The Luminous Details of Poetic Description

Exercise:

  • Poet Ezra Pound described the “luminous details” that reveal and transmit an image swiftly and deeply.
  • Find an image that resonates with you. Write a poem about this object in no more than 10 lines, keeping in mind the art of description, and the luminous details that move the reader.
  • When you have written this poem, write a quick explanation of how exploring the ‘luminous details’ felt to you.

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Barn. A poem.

Slumped, your brother’s shoulder a welcome resting place.
The creaking of aging joints, the wind ruffling patchy tresses,
liver spots of brown and red on bleached and crusty skin.
Iron will a testament to endless winter frosts and summer heat. 
Littered memories at your feet, the dust of bitter/better years.

Stephen Thompson

Last year I drove my parents to Queensland for a holiday (I wrote and posted a poem about it at the time); I then picked them up when the holiday was over. (No, I didn’t want to holiday with them. Does that make me a bad son?) 4400 kilometres later, I had nothing to show for it other than this photo I took of an old, collapsing barn outside of Grafton, New South Wales.

I like the use of imagery and metaphor to describe the details of objects, features and conditions. Sometimes my poems are a little too ‘obvious’ in nature, so I like to stretch myself when I can. I enjoy using what poet Ezra Pounddescribed as “luminous details” and acting “as a filter, finding the most resonant, charged details to transmit the image to the reader”.

In this poem I saw the barn as an old man, the dead tree next to it providing support, a literal brother-in-arms. For me it reflects the state of many old and abandoned buildings, but also the aged people in our lives, who are hopefully not as neglected or forgotten.

How do you feel about your own poems? Do you feel you capture the luminous details that Pound mentioned? Why not try this exercise and share the resulting poem with us.

Cheers

Steve 😊

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Twenty Four Kays. A poem.

Twenty four kilometres I walked on a whim
“I can do this, no worries,” what was I thinking?
Five hours, two blisters and a sore ankle later
And I’m wondering if I should feel any way better
Was it just for my ego, or just to feel good
Or was it just for the pain, as I know that it should
And in the end, I can’t deny that which is true
Walking’s a poor substitute for being with you

.

For the full story about my little walking episode, click here.

Steve 🙂

Marathon Walk!

Today I walked 24 kilometres. Why?

I dropped off my father’s car at a smash repair place, and rather than catch a combination of trains and buses home, I decided I’d walk. Five hours and just under 24 kms later, blisters and sore legs, but not too worse for wear otherwise. Hungry, though!

Had to tell someone, as I’m a wee bit proud of the achievement. Yeah, it was dumb, but I’m not renowned for my smart decision making.

Happy walking!

Steve 🙂

Training Without Calves (or, Cows With Guns)

See what I did there? Okay, well it sounded funny at the time*.

I have been lying in bed recovering from my torn calf for the last week and a half (grrrrr…). Being the fitness-addicted idiot that I am, I decided that it was time to get back to exercising before I went stir crazy. Here is the routine I worked out to ease myself back into the big stuff:

  • 3 sets of sit ups (40 reps per set) – core/abs
  • 3 sets of push ups (15 reps per set) – chest/arms
  • 3 sets of bicep curls (10 reps per set) – upper arms
  • 3 sets of tricep extensions (10 reps per set) – triceps
  • 3 sets of dips (10 reps per set) – chest/triceps
  • 3 sets of bent over rows (10 reps per set) – back (make sure you are supported so there’s no weight on the offending leg)
  • 3 sets of pull ups (10 reps per set) – back

I do warm ups/stretching before starting. You will note this is all upper body (I’m a fitness idiot, but I’m not stupid). Avoid leg work for a few weeks (if you regularly work out you will know it is an in-joke that most gym heads avoid leg work like the plague, so it shouldn’t be too hard…). Remember: If you have a torn calf, do NOT stretch your calf unnecessarily while exercising – you risk tearing it again. If you feel any strain on said calf (it will ‘moo’ at you – just kidding), cease and desist immediately.

This work out is pretty easy considering what I did prior to my injury (you can check out some of my workouts here), but I’m taking it slow to start with.

Ahhhhhhh…I’m feeling better already (the calf’s not, but you know what I mean).

Health Warning: I’m not a doctor (despite past girlfriends assuming I was a gynecologist), so if you aren’t used to training, or if you have torn your calf, make sure you consult with a real doctor (no, not your workout buddy at the gym) before attempting any new training routine.

 

* Didn’t get the reference? Do yourself a favour and check out ‘Cows with Guns’ below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQMbXvn2RNI

Chest Day!

Today was chest day in my 4-day body split workout (Back/Chest/Shoulders/Arms). My workout for each body part changes each time to dupe muscle memory (so the muscles don’t get used to the range of motion and stress), but here’s the routine I did for chest, today.

I’ve included links to the main exercises, so you can see how they’re done.

