Hello Szeged

As I mentioned the other day, I recently came across a notebook containing some poems I wrote a few years ago.  I have already posted the poems written at Llandudno Junction railway station in June 2007 (or at least those that were fit for sharing), so now it is the turn of the other occasion represented in the notebook – my visit to Hungary in July 2008.  More specifically, these poems were written on the train as I was leaving the country.

I was visiting Hungary with my old friend Andy (one of the few friends from my pre-university days with whom I am still in touch) and his wife, Samm, whose family lived there.  At the time, Andy and Samm had just bought a farm near Szeged (and next door to Samm’s mum’s farm) and were preparing to move out there.  They decided to put on a British-style barn dance for members of the church they were moving to and invited me, as a fairly experienced barn dance musician, to go out and join them for it.  We turned it into a week-long holiday and then they stayed on to do some work on the farm while I travelled home alone (we had jouneyed out together).

The first leg of my solo journey was on the train from Szeged (right down in the south of the country) to Budapest (the capital, up in the north), where I was to catch a plane back to the UK. It had been a wonderful week and, naturally I was quite sad to be leaving my friends behind (not to mention slightly daunted as this was actually my first significant time travelling alone in a foreign country).  The weather, which had been beautifully sunny and warm for most of the week, was turning to rain and it was a grey, miserable day that complemented my mood fairly well.

The first couple of my poems (judging by their order in the notebook) were haiku, which seem to have been inspired by the scenery (in particular the sunflower fields which are one of my favourite features of the Hungarian landscape) and the weather.  The first one is:

Flatlands stretch away
golden yellow green and black
sunflowers in the rain

I think I deliberately left out punctuation (especially within the middle line) to be ambiguous.  And here’s a picture of one of the sunflower fields (taken on a brighter day; click on it to see it bigger):
Sunflower Panorama

The second haiku was probably written while the train was sitting in a station somewhere en route:

Summer lunchtime;
Soft breeze in station flowers,
Featureless grey sky.

After these haiku I next turned my attention to the limerick, another poetic form that I like to dabble with, although rather less often:

There was a young man on a train
Which crossed the Hungarian plain.
He sat wond’ring why,
In deepest July,
The weather was turning to rain.

I rounded off my days endeavours at very short poetry with a quick stab at a clerihew, which represents my second and (to date) final non-abandoned attempt with this genre.  I have ignored the traditional constraint that the subject should be a famous person (and that it should poke fun at them).  Instead, this one is about Samm’s younger sister, whom I met for the first time on this trip (actually, I may have met her at Andy & Samm’s wedding, as we were both there, but I don’t recall any contact with her then):

Kimberley D
Is as sweet as can be.
She welcomed me in
With a big hug and a grin.

After having warmed up with these shorter poems, I tried writing something a bit longer.  I have mixed feelings about this one, as I quite like the meter (which is vaguely inspired by the rhythm of the train) and the general sentiment expressed (the sorrow of parting, combined with the observation that it’s better to part from friends than never to have met them) but I’m not incredibly happy with most of the actual lines.  Perhaps one day I’ll rework it.  In the meantime, here is the poem as it currently stands (with a couple of minor edits from the first draft):

I’m sat on a train
Watching the rain
As we traverse the Hungarian Plain.
It seems that the sky
Is starting to cry
As the time has now come when we must say goodbye.
It’s terribly sad
And driving me mad
To come to the end of the good times we’ve had.
It’s always the same
And no-one’s to blame;
Though now I must go I’m still glad that I came.
It’s sad but it’s true
And there’s nothing to do;
Our ways now must part so farewell, dear, to you.
That’s how it must be
And I hope you can see
That I’m missing you, as I hope you’ll miss me.

By the way, in case you were wondering about the title of today’s post, one of the curious features of the Hungarian language is that they use the word “hello” (actually, I think it should probably be spelled “hállo”, although it’s probably more a feature of the spoken language anyway) as both a salutation and a valediction (i.e. a greeting for both ends of a meeting), rather like the Italian word ciao (itself evidently quite popular in Hungary, as well as a number of other countries).  As it happens, I wrote about this in my old blog.


Rediscovering lost time

The other day I came across an old notebook in which I had written a few poems on a couple of occasions several years ago.  It was fascinating to reread these poems not so much for the quality of the poetry (which isn’t great) as for the memories that they evoked, as they were all poems specifically related to and inspired by what was happening to and around me at the time of writing – no great world shattering events but just a few slices of everyday life.

It strikes me that this ability to record and communicate, and perhaps dig a bit deeper into and draw meaning from, relatively mundane events is a common characteristic of haiku, a poetic form that (as I’ve blogged before) I find myself particularly drawn to (both for reading and writing).  Of course, this is not unique to haiku and indeed only a few of the poems in my notebook were haiku.

One of the occasions on which these particular poems was written was my journey back from a visit to friends in Hungary in July 2008.  I will probably share some (or possibly all) of those poems before too long, but for now I’m going to concentrate on the other occasion, which was a wait for a train over in Llandudno Junction on 19th June, 2007.  I had been over there for a work-based event and I accidentally misread the train timetable, so I turned up at the platform just in time to watch my train pull out and I then had about an hour to wait for the next train, which I put to (I hope) good use by writing some poems.

The first is really no more than a fragment and represents one of my rare attempts to write poetry in Welsh:

Colli’r trên i Fangor wnes i.
Amser trên camddarllenes i.

