My Poetry Rules: Reality Shows for Artlovers

studioWhy are reality shows always about cooking and building? Why not a reality show for writers? Challenge the contestants to come up with a poem or first chapter and have it critiqued by the other contestants and two professionals. Not a Frenchman in a badly fitting suit or a paleo addict who’s been painted a shimmery shade of bronze, but a publisher and a working full time writer who will try not to look bored/horrified while listening to the contestant’s musings.

Instead of a menu of inedible food, have a menu of indigestible poetry – a limerick or a haiku for the entrée, a ballad or saga for mains and a sonnet or villanelle for dessert. And why stop at poets and novelists? Let artists create a menu of pastels, oil portraits and watercolours; musicians can present a light ballad, a rousing anthem and a sweet love song; crafters can fashion pot holders, quilts and soft cushions – it could go on and on.

instead of instant restaurants the contestants could create instant galleries in their own homes and stress over a broken conte crayon or a squished tube of paint. Poets could sob over their iambic pentameters and novelists could have meltdowns because they can’t spell pneumatic (is that right?) You could have the usual suspects for contestants – the snotty Melbournites looking down on the other plebs; the eager to please puppies hoping for a pat on the head and a Schmackos; the wild outbackers piling up installations made of hay bales and rusty old tractors; the ‘villains’ rating everyone else’s art as passé so they can climb further up the leaderboard – oh, come on, it would be so much more fun

 

The Reality of TV These Days

On the one hand, I can’t believe this is TV season Prime Time in Australia – on the other hand, it’s all too stultifyingly obvious. Reality shows, stretching as far as the schedule can go – weight losers, cooking losers, building losers in hard hats and neon vests – all bursting into tears and having tantrums at the least excuse.

One look at The Biggest Loser (what a perfect name for this show) told it all. The hulking trio of Rambo, Xena and the other guy strode into the fattest town in Australia assuring us that they were going to make it shape up. I thought they were going to do a Jamie – open a gym, drag the population down to the park for push ups and improve eating habits by teaching the denizens how to cook. But no, only the chosen ones would get the opportunity to be snarled at by Rambo, yelled at by Xena, and handed tissues by the other guy.

The usual bunch of self loathing fat people sobbed and self immolated their way through the auditions, while Rambo et al deliberated which ones needed to lose weight most. How’s this for a radical idea? All of them! Get them all out there running in circles in the park!

A first glance at My Kitchen Rules (which I have to admit I have watched before – I did love those two bitchy gays in Season 3) but I’m over lame-assed dishes, sob stories, ‘my dream’ and sniping Disney villains now. Watching someone try to slow boil duck in a baking dish full of oil (I think its called a confit) was utterly disgusting. I think it’s safe to say I have moved on.

But I don’t mind if other viewers love these shows and want to see them return. Fine. I’ll watch something else. Except that there is nothing else. What’s this deal with putting them on every night? What’s wrong with once a week? Maybe twice for recaps? But EVERY night?

Last year I would have chuckled and said ‘SBS to the rescue.’ Not only better cooking shows, but better TV all round. Until I moved into an area that doesn’t get the SBS signal. At. All. Luckily, I have also recently upgraded to a new laptop – one that streams SBS on Demand like a boss, not like my old laptop, which didn’t. So instead of people dropping their ingredients on the floor and sobbing in Manu’s arms (is there nothing these women won’t do to inhale his Frenchness?), I have been watching a couple of shows that have restored my faith in the better nature of TV programers.

In Archeology: A Secret History, Dr Richard Miles traces back to the first archeological explorations – and surprisingly, that’s not that far back. Ancients, after all, made the stuff we dig for and like today, didn’t think it was ever going to be worth that much (Barbie collectables, anyone?) and later societies just saw it there every day and didn’t think about it much. I was tickled to learn that the first true archeologist was the Emperor Constantine’s old mum, Queen Helena, whom he sent off to the Holy Land in search of relics that proved the existence of Christ after he shook the scattered pieces of the new religion into order. Nothing like slamming the stable door shut after you’ve let the horse loose on the populace.

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Dr Richard Miles – I love the way he loves archeology

In her 80s, Helena was a game old girl, toppling a temple in her quest, and bringing back a nail from the cross, a robe (not the Turin Shroud) and bits of wooden crosses. Irrefutable proof, now on display at the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. They even made a solid gold container encrusted with jewels to  house the nail- imagine that, a rusty nail as long as a man’s hand given a solid gold container.

None of it proves that it had anything to do with Christ (unless there is a good sample of his DNA still to be found) but it is still astonishing to see an actual nail – the sheer heft and size of it – and imagining it being hammered through a man’s hands or feet. Dr Miles was pretty exited to be holding it, and well he might – real relic or not, it is an amazing link with the past. Good on ya, Helena.

