Minotaurs, Writing advice from Mervyn & the GoodCop/BadCop routine – #editing #lettersfromladyn

The Minotaur was shut up in the labyrinth, a vast area with many corridors and passages, in which anyone who entered got lost, because it was impossible to find the exit. (Greek Mythology, Marilena Carabatea)

Sometimes editing can feel like that, I think. The minotaur (not the Greek myth) that moves through the work in ‘Night Divers’ is a conversation with a creation/a riff of Mervyn Sweet, a friend of mine whom I had met through the QUB Creative Writing Masters.

His minotaur, as I experienced it, represented the beauty, the strength, the contrary straight-to-blunt-talking worth of spending time with creatures who have been designated to dark places who appear in this bad light, bad eyesight also a factor, to throw shadows of monster heads in vast hotel corridors and then on closer inspection you realise you recognise that face…

His minotaur (released from the labyrinth) had a tendency to turn up unexpectedly – maybe will again, always delighting on being in daylight and asking me a question, which I have now come back to explore much more thoroughly, about the quality of conversation that can be had in the deeper layers of the realm of the, for want of a better word, beast.

That meeting point of truth and beauty that is experienced as relief – release even – though it might not be what people are hoping you are going to say and, maybe, lacking in the nice poetic arts. This is the kind of editing that can capture a person for a long time, wandering with only a thin line for company, not with murder in mind, just an exercise in courage.

Sunday morning sermons with Mervyn

This is what a friend of mine called our regular meet-ups when we had the time for it after the QUB Creative Writing MA ended. We met, shared work – I expect I did a lot of the talking. I loved Mervyn’s work, still do – I run quite a few of his riffs in my head often. And a good share of his, for want of a better word, pre-occupations – not just the minotaur – got into me. There wasn’t any sermonising.

It’s just that what Mervyn said generally met my ears as solid good sense and I always came away feeling the world was back on its right axis after meeting him in the way I think a lot of writers feel when they meet up with kindred spirits and have the writing chat. It was a kind of sustenance through the non-writing week, and I miss it very much.  Some of the conversations, not so much altered, as made me much clearer about my own writing preoccupations.

More general writing things I often remind myself of and tend to attribute to ‘a friend’ when I repeat them are, as follows:

(1) Even if a bit of writing doesn’t work out, you don’t know what gateway it might be to something else. No writing is wasted (but, just to be clear, it mightn’t be going anywhere either).

(2) Editing is as exciting as the first write – because in the process of editing you tend to actually find out what you are writing about.

(3) Atrocious things are no subject for ‘good poetry’ (ie who wants to be saying ‘wow what a perfect sestina’ when they are reading about the depths of human – or other – suffering – write the perfect sestina if you can/must but don’t expect me (ie Olive) to be congratulating you on your craft on the occasion.)

(4) My personal favourite – more life commentary than advice which came from my first introduction, as it were, to the man himself and contibuted in spades to my liking him a lot –

It’s doing it, getting out into the deep water and staying there
Right up to where the sharks tear your b*&^cks off
And what’s worse, you have to thank them for doing so.

(* Edited – Very sad not to be able to ask permission to use this – but hoping it’s okay).

The Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine

“Usually two different cops do that”

Or on being Theseus and the Minotaur at the same time when approaching your writing…

Or otherwise, I’m thinking of adding a category for film clips that run in my head as a response to writing questions (that are also for the most part in my head – hence this blog).

A useful blog by author Jan Carson on editing (find HERE) reminded me of how much I love the ‘Bad Cop, Good Cop’ scene in Steve Martin’s ‘Pink Panther’ – I am laughing still and what I’m laughing about is that this is sort of how it is in my world when it comes to getting to the bottom of who’s at fault for what’s not working.

Intertwine (Work in Progress) – #KnowingtheDance


This evening (Friday 31 March), dancer/choreographer/researcher Paula Guzzanti is sharing work-in-progress of the dance element of ‘Intertwine’ – a piece which is being created in collaboration with poet Olive Broderick, as part of the Knowing the Dance project.

The sharing happens as part of Dance Mash 2017 at The Patrick Centre Birmingham Hippodrome, with thanks to DanceXchange and the dance community in Birmingham for offering this opportunity.

