Due Date. A poem.

The bell rings
(or tolls, or so it goes)
and I’m under fire again
rushing into no man’s land
without a weapon or a plan.

A last minute dash,
as if it were all she wrote
(and perhaps it is and was).
A lucid trance to carry me
through torrential rain and home.

And then, I wait,
with and without regret,
until fortune or misanthropic fate
deals me a winning hand.

I could strategise,
as a manager in prior life,
to sooth the way, somewhat,
to marry my goodwill
with happenstance.

Until it’s time to dance
this merry dance
untold times again,
and leave as I arrived:
to subtle refrains
and shotgun chicanes.

poetry books - stevestillstanding

For more of my poetry, check out Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelessly Endangered and The All or the Nothing, available in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Writer Interrupted: Young Classics

An excerpt from a response I did for a Uni YA writing course some time ago:

Do you have your own private classics? Name one. Why do you call it a classic? What do you think makes a children’s or adolescents’ classic?

Witches, Ghosts and Goblins, by Ruthanna Long, is an absolutely awesome picture book about a quest by the witch Miranda and two children to find her missing cat. The story is long and quite involved, with the team traipsing around a fantasy world filled with…well, witches, ghosts and goblins. The illustrations, by Paul Durand, are suitably bright and colourful and fascinated me as kid because of the detail (and the fact that certain things, like Miranda’s castle, looked different at the start of the book than it did at the end).

This story is wonderfully imaginative, from the witches’ technological city (where air traffic control and walkie talkies are used for take offs and landings), to the goblin mines, pirates and the giant’s beach. It was a book that stirred my imagination and, along with comics and adult books far beyond my age at the time, stimulated my love of creating, drawing and writing.

What makes a children’s or adolescents’ classic? I think the book needs to have a profound impact on the young person. Sure, there are plenty of books that can be considered classics, due to age or popularity, but I believe it’s the way books influence and promote creativity and imagination, that make them true classics. That’s the case for me, anyway.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Divides. A flash fiction.

This is a short fiction I wrote for a Uni subject I completed a while back. Enjoy!

Cheers

Steve 🙂 

Divides. By Stephen Thompson.

My mother is dusting. The feather duster she uses swishes lightly over the mementoes and photo frames on the shelf, cautiously tracing a path through our family history like a ship through a field of ice. I watch intently as motes of dust shimmer in the light, settling to the carpet, knowing this is only a short pause on their journey.

My father reclines in his chair, reading. The air is pungent with the thick fumes of an unfiltered camel cigarette. This is how I will remember him long after he is gone, like a silhouette left on a wall after a nuclear blast, its form as anonymous as the figure who left it.

My wife sits before me. Her eyes are electric drills and I am the timber. I’m staring at the table before us and my apologies fall to the floor along with our shared lives; wood shavings, waiting to be swept away.

My son is sitting on the lounge before his games console, the light from the TV playing over his intent features. I sit beside him, reading, occasionally glancing up to see the interaction of figures on screen. Between the lounge cushions is a yawning chasm.

My girlfriend sits across the table from me, sipping from her cup. My own mug sits before me untouched, the tan creamer an iceberg on a coffee sea. She smiles and I see our separate shadows painted darkly upon the wall behind her. Dust motes reflect the light as they dance prior to landing. The apologies to come are an abyss I must eventually cross.

An Exercise in Poetic Styles

Here’s a response I did for Uni. You might like to try the exercise out yourself.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Write a haiku (formal style) on the theme of water and then write a free verse piece (of no more than 10 lines) on the theme of water. Which style worked best for you? What stumbling blocks did you have to overcome in each?

Water Haiku

Your water cascades
Caressing valleys and hills
I will drink deeply

Stephen Thompson

Deep Water

Deep
 
How deep my heart has sunk,
into depths
unmeasured
 
(I swim
amongst broken hulls and dead men’s skulls,
coral memories and crustacean verdigris,
viscous cold and furtive shoals
shaping origami headstones,
draped in ocean’s finery.)
 
How drenched is my heart,
drenched in depths
unmeasured
 
Deep  

Stephen Thompson

 

I enjoy writing Haiku because it can be challenging to find a theme that works in the 5/7/5 syllable structure. Haikus can say so much in so little space and it’s one of the reasons I love them so much.