HISTORY OF ANCIENT BRITAIN

Neil Oliver, part rock star, part archeologist

In A History of Ancient Britain, another windswept and interesting archeologist takes the viewer back to the dawn of humanity and a Britain that was still part of the frozen tundra of the ice age. Neil Oliver has the rugged persona of a true Celt and looks a bit like Gabriel Byrne. The camera loves him a bit too much, but in between rugged close ups, there is a lot of fascinating information – such as the ancient Paleolithic tribe that made Nutella (by grinding hazelnuts to a paste to take on long journeys) and a huge tsunami that finally freed Britain from the mainland. Riveting stuff, can’t wait to see the rest. Both shows are also availble on BBC4 as well.

This is probably how I will be watching TV until the reality shows end. SBS On Demand has Iron Chef, as well. Bargain!

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I love this man!

For crying out loud!

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I have to confess I absolutely love Top Gear. I love the TG Triad of Clarkson, May and Hammond, the cars, the jokes and the madcap adventures around the world. How does this sit with my rather Greenish and liberal stance on everything else? Very badly. But I also love being entertained by witty, cheeky – yes, even bombastic – Englishmen(QI is another case in point)and yes, I love Jeremy Clarkson best of all. Even if most of it isn’t irony, sarcasm or just plain self mocking British humour, I love the way he talks, the way he writes and the way he slags off sacred cows.  Knowing this, my eldest daughter bought me a gift pack of three of his books, and I have happily devoured them all. Drat the man, I laughed even when I disagreed with him. But actually, quite often I did. The world, according to Clarkson, is a daft place that has abandoned common sense and is slowing strangling in its own politically correct red tape. Honestly, who can argue with that? Well, the people busy wrapping the tape obviously. The rest of us are too busy choking on it.

Clarkson has no such restraints, he talks right through it, about everything, from Audis to Coke Zero, about cars, phone boxes, binge drinking, droughts…he fills that column of his in the British Sunday Times with whatever is on his mind at the moment – and there’s a lot. He’s not always wrong either. “The sea’s a frothing maelstrom of terror and hopelessness” does sound more exciting that the bland weather forecast of “stormy”. This book is dedicated “with gratitude to the Green movement, the Americans and the Health and Safety Executive for giving me so much to write about.”

But is he betraying green sympathies in How to Blow Up a Dead Seal when he writes of his efforts to dispose of the body of a seal dead from natural causes on a beach. In typical Top Gear style he does try to blow it up, but the body is barely touched, although the rest of the beach looks like Beirut. Finally he tries to dig a hole in the sand with a bulldozer but it keeps filling itself in, so he is forced to leave the seal to decompose aromatically while Clarkson wears a gas mask to write his column.

Lovely, side splitting stuff. He’s a one man Monty Python. OK, so he didn’t actually manage to give the dead seal a decent burial. But at least he tried, and that might just make him green enough to pass muster. I hope so, because I really don’t want to have to stop loving him – and Top Gear.

Get the book at Amazon

Can there be too many mangos?

In short, yes! This is how our mango tree looked a few weeks ago.

green mangos

garden laden mango tree

Loads of green mangos, waiting to ripen. It looked like the lushest bounty imaginable.

Do you remember that Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter films? How it suddenly threw off every leaf as if it had become extremely irritated with them? Well, mango trees seemed to do the same thing. The mangos ripened practically over night – might have been something to do with the big heatwaves we have been experiencing – and next thing you know…

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As if the groaning weight of all that fruit just proves too much for the tree to bear, down it all comes. We have been picking as as much as we can, peeling, cutting and freezing (mangos are good for the skin, by the way, my hands have never been so soft) but there’s just so much! The birds love it, we have had some delightful parrots in the garden lately, but even they have struggled to cope with the glut and there are half eaten fruit everywhere.

The rainbow lorikeets are so gorgeous, I have been trying to capture them on camera, through the back porch window.

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Not as close as I was hoping to get, they spotted me hanging over the windowsill with my camera very quickly.

Between us we are clearing up the mango glut – but there is still some way to go…

C.S. Lewis, a reminiscence

Pauline Baynes
Pauline Baynes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A long time ago, I listened to a serial on the radio called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I had no idea who had written it, or anything about it, except that it was the loveliest story I had ever heard. A few years later, I came across the Puffin paperback edition with the beautiful Pauline Baynes cover of Susan, Lucy and Aslan, and I bought it – more out of curiosity than anything. I had only ever heard the radio play. What would the book be like?

