domingo, 26 de julio de 2009

Steps on a path to writing

My first love and ambition is and always has been fiction. However the first creative piece of work I ever wrote was after I had decided to convert to Catholicism in the final year of my studies. I was returning to university in Wales after having visited my parents. The decision had not been not well received especially by my mother. My relation with my faith has been a complex one, though I always feel a sense of belonging every time I enter a Catholic church, the same feeling ever since I first visited a small church in Paris in 1989.

I can recall writing the poems. I was travelling between Edinburgh and Wales on a train when I felt the urge to write not my best work but my first not as an academic exercise. I remember I was sitting on the right side of the carriage looking at the countryside as it sped by. I took it to be a sign from above that my decision to become a Catholic was correct as was my desire to write. And when I am at peace with my faith and direction of my life I write more. This morning while contemplating this commentary I decided to do some statistics. Prior to coming to Spain from the first published here I wrote 9 poems, from arrival in Spain in Sept 85 until the period of Easter 88 I wrote 16. From Easter 88 to May 2001 I only 9 poems though I did work on educational material at that time creative though emotionally neutral itserved as an apprenticeship in working with publishers. The period since May 2001 has been my most prolific 34 poemas half inspired by love, the greatest motivator in all poetry in all the world’s languages and the other in self exploration and understanding my life’s journey. I have found when I am at peace with my faith I write more and better. I have also completed the first drafts of two novel manuscripts which am planning to take a sabbatical to revise edit and complete in the near future and over 50000 words of the La Rioja Book in its fifth draft two extracts I have already published on this blog.

However contrary to what people believe writers don’t compose when we are really down, we do it on the way up. Research shows that creative people have personalities that function outside normal parameters with wider ranges of moods. However the very same creativity is the greatest resource as it can function as therapy to push us forward to happiness and understanding especially that of our feelings, is a great key to personal peace.

Even though it is a topic of modern psychological research the great poets have always been aware of this. Here I quote Robert Graves and T S Eliott. Reading writers on writing I have found always gives many new perspectives helping inspiring while at the same time remaining grounded with your own. This is why I have chosen to add some of my favourite thoughts by great poets on poetry because this year I read Chekov and Vargas Llosa quoted so I’d like to thank Manuel for uploading these quotes as they helped me unb lock and finally complete another writing project I had been working on.

The poems add today are my first two here mentioned about becoming a Catholic and Dreams after I received my first letter from a publisher interested in my work.

Poets on Poetry

The nucleus of every poem, worthy of the name, is rhythmically formed in the Poet's mind, during a trance, like the suspension of his horned habits of thought, by the supra logical reconciliation of conflicting emotional ideas. The poet learns to induce the trance in self-protection whenever he feels unable to resolve an emotional conflict by simple logic.


For last years Voice belong to last years language,
And next years words await another voice
the sentence that is right
where every word is at home
taking its place to support the others
the word neither different nor ostentatious
an easy commerce of the old and the new
the common word exact without vulgarity
the formed word precise but not pedantic
the complete consort dancing together.

TS Eliot Little Gidding

Poetry creates a bridge of feelings between the material world and the world of creativity and spirit. Poets by definition, get to the raw feelings behind the masks we wear.

Quoted from “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye” a book Dealing with Sudden Death.

Safe, Imparting, Dreamt Dreams 3 more poems


Oh Oh - Shining star
Shining more and more but hard to see
But deep down thou art
In my heart. I can feel
right through to the glowing of my skin
And with sin Original and mine take pity
And save a lamented soul
An ignorant fool like me
that spirit precious as a dove
Came down to save us all
After the fall - Save came at birth
Save late even after vile hate
But shining than lovest all
And given us faith and strength to see
Thank you for saving an ignorant fool
like me. Jan 1981


That blessed day it came at last
When I had the courage to say
That I had found my faith
Not sad but glad
Not ashamed but proud
Not trying to convert by
Verbal violence or persuasion
But by showing by the actions of my like
that by being a Christian
Life can be fun and happy
Through sacrifice and caring
For not only the ones own love
But desire to hate also. Jan 1981


