Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Hill by Rupert Brooke 1887 - 1915

Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, "Though glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old...." And when we die
All's over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips," said I,
-- "Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won."

"We are earth's best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!" we said;
"We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!" ... Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
-- And then suddenly you cried, and turned away.

Welcome back to Tuesday Poem after our summer break. This poem is one of my favourite in the world - with that first line - we too are breathless and flung. The brave language. The stuff of youth. The realisation that it ends and perhaps too soon ... added to by our knowing Brooke himself died young during WWI.

I am near the end of Pat Barker's novel Toby's Room and have Harry Rickett's Strange Meetings lined up after that. Both about WWI soldiers/poets/artists. A coincidence, the two books - but I am well and truly submerged in this sad, aching, brave, terrible world.

Please do take a minute to go to the Tuesday Poem hub to read a poem by David Howard and the questions  a group of poets pose him. Wonderful post by Claire Beynon, my TP co-curator, whose enthusiasm for poetry and art and life leaves me breathless. Read on!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Whales to trees and tattoos: the fun of researching a novel

It's a rolling ball - there you are at the top of the hill - and yeeha! you're off - hurtling down one path and then the other - and crossing back again - and along that one, geez it's bumpy -- no, this one is fantastic, feel that roll -- look!  - there! who would have thought? - and you grab at things and roll them one on the other - and

soon there are layers and the ball is bigger and fatter - and lumpy in parts and thin in others - smooth there, rough there - and stray bits come off - oh, see that go, no loss really ... and that too, bugger, all that work but...

got to keep rolling.... and then there are those dips where it stalls, the ball, kind of rocking back and forth uncertain about where to go next - and sometimes there are abysses where it's dark and frightening and no way out ...

no - no - there it is - out again and rolling - and the joy of it - the real joy

And why? For authenticity, first off - to give the details that make the novel feel true - and to gather the writer's most important tool: language, that is also about authenticity, but is more than that too. All those words and phrases a writer gathers in his/her research help shape characters and settings and plot. It can show where to go  - what is needed.

For example, when I was researching whaling and went up on a hill with former whalers and Department of Conservation people whale watching for a week, I was surprised to find how much the whalers (who'd stopped work over 40 years before in 1964) appreciated the beauty and wonder of the whales and the setting - and how succinctly and often poetically they could express it.

One day, when I asked what I was looking for out there on the mass of blue water that is Cook Strait, I was told that the spout of a whale was like 'your breath on a cold morning' - which actually took my breath away. I gave it to one of my whalers in The Blue, but more than that, it gave me a sudden understanding of what these men felt and saw and knew about their jobs.

There we were gathered so early on that cold slope under a tarpaulin - our breath white, stamping our feet to keep warm - and there were the whales, out there somewhere, so hard to spot, but ah! the breath - the breath... and once, those men would chase that breathing creature down in two-man fast boats and explosive harpoon guns - it was a fight, a battle - and like any good battle there was admiration for the creature - its size and strength and beauty - but the whalers needed the money for their families, their own white breaths -

but in time, now, they are conservationists these whalers - they've seen how the factory killing wrecks everything - no longer a battle - just carnage.... and there, those breaths again across the water, our breaths watching ... stamping our feet...

'Like your breath on a cold morning' was one of those phrases I pinned to my noticeboard for my eyes rest upon.

At the moment, I'm researching both trees - for my children's novel rewrite - and tattooing for my adult novel. Trees: I am reading The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge - fantastic book - and I am doing a lot of gardening - especially around trees and hedges. Tattooing - the Tattoo Museum in Abel Smith Street calls. You could say I'm on a roll....