Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 14 May 2009

This post is bluey-green and tastes minty fresh


red carI've just had a couple of poems accepted by Ink, Sweat and Tears. If you'd be so kind as to click on this link and have a wee read at them I would be most grateful. I'll wait.

Good. Now, let me tell you something about them:

Truth's Last Gasp

This poem was written following a meeting with a psychologist almost two years ago. Now, I think I might have mentioned this before but I'd just like to state again for the record that I like talking to psychologists. I've met with four different ones in my life (all women coincidentally, which helps) and each in their own way has been fascinating to talk to. As for how much help they've been I can't really say. Only the last one however actually inspired any poetry, two actually, 'Truth's Last Gasp' and 'Penis Envy' which was published in Gloom Cupboard back in May 2008. I'll tell you a bit about that one after I've finished with the first poem.

I can remember exactly where the first two lines of 'Truth's Last Gasp' came from. I made a statement to the effect that breathing meant nothing, i.e. it's an autonomous function that we have little real control over. She retorted that breathing meant everything because without it we would die. Touché, Dr Simpson! But that's it. And I'm only guessing now that what I meant was that breathing is an autonomous function because I can't actually remember what I was thinking at the time. I can only remember the two lines of the conversation but nothing to put them in context. What I can say was that it was one of those conversations where we batted ideas back and forth at each other to see who might trip the other one up first. A bit like the verbal 'tennis match' in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Fifteen-love to the good doctor.

I do know in one of our conversations she had been encouraging me to try breathing exercises. She was not the first. My best friend's girlfriend tried that on me when she stayed with us in 1979. Relax, Jim, God damn you! She was training to be an occupational therapist and I didn't mind her practicing on me although I could have been far more cooperative. Never did see any raffia all the time she was with us though. Maybe they don't do that any more.

This is a particularly interesting poem because it's the first time I've actually deliberately written a breath into a poem. To read

Breathe. (     ) Eventually
it will all become clear.

you really need to inhale in the space provided and I find I actually take quite a deep breath even when reading the thing in my head.

I have a problem with monotasking (yes, it’s a real word) or to be more accurate I have a problem not multitasking. Life is so short. For example, the last time I actually sat down and only listened to music was when I put my back out a couple of weeks back and that was because I was lying flat on my back and could do nothing else bar listen to the TV and that gets old quick. I've never attempted meditation either. What a waste of time! Just think about all the stuff I could be doing instead. I'd have the screaming ad-dabs trying to even relax enough to think about meditating.

However, IF I could manage to do the breathing exercises my doctor suggested maybe I might be able to gain some insight into this breaking malarkey. Till then it'll just have to be another task on the list and for the record, while writing this just now, I'm also listening to Brahms' Schicksalslied - Op.54, transferring files between computers and breathing.

Oh, and if you've not worked it out, the 'not breathing' bit either means you're dead or holding your breath. You can't do both at the same time although I suppose if you want to be awkward one could die whilst holding ones breath.

Penis Envy

This one only appeared in the print journal so I'll reproduce it here for you:


The girl who lives next door is sad.
She lives on her own
and is probably a lesbian.
We have only her sadness
as proof and the
fact she drives an
sporty car.

The car is fire engine red,
a two-seater and
purrs like a cat.

The girl next door is plain and short.
I don't know her name.
She looks like a fourteen year-old boy,
a sad fourteen year-old boy,
at least I was.
I would not have
been sad if I'd had that
red sports car.

I sometimes wonder what Freud
might have had to say
about all of this.

Monday, 24 December 2007

This wasn't as a direct result of any particular conversation about my manhood rather it was more a matter of circumstance. Talking to psychologists always stirs up a lot of stuff in my head. I don't have a great knowledge of the subject. I can chuck around a few names and make myself sound like I know what I'm talking about for ten minutes but that's about it. Despite that my writing has always leaned heavily on pop psychology.

The poem takes truth as a jumping-off point. Our next-door neighbour is gay at least when you add up all the facts about her she's got to be gay although the very first time Carrie saw her – and that would be for about twenty seconds the first day we came to view the flat – she said: "She's gay." I've never had a conversation with our next-door neighbour on the subject – I mean how does one broach the subject? – but it's certainly never bothered me.

Anyway our next-door neighbour lived alone and used to drive this pokey wee car, black and uninteresting, a Fiat Uno or something of that ilk – I really can't remember. It kind of went with her personality because she was very quiet and it was hard to get much more than the odd slightly self-conscious "hello" out of her. And she never smiled. Never. She looked in desperate need of a good hug and probably a good seeing-to, too but let's just focus, folks.