(“I missed the train to Bangor.  I misread the train time”, to go for a prose translation.)  As I recall, I was planning to develop that into a longer poem but soon gave up and switched to English.  My next attempt was a painful bit of doggerel that I will spare you the agony of reading.  I was then inspired by the arrival and subsequent departure of a train to write a haiku, which is almost certainly the pinnacle of that day’s poetic endeavours and possibly one of my best haiku to date (or at least one of the ones I find most evocative):

All is at peace.
Rushing, roaring tumult.
Silence descends.

I then incorporated the same idea and my resultant ponderings on sound and silence into a longer poem (or quite possibly I had already begun this when I was interrupted by the train’s arrival).  This is one of my rare forays into non-metrical (or at least regularly metrical) and non-rhyming verse and I’m not convinced that it works especially well, although I quite like bits of it, especially the last few lines.  I entitled this poem “Llandudno Junction, 15:44” (I assume that was the time I started writing it, rather than when I finished):

All alone,
I sit and listen to the sounds encroach the silence.
The gentle breeze whispers in the trees
And the chatter of birds counterpoints the soft traffic drone.

A train pulls in the other side,
Its growling engine waits to be released once more.
A walking stick taps softly on the platform,
A bicycle is wheeled gently past.

All at once, a train arrives
And all is bustle and noise for a while,
Then silence descends once more.

I missed my train;
Instead I found a space,
A change of pace,
A chance to listen to the silence that is not silent,
Hear the rhythm of life.

Let me not lament the loss of time,
Because I turned up late and have an hour to wait.
Instead, let me rejoice at the opportunity
To hear the voice
I usually move too fast to hear.

Requiem pro ave mortuo

This morning, on my way to work, I cycled past a dead blue tit at the side of the road.

In the grand scheme of things, the death of one small bird is not a great tragedy.  It did, however, lead me to spend the rest of my commute considering the fleeting nature of life and trying to compose a suitable poetic epitaph for the bird.  I decided to go for a haiku, as that’s one of my favourite poetic forms in any case and, being short, is quite amenable to composition in situations (such as riding a bike) where you can’t immediately write it down.

By the time I had reached the office, about 10 minutes later, I had come up with a reasonably satisfactory haiku.  Unfortunately I got sidetracked with other things (such as my actual job) before I got a chance to make a note of it.  Now, on my lunch break, I have managed to more-or-less reconstruct it and I’m still fairly happy with the result (although I don’t think it’s one of my better haiku efforts):

Small, blue and yellow,
flying, always on the move.

Now dead on the road.

It was the middle line that gave me the most trouble.  I had considered various phrases along the lines of “a tiny bundle of life”, aiming to contrast the bird’s previous state with its current one (expressed in the final line) but this seemed a bit too figurative for a haiku. The form, as I understand it,  generally tends to stick with straight-up descriptive language aiming to evoke an impression of a scene and leave the interpretation to the imagination of the reader.

The title of this post (which could also be taken as a title for the haiku, although it’s nearly as long as the thing itself) is, in case you’re wondering, in Latin and means “requiem for a dead bird” (hopefully I’ve got all my cases and stuff right, as my Latin is woefully limited and rusty to boot).   As to why I titled it in Latin, that’s mostly because one of my first thoughts on seeing the bird (and before I started to compose the poem) was “sic transit gloria mundi” (roughly: “thus passes worldly glory”).  I’ve just realised that this is my second post in a row to have a Latin title (the other one was inspired by the name of my new bass ukulele and a parody of the refrain from “Ding dong merrily on high”).  Perhaps my subconscious is trying to encourage me to have another go at learning Latin?!



Short SF poems / science fiction haiku / A bit like this

According to a standard storytelling trope, good things (as well as bad and ugly ones) come in threes. While I don’t usually make any particular effort to follow this rule on my blog, I thought it would be quite a good excuse for following up my last couple of posts with another one on a pairing of my interests.  Today’s theme is SciFaiku (aka scifiku or scifi-ku).

The SciFaiku Manifesto describes SciFaiku as “a distinctive and powerful form of expression for science fiction. It packs all the human insight, technology, and vision of the future into a few poignant lines. SciFaiku is haiku and it is not haiku. It is driven by the inspiration and many of the principles of haiku, but it takes its own direction. It deviates, expands, and frees itself of haiku.”

I first came across the concept of SciFaiku several years ago, doubtless while reading up on haiku (itself an artform combining my interests in Japanese and poetry).  Unlike filk music, I have tried my hand at SciFaiku a few times.  I wrote a couple back in August 2006, which was probably fairly shortly after I first heard of them.

The first one is:

Swimming round my blood

tiny sentinels

keeping me fit and strong

This was written with nanotechnology in mind, but I realised sometime after writing it that it could equally well apply to antibodies (which would, I suppose, make it a something like Mediku or a Biku rather than a SciFaiku; both of those are terms I just made up and I doubt either will catch on).

The second was designed to be a summary of the film Gattaca, which I must have watched fairly shortly before writing it.  It ran:

Imperfect genes;

yet fool the scanners

and reach for the stars.

I can’t remember whether I wrote any more after that, but those are the only two I still have written down apart from one I wrote yesterday (while thinking about this post).  This one is inspired by Firefly, which is probably my favourite TV series ever (so far):

In the black

soar like a leaf on the wind


If you read this post when it first went up, you may have noticed that I have subsequently edited the middle line of this SciFaiku.  That’s because I was listening to a bit of Firefly-inspired filk music by the Bedlam Bards which used the line “soar like a leaf on the wind” as a refrain, and this seemed to work better than my original line (“flying free as a bird”).  I’m fairly sure it’s a quote from the film – I think it’s uttered by Wash towards the end.

NB I’m sure you noticed that the title of this post is roughly in haiku format, but it would probably not count as SciFaiku.  If anything, I suppose, it is meta-SciFaiku!?