began childishly corpsing!

But I had only considered the reading aloud of my blog posts for my fiction pieces – poetry and stories as much to be heard as read, and then there is the element of performance. That I could sit in front of a camera with or without props and perform the post.

I had not considered it for my non-fiction posts and so I thought why not for all of my blog-posts?

Perhaps there is an audience out there for writing but only in audio form, their reading skills may be lacking, English is not their first language, they have dyslexia…

And in this increasingly busy time-poor era it may be a more convenient way to digest blog posts and indeed any writing – easier on the go being imbibed through the ears than the eyes. I should have podcast versions perhaps. And you also?

But how clear and engaging is my spoken voice? Will others find it dulcet or a drone. Perhaps arising from it I will find lucrative work doing voice-overs for more-money-than-sense ad-agencies. You can see it does not take much for me to get carried away with an idea!

And not just read our own blog posts aloud but the posts of other bloggers – a kind of audio re-blogging?

So expect an audio post, whether of new content or old content, within the next week. Just as soon as I have figured out the WordPress technology!

Pay Per Post

If you had to pay to read this post then would you? Is that a Yes I am hearing? No! Oh well!

I expect of you your time, your energy, your attention, your engagement and if you also blog likewise you of me?

But no filthy lucre shall change hands between us!

If we were to place our blogs beyond a paywall our viewing figures would likely fall off a precipice. We would very likely be left writing to ourself. Or we might fear.

But how about it on a per-post basis? If prior to publishing there is an option for us to ask for a payment for the post to be read in full? We can still ignore it and publish it free as per usual, acknowledging that in the main we blog just to be paid in Likes, Comments, Social Media shares and general Karmic good-will.

But if sometimes we could ask for cash?

I thought I would start a post about in on the WordPress Support Ideas forum – see screenshot below. As I write this it has already received one very brusque and dismissive response so perhaps I have not struck the chord that I thought I may have, but clearly such a sample of one is no guide either!

Wordpress Forum payment proposal

If you would like to see the post on the forum itself then click here.

I would be interested in any of your thoughts, here or there!

They Might Be Giants

They might be giants. Yes they might. This is a relatively obscure way to start a post – and am I quoting the US band They Might Be Giants who began life in 1982 and are still extant and still, beyond rock-music aficionados, obscure. Though in the Top Trumps of obscure bands with giants in their title the Young Marble Giants, a Welsh band formed in 1978, must be the winner. And I bet that for the very small percentage of you reading this who are familiar with them that an even smaller percentage of you are aware that this group are still going too?!

They Might Be Giants

For some of you reading this They Might Be Giants might have resonated differently conjuring up the 1971 film directed by Anthony Harvey and starring George C Scott and Joanne Woodward. Actually those of you in this camp might likewise Top Trump this having first thought of the play of the same name that this film was based on, both written by James Goldman. If you are not familiar with it I can do no better than quote one line from Wikipedia describing its premise as:

a millionaire who retreats into fantasy after the death of his wife,
imagining himself to be Sherlock Holmes, the legendary fictional detective.

If that doesn’t make you want to track it down well I don’t know what to say!

All this being what it is, it is the US group They Might Be Giants that I was alluding too.

Obscure though I describe them a larger number of you may be familiar with their song ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ as a title not easily forgotten and though its chart success was modest, both in the US and UK, it did enjoy its fair-share of radio play. For it was catchy in a novelty song kind of way. You may or may not care for it but once heard you might not be able to forget it even f you wanted to.

Its word were pretty obtuse too, see sample:

Filibuster vigilantly
My name is blue canary one note spelled l-i-t-e
My story’s infinite
Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest

But it is still not their best known song. For even those of you who steer a wide-birth of rock-music may have been subject to another of their songs and on a very regular basis.

That is if you or your children or your partner or all of the aforementioned are/were a fan of the US comedy Malcolm In The Middle which ran for seven seasons between 2000 and 2006 and subject to endless re-runs ever since.

Malcolm in the MiddleFor the song that heralded and farewelled each and everyone of its 151 episodes with its refrain ‘You’re not the boss of me’ was from the catalogue of They Might Be Giants and titled perhaps inevitably ‘Boss of Me’. As a way to get a high profile to one of your songs this has to be hard to beat.

This song was not a single or album-track that someone involved in the show’s production heard and thought would be apt for its theme-tune rather it was written especially for it.

The song begins with the lines

Yes, No, maybe,
I don’t know
Can you repeat the question

Before launching into the refrain at great speed and frequency.

You’re not the boss of me now

And quite a subversive sentiment given that the show was ostensibly a family based comedy and not in the way that The Family Guy is a family-based comedy!