Distant Dimmed Dreams
reach to rescue to resuscitate
the victim lonely lifeless and limp
Garrotted in the woven web
Cold careless and colourless
Sullenly situated amid stagnating still sadness
A closed cramped calm
quietly killing care and creativity
Bare brittle barren houses
Hollow and homeless
A pained powerful prison
Dreaming now desperate
Memories now urgent
push permit and plan
Desirous draining decisive discovered
way through way forward way out
Relaxing rising resurgence
happy helped hopes
Merry merged memories
Daring driving dreams. Summer 1991

lunes, 20 de julio de 2009

The mystic of the muse.

Over twenty years ago I went to teach in Spain for nine months to support my application to do a postgraduate teaching course. I had always dreamed of living abroad and inspired by the Durrells felt drawn to Greece, I visited twice the second to work and left disillusioned. Quite unexpectedly I fell in love with Spain the people, their character, the country and stayed for 23 years.

Spain has been vital to my writing, inspiring me to work both on my prose and poetry and opened this blog with one of my own personal favourites “In Wine Lands” having been privileged to live most of my Spanish life in La Rioja the World Famous Wine Region. Though less well known the food is as good as the wine. Being Scottish I was assured that I would love the verdant Rioja Alta, I do. However, having been brought up with every green under the sun or rather rain, it was Rioja Baja that took my breath away. Seeing it for the first time in a scorching summer slowly revealing itself from beneath the heat haze. This was the first poem I ever wrote to try and capture, understand and record my feelings my reactions to a place. It did bring tears to my eyes and it is fundamental for me as a poet that is why it is remains so important to me and it had never happened to me before or since. The place is beautiful in spring with the cherry trees coquettishly covered in the white blossom, though I was to see this much later.

Today I add two extracts from my book on my anecdotes about Spain which had been a labour of Love over many years.

"To know a people you must eat their food and drink their wine" Chinese Proverb

The dining room of the restaurant was bright roomy and very tastefully decorated. Wooden beams matched the tables. I didn’t look at the menu, I had learned to let our hosts order. The Spanish eat two courses every meal. The first course vegetables and the second course meat or fish. I found this a bit disconcerting at first, but after year of school dinners I had become accostomed. It is one of the healthy elements about the Mediterranean Diet as it aids the digestion.

Inevitably we had a communal salad, but this one came encased in asparagus spears, criss-crossed like wooden roof beams. They were wonderful and a local speciality of La Rioja and next door Navarra. Another local speciality was my first dish Pimientos del Piquillo. Piquillo peppers: the local red pepper, resemble a large chilli rather than a bell pepper, come to a definite point - el piquillo and were bathed in olive oil and garlic. They too were wonderful, hot enough to caress but not to burn the roof of your mouth.

- These are magnificent , I exclaimed - absolutely everything I have eaten since I arrived in La Rioja has not only tasted superb but the textures have all been right as well. I love cooking and texture is so important. How do they get the peppers like this?
- They are roasted, then peeled when cool and they are frozen or conserved in jars. Home-grown, home-made conserving is very popular here. The restaurant will probably do all their own conserves or have a contract with somebody locally.

I was amazed and to think only two weeks ago I hadn’t even known this place existed. Miniature lamb chops chuletillas were my second course. Portions were big in Spain, seemed to be bigger in La Rioja but even I did not expect a plateful of a dozen chops. They were laid out in a spiral like a wheel, each one leaning on its partner; it made a fantastic visual display. As delighted as I was with the presentation, I found myself facing a dilemma. Attractive as the dish was, there didn’t seem any room for manoeuvres with a knife and fork. I quickly looked round to see if I could work out the local approach but to my horror the only other people I could see where using their fingers. I took a deep breath, envisaging that the first chop would go flying of the plate. No sooner had I reached for my knife and fork when our students and hosts burst out in unison
- - NO, NO, NO! Chops in La Rioja MUST be eaten with your fingers.