Knowing the Dance is an Arts Council NI ACES supported project which explores the meeting places of poetry, dance and movement. The collabarative dance/poetry work will be launched at Down Arts Centre in September.

Sorrow Everywhere #letterfromladyn

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For the good are always merry, / save by an evil chance, / and the merry love the fiddle, / and the merry love to dance: – from The Fiddler of Dooney by W.B. Yeats

I don’t know about anybody else but I am having difficulty even taking in what happened at the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice. Unlike the locals, the holiday-makers, the emergency services there, I had the luxury of waiting a while before I finally got the courage to read the details through the small lens of my mobile phone – and the luxury of choosing not to watch the very upsetting things. I have no idea how to respond in any way that might bring comfort or solace.

I am not

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

I am not sure about what can bring any kind of comfort from a social media/online media distance. I’ve seen some response from the people of Paris to say that they found the outpouring of grief in this realm a comfort. I also have observed that the social media community – if there is such a thing – has learned a lot by virtue of trying to operate for good in this medium in the face of atrocious happenings. That the proximity to those who feel like our people are more likely to hold us closer to the horror; that the quick hastags and symbols that appear in the beginning simply as a show of solidarity in the face of suffering, can as quickly become places of debate as to what that solidarity actually means. I know I have not used the #JeSuis.. hashtags very much. I need to say that this is a personal choice – and not a criticism. I understand well that it is a show of solidarity but for all I want desperately that these things are not happening and will not happen again – I am not Paris,  I am not Orlando, I am not Brussels or Bagdad, I am not even any part of Northern Ireland – and I honour those who actually are in the midst of any great trouble. I did, however, use one #JeSuis hashtag, and the reason I am writing this is, that in every instance since, I have found myself wanting to continue to use it.


We’ll shout HA HA in the face of death!*

Neither was I in the offices of Parisian satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The reason this has stayed with me is that I do feel an incredibly strong connection to humour/satire as a way of providing different perspectives in a place where feelings are the only thing that risk injury. Today, I am not able to talk about humour in its form of laughter or comedy, but rather the steelier versions: from the poignant #PeaceforParis symbol by artist Jean Jullien, to the wry eye, the satirical, all the way to the meciless depictions of all that is absurd in society and government. I need to say that my own preference is more ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’ than ‘Savage Eye’, and I find scatological/ schoolboy humour a bit sickening but I am going out in sympathy with the fact that in the unfolding of the drama, the fool is the one who is gifted with permission to bring the truth to the audience. There is a genuis in finding the right pitch to the delivery of this but…  ‘O wad some power the giftie gie us / to see oursels as ithers see us…’

Security and Freedom

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s way. – Vicktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Jon Snow, Channel 4 News, asked a spokesperson in Nice whether security had been tight enough and he replied that it is very difficult to balance security and freedom. Reading the commentaries and op ed responses to what has happened in Nice coming so soon after a lengthening list of threats to personal security, whether outright attack or destablised government structures, it seems to me that we are all now more than ever challenged to find a way to balance these two needs. I have no immediate answer. I know vulnerability and powerlessness do not feel good. I know that beyond the vital role of fear to warn of real danger, its cousins anxiety and terror are second function responses that can operate to paralyze the extending parts of being human like love, joy, compassion and empathy; and humour. States of terror, whether personal, local or global, are in every sense of the word no laughing matter. I honestly don’t know how to get my head around all this but I observe how a devastating bit of wit can reduce a very large situation to a more manageable size to get the head around.  And in even a brief pause in fear, I hope, there may be, at least, a halt on the road to hate and retaliation, if not other roads presenting themselves.

Taking risks

The title of the blog is from Jack Gilbert’s poem ‘A Brief for the Defense’. It is a touchstone poem for me but when I share it is always with a short introduction that says that if I had found this at twenty I would have hated it. In mid-life I can still be prickled by the way its written (and I am not down with the divil-talk) but two decades later I have found that I agree that in a dark world when it can seem difficult or dishonouring – laughter, joy, delight are risks we must take. This is not about eating cake while others starve and having an excuse for it, but rather, in the midst of anguish at the devastation, acknowledging and allowing everyone to take those risks that create lives worth living, and sharing, no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.

A Brief for the Defense – Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

(from Refusing Heaven, Knopf, 2005)


*This is a quote from an English black and white film. I don’t know its title but would be glad if anybody else recognises it.