Monday, 27 July 2015

Fun with Poetry

I have to admit, I don't know much about poetry. Not Western poetry, anyway. I've enjoyed haiku and other Japanese forms for a long time, but poetry in the Western tradition always seemed very staid and overly formal to me. I never bothered to find out much about it. Until last week, when I found myself down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole, reading all about Romanticism, epic poetry and iambic pentameter. Yes, I finally know what iambic pentameter is! Though don't ask me to try and explain it to anyone else....

I realised something as well. I think the thing that bugs me about Western poetry is that it rhymes. To me, having grown up with Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl and limericks, poetry that rhymes is funny, or at least doesn't take itself too seriously. On the few occasions that I've tried to read serious classic poems, my brain seems to rebel in a way that it doesn't with non-rhyming Japanese haiku and tanka. I think my Gen-Y short attention span might something to do with it as well!

Incidentally, I heard recently that the reason we as a society don't have such a widespread interest in poetry anymore is that in the last few centuries, our brains have been re-trained to read words instead of hearing them, and rhyming poetry is much better appreciated when heard aloud. I wish I could remember where I heard that, sorry. But it does explain why music (especially rapping) is so popular.

Yes, the pictures are very random today.

Other views are that we just don't have time, it's perceived as too high-brow, and that people are turned off because 90% of it is quite simply rubbish. I can attest to this after having downloaded a range of free collections of haiku from iBooks. (I think there was only one author whose other works I wanted to seek out.) Then again, 90% of novels, films and music are rubbish, too. In fact, 90% of everything is crap, according to Sturgeon's Law. That explains why I hardly ever watch commercial TV.

Anyway, after reading about the different genres of poetry, I came to humorous poems -- limericks, satires, doggerel and Clerihews. I'd never heard of Clerihews before, but they immediately became my favourite and I can't stop writing them! Clerihews are four-line poems written about famous people, in a style that's a deliberately a little bit wonky. When I tried to think of who to write my first one about, our esteemed first Prime Minister popped into my head. Here it is:

Sir Edmund Barton
Passed his time a-fartin'
In parliament house he was a drunkard notorious
However, his looks weren't too injurious.

Our esteemed leader.
I wrote a second (double) one to help me remember the 'rules' of the form:

There was a Mr. Clerihew
Poetic lines: he paired a few --
Four, to be precise.
Sometimes, but not always concise.

He picked a person most famous
To whom to devote his poems most heinous --
And with rhymes most confusing
He made the subject's foibles amusing.

Then I went for it with Chinese philosophers:

Thought a man shouldn't be useless
He should be polite and loyal
Even when tilling the soil.

Lao Tzu
At court he wouldn't say boo.
He wandered off one day
But not before stopping to say all he wanted to say.
And more political figures:

When it comes to Boris Johnson
I'd rather rhyme Boris than Johnson
But at least I didn't have to hear
Recordings of his voice attempting to keep everyone calm on public transport during Olympic year.

I don't know what's going to happen next!

Friday, 17 July 2015

A New Adventure in Art Journalling

Yesterday I started Hali Karla's 7 Directions Art Journalling Workshop. Hali Karla is one of the 'new' artists that I've discovered recently; much of her art-journal work really resonates with me.

The course is free and go-at-your-own-pace, which is perfect for me as I'm not normally able to set aside big chunks of time. I was home sick this week though, and looking for something to do in between coughing and sleeping, I remembered I'd saved the course to my links a few weeks ago.

Lesson 1 is beginnings. For this lesson, we used only mark-making tools, not paint. (e.g. pens, textas, pencils.) This is the page I created:

Some parts I really loved, and others I didn't like so much. But I suppose that's always the case when you're trying something new. I experimented with making all sorts of marks, both familiar and different to what I've done before.
The Familiar: borders; patterns and symbols; backgrounds.
The New: starting with markers rather than paint; larger elements; beginning to add creatures; going over the same spot several times; using whiteout as an accent.

In the reflection section at the end, I realised that when I'm art journalling (as with many other things in my life, I guess) I tend to skirt around the edges. I'll create a beautiful elaborate border with collage, patterns, etc., and then I'm not sure what to do next. Below are two unfinished pages that illustrate this. I have many! Aside from a coloured and lightly textured background, the centre is always left bare. With this new page though, I deliberately tried to fill in the centre with larger motifs and even some creature sketches. So for me, the beginning is to stop dwelling on the edges and begin moving into the centre.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

My First Trip to a Comic Shop

On Friday I visited All Star Comics here in Melbourne. I'd walked past it several times on my lunchtime walks, plus my best friend has his comic subscription there, so I thought I'd check it out.

I love the mixture of different architecture styles on Queen Street.