Warm Up

  • 20 minutes – multiple arm and leg stretches, oblique twists, strong man overhead raises, 3 sets x weighted sit ups (30 reps each), yoga stretches

Push ups

5 x supersets – each superset includes:

  • Kettle Bell Push Ups x 10 – this time around, one kettlebell resting on floor, two hands in diamond over bell. Works chest and triceps. Haven’t got a kettle bell? Balance on a basket ball (harder), medicine ball, or books. The image above shows what I mean, except using a medicine ball. 
  • Incline Push Ups x 10
  • Decline Push Ups x 10
  • Dips (unweighted) x 10

Slow movements for the exercise, then move quickly to the next.

Flyes

5 x sets – includes:

Tabata Finisher

  • Tabata – 4 minutes – intense and fast – jump lunges, jump squats, push ups, burpies

That was today’s workout. Very enjoyable, in a painful sort of way.

 

Warning: I’m not your doctor. If you haven’t exercised before, or are out of condition (read: unfit, overweight, etc.), talk to one before attempting strenuous exercise. You have been warned.  

Healthy Huff ‘n Stuff

As you may or may not know, I’m a bit of a health nut. I work out regularly, get plenty of cardio, try to eat right, read fitness magazines, and so forth.

Over time I’ve picked up a few things here and there to keep healthy.  Here’s some:

  • Tabatas – if you don’t know about tabatas as a way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular fitness, check out my rave about them here.
  • Sprinting – the equivalent of a Tabata. University studies have shown that 3 x 20 second sprints at maximum effort provides the same stamina/cardio improvements as 50 minutes of low intensity exercise. Three sessions a week is all you need to make a huge difference.
  • Multivitamins – ensure your dietary bases are covered. Just make sure they are balanced, and don’t take too many – overdosing on vitamins is not good for your body. Check the instructions on the label and the daily allowance indicator next to the ingredients. Don’t forget you also get vitamins and minerals from food as well.
  • Exercise – at least 3 times per week, for at least 30 minutes. If it’s just walking, walk fast to get your heart rate up, otherwise it’s a bit pointless.
  • Stretch – make sure you stretch well before attempting strenuous exercise. I stretch for at least 20 minutes before my workouts. The stretching warmup is a workout in itself, involving traditional stretches for all body parts and yoga stretches. Some people in training also stretch after their workout.
  • Eat well – but don’t overeat. You don’t need to consciously avoid eating fat either – fats, in moderation, are needed by your body. If you need to lose weight, reduce you serving size and drink more water. Your body will utilise the calories it has, and the water will help fill your stomach to overcome hunger pains. Do NOT cut out food altogether – your body thinks you are going into starvation mode and conserves fat by consuming muscle tissue first. In starvation mode your body takes a few days to start burning fat. Eat slowly – your brain uses hormones to know when you’re full – if you eat too fast your brain won’t have received the signal from your stomach and you will still feel hungry.
  • Measure rather than weigh – use your pants or dress size as an indicator. As you lose weight your clothes will fit you better or loosen. If you do have to weight yourself, try not to do it every day, especially if you are working out regularly – muscle is heavier than fat, so the scales could be misleading. And have a regular weigh time (8:00 in the morning, for instance), after you’ve gone to the loo!
  • Drink Tea – one cup a day supplies your body with antioxidants – the chemicals that help you live longer. Green Tea is even better.
  • Laugh – sometimes it’s hard, especially if you suffer from depression, but laughing is one of the best things you can do for your health. It generates endorphins, reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), increases blood flow, helps reduce damage to your brain from stress, improves medical recovery time and decreases anxiety. If you can’t laugh, find a comedy show you like, find a friend who makes you laugh. Force yourself to laugh if you have to.

Okay, some of these are obvious, and it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list.

But sometimes the little things in life can make the biggest difference.

 

I am not a doctor (although a lady once mistook me for a gynaecologist). If you have an existing medical condition or are obese, speak to your doctor first before attempting new exercise or diet routines.

Rest, Recuperation and the Art of Camouflage

(It’s been three days since my last workout. I’m lying on the lounge, checking Twitter. Alpha Girl enters and does a double-take. “Hey,” she says. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing 500 push ups or something, by now?”

“I’m having a week off,” I reply.

“So, you’re resting your arm?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

“Good. It’s about time you used your brain for something other than being stupid, or upset with yourself. Are you intending to lie around all week?”

“That was my intention.”

Alpha Girl’s hands are on her waist, her head cocks slightly to the side. An air of haughtiness floods the already cramped room. “Oh, no you don’t, mister. If you’ve got a week off, you can help Beta Max to paint the spare room. And clean up all that crap in the back yard.”

Beta Max enters the room and smiles. “No rest for the wicked, bro.”)

 

Every few weeks of working out, I have a week off. This is so my body has a chance to completely recover, allowing time for muscle tissue to grow and ligaments to repair themselves.

At my age, you don’t recover as fast as you do when you’re younger, so you need to take a bit more care. For those of you who have followed my blog from early on (that would be none of you), you may remember (or not) that I have a long-term tendonitis injury in my left elbow that causes me pain when I use it (read about it here). I’ve been using an ultrasound wand on it, but after some initial positive results, my elbow seems to have settled back into the “I hate you and intend to hurt you by making all your fevered self-torture dreams come true” mode.