Then one day a red sports car appeared outside our flat and Carrie and I wondered who it belonged to. Within a couple of days we knew – our dour little neighbour. Okay, it wasn't a Lamborghini or anything but it was still a babe-magnet. And sure enough, within a matter of days (I jest not) the babes began to appear and okay they weren't all six-foot tall stunners (actually none of them were six-foot tall stunners) but there was now a steady stream – okay, a trickle – of women arriving and departing in the red sports car. And then do you know what? Our dour little neighbour learned how to smile. A delicate little smile it was – it looked almost embarrassed to be out in public – but it was a smile. In time, and not much time I have to say, one of these lassies became a regular feature and they've now been a couple for a good few months. And she is so much happier. I sometimes hear them going into their flat across the hall and they're laughing. It's quite lovely really.

So, the poem is based in truth. As a fourteen year-old boy I'm afraid I was far more interested in expanding my knowledge of classical composers than I was in cars. Sure, I collected them when I was a kid. In fact I actually stopped collecting the year before Hot Wheels came on the market which I regretted but there was no going back. Our next-door neighbour does not look fourteen though. She could pass for someone in her late teens from a distance – she is small and slight – but not up close I'm afraid.

What I did note when I saw that car and who owned it was a tinge of jealousy. And, for the life of me I couldn't actually tell you what I was jealous about. Really! I've never been into cars. I've bought what I could afford purely with the object of getting from A to B safely and that was it. I remember once I got a new car and someone at work asked me what kind it was. "A red one," was my response not because I was being facetious but simply because I couldn't remember the make. It was actually a Talbot Samba, definitely not a babe-magnet by any stretch of the imagination.


The second poem that IS&T picked was a quicky I wrote after watching a programme about the history of 20th century classical music narrated by Simon Rattle. According to Rattle, fellow conductor André Previn once asked the composer Olivier Messiaen about a rehearsal performance of his Turangalîla Symphony. Messiaen confusingly replied: "Just play it a little more orangey-green." Messiaen suffered from a condition known as sound → colour synesthesia and you can read an interesting article about how it affected him here. Synaesthesia is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. In other words people with Messiaen's condition perceive music as colours. There are other kinds, e.g. lexical → gustatory synesthetes taste words. I wonder what flavour this essay might be?

My poem is quite simply a poetic extrapolation. I didn't start reading articles on the subject. It was not meant to be accurate, not in that sense. I had no idea if there was any form of synaesthesia where people experience emotions in terms of colour but it seemed a nice idea to play with at the time.

On doing some research for this post I did come across a condition known as emotion → colour synaesthesia which has been put forth as an explanation for some people's ability to see colourful ‘auras’ around their loved ones.


koe whitton-williams said...

as always, I love your writing. truth's last gasp. . . as an asthmatic, I've always said that 'breathing is one of my favorite things to do. . . ' always, no matter what else I have going on, it's in the top 3, worst case top 5 favorite things. truth's last gasp has that rhythm, that feeling of pulling for every breath.

I've always been amazed at the king crimson piece. . . one more red nightmare. . . it reminds me of 'synaesthesia.'

the ani smith interview was a feast of ideas. I am so glad you wrote to her and posted the interview.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Koe, I can see where you're coming from. As a lifetime asthmatic I know exactly what it's like to gasp for breath.

I have to say I was never really into King Crimson but I did find the track on YouTube for those interested.

And, I'm glad you liked the interview with Ani. I was a little worried she wouldn't behave but she reigned herself in a bit for my sake.

Conda Douglas said...

Congrats on the pubs, Jim. Fun poem and fun illustration to go with it. Also fascinating about the synesthesia and I suspect useful for us writers.

Jim Murdoch said...

Glad you liked the poem, Conda. I have to say it's one that pleases me quite a bit and I'm glad you see the humour in it.

As for synesthesia - it's a fascinating subject. I'm sure there are negatives as well as positives - what if every time you picked up your favourite book it tasted of Ambrosia Creamy Rice Pudding (the most vile smell in the universe)? Argh! Just the thought of it!

Roberta said...

I liked the 'acupuncture / feels like a rainbow' line. I think sometimes it does.

I experience the emotions as colours thing - I think it's not uncommon amongst synaesthetes.
It does seem to blur / cross over with people reading the aura.