That book started a literary adventure that took me to so many places, to Narnia and beyond, to Mars and Venus (Malacandra and Perelandra) in Lewis’ space trilogy, to Heaven itself (which Lewis describes as being so sharp and real that it would hurt our poor mortal feet to try and walk on the grass). I devoured every book by C.S. Lewis I could get my hands on. I haunted bookshops and libraries, looking for that magical name. It made no difference to me that he was a Christian writer, and I did not consider myself a Christian (although I had been baptised a Roman Catholic as a baby). He was simply a wonderful writer, full of humanity, humor and literary skills that excelled anything I had already encountered. The clarity and beauty of his writing, and the humanity of his philosophy, captivated me.

I shared Narnia with my children and read them a chapter a night from the books, and later they did the same with their own children. Lewis spanned the universe, and the imagination, and he spans the generations as well. He made me want to be a writer.

He was born on November 29, 1898, more than a Century ago. Now he is in that place he envisaged in his books – at least I hope he is. Such a Heaven deserves to exist, and C.S. Lewis deserves to be in Aslan’s Country.

 

The ‘blonde angels’

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Anyone old enough to have swung on ‘Beaver’s Boats’ in the late 40s/early 50s around Dublin and Dalkey in the South of Ireland, might still remembered the dark skinned couple, Maree and Patrick (known as Beaver) who owned and operated the beautifully carved and painted swingboat ride. They might also remember the scruffy, cheeky blonde kid on the bike. That was me.

Dad was a traveller, born and bred. He was a respected man among the Roma, with whom he had ties. My mum, on the other hand, was not born on the road nor was she Rom, but she looked the part with her black hair and olive skin. They had one child, and she was as blonde and blue eyed as Cinderella. The eyes later took on a green shade, the hair darkened, but in  infancy she could easily have passed for one of those ‘blonde angels’ the gypsies are said to be always stealing.

However, I was a little blonde traveller and no angel. I hated wearing shoes so I stuffed the new pair mum insisted that I wear under a bush before we moved on. They were never found. I turned a brand new toy pram into a lumber wagon. I tried to escape to Narnia in a wardrobe and tipped it over (before I’d even read the books!). No one ever accused my parents of stealing me – for one thing, I was such a little monster that I could only be a traveller child in general opinion, and ‘blonde angels’ are ten a penny in Ireland. There’s no profit in stealing one when anyone can make one. Those vikings made sure no DNA went unblonded.

Of course I heard the stories. “My mum said I shouldn’t play with you because you steal children away.” My reaction to that was always, “Why? Who’d want you?” Our adults didn’t steal children, but they rarely got out of town without having to pluck their own kids out of a donnybrook with the locals. “Dirty Gypsy” was mild compared to some of the insults thrown our way. Even in my early 20s, sauntering down the road in my best coat and heels, I was accosted by a girl who spat at me and called me ‘dirty gypsy’ because she’d seen me coming out of the traveller camp.

What to make of that? I never understood it. I could read and write, I earned my own living, I was mad about clothes (although I would never have dressed like those girls on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, my dad would have killed me. But I do remember we faced a lot of prejudice and the silly myths that we had to contend with – like stealing children. Among the Rom, and many travellers, the bottom line rule was that no child would go homeless or unloved. If tragedy took one or both parents, or a struggling single mother couldn’t go on raising her child, someone else would take care of it.

Yeah, they bent the rules. They never bothered telling ‘the authorities’ who would just have taken the orphaned or abandoned children away from everything and everyone they knew and loved . The authorities never understood that the tribe simply cannot relinquish its young. It goes against every deepest instinct, which are to protect the children and keep the families together. But neither were they so jealous of ‘blonde angels’ that they just had to possess them. They had plenty of kids of their own, both dark and fair

It’s been hard to watch the hysteria building up over Maria and the Irish children,  because I was little blonde gypsy too. And I’m not the only one. It showed me that these old racist views have not gone away, they have simply become buried in the psych, and all it takes is a scratch to have it erupt again, like a boil, all over the innocent. It is still there, the stupid fear drummed into settled children, “Be good or the Gypsies will take you away.”

Is that really the only weapon they could think of to discipline their children? As a card carrying little mischief maker, I was treated with amused tolerance or made to make reparation for any damage or upset my mischief caused. No one ever threatened me that ‘the authorities’ would take me away, even though that was far more likely. Shoulder to shoulder, man to man and woman to woman, that would never have been allowed to happen. Travellers and Rom love their children, and the children of their sisters and brothers of the tribe. What happened in Greece and Ireland will take a long time to heal for those families. It truly is their worst nightmare.

 

Halloween countdown: The Trees

The Trees

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The trees are driving me crazy. Can’t anyone else see what they are up to? They are colluding, whispering together. Getting closer, I could walk between these two a week ago. Now they block my path, like threatening sentinels.

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Even in the city they creep up, they invade, they terrorise humans going about their business. What do you think these two are up to?

