From Glasgow to Germany – Ships that Pass

I found this post, dated October 2016, under ‘Drafts’ on Harping On.  I don’t know why Christine didn’t post it at the time, but I see no reason why I should not bring it into the light of the internet.  Besides, the catalyst for Ships that Pass was my paternal grandmother’s diaries written over a few weeks in 1905.  Christine was keen to write in the ‘Show, not Tell’ manner, allowing, or, rather, requiring the reader to think behind the words.  Although many aspects of the story were invented by Christine, the lightly-veiled, underlying tragedy had a solid basis in fact.  Anyway, this is Christine’s Post . . .

I am currently putting the finishing touches to the German version of my story ‘Ships that Pass’, which will appear before the end of the year in an anthology published by Edition Narrenflug. Once again I’m very grateful to Karin Braun and Gabriele Haefs for inviting me to contribute and for the interesting work-shopping which we’ve done on the German version.  Thank you!

The English version of the story appears in my collection ‘Shifting Sands: Tales of Transience and Transformation.’


Some family diaries and notebooks found in an attic gave me the original prompt for ‘Ships that Pass’. Mary McNicol, the daughter of a Glasgow wine and spirits merchant, wrote a diary for three months in 1905. She had intended to write it for longer, but the prophesy of a friend that she would not stick to it turned out to be true. The little that we have is fascinating, however, giving an insight into leisured family life in Edwardian Glasgow at the height of the British Empire, a time when women were also on the cusp of liberation.


My source material gave me the names of many of the characters in the story I was to write, as well as detail about everyday life – Mary’s dreaded Sunday teaching at the Mission, meeting of friends at Miss Cranston’s Ladies’ Tea Rooms, Mary’s friend Isa and her gift of a lucky farthing.  And then there is Mama and her darning, the maid who leaves to get married, the regular delivery of postcards with messages from friends, the social evenings at home and Mary’s singing lessons.  However, the diaries did not give me a plot.  How was I to proceed?  The diaries gave an underlying hint of dissatisfaction on Mary’s part with a life of domesticity.  One notebook contained a holiday diary about a stay in Melrose where Mary met some Americans who ‘hustled’ and were keen to see all the sights. They sounded so modern that I decided to build them into my story, along with one or two facts that I knew about Mary’s subsequent life. The Americans bring the liberated views which Mary seeks in her desire to escape deep-seated Victorian values and Church traditions. It was here that I also found Mrs McNab of the Station Hotel, who suggests a motor car ride to Dryburgh Abbey.



A key to the development of the plot was using a list of the wedding presents which Mary received.  They gave such an insight into the very domestic life of ladies of this era that I could not hesitate to use them!  But what didn’t appear in the diaries were events later in Mary’s life; events connected with her first husband, Andrew.  This aspect of the story was based on recollections of my mother-in-law, and a few photographs found in the same box as the diaries.  That background was transposed in time to give an extra dimension and poignancy to the tale.

MarriageListAs part of my research, I also visited Mary’s house in Craigpark, Dennistoun, a red sandstone end-terrace house, now divided into flats and bedsits.


You can still visit the Willow Tearooms in Sauchiehall Street (formerly Miss Cranston’s) and admire Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s De-Luxe Room with its distinctive high-back chairs, where I set some parts of my story.

miss-cranston willow-tearooms

I also enjoyed some research at the Glasgow museums, particularly the Riverside Museum with its trams (that Mary referred to as ‘Cars’ in her diaries) and street reconstruction.

tram tram2

‘Ships that Pass’ was originally a radio play written as part of my Open University course in Creative Writing. I had approached it in this way so that I could get a feel for the voices and sounds of the era and was interested in what I could achieve through speech alone.

When I rewrote it as a novella, I added, among other things, a framework story with Mary’s son which I hoped would give my story perspective and the sense of unearthing discoveries.

Those notebooks have come a long way, and I hope they enjoy their outing in Germany!



