Thursday, 17 March 2022

Whimsical Pantomimes

The final section in the Spectral Poetry Book is Whimsy. More than straight-up funny, whimsy is surrealism, arbitrariness, and contrariness. At least, it is in my book. Literally. Huh. Okay, anyway, like many British people, my first exposures to Proper Poetry were all humorous, surreal, often dark, sometimes salutary. Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, Pam Ayres, Liz Lochhead, Roger McGough, John Hegley, and, almost certainly formatively at such a young age, Hilaire Belloc (in my parents’ defence, I rarely slam doors, don’t chew string, and haven’t waved a gun at family members, so: lesson learned?). Some of my favourite performance poets excel at humour, and there’s something wonderful about sharing laughter in a poetry space, especially since we also use it for the catharsis, previously discussed, of the bad and scary and difficult.

And, while the discovery that comic poetry isn’t my main strength and that that doesn’t matter was a real turning point (and I can remember exactly where I was when I had this revelation, and I can tell you that being halfway through performing a poem is an odd place for a pivotal personal realisation), I still indulge in writing odd flights of fancy. And sometimes even sharing them with people! And maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to say that comic performance is something that other folk do, much to my delight and relief... I once won a competition to be the worst poet in the room, though, in fairness, the man who apparently literally injured himself laughing at the line about gluten-free breadcrumbs is better now.

Appropriately enough, this section is the least autobiographical of them, with half of the pieces being closer to microfiction (with rhymes) than anything else Most of them are short and all of them are pretty snacky. And I found myself relishing the opportunity to just throw some real silliness around and not worry about whether they were good enough. (We should probably all consider ourselves lucky that it isn’t 20 pages of clerihews, quite frankly!)

The section is started and represented by these hands here:

Digital sketch of a pair of hands, fingers up and splayed, palms facing the viewer, both canted slightly to either side with the thumb sticking out. The left wears a ring around its middle finger. The right wears a double ring around the thumb, and a pair of buckled straps just below the wrist. The left hand has two further, translucent versions of itself, each progressively larger than the first, behind it. The right has four translucent versions of itself, each rotated slightly further out of true - two in either direction - behind it.

My main challenge was finding a static pose for such a dynamic and unpredictable notion. But imagine a head between the two hands, tongue sticking out, and hopefully you get the inspiration. Another challenge was learning enough about the software to allow me to perpetrate this. Yet again, it’s imperfect, but I’ve both completed the task and learned a bunch of interesting things, so it feels like a win.

At the time of writing this, it’s early January. By the time you see this, we’ll have a week to go before the current, official launch date. Good luck, Future Fay – you’ve got this!

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Philosophical Shrugs

The next section in the Spectral Poetry Book is Philosophy & Mysticism. And oh boy is this a difficult one to define! But then, when asked “What kind of poetry do you do, then?” I’ve struggled with that definition as well, so this section is for all the stuff about which I tend to shrug and say: “I guess it’s a bit... metaphysical? metaphorical? meta-something, anyway. Um…” And I know I’m not alone – plenty of poets out there getting to grips with the form beyond forms, or attempting to pin the liminal to the printed page. You might say.

Okay, fine, this section’s potentially a touch pretentious in places, okay? Good, we addressed the horse in the corner. This is the section for me to revel in the mythological stuff I love to play with, along with streams of consciousness and the more dream-like musings that I try not to indulge in too often. It ends with some puns that are incredibly obscure, even for me, with perfect timing for the next section...

The section is started and represented by these hands here:

Digital sketch of two pairs of the same hands. In one pairing, the right hand is cupping the elbow of the left, which is gesturing as if in mid-flow of expounding an idea. The left hand has a ring with vaguely outlined Celtic knotwork on it around the middle finger. The right hand has a plain pair of rings about the thumb and a pair of buckled bands just below the wrist. In the other pairing, which sits in the middle of the L-shape created by the first pairing. the left hand is upright and curled in an elaborate gesture similar to that of the first but more stiff and possibly ritualistic, showing the palm in something like a three-quarters profile. The right hand is upright, palm facing the viewer. It has a dense network of lines and wrinkles inscribed on it, overlaid with Western astrological symbols at specific points. Let me know if you'd like me to describe the symbols in detail.