Free verse is always fun, because I can play around with meter and time, line length, enjambment, etc. without any need to worry about poetic constraints; it’s easier for me to come up with interesting imagery. Often the theme of the poem presents itself as the poem progresses, or a new one is formed when the poem is completed.

I love free verse, but I believe that learning forms with specific poetic structures (such as the villanelle, sestina, pastoral, etc.) force you to be a better poet, because you have to work outside your comfort zone and within a stricter format.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Everyday Rhythm and Poetry

Here’s an exercise I did for Uni, a fair while ago. Use the question for a writer’s prompt, if you like.

Do some exercise, listen to some music, or even listen to the clock tick. Find an everyday rhythm and write a poem of no more than 7 lines in response to the theme ‘Women’. After writing your poem, tell us if finding an everyday rhythm helped you or hindered you in your writing practice?

Woman. A poem.

Round and round it
goes, the anxious tide in ebbs and
flows, her conversation running on and
on, but leaving me with nothing

How I mourn my woman’s
song, but she’s long gone, a
whirlpool like no other

Stephen Thompson

The washing machine clunked and whirred through its cycle. Watery imagery crept into my poem in the first two lines (probably because I had no idea where I was heading at that point. I knew it had to be about women. Then, as usual, it became personal. Most of my poems are). I’m not sure if the machine’s rhythm helped at all.

I’ve been a musician for about 30 years, starting as a drummer and percussionist and then moving into guitar and singing, so rhythm and syncopation are things that come naturally to me. My ex-wife hated my constant hand and finger tapping.

When I write, I like to establish a natural flow. My recent experiments with enjambment on my blog have mixed up that rhythm a bit, and even though I used it in this poem, I found I maintained a rhythmic consistency.

Maybe the wash cycle did help after all.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Preludes. A Poem by the Master.

Preludes
By T. S. Eliot

I
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
 
And then the lighting of the lamps.
 
II
The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
 
III
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
 
IV
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
 
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
 
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Following is a (very) brief analysis I did of this poem for a course:

This is a pretty cool poem by a master of the form. As you can see, I’m full of insightful analysis this morning. But ‘pretty cool’ is about all I can muster today, even with the benefit of my morning coffee (ahhhhhhh, coffee…).

Oh, all right, if I must. I do want some marks, after all.

Eliot uses figurative imagery extensively in this poem. The street is personified, a living thing people inhabit, a world that reflects and impacts them. Time and motion is distinct in every facet of this poem, each of the preludes a different part of the day.

The first stanza is almost exclusively literal: day’s end, when all the day’s concrete acts and ‘grimy scraps’ are washed clean by the downpour. The second stanza is the morning, with people rising to recommence the ‘masquerades’ of their lives. The third stanza flips to second person view point, with the protagonist dreaming and waking into his dark and sordid existence (oh, how I identify with this poem). The street is personified again here, like an animal with little understanding of what it sees each day (perhaps the way the street’s inhabitants perceive their world). The fourth stanza is evening; the street is an ‘infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing’, a living and breathing extension of the people existing there, ever the same and yet ever-changing, reflecting old and new, the passage of time and the mundanity of life.

Well, that’s how I see it, anyway. Maybe you see it differently?

Cheers

Steve 😊

Chuck. A character study.

I created Chuck for one of my short stories, written for uni. Following is a character study I wrote for him.

If you’re not familiar with a character study, it’s used to develop a character’s background and personality traits. From these elements the character’s mannerisms and dialogue come to life.

Some character studies are complex, some are very basic. I like to keep mine short and to the point. This gives me more ‘wiggle room’ in the story.

Cheers

Steve 😊

 

He had been Chuck most of his life. Charles was his father’s name, and the less he remembered about that man, the better. Chuck remembered Daddy’s huge fists and the indelible marks they left. But he remembered his mother much more, whose solicitous yet indifferent fingers crept to places he preferred not to think of, but could not avoid.

Chuck’s stutter and southern twang caused people to look down on him, even though he towered physically over them. His schooling had been the streets and a succession of foster homes; places where survival of the fittest was the credo and the only philosophy he required.

Chuck didn’t fit in. Naturally he gravitated to solitary roles, places he could be his own man–no complications with relationships or body language, as foreign to him as a cellphone to a neanderthal.