18 July 2019

An update on Christine’s Post from last November:

The Anthology of work from 92 Lakeland Poets, THIS PLACE I KNOW, won first prize in the award for poetry and literature at the Lakeland Book of the Year awards, and it was also a very close runner up for the Book of the Year. Hunter Davies said some very complimentary things about the anthology, commenting on the quality and range of poetry and the professionalism of the publication. He recommended it as the ideal holiday read this summer!

Iain C

This Place I Know – knitting a poem


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I’ve had a quiet year.  This was a conscious choice, as my cancer treatment and management have nudged far more than I would like into my diary space, and I took a retreat to really enjoy the process of writing poetry for my MA in Creative Writing with the Open University.  It provided the most wonderful escape from the world of hospitals.  Now it’s beginning to bear fruit.  I’ve submitted my final portfolio for the MA (awaiting results in December!) and am hoping that this will become a published collection of poems in early 2019.


In the meantime I have also had poems selected for Speakeasy Magazine and a new anthology of Cumbrian Poetry, This Place I Know published by Liz Nuttall at Handstand Press in Dent, and edited by Liz, Kerry Darbishire and Kim Moore.  There have been several launch events, and I was able to attend the one at the Kendal Mountain Literature Festival on Saturday 17th November.  And what a wonderful event it was, with varied readings from poets new and well known and some interesting questions and discussion points including ‘What makes a Cumbrian poet?’.  There are certainly a lot of us – 92 in the anthology, and many more round and about.  It’s a good county to be writing poetry in with lots of events such as the recent Kendal Poetry Festival (September 2018) and many different writing groups on the go.


I feel a bit lucky to be included, as I’m not quite sure if I deserve the label ‘Cumbrian poet’.  I have lived and worked here for 37 years and have walked almost every fell top and every valley, and I love every aspect of it.  I feel privileged to live here.  And yet my roots are in Scotland, and that is where I return, and where many of my poems are set.  Looking through my notebook of poetry drafts, I found several that captured Cumbria in some way, and I decided to develop a poem scribbled in the cafe at Sizergh Castle.  This is a special place to me; over my three years of living with ovarian cancer, Iain and I have come here to ‘centre ourselves’.  The coffee is good, the scones are the best in the area, you can look out on some beautiful trees through the changes of the seasons, and there is a huge variety of walks of varying length which have helped me maintain my fitness during some of the tougher phases.  Sometimes my walks are long, sometimes they are short.  But I can gain some height, look out at the Lakeland Fells from Helsington, for example, and feel good about myself.


If you ever go to the National Trust’s Sizergh Castle Cafe on Fridays, you’ll see an enthusiastic ‘knit and natter’ group.  They became the focus of my poem.  I wondered what the women (because it is exclusively women!) talked about.  As I wrote, I became aware that poetry is really very like knitting – we cast on, cast off, stitch together, make patterns and shapes.  There is rhythm to both poetry and knitting, and a sense of something handed down through generations.  A few years ago my mother-in-law, who is now approaching her 103rd birthday, gave me a Vogue Knitting magazine ‘in case I might like to try some of the patterns’.  I think it was bought when she moved to Kendal in the late 1940s.



I didn’t try any of the patterns, but I entered a different and exclusively female world where women with the trimmest of waists posed in front of large country houses modelling dolman cardigans, two-tone flecks, giant cables and diamond designs.  There are even patterns for a ‘blouse with box pleats’ , ‘evening wraps’, ‘golliwog twinsets’ and of course ‘sturdy knitwear for men’.  I am old enough to have been a knitter – my mother was, and I knitted too in my teens and early twenties.  And there was that rite of passage when we knitted a pullover for the first man in our lives – I remember that mine came out too big, and I was dedicated enough to rip it all down and start again.  He wore it for years!


My poem in ‘This Place I Know’, entitled ‘In Over Through Off’ explores the whole notion of ‘knit and natter’ in this lovely place, and knits in some ‘found poetry’ from the musical language of the Vogue Knitting advertisements.


The editors have knitted together a fantastic anthology.  This Place I Know is available from bookshops or can be ordered online   A great Christmas present for those who love the Lakes.


And with that I’ll cast off for today. But there might be more poems coming about knitting.  No actual knitting though ….