If you’ve read any of my blogs, you will know that I use exercise as a way of combatting my ongoing depression (along with medication, therapy – you know, the usual suspects), so skipping a week is a big thing for me. But I have to weigh up the pros and cons. On one hand, it’s good for my tiny brain, on the other, I need my arm to get (slowly) better.

Yeah, I can still do chores and the like, I just don’t push myself with big weights until I’m a wet smear on the ground. That means no tabatas as well (don’t know what a tabata is? You really haven’t been reading my blog – check it out here). So, this week is going to be laid back. A week I can catch up on my uni work, watch some TV, look for jobs (yes, I do that occasionally, y’know), read, and do some work around the house. I might even do some meditation.

I think I’m going to be absolutely desperate for a workout by the end of the week.

 

(“Have you finished that yard work, boys?” calls Alpha Girl from the kitchen window.

Beta Max hides his beer and yells: “No worries, we’re right on it.” It’s been three hours and we’ve managed to move one small pile of junk about five feet away from where it was originally.

“She’s going to come out at some point,” I say.

“By that time, my friend,” says Beta Max, “we will be safely ensconced at the pub.”

While his logic is sound, I don’t believe the final outcome will be ideal for either of us.)

The Ballad of Long Term Systemic Gym Junkie Injuries

(I’m just finishing my fifth set of weighted pull ups – that’s where you hang a 20 kilogram barbell from your belt and do correct form pull ups from a suspended chin up bar – when Alpha Girl enters and stands with her arms crossed. “You sweat a lot,” she says. “And do you have to grunt so loudly?”

“Could you go and bother someone else?” I say. “I’m pretty exhausted.”

“You look like you’re in pain.” Is that concern I sense? Can’t be.

“A bit. I have a long term tendonitis injury in my left elbow, and it hurts every time I work out.”

“So you’ve hurt yourself, and you keep making it worse?”

“Well, sort of. I have rest days and -”

“Your elbow injury is getting worse.”

“I’m looking after it.”

“Why are men such idiots?”)

Anyone who works out at home or in the gym on a regular basis will know what sort of short term damage you can do to yourself, if you’re not careful. Strained and torn muscles and ligaments are part of the game, but can generally be avoided if you stretch and warm up properly before starting your sets.

About two years ago I was working out with a mate who was much bigger and stronger than me. We were doing one of my favourite exercises, the aforementioned weighted pull ups, and I was lifting the same weight he was (as you do). I felt a twinge in my left elbow, but ignored it (as you do). I kept going, not wanting to show any weakness (as you do).

Over the next few weeks the elbow got worse. Being a man, and a stupid one at that, I chose to think it was just ligament strain, and that it would heal with a week off (as you do). I got back into training and the injury got worse. Eventually I went to the Doctor who gave me pain killers, a support bandage, and a recommendation that I stop training altogether for six months. After considering this for all of five seconds (as you do), I wore the bandage for a few weeks then took it off as I believed my left arm wasn’t getting the workout it needed (as you do).

Every gym junkie has their preferred approach to training. Many do 5-10 sets of 5-10 reps (repetitions) per body part (chest, back, legs, arms), exercising a different body part each day (a split routine). This can include supersets (my preferred option, whereby you do supersets of 2-3 different exercises for the same muscle group each set), drop sets (where you start with heavier weight and drop the weight back continuously as you go until you’re exhausted), circuits (multiple types of exercises for an all over body workout, moving from one machine to the next), and so forth.

Most sane people work out around three days per week. Body builders can work out five days per week, and if they have a competition coming up this can be stepped up to twice per day over that week (generally you would need steroids to recover from such intense workouts – my apologies to anyone who is competing who says they are not taking steroids).

I currently train for about 1.5 hours a day, four days per week. This includes a body split with a changing mix of supersets, followed by a tabata (a 4-minute intense cardio blaster) and/or jogging/walking circuits with push ups and lunges after each lap. My workouts tend to keep me lean with reasonable mass, but not huge body builder size.

One of the most important facets of training is having perfect form. This is where the exercise is done strictly, not rushed, using precise form so that the muscle is hit to maximise micro-tears in the fibres for optimal regrowth. Along with this is the need to eat right (lots of protein for muscle building, along with complex carbs for sustained energy) and sleeping right (good rest for recovery). This is, of course, oversimplifying things, but I didn’t want this post to go on forever.

(“That would be a first,” says Alpha Girl.

“Just go away,” I say.)

Anyone who has been training for any amount of time inevitably becomes a backseat expert (as you do) – you read a few fitness magazines and suddenly all of your advice is golden. Despite the threat of constant joint pain and crippling rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of your life, the basic formula is: Training = good, six months rest = evil.

But I had to do something. My neanderthal gym brain was telling me “must…fix”.

I finally started ultrasound therapy on my elbow, which is showing some promising results. I’m still working out regularly, so the improvement is slow. But at least it’s a start.

The moral of this story? Even a stupid gym junkie can use his brain. Sometimes.

(“Are you sure it’s getting better?” asks Alpha Girl. “I wouldn’t want anything to prevent you from getting a job. Or even better, moving out.”

“For a moment there I almost thought you cared,” I say. She smirks and exits.)

(English spelling, not American. Just so you know.) 

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