a poem for Advent: Winter Lent

A poem – well, a lyric, really – that I wrote to be set to music a few years ago.

Winter Lent

This is our winter lent: the turning of the wheel.

A smouldering wick will flame to light the dark,
the ice be broken and the water blessed;

a downy feather lift the grinding weight
and yokes be eased that we might find our rest;

that snow can cover rutted, weary ways
and fallen seeds in frozen earth take root;

and masters dress as servants at the feast
and sacred oaks bring forth, at last, a shoot.

This is our winter lent: the turning of the wheel.

The Orthodox Church marks Advent as a sort of wintertime Lent, and I wanted to hint at some of those Orthodox traditions (blessing the water) as well as some of the paganism that’s inescapably bound up in the way we celebrate and think about Christmas – seasonal change, Saturnalia and so on. I still like this poem a lot; and Andy Digitonal‘s gorgeous setting is something else. You can listen to/download it here.

days twenty-two and -three

Hmm, I seem to be getting more and more inconsistent with this blog. Happily, the writing’s continuing: yes, I wrote yesterday, and yes, I wrote today. I finally finished the Pembrokeshire coast path one, which I’ve found no better title for than ‘Pembrokeshire coast path’. I feel less certain about it than the other things I’ve finished this month; I’m still not sure if it’s anything more than description, which is not what a poem is meant to be. But perhaps after a good workshopping I’ll have a better idea.

Funnily enough the thing I wrote in one go the other night I’ve decided to bin. Not just redraft, but actually bin. I showed it to a friend whose critique (it didn’t really make sense, I don’t think, or didn’t stand up to close scrutiny anyway) made me reconsider the whole thing. I just don’t think it was very… friendly. It was occasioned by something someone said to me once and, well, if they were ever to read it, they’d be mortified. And I don’t think the world needs poems like that.

So that was an interesting thing to learn. I’m still glad I wrote it, I suppose, but it won’t be going anywhere. So in the Plath universe of poems as wooden objects, I guess it was… just a stick? And not a nice one for scratching your back with. Back of the cupboard for you, stick-poem. Sorry.

Writing day today, and I had plans for posting something long-ish about a few thoughts I’ve had around larger ideas of poetry, but in the end I just didn’t have the time. It’s getting to the time of year where I’m focusing much more on pulling together the literature programme for Greenbelt festival, so I actually spent the day working on that, after finishing the long Pembrokeshire poem in the morning. But I bookended the day with submitting a bunch of poems to a competition (judged by one of my very favourite poets), and another bunch to a new online journal. So still a productive day. And I even had time for a sunny walk in the woods, just to look and listen.

day twenty-one

Five days since my last post! I hadn’t quite realised it had been so long. It’s partly because due to work last week my schedule was a bit jumbled, which meant the writing in the morning/posting at lunchtime routine didn’t work. The weekend had its own rhythms, and I avoid using screens on Sundays; and yesterday I was ill in bed with a rotten cold. But I have been writing: every day, apart from yesterday (and I really missed it). The other reason for not posting quite so much is that, for the same reasons (work busyness and illness) I’ve not really done much in terms of the scrapbooking element of this blog. Nothing apart from watching films and, er, drinking wine. Both lovely, but not much to write home about.

Writing wise, things are still moving on at quite a lick: I’ve already forgotten exactly what I did on which day, but I’ve been tinkering with the Pembrokeshire poem, drafted a new one (megafauna!), and today wrote a whole new piece, just like that, from an idea that’s been floating around since September. Ta-da! I have no idea if it’s any good or not, but I enjoyed writing it. I think maybe I just needed to get it out of my system.

So, another new benefit from the write-daily regime: not only is it getting easier and more fun each day, I’m actually beginning to feel a bit… addicted, perhaps? It’s rare that I’ve felt like this about writing poetry. Prose, yes; poetry, no. Each day I’m chomping at the bit, and it’s pretty exhilarating.

day sixteen

Another early start (it’ll be the same again tomorrow) meant another missed writing appointment this morning: yes, I should be getting up earlier, but no, I’m not. Unlike yesterday, though, I didn’t write on the train, and for a while it looked like I might miss a day (horror!) – I got home exhausted, with writing the last thing on my mind. But then something kicked in – cussedness, perhaps – and I decided to just write for as long as my dinner took to cook, which was twenty-five minutes (actually longer than I have been writing for most mornings), and was twenty-five minutes well spent on chipping away at the Pembrokeshire coast path poem. Of all the days I’ve written, today I felt the proudest. If I’m actually sitting down to write on the days I least want to, I think I’m getting somewhere – in terms of habit-creation, I mean.