It was tea-time viewing but Malcolm Wilkerson and his family was no more a fantasy cartoon than Bart Simpson and his family – both dysfunctional and all the more real for it.

I watched an episode of Malcolm in the Middle recently but can no longer watch Malcolm’s father Hal and see him as a cuddly good-natured father figure. I can only think of Walter White.

Walter White being the actor Bryan Cranston’s latest incarnation. If you don’t yet know what I am going on about then you clearly have not been watching the US TV series Breaking Bad.

Breaking BadThe Walter White character is a father in Breaking Bad too.  He is diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer. Initially and naturally we sympathize with his plight. They also have one teenage son, Walter White Jr, who has cerebral palsy, and now in their late-forties they are about to welcome their second child in to the world.

Walt White Sr is just another everyday saint. Later we will discover that he is an unreconstructed sociopath, perhaps he always was or perhaps his life-threatening condition tipped him into this dark domain.

And the writer’s have played a trick with us because just as with serial-killing Dexter Morgan from the US show Dexter we find ourselves on the side of the anti-hero, or just plain villain, even as the death-count in both cases ever increases at their own hands and for ever more tenuous reasons. The killing has become a habit and the viewer has become an idle non-judgemental witness to it all. There but for the grace of….we are being encouraged to think.

Breaking Bad production photoWalter White you see will need to pay for all this expensive cancer treatment and on his modest salary being as he is a teacher of Chemistry to high-school students this is never going to happen. Instead he decides to put his chemistry knowledge to use in a more lucrative way – as a producer or cook of Methamphetamine!

He having taken a libertarian stance – it is not for him to protect people from themselves and though it might be against the law is it really against any moral laws? The law-of-our-lands allowing us to take other killing substances like alcohol and tobacco, so for this crystal meth we have just a modern day prohibition fuelled by fear more than anything else?

Meanwhile the carnage piles up about him and pity his poor wife Skyler wanting to divorce him but now embroiled in the laundering of more money than any of them could ever spend in a hundred lifetimes, and the threat of death hanging over her and their two children. And yet we find ourselves wanting Walter White to prevail. Well I do anyway. Perhaps I should speak just for myself!

At an earlier point in the proceedings a former boss, Gustavo Fring (known as ‘Gus’), assigns him a new cook in preference to his own choice Jesse Pinkman because Jesse unlike Walter is also a sometime meth-user and consequently a tad unpredictable. He has no formal chemistry training either, rather an acolyte of Walter’s. Gus would prefer Jesse to disappear, literally, and hence the arrival of a new cook, chemistry degree-educated Gale Boetticher.

Gale reads to Walt White a poem by Walt Whitman, ‘When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer’

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This was Gale’s way of explaining to Walt his love for chemistry.  And it resonated for Walt. But not enough to save his life from him!

And what about the similarity of the names Walter White and Walt Whitman; the show’s creator Vince Gilligan is drawing what parallel between them we are left to wonder?

Walt WhitmanThe collection from which it comes from ‘Leaves of Grass’ was first published in 1855 but was a life-long work for Whitman being revised by him right up to his death in 1892.

It is now available for free on Project Gutenberg which likely means you can download it on Tablets and Mobile phones. That is unless you prefer your poetry on paper.

This life-work may suggest to you it is a huge tome and indeed it is. Divided in to 35 books – some poems are brief but most are long.

How should we approach such a work? Chronologically, earnestly determinedly working our way through? Or a lucky dip approach – random choose a poem and if it resonates with us we explore further, but if not and as long as it did not turn us off completely we return again at a later date and random dip again…

There is also a 2009 US film titled Leaves of Grass which I have not seen but it is not Walt Whitman based or inspired (that I can establish anyway) directed and written by Tim Blake Nelson. This is one of these films about identical twins yet not identical – in this case  an Ivy League professor is lured back to his Oklahoma hometown, where his twin brother, a small-time pot grower, has concocted a scheme to take down a local drug lord.  Clear Breaking Bad parallels there!

Leaves of GrassNot inspired by Walt Whitman perhaps but Tim Blake Nelson is a bit of a polymath as there is a film due for 2014 release about another American poet called Bukowski about – who do you think?! What do you mean you don’t know Charles Bukowski?!

Not directed or written by Tim Blake Nelson here rather his involvement is as an actor (he also sings!) where he is playing Henry Bukowski. Now details on this film are sketchy so I do not know whether this is Henry his father or Charles himself as he was born Henry Charles Bukowski (well Heinrich Karl actually because he was German-born American naturalised).