Now, I might lose some friends by admitting this, but I'm not into superheroes. I also don't like the thought of having to go in and buy new issues every week/fortnight: I'm impatient and I want the whole story now! I'm also a completist and couldn't stand to start reading a story part-way in. So you might be wondering why I'd be interested at all in going to a comic shop. Some of my friends read them, and also writers of several of the blogs I read, and I'm open-minded, so I guess I was curious. I've also really enjoyed reading some graphic novels in the past (e.g. Maus and Sandman) and I was hoping they might have some.

The place covered two levels, and it was enormous! I didn't take any photos of the inside, but I was impressed with the set-up. All of the current issues were on the ground level, as well as indie and local sections. I was very interested by the local section. Many of them reminded me of zines, but in the end I didn't select anything from there -- this time. I saw a couple of comics that seemed interesting (e.g. Lumberjanes) but I was too shy to ask about how the whole system worked. I ventured upstairs and found the graphic novel section. There was a large selection but, again, I didn't really know what to choose.

In the end I went with what I knew and chose these adaptations of classic novels:

Manga Jane Austen and Proust's In Search of Lost Time. The latter has been on my list of books to read for a long time, but its 3,000-page length and reputation as one of the best novels of the 20th century has always made me hesitate. Perhaps this will help ease me into it, though it only covers the first out of the seven volumes!

As for the Manga version of Pride and Prejudice, I felt a little guilty purchasing that, but I've already read the original, so it's not so bad. I figure, I'm a big fan of Manga Shakespeare, and it's only a little different. (In fact I think manga, being a visual form, is the best way of depicting plays in print, but that's a post for another time!).

The gentleman who served me was so lovely, and even gave me a discount for being a first-time customer. I felt so welcome that I definitely want to go back. After I do some more research....

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

In the Kitchen : Pear, Ginger and Treacle Cake

On the weekend I baked a recipe from my friend Emilie's blog: a Pear, Ginger and Treacle Cake. The version I made only had one small difference from the original -- I forgot to buy ginger so I used 2 tablespoons of minced ginger instead of the fresh. It was beautifully moist, and the pear balanced out the heat of the ginger nicely. This is definitely a repeater.

The ingredients...

Cutting up the pears.

The butter, sugar and treacle. And an opportunity to show off my cute new saucepan from Ikea. Isn't it adorable?

Adding the milk to the melted butter and treacle mixture.

Now adding the flour.

Layering the batter with pieces of pear.

Brown sugar on top and ready to be put in the oven.

The cake is done!

The pear sank a little, but that's probably quite normal.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Japanese Literature: The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon

I've just finished a book that inspired me very much, and I'd like to share it today. I was given The Pillow Book as a gift, a lot longer ago than I'd like to admit. I'd been looking forward to reading it for a long time, and I finally got to it this year.

The Pillow Book was written during the Heian period in Japan, by a court lady called Sei Shōnagon. She began it in approximately 990 C.E. and it was finished sometime after 1002. The Heian period was a rare peaceful time in Japanese history, and it allowed art, poetry and culture to flourish. Being able to compose poetry spontaneously was a highly-prized ability, and that alone could elevate a person to a higher station in the court.

I think the book is a bit unfortunately-named. First impressions might be that it's a bit racy! But the story goes that it was so named because Shōnagon kept a sheaf of papers under her pillow that she would scribble on whenever she had a spare moment. It's possible that she never meant for anyone else to see it. The book seems to bear this out. It's a collection of over 250 separate passages, ranging from diary entries and stories of life at court, to observations on nature and lists of various things such as "mountains", "bridges", "things of beauty" and "distasteful things". Shōnagon writes of her pride in writing a poem that the Empress praises, funny misunderstandings, and her opinion on fellow courtiers. She can come across at times as both snobby and a little bit insecure.

The world of Heian Japan is in many ways completely alien to our own. Long-dead Buddhist rituals and festivals dictated every action. Women were referred to by, not their own given names, but the position that their father held at court. (Sei Shōnagon actually means "lesser councillor of the State of Sei".) Higher class women rarely went outside, and spent most of their time behind obscuring blinds. It was a world in which a courtly woman never showed her face to a man. The most anyone might see is a sleeve hanging down from under the blind of her carriage. The choice of material and colours, and how the sleeve was arranged, was the only way the lady could express her genteel refinement. And yet, affairs were common and perfectly acceptable. If a woman wished to take a lover, everyone knew about it as the walls were made of paper and all could be heard. Women would chat openly about it the next day and wonder when the lover's "morning-after poem" would arrive.

Despite living in such an alien world though, Sei Shōnagon is an entirely familiar figure. She looks forward to the more colourful festivals and bemoans the boring ones. She feels keenly that her poetry will be compared to her father's and found lacking. She worries that something that she has said might offend someone. She looks down on the lesser courtiers and idolises the Empress. She says disparaging things about her rival. This is what makes her such an endearing figure and made the book such a joy to read.

