Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


March 5, 2010

5-3-10 Autowriting

With all the usual boilerplate caveats about minimal claims to literary merit, this began with an image that occurred in the approaches to sleep, a little after midnight, plus some internal prompt to write it down and see if it went anywhere further. Line suggested line until it became the following.

I wonder where these things come from. Even as I wrote the words in the semi-dark in handwriting I had to squint at in the morning, the conscious front-of-house part of my mind noted that, hmm, here come those woodland and sea-and-shoreline images again, as much for their sound as for their background scenery. They may simply be expressions of nostalgia for days in such settings; if they have any deeper symbolic payload I’m not sure if I’m interested. Like Winnie-the-Pooh’s ‘pounds, shillings an ounces’, the shillings wanted to come in, so I let them.

This is a curio of thought that I notice particularly when ‘I’ write something that makes me laugh in, say, the course of an email. Humour comes from an element of surprise – the unexpected phrase; an expectation derailed – so how do I manage to surprise myself? The idea springs onto what Daniel Dennett (in ‘Consciousness Explained’) calls the Cartesian Stage of consciousness. My conscious mind’s-I just recognises and applauds it. What was it doing before it leapt through the trap-door in a wisp of smoke?

Reading this back, I kind-of ‘got’ what it was ‘about’ in the same way that I ‘get’ the landscape of the Malverns in Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro. I grew up with the LP of the angular Barbirolli/Hallé Orchestra version, which is my definitive recording. When I went through that collective spasm of the shift from vinyl to cd I picked up a recording by a Scottish orchestra with, if I remember, an Italian-sounding conductor, who smoothed out the edges and transformed it into a movement from a Beethoven Pastorale. It was so lacking in drama I couldn’t be bothered to replay it.

Later I found the piece on a tape by the Virgin-sponsored London Chamber Orchestra (‘Good Music Played Bloody Loud’) which substituted the monumantal Barbirolli take with a breathless scramble up the Malvern ridge seen through a handheld camera. It made an interesting contrast-and-compare exercise and while I owned the cassette I could choose a version to suit my mood.

[Stop Press serendipity: I had to leave this document to visit a solicitor – this is not unrelated to the storage boxes – and then visit a cashpoint to withdraw a three-figure wad of banknotes and find something to buy to break a tenner as the last figure of the fee was £..7.25p. Tried the next-door Oxfam book shop and found the LCO cd ‘Power’ on a shelf at eye-level. The Elgar is the final track.]

I think the soundtrack to this writing is somewhere in the range of Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky’.

On a ribbon round her neck

A key hangs, made to fit

The locked box she has yet to find

Containing notes she writes

Inviting Summer skies, eggshell blue

Days riddled with searching breezes

Exploring numberless shadowed limbs

Of broadleaved woods

Threaded with birdsong and

The tidal hush of currents

Flooding from blue distant hillcrests.

The unfound chest holds photographs

Imagined into focus:

Rooms as makeshift stages

Set to act out fictions illustrating

Dreams she has yet to wake from and remember;

Figures caught in tableaux and

Entwined in choreographies of songs

Borne on shared breath and secret pulses.

She moves through crowded streets and public places

Her key concealed close to her

Anticipating the lock it will open

Imagining textures: seashells, salt-scented driftwood

Sea-tumbled stones; costume fabrics

Coins kept for games of chance

And on another ribbon

Keys to other boxes that she hopes to find.

  1. Ooh yes – I do like this one. The subconscious is in good form, obviously. Not quite comfortable with the rhythm in just one or two places, the last line most noticably. Maybe I just hear the scansion through different ears, maybe it needs a tweak? (Suggestions for consideration on an email if requested.) But hey, oh yes, I like it!

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 5, 2010 @ 8:31 pm
  2. I now Approve your comments before I read them on the page in their entirety – hey, so no wicked surprises after the first sentence, OK? – because I can usually see the point of your editorial even if I’m stubborn for my own idiosyncratic ‘reasons’.
    Part of the point of this one is that it’s *virtually* unedited. I think there was the odd altered line-break and maybe word-choices whittled to monosyllables as I typed from the messy page. My stuff isn’t very ‘wrought’.
    As it happens I’m OK with that last line which to my mind’s-ear sounds like ‘Keys to other boxes that she dot, dot, dot…’ That may betray more familiarity with run-out lines for lyrics.