The Poetry Cure


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July was a month of mixed emotions. I learned that I had passed the first year of my MA in Creative Writing with merit.  I also learned that my ovarian cancer had bubbled up again in some small peritoneal deposits, necessitating the start of a new course of chemotherapy, which I began on 20th July.  All things considered, I have enjoyed an amazing quality of life since my diagnosis in November 2015, which was followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy and a further year on the maintenance drug Avastin; I went from not being able to climb the stairs in November 2015 to skiing on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Kaprun (3000 metres) in January 2017.  Since completing my Avastin in February, I have been on ‘watch and wait’, having been told that recurrence is almost a certainty with my type and stage of cancer, but that they could keep retreating me again if required. The CT scanner found it in June, although I had no symptoms.   On with the ‘treats’, then…
I suppose this officially puts me into ‘battling’ territory.  Those who know me also know that I hate this term.  The phrase ‘lost their battle with cancer’ is trotted out unthinkingly; I don’t like to think of ever losing.  I am living with cancer, as are many people, just getting on with the things you enjoy and maximising the moments when you feel you will live forever.  It is the same as for any chronic condition, like heart disease or diabetes; you carry a cloud with you, but you live for when it floats off.  There are times when it’s the first thing you remember when you wake up, and there are times when you are so distracted by nature, music or any kind of creative work that it disappears completely. In the words of Winnie the Pooh, ‘every little cloud always sings aloud’, and my singing and harp playing have offered me these special moments, as have the many hours spent with friends and family, my local walks and walking holidays and a perfect skiing trip to Zell am See that I never thought I’d have. I’ve played the harp in the grounds of Levens Hall, I’ve walked Scottish beaches and posed with Robert Burns at the Birks of Aberfeldy.  And I’ve climbed my 200th Wainwright top in the Lake District, the wonderfully named Great Cockup.
The first course of treatment had enabled me to reclaim my life, and news of the recurrence meant some grieving had to happen. So far, the chemotherapy has been manageable, and I won’t lose my hair this time, but it has been a shock to go to it from feeling well, and there are some days when I feel very fatigued; at times it seems as if I am operating at altitude. Yesterday I felt slightly drunk in charge of a shopping trolley.  I don’t feel ill, and on many days I can operate as normal, go out walking and meet the friends who cheer me up.  But there is a need for more rest and quiet time.  Everyone says I am very positive, but inevitably dark thoughts also have to be processed.
The cancer treatment world is very surreal.  I have seen the very best of the NHS, have chatted to many ‘brave’ and ‘positive’ patients and have recognised how much I owe to the chemotherapy drugs, but I can never get over the fact that this clear liquid dripping into my veins, which comes with so many health warnings and arrives personalised for me in a yellow carrier labelled ‘cytocoxic’, is the thing that is needed to ‘help me to live well’ – this is the slogan on my chemotherapy record booklet, and it’s a good one (much better than battling!).  Even after 25 visits to the oncology unit, I am still pinching myself wondering if it’s all a dream.  From talking to other patients, we’re all like this. It’s not me in here, is it?
Good as the NHS treatment has been, I realised at an early stage that I needed more than cytotoxic drugs to get me through it. In July 2016 I attended a course run by the charity Penny Brohn UK ‘Living with the impact of cancer’ – their emphasis on healthy eating, exercise, meditation, mindfulness and taking control of your own health and wellbeing perfectly complemented the conventional treatment I received.  Once again, I met many inspirational people and enjoyed the exchange of thoughts on how we deal with a new way of life that has been forced on us. The course principles all involve very simple things – and indeed turning attention to how you can live better and more mindfully is common sense, whether you have cancer or not.  
So what of my writing?  In the past year it has been very much about writing for myself and not about sharing and tweeting that I’ve written something.  It’s been part of my mental processing to be a bit more private.  Also, if I publish work here, I can’t enter it for competitions. When I opted to start the Open University’s new MA in Creative Writing in October 2016 (module A802), I decided to pick poetry as my first genre with fiction second, as I felt I had more to learn about poetry and that it would offer me greater variety.  Also, I have met poets locally at workshops and readings, and it is more sociable than trying to churn out a plot and redraft a novel!  The OU course is all distance-learning, and work is shared with your tutor group via an online forum.  Our tutor, Wayne Holloway-Smith, dropped in from time to time with mainly encouraging comments and some remarks to make us think, and gave us very full feedback on our assignments.  We all started off writing about waves breaking on the shore and sunrises, but his key comment was ‘Why should the reader be interested?’.  I have carried that thought with me all through this year, and if you are still reading this blog post then I’ve succeeded in addressing this question.  
Of course, it’s a disadvantage that you never meet the people on the course or know what their voices sound like, but on the other hand you can choose just how much of yourself to reveal, and the drip-feed of information about people and their backgrounds that came out in the poetry generated throughout our year together was fascinating.  We all got quite good at giving each other feedback. Our ages ranged from 20+ to 60+, with more, I have to say, in the older category, full of life experience and inevitably touched by sadness as well as joy.  I did not set out with the purpose of writing about my cancer, and indeed I enjoyed keeping it quiet in the first term.  After Christmas we encountered Confessional Poetry, and it was finally time for me to write about the chemotherapy room.  The readers were interested; I had followed another tutor tip and exposed vulnerability.  The news was out and, in the end, my poetry sequence for my end of year assignment reflected on illness and mortality.  I was inspired by Jo Shapcott’s collection ‘Of Mutability’ and the way she described her experience of cancer in a very understated way, without even mentioning the word.  The title of my sequence ‘The Pavement Rippled Under My Shoes’ is a quotation from her poem ‘La Serenessima’.  Since then, I have discovered other poets who ‘write their cancer’ and have been reading Anthony Wilson’s wonderful collection ‘Riddance’ about his diagnosis and treatment for lymphoma. He writes here about Jo Shapcott’s ‘Of Mutability’
Recently, I picked up an anthology ‘The Poetry Cure’ edited by Julia Darling and Cynthia Fuller, which I took into the chemo room last week. Julia Darling, a poet and Fellow in Literature and Health at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, was involved in many projects seeking to improve communication between doctors and patients.  She died from cancer in 2005 shortly after completing her work on this book, which she wanted to be available in hospital waiting rooms.  She writes in her introduction:
‘I work with doctors and patients, and run workshops for the growing numbers of people who are interested in the healing powers of poetry.  I got involved in this kind of work through my own experience.  I have advanced breast cancer, and poetry is what keeps me afloat.  Without writing and reading poems my journey through chemotherapy and radiotherapy and the general ups and downs of illness would have been unthinkable ….  I think one of the hardest things about being unwell is feeling disempowered and out of control.  Writing poetry can make you feel in charge again.’
I had better sign up for the second year of the MA course.  But before I do, I conclude with two of my poems from ‘The Pavement Rippled Under My Shoes’.