A Note on the translations: The book I have is the 2006 Meredith Kinney translation. The reviews I've read were all of the opinion that this translation most reflects the playful tone of the original and is perhaps the "best". Some earlier translations had re-ordered the passages so all of the same types (e.g. stories, lists) were grouped together, or even cut out the lists completely (horrid!), but this translation puts them all back together, and in their original order. I might read one of the other translations for comparison, but personally I think I prefer the book this way.

I have to admit something -- not long after I started the book, I began to think to myself, why can't I do something like this? For a long time, I've been writing little bits here and there, fragments of stories and, of course, lists. But I always thought -- I can't publish a book, not with this ragtag collection of bits and pieces! I don't have the time, patience -- or ideas! -- to write a full novel, and a book of short stories doesn't really appeal to me either. None of the stuff I've written has a coherent theme (as I've been told that anthologies should have). And I've always felt a strange kind of resistance when I read collections of short stories, I don't know why. Whenever I get to the end of a single story, whether long or short, there's a tension between stopping to savour that story, or ploughing on to the next one straight away. And having to stop halfway through a story? It's just about more than I can deal with!

Of course I don't want to publish something I expected others to read, but I wouldn't want to read myself. But what alternatives are there? On reading more about The Pillow Book, I saw that was the first of a genre of Japanese literature called zuihitsu. Apparently, it's a thing! And even if it weren't a thing, I'd be thinking the same thing: is this the genre for me?

The upshot of all this is that I've been inspired to write like I never have before. Not only that, but inspired to observe, to look at the world around me. The people and the places. The tiny little everyday events that I would never have thought to write about before. It'll be a while before I have enough to compile into a book, and I might never find the courage to actually publish it, but all I can say right now is, wait and see!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

My June

My June has been a slow one. It's been an cold Winter. Not unusually cold, but the last 10 years or so have been unusually warm, according to an article I read a few months ago, and it's only just getting back to normal now. Still, normal after 10 years of not-normal takes just as much getting used to! I'm really enjoying the frosts, the chilly mornings and snuggling into the doona at night. This month has also been slow for health reasons as well -- a sprained ankle and some digestive problems. I managed to do a little bit, though.

What I've been drawing ...
I've been motivated to do a little more drawing this month. There's been a lot of inspiration in the air -- the Mori Girl Challenge, re-visiting artist's blogs, and the discovery of artists I wasn't aware of before. Looking to others for inspiration is a double-edged sword though. I become acutely aware of how far I am from where I want to be, and how little time I have to practice drawing and painting. Not to mention finding one artist whose work is so similar to what I'd like to do, that it makes me wonder why I should bother at all. Yet something makes me want to keep going. It's the need to create, even if no-one else ever sees it.

60 Things : #58 : Dumplings

Totemistic creatures from my dreams.

What I've been working on ...
Work on setting up our hobby room is going slow, but at least it's progressing. We've painted the feature wall and bought some lighting strips from Ikea. Next steps are to install the lighting and paint the sewing table.

Bad night-time photo. Sorry!

What I've been reading ...
I read The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley. It contains short summaries of philosophers' views on death throughout history, along with a note on how they died if known. It sounds terribly morbid, but it's actually witty, interesting and at times even funny. I want to follow up now and read more about many philosophers' lives and writings.

What I've been doing ...

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago -- she said that she has very long to-do lists, and often finds herself focusing on what she hasn't done yet, rather than what she's achieved. I'm often guilty of this, too. Someone had suggested that she keep a parallel list of things she's done, so that instead of just crossing things off and forgetting about them, she can celebrate her achievements, both big and small. I really like this idea, so I in my spare moments I started jotting down a list of things I've done. I know that I have my monthly wrap-up here on the blog, but there are so many things I think are too small to mention, or I didn't have my camera with me (or wasn't allowed to take photos!), or aren't art/craft-related. I'm going to list them here now. I don't know if I'll do this every month, but we'll see.

re-stocked my ipod with music ~ baked a pumpkin bread ~ crocheted 3 blue inners, 3 pink inners ~ decided to be more assertive ~ made chocolate crackles ~ had a mini party for my niece and nephew ~ bought 2 new shelves in Grow Legends ~ painted the hobby room ~ wrote some haikus ~ sentenced and archived some transcripts ~ started some plant babies ~ crocheted 3 rows on my shawl ~ updated the RDAs ~ had a health checkup ~ got new glasses ~ went to the Circus ~ wrote a story ~ made a doll scarf ~ learned how to do Suguru puzzles ~ had a glueing session ~ did 2 drawings ~ did some Processing ~ started walking again ~ sentenced the visitors' books ~ wrote a massive pen review ~ took photos ~ wrote some observations ~ read a book ~ went to the Chai Tea Festival ~ made my own chai tea blend ~ appraised 2 tubs of files ~ did a What I Wore drawing ~ went to Ikea ~ finished an old story