Ekphrasis – poetry about a work of art, but in this case, very specifically about the marginalia of mediaeval manuscripts. The fantastical creatures doodled in the margins and at the bottom of pages by monks who may have been bored, or may have wanted to keep the readers interested, or who simply could not help themselves. This prompt took me to the Mappa Mundi, which is not a manuscript, but which contains fantastical creatures, but also human beings doing monstrous things.
Here lies a bridge between belief and certainty.
Around the bridge, that graceful arch,
stretches fantastical and strange terrain.
Who drew this map – this world
of savage gods and monsters?
Maybe a man who, rigid in his daily prayer,
shut up in that fastness on the hill,
spent his days in terra incognita living
a life of imagination, terror and discovery,
Certainty took him from cloister to chapel;
imagination took him everywhere.
Here, the Sciapoi – each holds his leg aloft,
its giant foot a shield from heat of noon;
the Blemmyes with no heads: they speak
like lawyers – through their bellies;
the Troglodytes, cave dwellers, snake eaters,
maybe artists too, of hunt and Auroch and
strange people with the skulls of birds;
Cynocephali with the heads of dogs.
He drew such monsters, their misshapen dignity,
such beautiful deformity – awash with magic.
He knew that monsters do exist,
too few in number to be truly dangerous.
More dangerous, the monsters who believe
and hate and act without asking questions –
who cannot imagine what might be,
who travel at night, without a guide.
I had never heard of an “elevenie”. As a form, it sems to have been devised to teach language, rather than to capture a thought in the best possible way, but then, I am not sure what does work for that. I suspect that, if a poem is to be remembered, it will be for a phrase that speaks to the reader, or for a rhyme or other poetic tool that switches on the part of the brain which handles memory.
Anyhow – very quick draft of a double elevenie:
draws a line
That space needs filling.
fills the space
on the pillow
she is gone.
Our prompt today asks for a Georgic. Which means I’ve learned what a Georgic is. Vergil wrote a collection of them, all poems to do with farming and agriculture about which I know little. However, his Georgics do include poems about the weather and effects on the harvest, so there was my “in” right there.
Ten days of rain and the paths through the woods
are streams of water, filling culverts, running down,
carrying twigs, soaking the ground.
Our sheep huddle in the shelter of the walls;
our boots squelch in the sodden earth;
the grass darkens and is trampled into mud
where sheep gather for the grain we’ve lugged.
Twenty days, and the road into town is closed.
Water swift under straining arches shoves and buffets,
pulls stones from their settings. The bridge is not safe.
We drive over twenty miles to the valley’s head
to cross the river further up, where it plunges
down the cliff and under the road a hundred feet below.
The paths through the woods are torrents;
the flood carries branches down the hills,
gouges tunnels under trees; at night
we lie in bed and hear them crashing down.
Still no sign of a break in the weather.
Implacable grey clouds press down on the tops.
Storm winds, hot from Africa howl and crash;
our neighbour sees his harvest smashed
by horizontal rain.
Our river bursts its banks.
The sheep scatter and move up field by field,
until the valley is a sheet of iron, and the sheep
grey woollen shapes shivering along the top walls;
still no sign. No rainbow. It rains. It rains.
Today, our prompt is to write a poem that incorporates overheard speech. Somewhere in an old writing notebook, I find the scrap of conversation I heard years ago, before Youtube existed. This is a young man being told by a slightly older, and rather vehement man what he should do to get on in life:
There are all these types of peas, see,
and you know it’s so hard to choose between
Petit Pois, Mangeteout, Everyday Value,
Baby Sweet, Steamfresh, Marrowfat,
Pigeon Peas, Pease Pudding, Chick Peas.
In all that crowd of tiny green seeds,
what stands out?
You gotta market yourelf.
If you wake up at four in the morning
and think to yourself, “Hey! Why am I
not having a great month?”, you gotta
think: I gotta contact people gotta get moving,
gotta put myelf out there gotta be fresh
gotta think about my brand. The Declan brand.
Your brand is you, and if they buy your brand
It means they’ll hire you, they’ll like you, be your fans.
There’s lots of options you could pursue. Truth?
We all want to shine, but only a few achieve real fame
and branding is the neon in your name.
So – ask yourself – what kind of pea are YOU?
Use the vocabulary and/or imagery from a game or sport. Ah – I remember those lessons teaching metaphor to teenagers and begining with the simple exercise: write a football match as if it were cookery; write a football match as if it were a war.
But all my sporting vocabulary deserted me – for ages the only phrase that occurred to me was from cricket: “silly mid-on”, which I have always loved, but which got me precisely nowhere.
In the end, I used snoooker. Maybe I will be able to play with this one and make it look more like a snooker game on the page at some stage:
I was sick of love that night we met
in Chorlton Snooker Hall.
But I took my cue from you –
Not even half, butt it would do.
You bent towards the baize
you took your stance;
thus, we began our dance.
You forced an angle;
feathered me into
kiss, double kiss,
doffed me your cocked hat. Gave me
the postman’s knock at the top of the table
I saw red.
and all the rest, till finally –
What a fluke! And that’s how
I was snookered.
Our prompt today is to write a poem using neologisms – new words. Shakespeare was a master at that, especially using portmanteau words: bloodstained, cloud-capped, eye-ball, birth-place etc. I really struggled with this prompt and soon gave up on slapping two words together in the hope they would sound apt. The fact that I can still remember the whole of Jabberwocky and immediately used the words from that when asked for nonsense words didn’t help. This is the best I came up wih to start with:
The night swaffs sharp through wildy trees;
they shrill their branches in the morting swarl.
Darkness and slitter weave along the street,
gallowglees lurk behind the wall.
Half of us hold firm, half stand apart in grief,
when oscrayx shows its shining teeth.
I take my hand and face the foe –
the mirror cracks, what lies below?
But, having written that, I remembered that our children are now given the “NONSENSE READING TEST” whereby they have to read aloud a list of nonsense words – it tests their decoding skills, but is just another way to label children as young as five as somehow lacking. There is no research to say that the test does any good at all in identifying literacy problems and I suspect that, like the SATS and other new tests, this is a way to deliver dividends to holders of shares in companies which provide “educational” resources.
Cover the skin with chab and let it dright
The bandages may fill with weam
But churbit and they will soon napsite.
Your pagbo should be clared with foy
Unless the mogrud indicates a sheg of bruck,
so if shegrash is seen, apply some doit
until the ailing organ upright stook.
Refrain from rigfap for a week
Keep the area warm and clean
Advise your partner to take the test,
and may we wish you all the best.