Love is in the air at Glasgow Gallerina this week ... on Saturday I’ll be heading off to the wedding of my cousin and one of my very best friends! Funnily enough, the knowledge that this weekend is going to be a no-go for work has actually spurred me on to get a lot done during the earlier part of this week. Two novel-writing sessions in one Monday?! That doesn't happen often (although perhaps it should)! I also, however, have a piece of work to practice for the occasion itself: I was honoured when the happy couple asked me to write a poem to read as part of their marriage ceremony. During the past few years I've really enjoyed getting my teeth into various different literary themes, but I believe this is the first time I've actually composed a 'love' poem (aw!). How best to go about putting romance on paper?
One important aspect of The Art of Chemistry (see below for the full piece!) is the fact that it is truly a personalised creation. I know both the bride and groom well and wanted to make the most of that, writing a poem that captured who they are as a couple. In this case, I've played on their two professions: 'Art' (graphic design) and 'Chemistry' (scientific research). I'm particularly grateful to the beautiful bride for having a career that comes with lots of sparky, chemical-reaction imagery to enjoy!
A practical element of the poem that I also wanted to bear in mind was its length: not too long, not too short, but (I hope!) just right. Like most of my poetry, The Art of Chemistry does not represent a narrative so much as a moment in time, and I find that this 'momentary' quality is most effectively expressed by shorter pieces. Of course, this means I must be careful not to speak too fast when the time comes to read it aloud. Blink-and-you'll-miss-it? No thank you! Having had the opportunity to read my work aloud at several events recently, I can definitely attest to the idea that practice makes (near) perfect. Unfortunately that means my dog Gypsy has found herself something of a captive audience while I rehearse!
And speaking of audiences ... in general terms, I find it is helpful for me to focus on being authentic in my writing, without getting too distracted by what others think. For an event like this, nevertheless, an important part of my poem's purpose is allowing the whole family to celebrate together. I have to expect that not everyone in the congregation is going to be a poetry lover (perhaps we can convince them otherwise before the day is out!) and I don't think this is the time for edgy, avant-garde contortions. Instead, I hope I've developed a sweet, from-the-heart rhythm that is tailored to the bride and groom.
I really hope The Art of Chemistry captures something of the spirit of the day and reflects this very special girl and boy coming together. Wish us luck!
The Art of Chemistry
There’s an art to chemistry
The right mix, just enough.
There’s an elemental magic
To falling in love.
Give and take, alchemy
Warmed by gold summer sun.
There’s design to combining
Two heartbeats as one.
There’s a spark being lit today
Flames of friendship and fun.
Shine to celebrate what you create,
Something precious begun.
Line of the Month (my favourite line that I've written this month: although whether it makes the final cut is a different story!)
Now my full-length book Pentimenti is nearing completion (of its first draft at least!), I'm finding that the tone can become a little more playful as my characters discover their own personal variations of 'light at the end of the tunnel'. While cheerfully getting stuck into my marathon Monday writing session, I found myself describing the grandfather of Harris, the man who becomes Ellen's (almost) love interest:
'The older man chortles, causing a cascade of custard cream crumbs.'
Yikes! This alliterative avalanche (sorry!) certainly made me smile, and in all honesty the sentence achieves pretty much everything I wanted. But do I dare keep it in?!
Bookmark (what I'm reading when I need a break from writing - otherwise known as 'often'!)
Probably to de-stress before the big day (even if it isn't my own big day!), I've been reading every chance I get this week and have come across two quite different books that are both equally worthy of drawing to your attention. Smoking Kills is the latest Antoine Laurain novel to be translated into English and as a long-term fan of his work (and the man himself: très élegant!) I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Audacious and unique, Smoking goes to slightly darker places than some of his previous novels, but still his comic mastery shines through. If you need une plage lire this year, then look no further - you certainly don't need to be a smoker to find this book a hoot!
Quite different in tone, Girl, Balancing is an unusual find (thank you library!) because it is not a novel at all, but rather a collection of short stories written by the late Helen Dunmore. I’m sure some of you will be very familiar with Dunmore’s work already, and know her skill for subtly sharp yet never judgemental human observation. Perhaps unexpectedly, given her peaceful style of writing, conflict is a thread that weaves itself into the fabric of many of these stories: the Second World War looms large within those set in the past, while terrorism is a distinct theme in several more contemporary pieces. I wish I could know when each story was written: without wanting to oversimplify her work, I wonder whether some of these explorations of how war affects ordinary people (and, in the case of terrorism, the threatening concept of attack from 'within' one's own country) are rooted in Dunmore's personal experience of illness. Almost all of the protagonists in this collection are women, and together their stories unite to create something polished and poetic. My personal favourites have to be 'Whales and Seals' and 'A Night Out' - just as I've tried to achieve in my poem, we often don't need to travel far to go on a journey.