Monday, October 16, 2017

LIFE OF A POET - JOHN BUCHANAN

Today, my friends, we have the pleasure of returning to Guernsey, a small island in the middle of the English Channel, to meet one of our newest members, John Buchanan, who writes at  Poet at Jaybern. John was encouraged to check out Poets United by a member of his writing group, who happens to be Julian Clarke, of  Pen to Poetry, Guernsey, whom we interviewed in 2016. John has an amazing and inspiring story. Make yourself a nice cup of Twinings tea and settle in. You won't want to miss a single word.






Sherry: John, we are so happy Julian suggested you check us out. Tell us a little about yourself, won’t you? 

John: Thank you and thanks also to Julian for making the introduction.  I have really enjoyed the prompts and reading the other subscribers' poetry over the last few weeks.  I would like to thank them for the lovely comments that they have left on my blog.

As for my life, well, I guess I've had a bit of an unusual one. My parents were expatriates and I was born in Trinidad in 1964.  I was educated as a boarder at Elizabeth College in Guernsey.  This school was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563.  The College is the large building dominating St. Peter Port’s skyline in the image below.


Guernsey’s picturesque capital, St. Peter Port

I then embarked on a career in the British Army, starting as a soldier in the Parachute Regiment, before being commissioned into the Royal Corps of Transport, which later became the Royal Logistic Corps. I left the Army in 2003 as a Major.

On returning to Guernsey, I worked as the operations manager for a local IT company before finding my dream job heading up the logistics and contracts management for a German alumina refinery, from Guernsey. This ended following an accident in 2008.  Last year I started work again and I am now a civil servant working as a procurement officer at our hospital.


I was married in 1993 and had two children who are both now at University.  In fact my son leaving recently inspired my poem 'Empty Nest'.  We have 2 dogs and 2 3/4 cats and live 5 minutes from the beautiful cliffs of the Island’s South coast.


Guernsey’s South coast taken from Icart Point 
looking West


Sherry: I love your poem Socks, to the three-legged cat you rescued. And I understand that when you had a serious life event occur in 2008,  Socks was able to return the favour and comfort you in turn. Would you like to tell us about that time?  

John: Thanks. I'm glad you liked the poem. Socks was not actually a rescue cat, we had two cats at the time and Twizzle, Sock's sister, had been missing for a week or so when I felt compelled to have another look for her in the hedges near our house. It was then that I found Socks seriously injured, he ended up losing a leg.  Unfortunately we later found out that Twizzle had died.



Socks

I remember the day I found you
lying crumpled on the verge,
I'd been looking for your sister
when I somehow felt an urge...

There you lay twisted and broken
your life hanging by a thread;
I prayed that I'd not lose you too,
as I gently held your head.

They took your leg to save you.
As I watched you overcome
I marvelled as you learnt to walk,
then jump, hunt and run.

After I was struck down
you tucked in close beside
silently gave me the courage
my demons to deride.

You've been a good friend to me;
as I struggle to overcome
you've shared with me the strength
to survive and not succumb.

My fingers massage your scars
beneath your silky fur
and you soothe mine
with your reassuring purr.

John Carré Buchanan
20 August 2017



Socks

Sherry: I just had to include this sweet poem. I am so sorry about Twizzle.

John: As for the accident; in August 2008 I was cycling to work when a car pulled out in front of me and my life changed forever. 

The physical damage was minor, but I was left with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome which means that I suffer from severe pain in my right leg.  This pain ranges between 7- 10/10 on the pain scale and is always there.  While I managed to work for a couple of years after the accident, the combination of pain, lack of sleep, depression and the opiates my doctors had me taking resulted in me having to quit my job to concentrate on my recovery.  I might add that during this period my employer was brilliant, actually allowing me to work from my bed at home in an attempt to keep me on.

By that time I was using a wheelchair, heavily dosed on the strongest of opiates and depressed to the point of being suicidal. I had a spinal cord stimulator fitted, which allowed me do pass an electric current directly onto my spinal chord to change the pain. This led to an infection, which meant the stimulator had to be removed, a blessing in disguise. 

Sherry: My goodness, John. What an amazing journey you have made!

John: It was at this point that I realised that if something didn’t change I was not going to survive.  The doctors and psychiatrists, though extremely compassionate and well-meaning, were actually hindering my recovery with the drugs and the constant examination of events in my life.  I decided to stop seeing doctors and over the next 8 months I weened myself off the opiates and the doctors and hit the pool and the Gym.

