‘Lovely Girls’

From the re-cycler ;Lovely Girls’ is a story about the life of a young woman in an institution for people with learning disabilities.

Amy watches the door; that grimy, finger-stained, gobbed-on portal to fleeting respite from the chronic stink that makes her eyes water.

First published by The Other Room Journal, it moved to Scribd when TORJ ceased operating. 1999 words.

 

Book review: The Secret of Hoa Sen by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

UPDATE I’ve just received this link to Que Mai’s readings at the Lannan Foundation this March (2015) 

 

When we talk about poets writing from the heart, it’s because we feel their integrity. When I say that Que Mai’s writing hands you her heart and lets you hold it, still beating and bleeding, while she tells her stories, it’s because she keeps nothing back and she trusts us to attend.

And you do have to attend, especially if you are coming to this with a Western ear, because the language is more musical, the metaphors more earthy, and the characters and messages more deceptively simple than one might expect.

Read Que Mai’s history and you will see why this is. Born in North Vietnam just after the end of the war and at the beginning of the reunification that brought with it recrimination and huge social upheaval, Que Mai’s voice is an unfamiliar one because it is female, embedded in family and traditions, and uses the language of dislocated, traumatised, but gentle survivors clinging to their roots and sowing the seeds of new ones.

Adjust yourself to this style and you will find lines like this:

…the purple summer bang lang flowers, the aromatic lotus buds

all conspire to nomad me into the night markets of Quang Ba …

                                  from Ha Noi

Vowels, consonants

engraved by the shaken rhythm of a naked heart,

I touch the hair of sunrise,

my lips the morning’s nightingale.

                                                from Touching the Hair of Sunrise

The ‘right’ word in Vietnamese does not always translate into an equally right word in English but instead  gives rise to an utterly unusual word that is perfect in its place and in its old and new meanings[1].

Or this:

Immense, immense the sound of your laughter and speech,

tweeting your pouting voices.

You are the adults, and I am the child.

                                    from Speaking with My Children

The undertow of rhythm here is not reflective of Western pounding bass, thudding feet, trains, or machinery, but the bells and chimes of Vietnamese music which must surely be the unconscious river that carries the language.

My personal favourite is Quang Tri which begins:

The mother runs towards us,

the names of her children fill her eye sockets.

She’s screaming “Where are my children?

It describes in minimalistic stanzas the lifetime impact on one woman of the battle at Quang Tri, one of the bloodiest of the US-Vietnam war.

I was lucky to meet Que Mai during our course at Lancaster. I heard her read both in English and in Vietnamese and I learned new things about poetry and the value of difference. If you get a chance to hear her, do so. If not, read these works and think of bells.

UPDATE I’ve just received this link to Que Mai’s readings at the Lannan Foundation this March (2015) 

BOA Editions ltd.

Amazon (UK)

[1] In a prose piece, Que Mai refers to a woman ‘luggaging’ her children along, the evocation of which is perfect for its setting. I hope to find it still there in her forthcoming novel.

 

 

‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – time to end the pretence?

I was not sure where to put this because the content is entertainment but the central point is honesty and how far deception can be taken in order to preserve a conceit. In the end, after Facebook, I put it both here and there.

In the UK, ‘Strictly comprises two shows – the contest night when all the participants dance and the public vote is collected, and the results show at which the dance-off between the bottom two pairs takes place. The first show goes out on Saturday night and the second goes out on the Sunday when we are led to believe it is live.

But it is not live and we all know this. It is recorded on the Saturday with different frocks and a new selection of  celebs’ mums shuffled onto the front row. The dancers themselves often give it away, sometimes the judges let slip, and an increasing number of us knows someone who has actually been. I certainly do. They were asked not to tell and I found that a little bit uncomfortable, even though, in the grand scheme of things, it seems harmless. So what if we buy into this illusion and imagine that the entire set, make-up, costumes and audience are freshly put together less than 24 hours after dismantling or sending home the last lot?

Well, I think it matters first because it’s a deceit and an unnecessary one. But I think it really matters when children become a part of the lie through illness or, as is the case just now, traumatic injury. It would have been untenable enough had Claudia Winkelman’s daughter been afflicted by a tummy bug on the Saturday which everyone (including her, presumably), had to pretend was still the case on the Sunday when she might have been perfectly well. But she was injured and the cause has to do with Halloween and candles and so the matter has become a wider and more serious one. It has brought in national news journalists whose job it is to talk about many things other than a dance programme but who are – for now at least – going along with the pretence.

At first they persisted with the line that Claudia had to miss the Sunday show ‘as well’ and latterly they have begun to talk about ‘the weekend shows’, presumably as a way of skating over the fact that being unavailable on the Saturday inevitably means being absent on what is sold to us as the Sunday. Frankly, deception on that scale goes way beyond the tiny conceit that almost certainly drove the original intention. It’s time, I think, for them to come clean; I really don’t think anyone will mind.