Tag Archives: John Donne

T is for T. S. Eliot

23 Apr

a-to-z-letters-tNot too long ago I was having dinner with some people when somehow the conversation turned to that great poet and playwright T.S. Eliot. Well, not all of the conversation. I think other people around the table were talking about other things, and though I can’t remember how it happened, I suddenly found myself spouting lines from The Lovesong of J. Alfred Proofrock with another person at the table. There we were exchanging great lines:

Let us go then you and I

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient, etherized on a table

Oh do not ask what is it

Let us go and make our visit

For those of you who are Eliot lovers, the conversation continued with Proofrock’s eternal procrastinations and observations including measuring out his life in coffee spoons, wishing he was a pair of claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas and of course, talking about the women coming and going and talking of Michelangelo. Oy!

Until that night I  really had not come across anyone since high school that could spout Eliot the way I could – and still can. Now, this is because as part of the HSC (Higher School Certificate – which is the equivalent of A levels or matriculation exams) – required us to cram two years worth of learning for each subject. And Eliot (along with John Donne – who is my true favourite), was one of the poets we had to study. And we studied a lot of his poems. As we had no idea in the exam which poem we’d be asked questions on and as we also had no idea if the poem would be printed on the exam paper (yes examiners can be bastards), we had no choice but to learn these poems by rote. And clearly they have still stuck with me. Or, should I say all the T.S. Eliot poems were stuck on my ceiling and bedroom walls (along with John Donne’s poems). That way I could see them, learn, them, memorize them and imbibe them. They were the last thing I saw when I fell asleep and the first thing I saw when I woke up. (Yes, I know, I had no life).

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

But think of the tradeoff? It’s a great party trick. I can spout poetry at the drop of a hat. Of course, nobody was really interested in all those poems I memorized in Sydney, until almost 30 years later at a restaurant  in Los Angeles. And I still have no idea why HE can spout Eliot, either. Nonetheless, I found a kindred Eliot spirit. I’m okay with Proofrock although the man is far too introspective. If I ever met him, I’d scream at him: “Oy! Just eat the damned peach already! You will NOT disturb the universe.” I hated The Wasteland, not a big fan of Journey of the Magi, but ADORED Rhapsody on a Windy Night (which you’ll recognize parts of if you see the musical Cats). Of course I imagine T.S. Eliot might be turning in his grave at what Andrew Lloyd Webber did to his work but that’s another story.

Still, Rhapsody has one of my favourite lines of all time. How can you not conjure up an incredible image in your mind with this simple sentence: Midnight shakes the memory like a madman shakes a dead geranium. Yes, the man could write. Even if, as teenagers we all giggled that T.S. Eliot is an anagram of the word toilets.

So, do you have a favourite poet/poem/line from a poem? Can you spout poetry at dinner parties? And has it improved (or destroyed) your social life?

Turning pain into prose

17 Feb

This blog is about writing… not about cliched breakups and men who are jerks. Why? Because there are enough blogs out there that cover this topic. Probably too many. However, I confess that this starts out as a “men who are jerks” missive, but it does go beyond that, so please bear with me.

I’m just starting to get over a “man who is a jerk” because even though I’d only been dating him for a month (which let’s face it isn’t too long), betrayal is still betrayal any way you slice it. So, when I found out that he decided to sleep with his ex-wife the other night, you could say I wasn’t exactly thrilled.  I will spare you the sordid details, but the whole  thing did (finally) elicit a very simple email that attempted some type of apology and the de rigeuer line of “I respect you so much.” And all I could think was, “Phew, thank GOODNESS he respects me, because imagine how he would have behaved if he didn’t respect me? Aren’t I just sooo lucky?”

So while I plot revenge fantasies that of course I won’t indulge in because I’m just not that type of person, and why should I waste my energy on this excuse for a human being anyway?, I’m actually struck by two terrifying thoughts:

1) I saw him the night before his birthday (on his actual birthday the next day, his present was his naked ex-wife – which I guess is difficult to beat in the gift department). However, I’m obsessed with the fact that I gave him a GREAT present and now he has it. THAT makes my blood boil. And you know what that present was? A book of John Donne’s poetry – complete with annotated explanations, and a very good reading of one of them (if I say so myself) to him by yours truly. Yes, the sad part of all this is he was/is a lover of great literature and that of course turns me to butter. Now if only he was into monster trucks and football, instead of Russian novelists and metaphysical poetry, maybe I wouldn’t feel so awful right now. I say to all you other writers out there, how can you NOT fall for a guy who is all about beautiful prose? Ack.

2) In that weird, writerly way (and also a throwback to my drama school and acting days), I find myself obsessing with the minutia of his betrayal and looking for ways to incorporate this in my writing, you know, USE the experience. Not in an “write this stuff about me and I’ll sue the pants off you” kind of way. I don’t think he knows my blog exists anyway, so it’s not like he’d come after me on that level. No, I’m not interested in the cold, hard, facts, which are too painful to talk about anyway. I’m talking about taking kernels, snippets, the essence of the betrayal and crafting them into a short story, or a scene in my novel, or a glimpse into a character. After all, what’s the point of someone treating you like shit if you don’t get to take that experience and use it to your own advantage? Maybe success is the best form of revenge; maybe revenge is indeed a dish best served cold; but I think the best revenge is taking the experience, learning from it, and using it to write even better stories that allow people to connect. Now, if I can somehow combine the images of John Donne, a Harley,  a missing earring, two guinea pigs and the ruthlessness of Jack Bauer, I think I’ll have something unique on my hands. Quentin Tarrantino meets D.H. Lawrence. I’m sure there’s a great story in there somewhere.

In the meantime, to everyone who has been treated like crap by someone who is a piece of crap, I truly empathize. Now, go write about it!