I picked up my first chop with my fingers, definitely more practical but going against everything I had been brought up to think as good table manners. Needless to say they were perfect, enough salt, (I had already learnt in Madrid that to add free salt to your food is an insult to the cook in Spain,) mouthwatering and mouthmelting bursting with flavour. Lamb in all forms is the speciality meat in La Rioja.

- You must have MilHojas for dessert. It is a typical Riojan dessert.
- What are Mil Hojas?
- Wait and find out.

I waited and I found out. Milhojas are vanilla slices. The thousand slices refers to the puff pastry. They’re filled with vanilla cream and whipped fresh cream and can be eaten hot or cold. When hot they have an egg yolk sauce coating crisped with sugar. It was like eating a vanilla slice made with creme bruleé. I already knew I had arrived in a gastronomic heaven after everything I had eaten. This meal had just confirmed every opinion I had formed about the food in this magical place. July 1986

Permanent Passion

Her indifference to my homeland distressed me especially as I suffer what can only be described as passion for Spain. On more than one occasion I have behaved like a petulant and wronged lover. Driven to the point of no return, the need to escape so destructive I have thrown everything I had worked towards in a matter of weeks literally storming out swinging my hair behind me. Along with fifty boxes of personal effects, thirty of which more or less were books. Affairs though are heady and addictive and less than three months away from the country I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. I missed the luminance of the sky, the bold colours, and the extreme climates. I longed for the tastes, the aromas, the sensuality and above all the vitality. The Spanish love life, and their relationship with it is a heady cocktail intoxicating in its energy.

Last year I made yet another sudden departure, on this occasion to look after my beloved father Brian in what I had correctly predicted to be the last months of his life.

sábado, 18 de julio de 2009

In Loving Memory of My Darling Daddy

This year in March I lost my beloved father Brian. Always key in encouraging me to write, from my earliest memories of telling me bedtime stories as a small child to never dismissing my dreams to be a writer. However it was while he was in his last days in hospital that a young Chinese nurse commented on my father’s beautiful sincere smile. It was true, open and honest and it made me remember of all the times in the last year when I returned home after work or running errands I could see him in his chair sad and worried, and as soon as he saw me his face opened into that warm wonderful smile. The very same smile when he used to say how much he had enjoyed his meals, during these last month’s looking after him I loved cooking all his favourites, the classics. Sadly now only memories, beautiful and simple, but without doubt lovingly etched on my heart for ever.

My Darling Daddy
Who are you who has left me so blue,
Who always taught me to say what was true
My darling darling daddy.

Tidy and Neat Dignified and discrete
In life as in death
I know you don’t want me to weep
But to keep to your vision and values true
I will always love and miss you
Brian my darling darling daddy.

In Wine Lands

The distant haze, smelted gossamer shield,
Suffocating the yielding curves.
Guardian protecting that disturbing awful
Beauty, Which grabs and tears apart,
Splintering emotions. Stomach crushed,
As first sight presses, Juicing with brine,
Eyes are filtered. Seeming to pass on
It's own gaping sundered pains.
Cracked open, baked dry
Seeping from its wounds
Yielding with its blood the raw harvest,
A solace of healing
Shrouded in the noise of subdued silence.

En Tierra de vino

La bruma distante, coraza de gasa fundida.
Ahogándose las curvas nacientes.
El guardián, protector de la
Terrible belleza perturbadora
Que arrebata y arranca, Haciendo
Astillas de las emociones. Estomago estrujado,
De la primera vista del pisado.
Rezumando con salazón, los ojos filtrados.
Una tierra que parece transferir sus propias brechas,
Haciendo añicos los dolores.
Agrietada abierta seca tierra,
Rezumando sus heridas
Que rinden con su sangre la cosecha cruda.
Un consuelo de alivio
Cubierto en el ruido del silencio conquistado.