My Worldcon drabble(s)

It’s around a month since Worldcon (what! how is it only a month; a gazillion things have happened since then…), so this is probably a good time to post the drabble I shared at the “Why Do Finns Love Their Drabbles” panel on Sunday 13 August.

I wrote a drabble in English, and then, out of a translator’s interest, translated it into Finnish – keeping the drabble definition of 100 words, of course. I discovered – not suprisingly – that I had to add almost a quarter more words to the Finnish version. The bare-bones translation only came to around 75 words. The wonders of an agglutinative language! I can’t see how you’d be able to translate a drabble (adhering to the 100-word format) from English to Finnish without collaborating closely with the original author: to get to 100 Finnish words, there’s so much stuff to add that translating becomes even more like rewriting than usual.

It’s far harder to write drabbles in English, too, in my opinion: you can get way more of an actual story into 100 words in Finnish. I can see why drabbles are so popular in Finland! Anyway, I thought I’d share both versions. Those of you who know both languages will be able to appreciate the extra details I added to the Finnish version. :)

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Marketing Trick

The sign said: “First poem free!”. The poems were printed in green ink, sold by a woman on a street corner. Why would anyone want a second poem? But I can never say no to free stuff.

I read the poem that night. It was terrible, but I went back to the street corner the next day. I needed another poem. It cost 50 euros.

I went back the day after. And the day after.

By the time I realised the ink was addictive, it was too late. I needed more poems. Needed them more than my life savings.

Right?

***

TRANSLATION:

Markkinointikikka

Kyltissä luki “Ensimmäinen runo ilmaiseksi!”. Runot oli painettu vihreällä musteella; niitä myi mitäänsanomattoman oloinen nainen kadunkulmalla työmatkani varrella. Miksi ihmeessä kukaan edes haluaisi toisen runon? Mutta enhän minä ikinä pysty kieltäytymään ilmaisesta sälästä. Nappasin runon mukaani.

Luin runon samana iltana. Se oli järkyttävän huono ja lisäksi paperiarkin muste takertui kummallisesti sormenpäihini. Palasin silti takaisin kadunkulmalle seuraavana päivänä. Minun oli pakko saada toinen runo. Se maksoi 50 euroa. Maksoin mukisematta.

Palasin seuraavanakin päivänä. Ja sitä seuraavana.

Siinä vaiheessa kun tajusin musteen sisältävän koukuttavia ainesosia, oli jo liian myöhäistä. Tarvitsin lisää runoja. Tarvitsin niitä paljon enemmän kuin pitkään karttuneita säästöjäni.

Eikö vaan?

***

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The art of interpretation

At my writing group meeting last Friday, we had a pretty cool poetry exercise: using literal English translations of poetry originally written in other languages, we had to transform the translations into our own poetry, or make the literal translation more “poetic”. Since I’m rather pleased with what I came up with, I thought I’d share my efforts here.

The literal translation I worked with is based on the Romanian poet Nichita Stănescu’s poem “Emoţie de toamnă”, translated by our Romanian group member as “Emotion in autumn”. (ETA: the group member in question is Marlena Bontas, who, among other things, writes awesome poetry.) Here is the original poem in Romanian. Even though I know French, Spanish and a bit of Latin, it’s not enough to open up the Romanian for me – so the poem below is based entirely on the literal English translation we had at our meeting. It’s pretty close to the translation, but I’ve put my own spin on it. It turned out quite a “me” poem in the end, methinks.

***

Autumn Tremors

Autumn’s arrived –
draw a veil over my heart,
send a tree’s shadow to cover me,
or send your shadow.

Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t recognise you,
that I’ll grow bat’s wings and take to the sky,
that you will hide in a stranger’s eye
which will close, lidded by a wormwood leaf.

But then I reach the standing stones
and fear leaves me, speech leaves me.
I take these words and drown them in the sea.
Newborn, wordless, I whistle to the moon,
transform it into a crescent of love.

***

Some silly doggerel

I was reading a book relevant to my PhD research yesterday, and happened upon the delightful name Gabriel Gostwyk. He was some dude in 17th-century England who may have owned an alchemical manuscript.

In the silly poem that crept out of my pen inspired by his name, however, he became something more sinister. I will share it here because it’s silly. Thursday silliness!

***

He Does What He Likes

Gabriel Gostwyk baked a pie
and sang his wife a lullaby
Gabriel Gostwyk stitched her lips
up tight, drank tea in careful sips.
Gabriel Gostwyk laughed to hear
her muffled screams of rage and fear.

Gabriel Gostwyk’s under your bed.
Gabriel Gostwyk wants you dead.

***

Whan that Aprill…

033I’m not participating in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) in any official way, but I have set myself a writing goal for April: to write something new every day, whether it’s poetry or prose. Shitty or good, three words or three thousand – it doesn’t matter, as long as I write something.

The first three days, it’s been poetry. I’ve opened up something in myself again – poetry feels easy as breathing right now. It’s not always good poetry, of course not; but then again, not every breath you take is amazing. Sometimes you don’t breathe deep enough, sometimes you inhale someone’s cigarette smoke. But every breath means you’re alive.