This film is not about his poetry in particular though or his life biography rather a period described by IMDB thus:

The story of writer Charles Bukowski’s formative years from childhood to high school

and his struggles with an abusive father, disfiguring acne, alcohol abuse, and his initial attempts at writing.

But Charles Bukowski has been on film and behind film before. He wrote the 1987 film Barfly with the great tag-line:

 Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.

BarflyThe barfly in Barfly was played by Mickey Rourke going by the name of Henry Chinaski but this is clearly autobiographical. And indeed upon Bukowski’s death in 1994 the New York Post used a photo of Mickey Rourke in this Barfly role!

I have only seen this film once and this was with my father. And perhaps this is not the sort of film to see with your father.

Reading this synopsis of the film I now want to see it again. And alone!

Henry Chinaski never cared for the American dream, the thought of needing to become ‘something’ and fit into the system disgusts him. He believes that life is free and yours to live like you see fit, and if that in some cases involves copious amounts of whiskey then so be it. Henry spends his days drinking and listening to the radio, and he spends his nights drinking and fighting against Eddy who he thinks personifies shallowness and shameless self promoting…

Perhaps better than reading poetry is hearing it recited. Perhaps better still performed by the poets themselves.

With Bukowski we can hear such performances and one such was his poem ‘Bluebird’.

Below I share it written then after spoken.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

Whitman’s poems make you want to read more of his poems, Bukowski’s make you want to write your own poems?

They might be giants.

Everything in moderation?

Bottles 2All things must pass.

Do you have such a gathering in your kitchen corners? Or elsewhere in your home?

Most of these bottles are topless emptied over many many months let me assure you (!) but who can throw them away? Not I.

Not a hoarder am I either but the bottles won’t let me let them go. A strange allure – their shape, their glass shells, their appearance-of-exotic labels

Their basic utility to store, a job well done, yet this is not enough for them, they want to stick around.

A story to tell?…

The same story again and again?

And which one empty bottle won’t do…

I entered a short-story competition and…

c/o Foxtongue on Flickr

c/o Foxtongue on Flickr

And? Won? Lost? Read on! On December 17 I posted that a short-story I had published in August of last year on this blog titled ‘Coming Up’ was ineligible for entry in a writing competition because of its publication on this blog.

I then tried to make it disappear by making it private and hoping that Google would not be able to find it. But it has not been able to escape Google’s gaze even if clicking on the link takes the searcher to an empty page, this is still a trace that this story was previously published here!

But then it did not matter anyway because I discovered another site hosting a writing competition that did not mind, give two hoots and what have you, that a story had prior publication, at least online, print media was still not allowed.

Them being the Writer’s Village based in Leighton Buzzard, England. No significance to Leighton Buzzard rather some place names are just worth sharing! And indeed wherever you happen to be in the world this competition is open to you.

Writers' Village Web Page Banner

Their prize went by the name of ‘Best Writing Award Winter 2012’ and so I entered it.

It was the first writing competitoin I had ever entered.

Their remit was broad and to quote the site:

Any form of short story may be submitted up to 3000 words and in any genre (eg. mystery, romance, fantasy, crime, science fiction, children’s, etc).

Closing date was 31 December 2012 and having already a story complete it was just a matter of ensuring it was presented in the manner they required.

Entries were by Email and win or lose you would be notified of this by Email too. You would be so notified because all stories were guaranteed a critique from the judges. Another selling point to me – whatever the outcome we would not be ignored.

Having Emailed my story then came the twilight period of wishing and hoping and doubting and…trying as much as possible to forget the whole thing until that Email shows up in your Inbox. Of which we were promised this would be late January.

And Monday January 21 proved to be that day.

At the sight of this Email my body involuntarily braced!

And recoiled further when I saw I had been scored a 3 on one of the categories ‘Professionalism of Presentation’. I looked away, instantly forlorn. On casting my eyes back I then noticed this three was out of three and a sigh of relief followed!

There were five other categories and I scored as follows:

‘Unity of story form, incl. closure’ 6/8.  And that was my lowest category score. Looking good for my story?

The category allocated the most points was ‘Overall power to engage the reader, incl. use of conflict’ of which I scored 8/10.

For ‘Appeal of first paragraph(s)’ 7/8.

For “Originality of  story concept’ 9/10 – oh yeah!

And finally for ‘Aptness of language to story-line’ 6/6 giving me a total score of 39 out of 45. Enough to win?

The written conclusion they gave was:

A delicious satire on the vacuity of television shows, populist reviews and fatuous publishers! (Or is it a subtle lampoon of a political manifesto?).

So of course I won?!