Sword Dance 1


X marked the spot in the hall behind

the Burnett Arms, where our class danced

on Thursdays over crossed swords

to bagpipes skirling Ghillie Callum,


a seventy-eight on the Dansette.

The turntable turned, and so did we,

twenty kilts fanning out like accordions

swung up like tartan wings behind us


and our black laced pumps

pranced plump pas de basque

up and down, round and round,

always widdershins.


Whirling high with bonny smiles

we had no thought of edges

sharp as Sheffield knives

under our feet.

Later I learned

 that to touch

the blades






Sword Dance 2



 in flat, black shoes

and sky-blue suits

dispense clear liquids that drip, drip

from innocent plastic bags, incinerated after use.

Do not talk to me of battles.

Let me dance through the door with nothing

but numbness of neuropathy

in my toes,







Ways of meeting


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Where did that blog go?  Things have been looking a bit quiet on Harping On, as I’ve been busy with the OU’s new MA in Creative Writing.  Writing about writing has therefore taken a back seat.  Along with that has come a little bit of a desire to do less in the way of social media – it’s good to create a bit of space sometimes.

In the meantime, the German version of my story ‘Ships that Pass’ has been published in the anthology ‘Vierertreffen’, which means a Meeting of Four.  I haven’t met the other three authors in real life, but perhaps I will some day.  Two of us are from Scotland, two of us are from Ireland – hello to Brian McNeill, Rita Kelly and Micheál Ó Conghaile – and many thanks to Karin Braun and Gabriele Haefs for compiling this volume of four ‘long short stories’.