Same with poetry (and other writing too): in first/zero drafts, there will be shitty lines, unfortunate word choices, ideas that just don’t work. Some of the problems can be eliminated when editing, and sometimes a poem just isn’t meant to go further than the initial word-blargh. But it’s all writing, and that makes it valuable. When I write, when I’m all a-flutter with word-wonder, it’s worth all the stilted sentences and unviable ideas, as long as I keep on going. All that is gold does not glitter in the first draft!

I’m going to share today’s poem here because it’s just a silly little thing, born out of my frustration at the changeable weather. It’s also a homage to those two famous April poets: Geoffrey Chaucer and T.S. Eliot. April invariably makes me start quoting The Canterbury Tales and The Waste Land to myself. :)

*

Fool April

April, you old trickster
pouring rain-sleet-snow
long after we thought
we were done with all that –
no shoures soote these!
You batter us with change,
teasing us with dreams
of sun-warmth and spring

and then, cackling,
you pelt us with winter’s
foulest leftover scraps.
Cruellest month, indeed.

*

Poem for the year’s end

Soon off to celebrate the approaching new year. So here’s my last post of 2013, in the form of a just-written poem. Here’s to a good new writing year in 2014!

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Year’s-end, year’s-beginning

What words
to wrap the year in?
How to sing in
the new? Should I end
and begin with ringing
bells in the cathedral-
vault of my days,
or perform the simplest
of fire-magics: light
a candle-flame?

I’ve cast myself
adrift. The new year
is an ocean, and I
am a skiff—
so perhaps, after all,
I’ll end and begin
the old year and the new
with a charm
against
storm-winds, rough weather.

*

Drabble for my grandfather

Long time no blog. Busy, &c &c. ad nauseam.

Last night at my writers’ group I led an exercise on description. We each brought an interesting object and then spent five minutes writing short descriptions of each. It brought out some really good stuff, I think – a nice exercise.

And one of the objects resulted in me being engulfed by memory and sadness, and the following drabble resulted (the version below is edited from the original rough write). I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather lately, the first loved one I lost to death. Nearly nine years ago, and I miss him. I always will.

So here’s a short piece. For you, ukki.

*

From the Woodwork

I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately. Grandad, with his steady hands and carpenter’s heart. These were his, I think as I run my fingers along the battered red handles of the pliers. His hands gripped them just like I’m doing now. They feel solid. Grandad was solid too, to the last.

I blink back tears, concentrate on the object in my hands. The pliers are flecked with paint from his past projects. The jaws, well-worn from countless hours of use, are rusty now. The shape and weight of the pliers give me strange comfort. I open and close them a few times. It feels like a heartbeat.

Like Grandad’s heart, that beat too irregularly, and then stopped beating.

*

Peppermint tea and a new moon

Warning for rambling just-before-bedtime thoughts.

I’m drinking peppermint tea and eating my second slice of berry pie. I haven’t done any writing today even though I was supposed to (both academic and creative) – well, apart from my morning pages (I’ve started a trial run again; I’ll blog about it later, perhaps). Today I’ve thought about writing; I’ve read about writing; I went to an invigorating fiddle class and finished my re(re-re-re-etc.)read of Lord of the Rings. And was at work for eight hours before all that, of course.

So why do I feel like I’ve accomplished almost nothing today?

I’ve always been good at trying to take on more than I can handle, and at being dissatisfied with what I do manage to do. At the moment it feels like that again, and nevertheless/as a consequence I’ve been spending lots of time alone and too much time on the internet. Procrastinating, of course. That’s the problem when the “too much to handle” thing isn’t in the form of full-to-bursting schedules right now, but in the form of overwhelmingly big decisions and finding out things and creativity and, well, all sorts of matters requiring extensive brain activity. Which is in very short supply after work.

I get frustrated with myself if I don’t have the energy and creativity for fiction/poetry, but I suppose I should be more gentle with myself. But at the same time: the year is rushing along, and I want to get stuff done fiction-wise too. I want to get my poetry out there. I want to start a new novel, I want to finish a few short stories.

I feel like I need new energy, new motivation. Unsure where to find such things. More sleep would probably help (although I’ve been going to sleep at slightly more sensible hours – finally getting used to my 9-to-5 days?). Dunno what else would. Sheer pig-headedness and perseverance?

I’m going to try to set myself a goal of writing every day – something, anything as long as it’s creative. Should try writing exercises. Should do a poem-a-day week again. Just something to get the words flowing and get rid of this anxiety.

*

But when I came back from my fiddle class this evening, I saw a sudden joy: a papercut-thin crescent moon silvering in the sky. It was one of those silhouettes that make my love for Helsinki deepen: Dark buildings on the horizon, where the sky was still a faint shade of orange from the memory of sunset. The colours sliding from orange to eggshell blue to the elven dark of early evening, and the moon a breathtaking silver sword, its crescent hanging almost horizontal in the sky.