    Comment by admin — March 6, 2010 @ 10:09 am
  3. Living dangerously, eh? I usually behave fairly well in blog-comments. However, patrons are advised not to leave thunder unattended on this website, as the management accepts not responsibility for loss, theft or damage.

    Yes, it (does it have a title?) scans better by daylight – I probably had too many other rhythms thumping around in my head last night (and sore fingertips this morning). Still feel the urge to change “anticipating the lock it will” to “anticipates the lock that it will”, with a similar de-ing-ing of ‘imagining’ in the next line, to move the action closer – but my milage usually varies.

    Those shores and woods – breathing spaces – yes. A nice contrast to the locked box, counterpoint to the close-kept key against the rise and fall of her chest as she crosses town. You could draw this one, panel by panel. (But don’t show her face. Leave her some privacy.)

    Up nearer the top of the post: there’s a heck of a lot more to humour than surprise. Otherwise we’d only ever find things funny once. There is wit, and seeing-sideways-on, and the recognition of the shapes that jokes and clever lines make in our minds. You know all this. There’s also the appreciation of ‘rightness’ and aptness in what you’ve done with your material – all of which can make you chuckle while you’re writing it. (And after all, if your jokes don’t make you laugh, why should you expect them to do anything much for someone else?)

    I don’t think that magical sort of writing that suddenly streams out as if it was there all along is really pre-compiled somewhere under the counter. I think we see potential raw material and stockpile it, without knowing what use we’ll make of it. (Experience teaches what is worth saving, and what tags to give it.) And suddenly the right cue comes along and we recognise that *this*, *this*, and *that* put together in such-and-such a way are exactly what we need for the job in hand. And there it is. Recognition, again. Pattern-spotting, rightness, turning things around in our heads. Better than magic. No hidden wires or uninflated rabbits. Just people being marvellously good at being people. Well, we’ve had long enough to practice.

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 6, 2010 @ 12:58 pm
  4. Agreed to all of the above, probably even the editorial. And yes, of course even to note down a ‘spontaneous’ bit of writing isn’t quite an innocent scribing task. Goodness knows, though, if I wasn’t a bit mindful of space restrictions and a nominal reader’s stamina, these entries could sproing!-off in all directions like springs from an old sofa.
    Even when you realise the chuckle-potential in an idea or phrase you have the good sense to leave the punchline until last.
    A lot of my noetry is in the discovery that if you put *this* word next to *that* word they strike up an unexpected, erm, conceptual harmonic, or discord; a phantom meaning appears between them in a kind of lexical illusion.

    Comment by admin — March 7, 2010 @ 8:21 am
  5. Editing free thoughts? The very idea seems blasphemous to me in a way: judging the deepest innermost thoughts of a person. I note that expression is, indeed, personal and I would be tempted to leave it just as it is.
    As I explain to those in my care, I can’t edit for them, tempting though that may be. They need to learn how to develop their own critical skills. And they don’t have to stick to rules – rules are there to be broken!

    Comment by Just me — March 7, 2010 @ 11:58 am
  6. I would be very wary of providing any form of criticim or editing suggestions to someone who I did not know well enough to be comfortable in doing it. A lot of people are not used to working with their own material, and can be easily hurt by what they see as ‘criticism’ and ‘judgement’. Nor would I suggest that there’s any one ‘right’ way of presenting a piece, in the end it comes down to personal choice and personal taste.

    But I certainly see nothing particularly sacred in ‘free thoughts’. For myself, I find late night outpourings and early morning inspirations are incredibly useful source material, mainly because they come when the higher critical facilities are off guard. But it’s the fact that those higher facilities are nodding that makes the resulting scribble so often in need of a bit of spadework to turn them into practical ideas, effective pictures, prose, poetry or whatever. Personally, again, I enjoy the process of editing the raw stuff my brain chucks out into shape, frustrating though it often is. To make something worthwhile of the source material is surely a more sacred task than to leave it lying. After all, you can still keep the original midnight scribbles, you’re not losing them – you may even come back and mine them again for some other piece of work.