I’m half way through the first year of the MA course, where I’m studying Poetry as my primary genre and Fiction as my secondary.  This is the opposite way round from what I originally intended – I just thought it would be more interesting to develop the poetry side, as I felt I had a lot to learn about doing it better.  So far, the course material has been stimulating and people are contributing some interesting stuff in the online tutor group.   I’ve been challenged, pushed in a few new directions and received some home truths about improving my focus.  The downside is that it is all online – you don’t meet the tutor or participants, and there is an awful lot of screen work and clicking, which has given me some RSI problems … another reason for being a bit quiet on the blog.

In the pursuit of more poetry-sharing with real people in the real world, I’ll be co-leading a poetry workshop with local poet Geraldine Green on 25th February.  This workshop is one in Geraldine’s ‘Write on the Farm’ series which I’ve been attending for a year or two.  When someone discovered I had a harp they wanted me to bring it to the party, and this workshop is the result!  We’ll be looking at the origins of the instrument, talking about lyric poetry and writing in response to harp music.  Time in the outdoors is always a part of Geraldine’s workshop, as is some quiet writing time in the afternoon.  It is already fully booked!

The lay of the land


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I’ve needed a summer break – a chance to reflect on the ups and down of the last year since my cancer diagnosis, and to consider new projects.  I feel very well and apparently look great on my treatment, but I’m constantly monitored and checked, which inevitably makes me edgy. However, I’ve worked out the best way forward is to Keep Calm and Be Normal.  Going out and doing stuff with others and having a project or two helps me forget for increasingly long periods what happened.  Onwards!

Sometimes a special time comes along and all your interests and ideas converge, and this past weekend has been just like that.  Geraldine Green, Writer in Residence at Brantwood, Coniston, who also runs writers’ workshops at a local Cumbrian farmhouse, says it is ‘full moon magic’.  On the day after the full moon, the sun shone for us  for the above the Lune valley, lighting up this year’s particularly prolific rowan berries and plump blackberries in the hedgerows.


photo by Jane Moss-Luffrum

Among other things, we wrote to prompts on memories and fruit using Marsha de la O’s ‘UnderThe Lemon Tree’.  In the afternoon we wandered out with ‘The Earth is a Living thing’ by Lucille Clifton; the path took us on to the hills overlooking the Lune Valley to pause, contemplate and write.


Photo by Jane Moss-Luffrum

There were more riches for me the following day at a Harps North West workshop.  Over the past year our composer in residence, Karen Marshalsay, has been working with us on a suite of music specially written for Harps North West – all ability levels will be able to join in, and the idea is that the music will reflect who we are and the landscape in which we live.  We have had two workshops in February and June where Karen has tried out her ideas for melodies and taught us some interesting techniques such as bee’s plaits, finger plaits, shoogly finger and gurgly two handed variations.  We now have the finished piece.

karenIt has been fascinating to share in the creative process over a long period and to see that it is very much like writing a poem – the ideas and themes, the refrains, the motifs.  And then there’s the putting away of a work and letting it bubble and marinate, the taking it out and reshaping until it finds its final form.  Karen’s finished suite is entitled ‘The lay of the land’ and her opening section ‘Approaching Lune Gorge’ is about that landscape in which the poets walked on Saturday.


Photo by Jane Moss-Luffrum

Karen said that getting to know the landscape over the year and in different seasons helped her round the finished piece.

scoreThe lay of the land for me is somewhat different from what it was a year ago.  During the year of my illness and recovery, copies of ‘Shifting Sands’, my book of short stories, have sold well, and I’d like to thank everyone for all the positive comments I’ve received.  I’m delighted to say you can now even buy it on the shops on CalMac Ferries, so check it out over a CalMac cooked breakfast the next time you are sailing to the Hebrides.

janetshiftingsandsBut now it’s time for a new challenge.  I’ve been offered a place on the Open University’s new MA in Creative Writing, and I’m excited to be starting soon.  Initially I thought I would major in fiction, but lately I’ve been pulled in more by poetry and its connection with music, and this past weekend has underlined that choosing poetry as my main genre will be my way forward.  I have some new ideas, and among other things I will be doing a workshop with Geraldine in February on connections between harp and poetry.