I set myself a goal of running a half Ironman triathlon in 2015. Given I was in a wheelchair, had severe issues resulting from the last time I’d ridden a bike and found that water moving over my leg was extremely painful, this was a mega challenge.  I persevered.  At one point I realised that it was the water moving the hairs on my leg that increased the pain so I shaved my leg!  It worked, and in September 2015 I competed the 2km swim, 90km ride and half marathon in just under 6 hours.



Me on the bike leg of Graniteman 2015


Sherry: I am sure our readers' jaws are dropped, like mine, reading of this amazing transformation! Wow!

John: I immediately set a double goal of returning to work and learning to barefoot waterski in 2016, both of which I achieved.

Sherry: What a triumph, John! A remarkable story of determination and overcoming. How are you now?

John: Pain is still a major factor in my life, as is depression and sleepless nights, but I am now more able to live with it. I do not use painkillers any more, but I use my wheelchair when it’s needed.  I am no longer suicidal, but given the pain is incurable and slowly worsening, I do pray for a short life.

Sherry: It never fails to humble me, learning the challenges people somehow learn to live with and transcend. When did you begin writing, John?

John: My first poems date back to just after I left school and my early days in the army. I even had one published in the regimental magazine (Thoughts on Cyprus).  That said, it was nothing more than a dabble.
 
After the accident I realised that everything I enjoyed was physical; as such it felt like I lost everything. I sat down and listed everything I had ever done that was not physical and poetry was at the top of the list.  To be honest, at the time it I saw it as the best of a bad lot!

After I had written a few poems which I thought were half decent, I wondered how I could find out if they were any good.  By happenstance I saw a rather vague reference to poetry Open Mic on the internet, it was being held in a bar 200 meters from my house that very evening, so I went along.  


A couple of months later I set up Guernsey Poets Blog to encourage more Guernsey Poets to give it a go.  I also set up Poet at JaybernThe rest is history.

Sherry: And lucky for us, both you and Julian found your way to us! What do you love about poetry, John? What makes it sing for you?

John: That’s a bit of a tricky question. I can't profess to loving poetry. I enjoy it as a distraction from the pain, and reading a clever take on a subject is often inspiring.  That said, I have always enjoyed war poetry, and poems by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, must be the soldier in me!
Guernsey is blessed with a number of excellent poets, such as Julian, who often attend the monthly open mic.  My pain management goal each month is to attend this event and enjoy their company.

Sherry: Since only one of our members can hear your poems in person, are there three you would like to include here for us?


John: Wow choosing 3 is tricky, I will take one on each of my most written subjects, the environment, the military and perhaps something motivational. 

Let’s begin with a poem about the damage the human race is doing to the Earth.  All over the world we see destruction of primary rain forest, tundra and other unique environments.  We pollute and effectively rape the rivers and oceans.  I believe that in the end we will kill ourselves off and on a geological timeframe the world will recover, but in the meantime:

Infection


The infection started slowly,
but that did not last;
Lungs weakened by the continuous onslaught began to fail.
Life giving gas now bore pollutants which weakened the body
and made the virus’ attack deadlier still.
The beating heart now forced polluted blood
through clogged and damaged veins.
Kidneys and liver began to fail as the antigen’s onslaught
outstripped their ability to cleanse.
The skin’s surface took on an unhealthy pallor
Soars broke out, black, yellow and red puss bearing carbuncles
An unhealthy cloying stench hung around the body
And still the virus continued its attack.
Finally unable to function the fabric of the body broke down
And there hanging dead in space where the blue planet had hung
Was a smog covered grey planet destroyed by a virus called;
H U man.

John Carré Buchanan
25 February 2012

Sherry: I'm afraid I have to agree with you on all counts, John. We are taking far too long to awaken.

John: My second poem is on a military subject.  It is a sad fact of life that Soldiers serving our countries get injured.  I wrote this as one of a series of poems which start with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploding and a soldier being hurt, then recovered, repatriated and helped through recovery.  The series ends with this poem which I unashamedly wrote to encourage myself during the darkest days. It is a message of hope.  You should bear in mind that injuries are not just wounds and missing limbs, but often deep psychological traumas which, being invisible, are often overlooked and of course damage families.  This poem speaks of all three.