You know what’s salutary about drawing your own hands this much? Discovering a quite extraordinary number of imperfections (like how off-centre my index fingers actually are). But it’s also been a real pleasure getting to know them better again, and to use this opportunity to celebrate their uniqueness instead of taking their utility for granted or bemoaning the pain they’re often in. And this pose, in particular, allowed me to revisit adolescent preoccupations with palmistry, among other things.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Melancholic Intimations

The next section in the Spectral Poetry Book is Melancholy. As I take pains to point out to anyone who’ll stop still long enough, melancholy isn’t an unremittingly negative state (but you’ve already noticed how I brought bitterness into joy and fun into anger, so you’re probably not entirely surprised by this statement). Melancholy is contemplative, quiet, and has a range of nuances attached, from deep-seated grief through to relief, and plenty between. Sadness is a natural – and useful – part of the sentient condition, which is probably why it features in so much art. Someone very dear to me once told me her theory that, past a certain level of perspicacity, some depression is inevitable. For my own part, I think the world contains as many things to be sad over as to be angry over, hence even the luckiest people should feel sad, at least for the plight of others Besides, we understand that depression is the final, vital stage before acceptance in the classic Grief Cycle. Compassion and empathy naturally have us feeling sorrowful at tragedy, and I think that can only be a good thing.

Some of the pieces in here are straight-up depressing, no two ways about it, and the themes range from touch starvation, though relationship break-ups (a classic for poetry, let’s face it!), to dealing with chronic pain and illness. They are also, I hope, as cathartic/ hopeful (in seeing that you are not alone) to read as they were to write. 🤞.

The section is started and represented by these hands here:

Digital sketch of a pair of hands. The right one is clasped around the wrist of the left, which droops loosely below it. The right hand has a pair of rings on the thumb and a pair of bands around the wrist, one of which appears to have some kind of elaborate engraving on it. The left hand has a slightly off-centre ring around the middle finger which appears to be a simple Celtic knotwork design.
This was another one that defied easy gestural categorisation, and was yet again a reminder that I’d chosen an interesting approach in going for hands alone rather than, for example, hands-and-face, and finding one posture that would say melancholy by itself came after a lot of vacillation. Here it is, though, complete with a lot more detail on the accessories. (This is deliberate, incidentally.)

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Natural Waves

The next section in the Spectral Poetry Book is Nature/ The Sea. This, to my mind, is a perfect progression from Joy (although I don’t get out in nature anything like as much as I used to – or should – these days and, while this isn’t the furthest I’ve ever lived from the sea, it’s still a lot further than I was for most of the first three decades of my life. Very few sounds strike right into my chest on a curl of homesickness and I’m-in-my-right-place-ness as the sound of gulls, let alone the crash of surf. Nature poetry isn’t something that I thought I did, right up until I started compiling this and realising that there was a lot less sea and a lot more nature in my back catalogue than I’d assumed. I blame my Fenland poetry pals for this...! There is a fine and long tradition of poets writing about both – as lovely, terrifying, wonderful, immense, tiny, untouchable, intimate things of themselves and also, of course, as allegory.

As if I’d do something like that...!

As with Joy, these poems are generally quite short, so you get more of them in this section, I think, than any other except the last. You think I’d know by now! As with the previous sections, the poems run through a range of vibes, in order to transport you from the previous to the next theme. How well this works for every reader is yet to be seen, obviously!

The section is started and represented by these hands here:

Digital sketch of a pair of hands cupped, fingers toward the viewer and heels of hands toward the owner. The fingers are somewhat lined and wearing double rings on the right-hand thumb. There is a small pool of liquid in the base of the cup, and numerous stylised droplets running through the cracks between the fingers. Twined about both hand and wrists are small, stylised vines, which are coloured a soft grey.

Unlike the others, I had a fair idea of what I wanted to depict here. Although it, too, has shifted away from the hands holding a verdant island in the sea to the above – less fanciful, but still quite fantastical. This image also marks the first where I was drawing things I could not see to copy, which made for an interesting initial panic, slowly overcome when I realised how much fun I was having. Is the image perfect? By no means. Does it convey what I want it to? Well enough. Did I learn anything making it? Loads, my friend. Loads. Including some fascinating facts about the mechanics of climbing plants…

Thursday, 17 February 2022

Joyful Flails

The next section in the Spectral Poetry Book is Joy. This might seem an odd segue from Anger, but I promise it makes sense. For a start, many of the same neurochemicals are released in a burst of happiness as from rage, which may account for the sense of intoxication that either bring. But to choose to experience joy is a powerful statement about your ownership of your life, and can take some practice, especially in Interesting Times like these.