Thanks go to Geraldine and all who contributed to the poetry day, particularly Jane Moss-Luffrum for letting me use her wonderful photographs on the blog.  Thanks also go to Karen and all at Harps North West for all the fine music we make together.


Poets in the landscape – Jane Moss-Luffrum

Targets and teamwork: how to complete a daily writing challenge


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Following on from our teamwork on the great NaPoWriMo challenge in April, Divyam and I were invited to write a blog for Bec Evans at Write Track on Targets and Teamwork. Follow the links and enjoy Divyam’s wonderful cartoons!

follow the brush

NaPoWriMo 2

I am THRILLED to be featured on the Write-Track blog, together with my writing buddy, the fabulous Christine Cochrane! Join us for a conversation about taking part in this year’s NaPoWriMo, including the challenges we faced and how we supported each other along the way. Plus: CARTOONS!

What keeps us going as writers? Staring alone at the blank page doesn’t always work; sometimes it’s about targets and teamwork. Christine Cochrane and Divyam Chaya Bernstein are two writers who recently completed the daily writing challenge NaPoWriMo. They tell us how they supported each other along the way.

Read the full article here: Targets and teamwork: how to complete a daily writing challenge

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When I get older, growing my hair …


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It’s that birthday coming up soon, the one in the Beatles song, somehow no longer ‘many years from now’. How did I imagine, in years past, that I’d be spending this milestone day? I thought there would be a bit more to life than ‘knitting by the fireside’ and ‘Sunday mornings go for a ride’, but I never imagined I’d be in a state of excitement watching my hair grow back after cancer treatment. Since I finished chemo back in March it’s been a slow but interesting process to observe. What colour will it be? Will it be curly or straight? My hair has sprouted in tune with the seasons, with a few shoots in spring and a more steady growth now as we move into summer. Miss Wiggy has been ditched in favour of scarves, and soon those scarves will go for the big reveal!  At the moment it’s only ready for half a reveal:


As someone said on Episode 1 of the BBC Programme, The Big C and Me, coming through cancer treatment is like being reborn, because things are not the same again; the carpet of normality could be swept from beneath your feet again, so you cherish and enjoy the things that really matter. This uncertainty makes us want to be labelled, to know what category we’re in. Is it remission? Am I cured? I am, apparently, now a Cancer Survivor, and what better day to announce it than on National Cancer Survivors’ Day.   My condition is ‘under control’.  I am still on Avastin, a biological therapy aimed to deprive any remaining cancer cells of blood supply.  Things will remain like that till January next year, with scans and check ups every three months. In between these I lead a normal life. I’ve adjusted and reduced some of the things that I do so that I’m not rushing or putting myself under pressure, but this last week has been a wonderful kaleidoscope of activities, all played out under sunny skies –walks and lunches with friends, a choral workshop, a poetry-writing day, a concert at the Sedbergh Festival. Lucky me.

So how will I spend my special birthday? I will be forever grateful to the medics that are treating me and have given me my life back, but now’s the time to take more control, so I am attending Penny Brohn UK’s course ‘Living well with the impact of cancer’, just to help me with the wobble moments and to give me some pointers on diet, lifestyle and mental attitude.  No alcohol or coffee, and I’ll be switching off my mobile phone. Wish me luck! It’s being held in a conference centre on the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond which looks wonderfully relaxing.

After that we will be escaping to a cottage on the Isle of Islay and enjoying all life has to offer.

Prompt 30 – a poem in translation


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Here’s the final prompt from Napowrimo who have kept me entertained and my brain sharp throughout the month of April. Big thanks go to Divyam Chaya Bernstein, who has been a great writing mate and written some pretty good poems too over on her website at   Thanks also go to all of you who have dropped in and ‘liked’ and made comments!