I always vaguely figure synaesthesia is more common than people realise - I'd bet lots of people experience it in childhood without realising and learn to block it out. And that some people just never notice it. I didn't, for years, because it's simply there.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the comment, Robrta. Lovely to hear from a real live synaesthete. I could ask you loads of questions but I'm not sure I could appreciate the answers. It would be like asking someone what it was like to be French I suppose.

I liked that in your poem, 'The Mermaid's Revenge' you used the expression, I taste the word murder. Her murder / is made of nectar' - very synesthetic.

Dave King said...

Congrats on the publication.
I have to say that of the three poems SYNAESTHESIA was the one that held me the most, probably because I have a special interest in the subject. It might not have been the best. Penis envy amused me and truth's last gasp is cleverly done. The three together are very impressive.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Dave. Synaesthesia is certainly an interesting subject. It sounds cool to someone who doesn't have it but I expect like everything to someone who does it's no big deal. Of the three I can't say it's my favourite though but I think a lot of that is due to the fact I wrote it so quickly. I lived with the other two for a bit longer and also they were inspired by things involving me not simply something I happened to witness.

R. Brady Frost said...

Good show, Jim. I especially liked the poem about your neighbor. ;)

I do alright with rhymes, but it looks like you've got a real mastery of what the essence of poetry is. It was also very interesting reading the backstory behind each piece.

Spot on!

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Brady. I think rhyme is one of those things that people assume is easy but is really only easy to screw up. I have a poem sitting on my desk at the moment that utilises full rhyme and I am so unsure about whether it works. It's a bit like a crippled nursery thyme not that I suppose that description helps much.

Oh, and I've just about finished a post on rejection that you gave me the idea for so watch out for that in the weeks to come.

mohankumar said...


Listening to music- concentrated listening- is itself is meditation.

Jim Murdoch said...

I see where you're coming from, mohankumar, but therein lies my problem - my head is always on the go, stopping all the chatter to simply listen to music and nothing else is very hard for me. I wish I could because I own some complicated music that really deserves my full attention and it never gets it. It's my loss.

McGuire said...

Synaesthesia: Rimbaud had this condition. He wrote of it certianly.

(How do I embed a link in an orange emboldened word?)

Here is a link to his poem:

This brings to my mind again the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. He writes about synaesthesia but he writes more generally about neurological conditions. You should seek it out Jim. Really wonder struck with the complexity and bizzarity of what neurological conditions can 'achieve' and how they manifest themselves.

I suggest his books: 'The man who mistook his wife for a hat.' 'Anthropologist on Mars.' Molto interesante.

Jim Murdoch said...

McGuire, if the colour question was serious, you would use the <font> tag in HTML, specifically, <font color="orange"> although what tags you can use in Blogger comments is severely restricted.

As for the books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat has been recommended to me before so maybe it's time I had a look for a cheap copy.

Jena Isle said...

There are those who look at rhyming poems with a "raised eyebrow", saying it's traditional, like it is some sort of "diseased" poem.

I always loved rhymes. Free verse is good but being traditional is also good for me.

Congrats for the published poems.
Btw, I just invented a new poem and I call it the Jenanian Verse. lol...Can anyone stop me?


Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Jena. Jenanian Verse, eh? Personally I've never ever tried to tie my poetry down to any form that didn't fit it naturally. Anything else would be asking it to wear someone else's hand-me-downs. That's how I see it. Every poem should have its form tailor made if it's going to slip into one at all.

jan geronimo said...

I love the story of the red car. Very interesting. And I love the stately gait of your post. Indeed it's bluey-green and tastes minty fresh.

But then again you're a novelist. No surprise there for me. Will just have to read more of you then if I really want to improve my writing.

This is a superb read. I'm subscribing. Thanks, Jena, for pointing the way to Jim's blog. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Jan, thanks for the comment. Always glad to see a new face around here. Yes, the red car. I look out of my kitchen window and see that thing sitting there every day. I feel a bit guilty sometimes because my next door neighbour is actually quite lovely. It just took us a while to get to know her. But then her character in the poem is a caricature as is my character. A lot of people forget that poetry is still fiction.

Jessie Carty said...

i now have to add monotasking to my vocabulary even if it is something I can not do!

Jim Murdoch said...

Jessie, nice to hear from you and, yes, 'monotasking ' is a cool word. I have to agree. Cute cat by the way. I love cats.

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