Chuck was a truck driver now and good at it. He tamed his mighty beast on the primal tarred veldt, his whip the double shift, country and western anthems his habitual companion. He worked the long highways like a corner beat, with scars as evidence; his belly peeped from under his t-shirt like a misshapen eye, Rip Van Winkle beard and Garth Brooks t-shirt decorated with spilt drink and dried food scraps.

What do you want to write?

What are the issues that you especially want to talk about / celebrate / examine in your stories?

There are a lot of stories in the world. There are many more hovering in the random threads and wings of my head. They long to burst forth from their cocoons, bright and beautiful butterflies ready to shake mountains, half a world away.

I’ve led a very interesting life, but by some measures it may not be very interesting at all (I have never run away from ravenous cannibals, for instance). I have many personally-affecting issues that I’d like to examine in my stories, yet when I think of what I really want to read in one of my tales, issues are not the first thing that come to mind.

As a burgeoning writer, I first and foremost want to entertain. I want to write stories that are emotionally engaging, that are exciting and that surprise with their twists and turns. I want my readers to feel that they connect with me as an author, that they “get” me in ways they didn’t think were possible except with perhaps a well-known friend or loving partner.

I may not be the best writer in the world, but if I can achieve this in at least some basic way (whether that be a reader’s fleeting smile or a tightness in their chest), I will have succeeded in what I set out to do.

Okay, so that didn’t really answer the question. In short, I love all genres of writing.

Like Iain M. Banks, I want to write speculative fiction and current-day serious fiction. Like Patrick Ness, I intend to write kinetic young adult novels. Like Nam Le, I want to write short stories of every type, that bring a tear to my eye and that provide a fascinating juxtaposition to life. Like Justin Cronin, I want to mix literate writing with the horror thriller. Like George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien I want to write fantasy fiction that astounds.

But I don’t want to write like any of them. I want to write like me.

Cheers

Steve 😊

This was my response a number of months ago to a question posed to me in one of my writing subjects. My answer still holds true, now. (It also contains links to some of my favourite authors’ websites.)

So, what would your answer be?

Go wild in the comments, if you dare 😉

Place and Setting. A writing perspective.

Yet another of my long-overdue university out-takes. Following is an answer to a question about establishing place and setting for stories, that I wrote several months ago for one of my writing subjects.

I moved back to my parents’ house after being away for many (Read: MANY) years and I’m now living in the room I had as a teenager. Rather than get maudlin, as I did when I first moved in, I now like to see it as a new start—a fresh beginning. Or a stopover on the long, world-weary road of incomprehensible mid-life. Take your pick.

But it’s the nostalgia of the place that grabs me every time. I look out the window to see a family of rabbits picking amongst the emerald remains and hear the continual hum and click-clack-clicking of rail wheels on the tracks beyond. Every time my toes feel the knobbed woollen carpet that’s been here for so many years: still in good nick, just a little wear, but a bit flatter (like me); every time I look at my parent’s smiling faces, all wrinkles and sunshine (they obviously haven’t had to put up with me for long); every time I walk the old streets remembering handball at the bus stop and ducking swooping magpies in the spring, the scent of rain on the grass flats and long, sweat-soaked summers without a pool. Like the murky rooftops and telegraph poles marking time in the distance, it’s a wary combination of old and new, making me dream of yesterday, moan about today and hope for tomorrow.

It got me thinking about how place has such a dramatic impact on the stories we write. The story’s setting can become a character as much as the protagonist and antagonists. But it’s more than just atmosphere or setting specifics. It’s all in the way the setting evokes something that connects with the reader—maybe they can relate to it in the way something felt or looked, or smelt. Maybe they marked time for a while in a sunny backwater, too.

Recasting familiar settings for stories works. We take what we know and we forge it into something new. Authenticity is something I’ve discussed with a writer friend of mine. I always say (and I’m sure others have said this, too): “the reader knows when you fake it”. It doesn’t matter if the setting you’ve created is in the far future, your home town or a fantasy kingdom, it’s the feeling that you put into it, driven by your own experiences and emotions, that makes the difference. Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be the same if JRR Tolkien didn’t infuse the setting with not only his expansive research in languages and mythology, but also his love of the countryside he grew up in.

I find that I tend to rely more on recall than on visits to and notes about areas, but I’m lucky that I have a decent memory. And we all have an extensive lifetime of experiences—sights, smells, emotions, nostalgia—to build our settings with.

Every story we write, we build a place to call our own.

Cheers

Steve 😊

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