You’ll doubtless be entirely unshocked to hear that the joys depicted in the book are rarely simple, and they’re often mixed in with something a little bitter, to leaven the potentially cloying nature of the section. Appropriately enough (though rather to my own surprise when compiling this), a fair number of the pieces are centred around food, and how that facilitates connections between people, demonstrates our common humanity. Many of them are quite short, but that means more happy poems in order to fill roughly the same number of pages.

The section is started and represented by these hands here:

Digital sketch of a pair of hands and a small amount of forearm. There are three sets of overlapping outlines with spread fingers - one with fingers pointing up and somewhat back, one with fingers slanting downward, one, fainter, somewhere between those two positions. The fingers are somewhat lined and wearing rings on middle finger (left hand) and thumb (right hand), with a double band of some kind, complete with buckles, just below the wrist of the right.

Except that, at the time of writing this, we were still debating about the one above and the one below:

Digital sketch of a pair of hands and a small amount of forearm. There are three sets of overlapping outlines with spread fingers - one with fingers pointing up and somewhat back, one with fingers slanting downward, one somewhere between those two positions. The hands are solid and kind of cup each other as opposed to overlapping as before. The fingers are somewhat lined and wearing rings on middle finger (left hand) and thumb (right hand), with a double band of some kind, complete with buckles, just below the wrist of the right.

I knew from quite early on that I wanted to show the “flapping” stim that people use when the happy feelings breach all containment and you just have to jiggle. By the time the book has gone to press, we’ll have decided which one brings a more apt sensation of movement on the printed page…

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Angry Signs

The next section in the Spectral Poetry Book is Anger. A particularly potent distillation of – or diversion from – passion. Here you’ll find poems which talk about the importance of letting rage out to earth itself harmlessly, and the sensations of being helpless within your own fury when pushed beyond endurance, taking in, along the ways, some focuses for (or causes of) righteous wrath. The world is a difficult place, and sometimes anger is the only sensible response unless you want to risk giving up altogether.

This section will have the fewest poems, because most of them are hefty rants and I’m aiming for an equal page length between the sections. (At the time of writing this, it’s difficult to know if that ambition has worked… exciting…!)

The section is started and represented by these hands here:

A simple digital pencil sketch of two hands and forearms. The one on the right is constraining the fist of the one on the left. The one on the right is wearing chunky wrist bands.

Finding poses that summed up my complex relationship with rage was… tricky. There are a fair number of other options tucked into the archive, but this won out for all sorts of reasons.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Passionate Gestures

Spectral (a forthcoming poetry collection from Burning Eye you might have witnessed me talking about before now… just a touch…) is divided into seven sections, each representing a broad vibe or emotional state/ expression. Each section is represented by a colour, and, within each section, the pieces form their own graduation through the topic. At least, that’s the theory! I must admit that I’m intrigued to find out whether this works for everyone who reads it (especially the guerilla readers like me who like to pounce at will and at random into collections).

However this pans out, I wanted to represent each section with its own simple illustration that wouldn’t rely on the colour coding. For ages I couldn’t think how to find symbols that were both universally evocative and adaptable to each vibe. (I was also racking my brains over what could be drawn by me with relative ease and without having to incur licensing fees, etc.)

In the end, I’ve gone with hands, partly for the reason that hands are used in communication a great deal – whether consciously or not – and partly because I, personally, talk with my hands a lot. And, while I suspect the gestures I’ve picked won’t turn out to be quite universally evocative (even looking back at my original notes I’ve clearly strayed quite far, in some instances, from my original intentions!), they’re proving an interesting study, not least because I’m, well, still learning how to draw, and hands are often cited as one of the most difficult things to depict.

Luckily, I’m still at the copying stage of skill acquisition…! (And you can see the specific illustrations I'm making for some of the individual poems here.)

So here’s the first one – Passion, as represented by these hands:

A simple line drawing of a pair of hands. One is heading out toward the viewer, palm down, digits splayed, almost as if it were about to play the piano! The other hand is curved in toward the owner, palm-up, fingers curled slightly stiffly, as if weighing out an argument. There is a chunky band around the wrist of the upright hand.

Basically – I look like this a lot when I’m talking about something I’m really into, and likewise when I’m performing, so these were the gestures I chose. I particularly like that they could be playing musical instruments as well as expounding on something I’m infodumping about…

It makes sense to start with Passion, really – a stirring of the blood, a determination, something to get us out of bed in the morning (or to keep us in it…). The poems here range from an awe-struck summoning through the shifting complications of long-term relationships, the sundering nature of lust and desire, and the resolution to own your own identity.