They ended by saying:

You have an impressive gift for fiction writing and your work shows great competence. Merely address a few points of detail and you will be well placed to win a worthwhile award next time.

So no I did not!

The main point of negative criticism was that perhaps the story went on a bit. This I was aware of because this was my intention – I was making a meta-pont – no really! – that just as these TV product-touting shows can go on without end so my story! I Emailed this back to the judge who said he got that point but still thought I could have shortened my short story! He reiterated his praise though saying that ‘he thoroughly enjoyed it’.

All very pleasing and encouraging. Or perhaps not.

This particular competion also had a second cash prize. And further cash payouts for five shortlsited entrants. And yet further five highly commended entrants get a free entry in the next prize.

So with all the praise of my story I was still bested by another 12 stories.

I know that prizes have a lottery element. Consider a competition which attracts a low entry of one-hundred stories with just one prize. Your story has to be deemed in the top 1% to get that prize and 99% of you will get nothing!

And leave aside the subjectivitiy of the judges.

I am not discouraged though. I will enter further competitions and may submit Coming Up again. (I today made it public again, it may go private again but for now at least…!)

Indeed today I am finishing up a flash-fiction story of up to just 100 words for a Reader’s Digest competition with a £1000 cash prize. £10 per word! And this one is free to enter! But only open to residents of the UK.

Readers' Digest 100 Word Story

But in the future I will focus more on submitting my work to journals than entering competitions. Getting published in a journal is still a lottery but with better odds if smaller prize!

Oh and just to show how magnaminous I am, I provide a link to the winning story of the Writers’ Village ‘Best Writing’ Award, Winter 2012 Writing Competition.

It was titled  The Ghosties and written by Ellie Stewart. I enjoyed it very much.

Exclusive: The Mad Gardener’s Song, new verses

Well I never.

Upon a walk in January I looked over by a loch, and saw peeking from a rock, these titled verses do not mock, my weary eyes did flock. Preserved a million or more tick-tock, in an oak box upon them I knock-knock. Its wood gave up the ghost and its contents I did clock, I swear upon the dock.

But here is the thing, there were seven additional stanzas not detailed in any extant publication.

I did consider I would make myself a small fortune and auction them off to the highest bidding Lewis Carroll aficionado but there was all a bother of authenticity and provenance and all that argy-bargy rigmarole. Not enough just to take my word for it apparently.

So I thought I would share with the world and make not a penny from my find. That’s the kind of person I am.

The established version of The Mad Gardener’s Song starts with this stanza

He thought he saw an Elephant
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
‘At length I realize,’ he said,
‘The bitterness of Life!’

If you are not familiar or just want to remind yourself of it then the rest is here.

And now without any further fanfare or ado are the extra verses in the sequence of which I faithfully recorded them. Marvel too at the technological propheticness of one stanza.

 

He thought he saw a racing horse

Distracted with a pipe.

He looked again and found it was

A gurning butler’s gripe.

‘At length I realize’ he said,

‘The fitfulness of Skype’.

 

He thought he saw a magistrate

Bewildered by a goose.

He looked again and found it was

A spinster on the loose.

‘It really must be said’ he said,

‘That really is obtuse’.

 

He thought he saw a carpenter

A louche giraffe rebuke.

He looked again and found it was

A lone reclusive Duke.

‘Well I never’ he softly said,

‘He’s come out from his nook.’

 

He thought he saw a mannequin

A customer offend.

He looked again and found it was

A sermon without end.

‘It really ought to stop’ he said,

‘My ways I will not mend’.

 

He thought he saw a publican

A bath of tea did soak.

He looked again and found it was

A man expelled from Stoke.*

‘It is true what they say’ he said,

‘There’s nowt as queer as folk’.

 

He thought he saw a Débutante

Practising long her sigh.

He looked again and found it was

A trampolining spy.

‘To make some sense of this’ he said,

”I guess he thinks he’s sly’.

 

He thought he saw a Naturist

Defiant on the moon.

He looked again and found it was

A yodelling baboon.

‘The way now of the world’ he said,

‘This life is out of tune’.

 

* Here the writing of ‘from’ was difficult to read and it might have read ‘to’ – ‘A man expelled to Stoke’ is equally plausible.

Lewis Carroll was wont to travel widely around the world and even greater wont to leave and lose pages of his work as he went. He never talked about it as as well as causing him great anguish it caused him great embarrassment too. But this does mean you yourselves may find the odd stanza of his floating around your neighbourhood including surprisingly likely verses from this poem.

If you do then please share in the comments below. Such a venture will help bring his long, long work together, and comprehensively this compendium compile.

——-

2.4.2013 – Poem without blog content published to Wattpad.