Apologies, invisible audience, for the introspective and self-absorbed nature of these posts. I suppose I see it as documenting the month’s experiment, and I don’t seem to have been doing enough stuff this week to balance out the boring detail of day to day writing.

day fifteen

this is not what my view looked like.

Briefly, because, well, just because: work commitments meant I had to leave the house super-early this morning (well, comparatively speaking), so I didn’t have time to write first thing, at home. So I wrote on the train instead. Notes for a new poem. I love this write-daily thing.

day fourteen and an evening birdsong walk

I am so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open (I know, and it’s only 10.30), so I will keep this as brief as I can while simultaneously reporting on all the things that are on my sleepy mind…

First, the writing got done. It was my dedicated writing day today (swapped with the usual Thursday for work-related reasons), so again, of course it did, there can be no possible excuses. But it needs to be reported!

And what a great day it was… I turned yesterday’s notes, which I wasn’t sure about, into a whole, new, finished, poem. And yes, I think it works. Of course, it may not be the best thing I’ve ever written, but as a poem it does what I wanted it to, if you see what I mean (I’m thinking about Sylvia Plath’s observation that a poem can be a table or a chair or a pull-along duck… as long as it works, it’s fine). So that’s three brand-new poems in two weeks… I’m ashamed (but also thrilled) to say that’s more than I wrote (poetry-wise) in the whole of 2012. This writing daily lark needs to continue.

I also shoved at the Pembrokeshire coast path draft a bit more, and got a bit closer, I think. It’s hard work, partly because it’s long, and partly because I think it runs the risk of being description/feeling. I’m not entirely sure I know what it’s doing yet, but for now I’m just trusting that if I keep at it, it too will turn into something useful, whether that’s a table or a pull-along duck.

So one of the satellite effects of this writing daily thing is that, as momentum increases, so does my desire to get things out there. I’ve always found submitting poetry to competitions and journals about as painful as writing them in the first place – in part just because of the sheer boring-ness of it, and in part because, yes, I’m lazy and disorganised. But today I submitted four pieces to Magma magazine, and I’m working on my submission to the Faber new poets scheme – ambitious, yes, but why the hell not? It doesn’t cost anything to enter, like most competitions do. I’m also thinking about a submission to a new online journal, and two other upcoming competitions run by Mslexia. The likelihood is that none of these will actually come to anything… but just having a go feels empowering. And grouping all my poems together, in some sort of coherent order, has helped me identify which ones still have slight disfigurements that need fixing, as well as rediscovering some that I’d forgotten about/mislaid after The Great Laptop Theft of 2012.

I’ve been meaning to mention last Thursday’s walk for the last few days but just not had the time to fit it in… I’m tempted to put it off again today but know that if I don’t write about it soon all the freshness and zest will be lost. I’ll keep it brief: I live pretty close to the unbelievably gorgeous Sydenham Hill Wood, the largest remaining tract of the old Great North Wood, which used to stretch from Deptford to Selhurst. It’s now managed as a nature reserve, and it’s a really special place: it’s hard to believe you’re so close to central London when you’re there. Quite by chance I stumbled across an online mention of last Thursday’s evening birdsong walk, and as I’ve been getting into birds a bit recently (in the most casual way possible – mainly just keeping an eye out for them, and enjoying watching them in the trees around my flat) and generally just loving woodland, I went along. Although the wind meant that we didn’t hear a huge amount of birdsong, it was still brilliant. Learning to listen out for and identify a few birds just from their calls was pretty thrilling, and learning about the wood and its history from conservation officer Daniel Greenwood was fascinating. Plus being in woodland at dusk is pretty special by itself. There’s another guided tree identification walk this Thursday, and if I can manage the timings work-wise, I’ll be there. Highly recommended if you just happen to be in South East London.

Swifts weren’t on the menu, but here’s a piece I wrote about listening to them a few years ago, on London Grip.

days twelve and thirteen

I tend not to do anything particularly work-y on Sundays, including writing poetry (which I do see as work); and I especially avoid screens if I can (ie my laptop). But I’ve got a separate little project (aside from poetry) that I’m trying to do on Sundays at the moment, so that’s what I did yesterday. No poetry, but still writing.

Today I was back on track, writing for fifteen minutes this morning after breakfast. I was a bit reluctant to turn on my laptop and possibly waste time on twitter again, so I left the Pembrokeshire coast path poem alone for the day and started some longhand notes for something new. I didn’t get very far and I’m not sure it’s really going to turn into anything… but we’ll see. It’s my writing day tomorrow so I’ll have a good chunk of time to push it a bit further and see where I get to.

In other news, today I had some really lovely feedback on the two poems I finished last week, which I very much see as being products of this new May habit, so that was encouraging. And I entered a really great-looking poetry competition. Fingers crossed!