e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Walking the city – modern flânerie

Online magazine, Stepaway, has released its latest issue today. I’m naturally excited, not just because it contains one of my flash fictions, but because it resurrects a literary idea – the flâneur or gentleman stroller.

To modern minds someone who has no job and spends his time wandering around the city in a kind of literary mood might sound anti-social, but in 19th century France, where he was born and lived, he was an explorer, a connoisseur of the streets and quite acceptable.

I doubt if the French flâneur would have had a high regard for modern urban explorers – investigating crumbling ruins or forgotten tunnels would ruin his elegant clothing and annoy his valet.

Stepaway magazine aims to put a modern spin on flânerie and looking at the current edition they succeed. The title comes from a poem by Frank O’Hara. His strolling was a bit constrained as he wasn’t unemployed, but nevertheless he did his best in the tradition. A Step Away from Them begins:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs.

I often wander around cities and many of my poems start when I’m on the move. I think other writers find the same. I don’t know if the original French strollers ever produced literature, but they are believed to have appreciated it and have inspired scholars and writers – enough justification for their wandering ways.

245x145xWalkThisMay15.jpg.pagespeed.ic.MSDH7-nCsSFor those more interested in serious walking, there is a National Walking Month (May 2015). This is a much more serious type of walking, but it is a chance to explore the streets and their literary possibilities.

The website belongs to an organisation called Living Streets which has a tagline of

Putting People First.

I’m all for that. I hate parts of cities where only vehicles can go.

Poetry and greenhouses

 

orchids in greenhouse

Wouldn’t if be wonderful to have the sort of greenhouse that could grow exotics like these orchids? But it would be a lot of work to look after, so I’m probably better off without.

Looking at the picture did make me wonder if there is any poetry about greenhouses, and, of course, there is. I found a whole page of them at Hello Poetry, starting with:

I like to think of people as a greenhouse
We are only a short moment in history
We can be radiant and beautiful …

apparently written by someone who signs himself ‘Drunken State’. I think one has to be a member of Hello Poetry to understand their system fully.

Theodore Roethke also wrote poems with greenhouses in them, though his seem to be more about memory than giving priority to the building.

It’s less effort, and less expense, to read web pages and admire photos than to care for a mass of unusual plants. But I’m really glad that someone takes the trouble.

 

 

Weird words

Browsing around today I came across this BuzzFeed quiz. It is twenty multiple choice questions on the meanings of rare English words. As a lover of odd words, I did it and didn’t do too badly – but I have to admit that some of the ones I got right were more lucky guesses than knowledge.

I was thrilled to discover that there’s a special word for a fear of buttons. On the medical side I’ve also learned that some people fear buttons, which must make shopping for clothes really difficult. I sometimes wonder if the source of such fears could be a forgotten (by your conscious mind) nightmare, which nevertheless lurks in the subconscious waiting to make trouble.

I recently bought a cardigan with a long row of tiny buttons and even smaller holes; now what I need is a word for losing my temper with buttons.

I’m always on the lookout for words I can use poetically, but I don’t see myself writing about borborygmus or pilgarlic.

A haiku challenge about bonfires.

As usual Carpe Diem has given us an interesting challenge. The post containing it deals with the burning of ornaments at a fire festival. This is about leaving the old and taking on the new.

Fire is the medium for getting rid of whatever is holding you back. I think many religions, particularly Pagan ones, have a fire festival with this theme.

My haiku for this challenge is:

The New Year bonfire;
its white smoke rises skywards.
The flames warm my hands.

Juxtaposition – a new haiku challenge

Carpe Diem has started a series on haiku writing techniques. The first one is on ‘juxtaposition’. Reading the explanation, I realise that I’ve done this often in the past without naming it.

Having a name for something makes it easier to detect and to use properly, so I’m very grateful to Chèvrefeuille for his tutorial and the name.

The following is a haiku I wrote last year.

Soft rain, cloud-barred sun,
rainbow spanning the sky. Below,
the sandcastle crumbles.

Post-Christmas thoughts

Today is twelfth night (at least where I come from) and as I was taking down decorations and sorting cards, I was stopped by a lovely picture of poinsettias.

It occurred to me that the holly and the ivy (and I have several nice pics of them this year) are very well established with poems and carols to call their own, but what about poinsettia? These days it’s found its way into Christmas big time – on cards and wrapping paper; for sale in florists and supermarkets; but it doesn’t crop up in the choirboys’ repertoire.

A bit of googling found me a number of websites with short poems and one with a charming legend as well. One surprise was from Queensland, Oz which shows that poinsettias aren’t just for December (although what they’re doing in Australia in June I’m not sure).

None of these poems are as well-known as the holly and ivy ones and, as far as I know, none has been set to music, but at least the flower’s contribution to our Christmas iconography has been recognised in print.

I decided to add my own two pence worth to the recognition.

They remind me of
home, your poinsettias;
red stars of Christmas.

Happy Winter festivities

Most religious groups have a winter festival, and I wish all my readers joy in whatever their’s is. If you’re not religious or don’t have a festival coming up, I still wish you a happy winter-time.

The whole world gets a New Year in a few days. I hope your celebrations go well and that 2015 is all you want it to be.

I probably won’t have time to blog between now and January, but I will make time to read your posts.

The poetry of postage stamps

AJ864Recently I’ve been sticking Christmas stamps onto envelopes. I really like this years UK stamps – tiny pictures of people having fun in the snow. Other national post offices do their own, so we have a gallery of seasonal good wishes open to us.

As I was sticking I wondered if anyone has written poems about these tiny art-works. They ought to. Not only are stamps often artistic, they are sometimes valuable, give people employment in making, collecting, selling, and are the crowning necessity for your letters.

I only found one in my Google search, The Postage Stamp. by a poet called Herbert Nehrlich. It’s less about communication or art than a tragicomic love story.

Poets, however, have done quite well in stamps. There have been many stamp issues commemorating the AJ865great and, usually, dead poets.

I also found, on the Amazon site, a book entitled Chinese Classical Poetry Postage Stamps Pictorial. Sadly there is no other information, not even a cover image.

I decided to celebrate these small pieces of art with a haiku, a suitably small poem.

Art and function
in one little rectangle
of glue and paper.

The edges of the poetic – wine writing

Bring me wine, but wine which never grew
In the belly of the grape;
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots reaching through
Under the Andes to the Cape
Suffer’d no savour of the earth to ‘scape.

From Bacchus by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Recently in a restaurant I read the wine list while waiting for my meal. The descriptions were evocative and almost poetic.

Like poets, wine writers invent words where the dictionary fails them. Wine can be cedary (tastes like cedar smells), ageworthy (should be kept longer) or Madeirized (oxidised). They can alliterate beautifully. Is your tipple heavy, herbal or honeyed? or is it focused, flabby or fruity? I suppose it might even be floral. My wine, of course, has finesse.

A browse around the web suggests that, although wine descriptions use many terms, the writer can’t say just anything – there is a recognised terminology. It’s a very descriptive terminology and I think that’s why it sound poetic: it raises a realistic image in the mind of the reader.

There are a lot of poems about wine, but so far I’ve found none that actually use the wine writers’ way of saying things. To write such a poem without it sounding snide or silly would be quite a challenge.

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