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

Wednesday, 13 April 2016



When I visited William
he had a tray of buttons.

"I like these," he said.
"They open things –
and you don't need keys."

And he counted
the buttons on my dress
and asked me to tell him a secret.

23 March 1989

So we’ve had Stiletto, Hot Stuff, Looker and Honey, the lady doctor. Now it’s the turn of Cinders. I’ve always had a fondness for this little poem. It’s not about anyone in particular, just the next in the ongoing sequence of Sweet William poems, but every time I read it I feel a bit pleased with myself. If you look up the synonyms for “pleased with oneself” you get a wonderful list: complacent, egotistical, pompous, self-righteous, self-satisfied, conceited, egoistic, holier-than-thou, hotshot, priggish, puffed-up, self-contented, snobbish, stuck on oneself, stuck-up, stuffy, superior. It’s all very much on the negative side, isn’t it? and I think that’s a terrible shame because it suggests that being pleased with oneself should be seen as a bad thing and it shouldn’t be, not automatically. Like many writers I suspect I’m extremely self-critical and pretty much hate everything I write; it’s never perfect. And this poem isn’t perfect—what would a perfect poem even look like?—but it pleases me and that’s quite an accomplishment. It happens every now and then and I notice it especially when editing a novel; I’ll be reading along and then a sentence will pass in front of my eyes that’s just wonderful and I go to myself, “Yes!” Doesn’t happen a lot but I don’t think it’s something to get bent out of shape about when it does happen.

The other reason I’m fond of this poem is that someone read it, loved it and turned it into a song and that doesn’t happen every day. The song’s called ‘Buttons’; the songwriter, William Robertson; the band, Kingfishers Catch Fire. The line-up’s changes a bit since then—this was back in 2009—but William’s still going strong. You can read about the band in a blog I wrote at the time here and you can hear the song on my website; it’s track 8 on their album River Wakes. And now you’ll forgive me if I allow myself a moment of smuggitudiousness.


Kass said...

smuggitudiousness: nicely apt word and the tune to "Cinders" (or "Buttons") is very catchy. Intricate accompaniment propelling your accomplishments toward poetic distinction.

Jim Murdoch said...

One of the joys of having the bird, Kass, has been “translating” on his behalf which I fell into instinctively as soon as he arrived. His grasp of English does, however, leave a lot to be desired and so words like “smuggitudiousness” and “noiseification” are commonplace. If you’ve ever paid close attention to Dr Teeth from the Muppets as he mangles the English language you’ll get the idea. Typical quote: It is indeed a problem for us to 'probosculate' upon. Glad you like’d William’s song. I hadn’t listened to it in a while.

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