Blackout Poetry

Two writing worlds collide! As my poetry portfolio of 150 lines is nearing completion, I’d like to show you one of the poems that will feature in it. I wrote it over the weekend, and although it is untitled at the moment, it serves as an example of blackout poetry. This is created through taking a larger piece of text – perhaps a page from a book, or in this case a stand-alone piece of non-fiction – and isolating totally unrelated words and phrases to use in the poem. I used Charles Simic’s “Dinner At Uncle Boris’s” to write this, looking carefully at different parts of the text to see what could form something strangely cohesive and intriguingly surreal. It will appear as the penultimate poem in my portfolio – I hope you like it as much as my workshop group did yesterday!

“The four of us, out of water glasses,

Eating through our second helping of fly.

I’m full of shit, with a bit of fat underneath.

No guts.

 

The old guys are reminiscing about the war.

‘You were very good at it,’ my father assured him.

We are all composite characters.

We survive that somehow, the incredible stupidity of our family.

 

Orgies of self-abuse, our family is a story of endless errors,

Making us all in turn say ‘aaaaaahh’ like a baby doctor.

Of course, we can barely keep our eyes open.

For the moment we have run out of talk.”

 

Mason

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Bulldozer

Since Halloween, Mum and Dad have seen me a few times here in Winchester, and have spent the entirety of Christmas and New Year with me at home in Somerset. In that period, they have failed to notice one thing. Whilst it is inconspicuous enough to avoid attracting too much attention, it is unquestionably staring them in the face, sticking out like a sore thumb. There’s no denying it; my wheelchair is bent. The arm supporting its controls and the bag that hangs underneath is drooping downward, although I have done my best to straighten it and minimise the damage. As you may have guessed, I wouldn’t be mentioning this if there wasn’t a half-decent story behind it. Only a select group of people know it thus far – and they all agree that after keeping it under wraps for so long, it’s about time I told it…

The flat in which I spend most of my time at university is not my own (as some of you will know), but the one in which my friends live at the top of the block next door. As the end of October approached, it rapidly filled with various Halloween decorations. In the kitchen there was a neatly-carved pumpkin in the windowsill, numerous plastic spiders scattered around, a blood-spattered tablecloth and several balloons floating above the floor. Remember the last two – to be honest, I’m surprised they haven’t given me PTSD.

Picture this. It’s late on the evening of 31 October, and I am conversing casually with Lara, Nora and Ben when someone absent-mindedly begins throwing one of the balloons around. Let’s face it – what else are they good for? Very few people can resist batting them back and forth like Roger Federer on a Wimbledon winning streak, so it wasn’t long before we were all joining in. The strikes against the rubber became increasingly ferocious as we tried harder and harder to outdo each other, so the balloon quickly gathered speed. Nora passed it to Ben on her left. He shot left again towards Lara – and before I knew it, it had darted in my direction. It missed my hand. Engrossed in the ferocity of our competition, there was only one thing I could do as it fell beside me. In a flash, my seatbelt was off and I was diving head-first towards the balloon. Looking back, if I’d had any sense I would have made sure my chair was switched off. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

My entire bodyweight pushed the joystick forward as I dangled helplessly over my armrest, and the chair ploughed through the table before me like the world’s most pathetic bulldozer. Since I was hanging upside down throughout, those few seconds were a rapid blur, and I very quickly ended up in a miraculously uninjured heap on the floor. Nora and Lara were similarly lucky, since they narrowly missed being pinned against the wall, and their laptops likewise avoided an untimely end as they teetered on the edge of the table, mere centimetres from disaster. Ben was out of the danger zone, which meant he had a clear view of the whole thing, much to his considerable amusement. Even if he pictures it now, I think he still finds it funny! We could all laugh once we had established that no harm had been done, and we still do months later. We returned the table to its rightful position, straightened the laptops and got on with our evening, watching The Great British Bake Off. The only evidence that anything had happened came via a tear in the tablecloth and my chair’s bendy battle scar.

Oh, and Mum and Dad visited again last weekend. They didn’t notice then either.