So here’s the final prompt:

Because we’ve spent our month looking at poets in English translation, today I’d like you to try your hand at a translation of your own. If you know a foreign language, you could take a crack at translating a poem by a poet writing in that language. If you don’t know a foreign language, or are up for a different kind of challenge, you could try a homophonic translation. Simply find a poem (or other text) in a language you don’t know, and then “translate” it based on the look or sound of the words. Stuck for a poem to translate? Why not try this one by Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska? Or here’s one by another Laureate, Tomas Transtromer.

What a great way to finish! Because I know a foreign language! I remembered that about 20 years ago I’d translated a poem by the German writer Klabund (1890 – 1928) for a competition run by the Association for Language Learning but I no longer have the obscure journal in which it was published (it won!) so I tried to redo it. Maybe it’s better this time! The title might on first sight appear unseasonal, but I only have to look out of the window at the snow on the hills to realise it’s not inappropriate for this freezing weekend. And also, after a month’s poetry writing it’s time for a rest…

Here’s the original by Klabund


Indem man sich zum Winter wendet,
Hat es der Dichter schwer,
Der Sommer ist geendet,
Und eine Blume wächst nicht mehr.

Was soll man da besingen?
Die meisten Requisiten sind vereist.
Man muß schon in die eigene Seele dringen
– Jedoch, da hapert’s meist.

Man sitzt besorgt auf seinem Hintern.
Man sinnt und sitzt sich seine Hose durch,
– Da hilft das eben nichts, da muß man eben überwintern
Wie Frosch und Lurch.

Klabund, 1890-1928

And here’s my translation.  I have stuck as closely to the original as I could, with a little leeway here and there.


The year now turns to winter
and a poet’s lines come slow –
the summertime is over
and flowers do not grow.

What are we now to write about
with things in iced up state?
Into the soul we now must go –
that’s where we hesitate

With troubled brow we sit and think
till trouser seats wear through –
perhaps it’s best to hibernate
as frogs and toads all do.


Prompt 29 – an ‘I remember’ poem



Two more to go! Here’s today’s NaPoWriMo prompt:

Poet and artist Joe Brainard is probably best remembers for his book-length poem/memoir, I Remember. The book consists of a series of statements, all beginning with the phrase “I remember.” Here are a few examples:

I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.

I remember how much I cried seeing South Pacific (the movie) three times.

I remember how good a glass of water can taste after a dish of ice cream.

The specific, sometimes mundane and sometimes zany details of the things Brainard remembers builds up over the course of the book, until you have a good deal of empathy and sympathy for this somewhat odd person that you really feel you’ve gotten to know.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem based on things you remember. Try to focus on specific details, and don’t worry about whether the memories are of important events, or are connected to each other. You could start by adopting Brainard’s uniform habit of starting every line with “I remember,” and then you could either cut out all the instances of “I remember,” or leave them all in, or leave just a few in. At any rate, hopefully you’ll wind up with a poem that is heavy on concrete detail, and which uses that detail as its connective tissue.

I remember

Shocking-pink knitting wool
behind a draper’s window covered
with yellow cellophane: my mother said
it was too bright for a jumper.

Shilling blocks of ice cream with
three stripes pink, brown and white:
they were wrapped in cardboard
which we peeled off and licked.

Glass bottles of limeade
standing on the shop floor
engraved with Bon Accord, Aberdeen:
we savoured green fizz at parties.

My brownie uniform and
the smell of its leather belt:
it was important to tie the yellow tie
with a reef knot.

Blue nylon party dresses
and sticky-out-petticoats:
they had to be worn with shoes
painted with Meltonian EasyWhite.

Shoe shops with
brown Start Rites and Clark’s Sandals:
they had an X-ray machine
that made your feet green.

The lash of skipping ropes
in the school playground and
the flash of a shocking-pink jumper:
I was envious of it.

This started with a recollection of the corner shop where I was sent as a child for a shilling block of Walls ice cream; I always wanted a jumper made from the bright pink wool in the window and never got one. I followed on with random recollections of that time, then shaped them into a poem where colours seemed to pop up in every verse. I remember in colour! In my first version, I began each stanza with ‘I remember’ but in my final version I decided it was better to trim it.