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 7, 2010 @ 9:56 pm
  7. I’m comfortable with anarchic thoughts. I think a lot of neuroses stem from over-identification with one’s own random brain-chatter. A lot of thought ‘just occurs’.
    You could take the Humpty-Dumpty clause and say that words mean whatever you choose to teapot throstle indignity houda coronet them to mean, so long as you didn’t expect a reader to get much from it. I suppose you could argue that fjrsdmb vmxsn fguoasp gmd lcf represents some kind of pure impulse to write.
    This piece was the result of visualising someone in particular and her descriptions of an inner life failing to connect with her social roles and responsibilities, and allowing associations to cluster around her image in my mind; ‘focussed free association’?
    My own cliché for this kind of attempt to clarify what I’m thinking is ‘throwing flour at a ghost’. Sometimes it’s not the words that describe the object of attention so much as the outline of the space they fail to describe. Sometimes they become like iron-filings describing a magnetic field.
    The results here spoke to me in the end. If I were more of a musician I might go through the same process and write ‘A Tune For…X’ However I’d thought that her sensation wasn’t as unique as she thought, so of course I hoped it might be accessible to a lot of others who might stumble across it, if only to articulate what she was feeling at the time.

    Comment by admin — March 8, 2010 @ 6:45 pm
  8. I accept fully that the editing process is a useful one, and understand the need for material which is to be in print to have been tidied up, amended or changed; I am sure published writers wholly agree.

    I guess the point I was really making was that this was written for our reading of it – we are told – virtually unedited. Was that a plea to the reader to “edit please”? or was it a cautionary note to explain that, “although not perfect….I’m happy”. For me, I take the latter, although, note your familiarity with the writer, and perhaps a suggestion that this was comfortable editing.

    Nothing sacred in free thoughts…. I suppose not, and by blogging, I appreciate that the “thoughts” become a little less free, and more in the public domain. I am not a writer, I never claim to have the ability to magically create something out of nothing; I do however, write regularly for my own benefit, in a kind of journal way…often late at night, as a kind of release from the days’ emotions. I have rarely shared such musings, but if I were to, I would consider these to be “mine”…for “my” function…I don’t really care if they scan well, if there are better word choices to be found, or if the rhymes are blunt; as for me, they have already served their purpose in their very creation.

    I regularly edit children’s writing, goes with the job. Often this is to enhance their learning, where they need to see how a particular sentence could sound if turned around, or how punctuation could be used to best effect. Sometimes it is because they ask for it…”Miss…how can I make this sound better…or can you help me to find a word which says “this”? As I said though, I never edit personal material, however it may cry out for change to my eyes and ears; if it comes from the heart, I leave well alone. Dare I suggest I know better then they, what they were trying to say? Not me. I do not consider myself to be a teacher, but an awakener.

    You enjoy the process of editing. I guess at times I do too. I just wait to be asked.

    Comment by Just me — March 8, 2010 @ 7:24 pm
  9. Thanks for that response. I guess that my first comment should have been made in an email rather than posted on the blog. I do get the urge to tweak, particularly when – as with this piece of Graham’s – I really like the work and think it’s too good not to take further.

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 10, 2010 @ 9:30 pm
  10. Here’s the dilemma. I have a stack of writing like this and it could remain in notebooks with no great loss to the literary world. On the other hand I suppose there’s at least ‘no harm’ in putting it into what amounts to an open email, to be read.
    Sometimes just readying the word-processing doc for launch is enough to kick off a few minutes’ pruning and sprucing-up of stuff that’s lain dormant for years.
    So long as third-party edits come in the form of suggestions or personal reactions they’re interesting. I’d be resistant on reflex if they came as instructions. At least someone’s read the notebook with attention, done me the favour of treating it as legit writing.
    This feels a bit like my first few public performances after years playing guitar to myself. I still wouldn’t presume to believe that punters would pay a couple of quid for the pleasure of an evening of Me but I have a better idea of how to perform a song. Throwing writing up on these pages might give me a useful bit of critical distance and a bit more assurance about what I write.

    Comment by admin — March 10, 2010 @ 10:31 pm

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