Mason

The Gym

What do you do when you want to go to the gym? You go, and you probably don’t give it a second thought either. I wish I could say the same. When I decided to venture into Winchester and try it out so I could write an article for Creative Non-Fiction, even I wasn’t prepared for all of the questions and careful consideration that lay in wait. The process began on Friday afternoon, when I sent a Facebook message explaining my circumstances and asking whether I could come in. After a brief wait, Hayley – the manager to whom my enquiry was passed – replied that evening. To my surprise, her response was favourable.

“Would you like to come down to the club at some point on Monday for a chat?”

Too right I would. A positive step – who’d have thought it? I was relieved that at the very least, whether I publicly humiliated myself in the gym or not, I would have some kind of development to write about. After the weekend had passed in a flurry of doubt and worry, the day arrived, and I made sure to head straight to the gym so that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’ll admit that on the way, I found it hard to focus. I was convinced that my disability would make all of this impossible, and that the end result would be a resounding “no”, but luckily you don’t have a pointless conversation to read here. Hayley was more than welcoming, although I was somewhat surprised when she asked me her first question.

“What are your goals?”

Blimey. Goals? That’s the sort of question you ask dedicated gym-goers, not spotty little whippersnappers like me. Fearful of giving a wrong answer, I reiterated that I was visiting for the purposes of an article and we moved on to my limitations. Hayley gesticulated at the equipment around her and asked what I’d like to have a go at.

“How about a rowing machine?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, I tried one at school a few times, but I had to be held onto the seat. It’s still feasible though.”

“The exercise bike?”

I looked over at it, and it was clear to me that I would be unlikely to magically climb onto it, but I supposed Hayley couldn’t have known. She made the perfect suggestion, however, when she said she could have some weights brought in if I waited a couple of days.

“Here’s my email address,” she said, scribbling it onto a piece of paper as I left. “Send me as much information as you can about yourself and we’ll sort this out.”

Two days later, I was back, and everything I needed was ready. Hayley had her colleague Steph on hand to show me a few things with the weights, but first, I parked as close as possible to the rowing machine – so that my wheels were straddling it, so to speak. I then started off by drawing the handlebars toward my chest and pushing them out again, and the resistance from the cable meant that this was much trickier than I had initially expected. My workout had begun in earnest, muscles I clearly hadn’t used in a while were already starting to burn, and I had to take my fleece off because I was already sweating. Evidently, it was doing me some good! Once that first exercise had come to an end, I was given the weights, which promptly became heavier when I mentioned that the first set was too light. I brought them up and down above my head, in and out in front of my chest and around in circles until I was physically struggling to hold them. It wore me out, of course, but the further I pushed myself, the more I saw why people warm to this kind of activity. The sense of accomplishment I felt made it impossible not to smile, and eventually, Hayley had to insist that I stop.

“I wouldn’t want you to overdo it. You’ve done half an hour,” she said.

“Really?!” I was so engrossed that I had completely lost track of time. Reluctantly, I put the weights down. I felt as though I was only just getting started, but I was still tremendously proud of what I had achieved. Hayley seemed pretty pleased, too.

“You look properly chuffed,” she beamed. “You’re more than welcome to come back if you want.”

I was seriously considering it, even after being told that I would soon be aching all over, and it still remains a distinct possibility. Hayley’s email address is still in my bag, and after such a positive experience, she could be hearing from me again very soon…

Mason

Introverts And Orators

It is now Week 4 of the semester, meaning that exactly one third will soon be behind me – and that in turn means that it won’t be long before I have to start thinking about assessments. In my Creative Voice module, one of these will involve reading my work out loud, and since a lot of us on the course are somewhat introverted, there is a certain amount of apprehension surrounding the prospect. The seminar I went to yesterday morning attempted to reduce this by letting us know exactly what was expected of us – perfect diction isn’t, thankfully – and giving us some experience of reading aloud to each other so constructive feedback could be given. In order to do the latter, we needed something to read, and that was naturally the point at which we got to flex our creative muscles. Our tutor showed us a selection of photographs – some with prompts, some without – and we had to use the resulting inspiration to write a paragraph for each of them.