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At night I fear them most of all. They gather around my house, rustling and muttering, shaking their branches and leaves in the moonlight. What do they want? Why are they becoming so bold and intrusive?

ghostly gums

At night the ghost gums come haunting, creeping through the darkness toward the house, drawing close to each other in conspiratorial silence, yet I can hear them whispering to each other, rustling and creaking, and watching us.

I think they are angry. I think they want us to know that they have had enough of us. I think they want to cut us down as we have been cutting them down, to uproot our houses and our lives and reclaim the land from us. I think they hate us because of this…

Note: The idea of this is to use the photos I’ve taken of random objects that have ‘faces’ embedded or have a spooky or weirdly human quality, as prompts for Halloween prose and poetry. Feel free to copy the images and use them as prompts for your own stories. Leave me a link so I can see the results 🙂

Halloween Countdown: How did I get here?

Another Halloween story suggested by a photo in my collection.I spotted this sad eyed stag at a twilight market, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

how did I get here

How did I get here?

Stop. Stop! Don’t just walk past. It’s me! Look closer! You can see it’s me.

Stop sniggering at your new husband. His joke was lame, and you know it. “Oh dear, oh dear. I think he lost his head.” Pathetic. You actually laughed. Do you think it’s funny that I, Antonio, the love of your life, is nailed to a piece of wood? Look at me! Don’t you recognise my moustache?

Oh Laura, what happened to me? Yours was the last face I saw on that night, with the full moon shining in the window, before everything went black, and I woke up on the wall in my father’s house. That huge ornate mirror he bought in Florence was on the opposite wall, and I could see what had become of me. I didn’t realise at first – only after days of staring at that damned mirror did I understand that my head looks like this now. And it isn’t attached to my body.

I have been thinking that my papa mistook me for one of the deer on his estate. These are a fine pair of antlers, I must say. So big. He must have spotted me and shot me, not knowing it was I, Antonio, his only beloved son. For years I hung there, unable to communicate, watching you visit Papa’s estate and take care of him in his old age. Every time you came he asked you the same question. “Have they found my son?”

I watched you weep at his funeral, and laugh when they read the will and he left everything to you. Then the men came, the buyers and the dealers, and everything was sold and bundled out. Including me.

Oh look, the little one is speaking again.

“So, Laura, did you tell him, at the last, of your powers? Or was he still too dazzled by your beauty to know you are a witch?”

“Not a full time witch, Paulo. Only when there is a full moon at Halloween. Then I can do anything I want. Poor, poor Antonio.” She reached over and stroked the dark mark beneath my nose, the exact replica of my moustache. “Come, Paulo, now you have come into your uncle’s fortune, you can afford to buy me a peach gelato, no?”

Yes,” he said adoringly. “Gelato, and diamonds, rubies, anything you want.”

Her laughter tinkled as they walked away. Poor, poor Paulo, too besotted to realise that tonight was Halloween, and the moon was full.

Halloween Countdown: Nevermore

In the lead up tp Halloween this year, I am going to be posting photos of ‘found’ faces – you know how you look at some random object and there seems to be a face peering out at you. I have been making a collection of such objects, and some of them are inspiring me to write as well. So, without further ado, here is my first offering. This isn’t a gravestone, although it looks like one – it is a monument at one of our local parks and the closer I got, the more I felt I was being watched – b y Edgar Allen Poe, maybe…Honestly, I haven’t touched it.

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Nevermore

I am haunted by Edgar Allen Poe. Everywhere I go I see his face, peeking out at me from bushes, clouds, gravestones…as I drift off to sleep, I hear his voice – nevermore, nevermore.

I toss and turn, I throw off the blankets because I am too hot, I shiver because I am too cold…nevermore, nevermore.

As a sickly grey dawn seeps through the curtains, my eyes spring open, unable to close. I stare up at the ceiling, where the growing light coils and snakes across the darkness, filling my soul with dread, my mouth with the taste of graveyard dirt.

I am no stranger to fear, but I have never known anything like this. This is no mere sickness of the body, no mere derangement of the mind – this is a malady so bone deep, so soul centred, that I weary of life.

Nevermore, he whispers. Nevermore.

It cannot be true. I drag myself from my bed, across to my writing desk and press the switch above the keyboard. The grey screen echoes the grey morning outside and my mood. The last photo I took, Poe peering at me from a headstone at the cemetery, his eyes following me as I walked among the graves.

Nevermore. Nevermore.

I crash my fists on the keyboard. He continues to mock me as I struggle with the words that won’t come. Of course he mocks. He must have known this terrifying abyss, this pendulous pit of dried up inspiration, this ghastly wasteland of a head empty of any ideas at all.

The well is utterly dry, the grave barren and the screen remains blank. Of  all the horrors in the human mind – nothing compares to writer’s block.

He laughs and whispers – never more. Nevermore.