Thursday, January 15, 2015

Being a poet

I have been thinking again about the Memoir course I have signed up for. Twenty years ago I wouldn't have dreamed of doing such a thing. And when I was younger? I might have written a few things in my early youth. I know I kept a diary for a while, but memoir?  Did I ever think that I might write memoir. For that matter did I ever think I might write poetry/ Now I am known as a poet, if not a famous one,(except in McGregor) at least a published one. How did it happen? What were the influences, the events, the people, the books, that steered me in this direction. I think this is the aspect of my life which I would like to explore.

 Firstly, I am sure that my desire to write, my love of writing and the joy I get from my writing are gifts of the Holy Spirit. After a session of prayer and the laying on of hands, the others in my bible study group began to speak in tongues. I was disappointed because that didn't happen to me, or only to a very slight extent. I was encouraged to go on trying to develop this gift, but somehow I knew all the time that it was not meant for me. Soon after, I was asked to write a play for the Women's Church Fellowship and I began to write.

 Looking back, I can identify many things that have affected my development as a poet. My parents loved poetry and poetry was part of my childhood. The shelves all round our sitting room were full of volumes of poetry: Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Byron, Wordsworth,Shelley, Keats. I had poems read to me, read poems myself and learnt poems off by heart. In the little school my parents ran, we were encouraged to recite poems and were allowed to choose which poems we would learn. Then at High School I was made to learn numbers of Afrikaans poems "uit my kop" Just about a whole book in fact. My father's sisters were great readers too and sent me books as Christmas and birthday presents Some of these were poetry books and I discovered the more modern poets, Auden, Day Lewis, MacNiece. At University I studied Science, but many of my friends were "doing" English Literature and discussing it over coffee sessions in the evenings at "Res" so I suppose I must have absorbed some poetic culture by osmosis then too. After I left University it was years before I read poetry again. When I began to write, it was because I was asked for little playlets (sketches really) for children's church services. It was to learn to do this better, that I joined Paul Mason's writing group. We started off by writing short stories; then tried other forms, drama, travel writing, memoir and poems. Then I signed up for a course at Summer School, run by Finuala Dowling. After completing it I started attending her poetry workshops. Later I began to go regularly to Hugh Hodge's Poetry School. It seems that my poetry has been derived from many sources.

The other thing that I wonder about, is the role my computer played in my career as a writer. Whatever I write, stories essays poems, I think about for quite long time, deciding on theme, form, length and so on, but the first draft goes directly onto the computer. Most of the poets I know write in longhand first and then type the finished poem out afterwards. I suppose that most of them also do revisions  on paper too. This is in contrast to nearly all the writers of novels and other longer pieces, who type directly on the computer. Without a computer would I ever have been a writer? I don't think so. I really don't like writing by hand and my handwriting is awful, almost illegible. I am always grateful for my decision to fill my empty evenings, while my fiance was away, with study. I thought a secretarial qualification would be useful, so I took an evening course in Typing and Shorthand at the Cape Technical college. Learning to type was one of the best things I have ever done. I didn't pass the course, I am sorry to say. I never could type well. I was most inaccurate, but I was fast. What a joy to find, when we bought a computer,  that making typos doesn't matter any more; doing corrections on a computer is so easy.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Good Old Days?

Someone said the other day, that they thought most people were envious of their parents or rather of the people of their parents' generation. She thought that life was much better fifty or so years ago than it is today. I can't agree. I suppose it is true that there is still much poverty and misery in the world. There may well be more poor and miserable people now than there were a hundred years ago, but then there are far more people altogether and for very many of them life is good. Personally I believe the twenty-first century is a wonderful time to be alive even for an old woman like me. I think of all the present-day technology that makes our lives easier. Every few months brings a new innovation to marvel at. When you are eighty years old it is bewildering, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but very exciting too. You don't have to buy every new gadget, you don't have to understand what apps are or what they do (what are grandchildren for, after all) but you can still take advantage of all the inventions that save you time and trouble and bring you information and entertainment. In the town where I lived when I was a child, there were no minibus taxis, workers trudged to work on foot. There was no waterborne sewerage system. (This was only instituted in the late forties) A "nagwa" came to collect buckets once a week from the outdoor latrines. We had to boil our drinking water. Tap water was unsafe. There were outbreaks of typhoid every year and as antibiotics had not yet become available, many people died of it. Nowadays we all complain about Eskom, but I remember several outages, when the local power station broke down. One lasted more than a week and nobody mounted a service delivery protest! Then who would really want to go back to the days of leaky fountain pens. (Does anybody remember what blotting paper was or what it was used for) And think of the hours spent washing and ironing. I suppose washing machines of a sort did exist then, but nobody I knew had one. Washing was all done by hand in a tub with a scrubbing board. Babies' nappies were made of towelling and were definitely not disposable. These days I very occasionally do a bit of ironing, but then no clothes were crease-resistant. There were no fitted sheets and sheets were all ironed too. E-mails and cell phones - how did I live without them? Post would take a long time and I wrote very few letters and received even fewer. Now my 'mailbox' has dozens of messages every day. Not all of them welcome of course, but most of them making for enjoyable reading. Without the ability to send text messages, the members of my family were always failing to meet one another and we were always missing phone calls on land-lines. There is another thing that my contemporaries forget when they grumble about this modern age. In previous times before the medical miracles of "multiple by-passes, arterial stents and laser surgery, most people of their age would not still be alive.