Once we had done that, we had to choose our own personal favourites so that we could expand on what we’d written and read it to our groups. My chosen photograph was a close-up shot of the face of an older man with a grey moustache baring his slightly dirty teeth at the camera. I just want to share what I wrote with you – the paragraph is from the perspective of a character who has had to deal with the loss of their father. I was able to read it well despite having a voice that is weaker than normal due to illness, and fortunately the rest of my group couldn’t see much wrong with it. Can you?

“When Dad passed away last year, I was numb with grief for months. Nothing helped – I wasn’t in the mood to eat, listen to music or talk to my friends. I think my circumstances were made worse by the fact that I only had memories of Dad, and surprisingly little that physically reminded me of him. I didn’t even have a decent photo, but I eventually found the most unlikely perfect snapshot. Dad was a clever and caring man, but to say he was slightly clumsy would be putting it lightly. Sometimes it would be like he couldn’t even chew gum and walk in a straight line, but he always took these shortcomings with good humour – that was Dad, laughing until the end. There’s no question he’d want me to laugh too, so what could be better than that infamous photograph he tried to take one family barbecue? When Dad was faced with brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents all jostling for position in one shot, he was evidently looking at a recipe for disaster. The best that he ended up with – thanks to his endless fumbling with the camera – wasn’t something that could take pride of place on our mantelpiece for years to come, but a close-up view of his distinctive grey moustache and his not-so-pearly whites. It doesn’t even show his whole face, but to my surprise, I really couldn’t care less. I know if he were here now he’d be laughing, and it was thanks to him that for the first time in months, I was able to laugh too. It was the best parting gift I could have asked for.”

Mason

Snowball Territory

Allow me to present those of you who may not have seen it with another photo I simply couldn’t keep from you. The snow arrived in Winchester yesterday evening, and the university had earlier anticipated that it would be bad enough to cause significant disruption. They therefore announced that all classes would finish at 4pm, and resume at 12pm today – one of my tutors seemed very pleased when he discovered mid-seminar that he would be going home early. The expected onslaught was slow to materialise, however, and I did not see any kind of real flurry until 7pm, on my way across to Lara’s flat. By the early hours of the morning, though, the snow had become considerably heavier, and our curiosity to explore – even at around 1am – led to the picture below being taken. It might look like a fairly light dusting of icing sugar compared to some of the images you’ll see today, but believe me when I say it was ideal for snowballs. An annoyed Ben discovered this the hard way when he wouldn’t come out, leading Lara to take one to his bedroom just so he could be pelted with it!

Mason

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Grapeness

Just in case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, or don’t follow me on Twitter, I thought I’d post this photo here (I couldn’t resist, frankly). In an ideal world, I’d have something mildly interesting to say about it as well, but the simple fact of the matter is that it just made me smile – and I hope it can have the same effect on you. Have some Monday motivation, courtesy of something I found on a university lift!

Mason

The Cultural Relevance Of Apple Crumble

You know how I’ve showcased a few small pieces of miscellaneous writing on here recently? Well, the first examples of 2019 are ready! The first is the title of this post, one of those bizarrely amusing phrases I felt I had to note down, even though it does not actually refer or apply to anything – not even apple crumble. It was just a throwaway remark made in my Creative Non-Fiction seminar last week, but as soon as I heard it, I knew it was destined to end up written somewhere, probably here. Shortly afterwards, I also heard the phrase “an envelope full of Austrian tea”, and that was another strong candidate for a title – but given the dessert-based title of the last post, I thought it best to keep that minor theme going.

The second piece of writing comes from my Poetry class on Monday – and, more specifically, from a supplement my tutor received with his copy of The Guardian, dated 12 January. In one of our creative exercises, he tore out a page for each of us, and we looked through these for interesting words and phrases we could use in a poem. As I recall, all that was required was a sudden change in tone at the end, and although it was challenging to incorporate this, I gave it my best shot. See what you make of this – pieced together from what I found in two entirely unrelated articles.

“The lonely life of an outsider

He nonetheless professed to cherish

Six months’ house arrest

And five years’ probation.

 

But as he tried to make sense of the stars

An undying love affair with the cosmos began.

Stars look like snowflakes

Astronomy is an art

The most beautiful sight in orbit

For a journalist-turned-teacher

And alcoholic boyfriend.

That may not be a story you’re familiar with

But trust me, it’s not one you need to know.”

 

Mason