Singing In The Bath


He's singing in the bath.
six months,
new legs,
new face,
and he’s singing in the bath,
because he’s home.

The kids are laughing.
six months,
new legs,
new face,
and the kids are laughing,
because he still can’t sing.

His wife is smiling,
six months,
new legs,
new face,
and his wife is smiling,
because he’s singing in the bath.

John Carré Buchanan
11 March 2011


Sherry: This poem illustrates so well the impact on families of what happens to those who serve. You are right; often, the deepest wounds are not visible.

John: My third poem is something a little lighter and is based on a tool I use to manage pain. It can and has been used to reinforce goals, help people make a variety of behavioural changes. 

The Pebble


The little pink pebble
Was found on a beach
It lives in my pocket
My thoughts to impeach.

Created in fire
at the dawn of the earth
It cooled to granite
With much bigger girth

It was covered with algae
When life first began,
It saw off the dinosaurs
and the ascent of man

The rough granite texture
Has been smoothed with time
its Feldspar and quartz
Give off a faint shine.

My existence is shorter
Than this tiny stone’s
and it will be here when
I’m nought but bones

With hand in my pocket
Its cool form I feel
It gently reminds me
My life is for real.

When I feel down
As I often do
I touch its smooth surface
And admire the view

When I am low
and life’s not worth a damn
Its touch hits my thoughts,
Like a battering ram

I think of those things
that bring me great joy
of being a Father
Or when I was boy

Or think I’ll grow rich
And drive a nice car
I let it remind me
We are who we are

A negative thought
Like: “it’s been a crap day”
can turn to remembering
a romp in the hay

There’s always a friend
To give me advice
but my little pebble
will always suffice

So remember this poem
When next you’re alone
bend to the ground
and get your own stone.

John Carré Buchanan
23 Jun 2010

Sherry: I love this one, John. I am always picking up pebbles and small rocks. I especially like "we are who we are." Do you write prose as well?

John: Very occasionally. I have had several articles published in newspapers and magazines but getting the drive to write more extensively is a bit of a problem.  Penning a few poems a month is about all I can currently handle.

Sherry: I think you have the makings of a wonderful memoir in all you have experienced. Just saying......... I understand you have traveled considerably in your life. Would you like to tell us a bit about this? 

John: Sure. I was born in Trinidad and I had lived in Kenya, Sark, Guernsey and England before I was sent to boarding school at the age of 7.  A year later my brother joined me and my parents headed off for Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, then it was Mauritius, Seychelles, Gibraltar, Grand Cayman and the list went on, It made for some superb holidays.

On leaving school I spent a couple of years with my parents whilst my army career got going. During this time I went out to Hong Kong, where I worked as a labourer on a building site, and then Gibraltar, where I tended bar.

Having joined the Para’s, I served in the USA, Canada, and on the UN line in Cyprus, before being sent to Officer training at Sandhurst. 

As an Officer I served in Germany, Canada, Australia, Northern Ireland, Belize, the Balkans, Cyprus and the UK, and a couple of others.  Most of my time was spent serving as a Logistics Officer, but I also did a spell as a Primary Forward Air Controller (a P-FAC is the chap that is on the ground guiding aeroplanes onto their targets). This inspired my poem ‘The Twitcher’.



Jungle River Crossing Central America 1991


Sherry: Forget the memoir! I think there needs to be a movie! What an adventurous life you have lived.

John: My most rewarding posting was in Northern Ireland when, as a Lieutenant, I commanded a group of guys who resupplied all the outposts around the ‘Province’.  This was a dangerous and demanding role at which they excelled, and we had a lot of fun.  

I must admit that whilst having favourites is not encouraged, of all the soldiers I commanded, it is those that I was most honoured to know; indeed we still meet occasionally and several of my poems refer to them.

My wife was a dentist in the Army and in 1992 I very romantically proposed over the phone from Bosnia, whilst serving with the UN in what was an extremely harrowing tour. When I returned and she asked for her ring I jokingly offered her the phone card and said I’d already given her a ring (on the phone). Unsurprisingly that didn’t wash, but she still has the phone card!  We were married in Sark in 1993. 

My takeaway from all of the traveling I have done and the people I have met, often in harrowing circumstances, is that the vast majority of people are good, and want nothing more than to live their lives with their family and friends within their own belief structures.  The Media would have us believe that the world is an increasingly dangerous place; this is simply not true and in my opinion drives up suspicion, fear and hate.  I don’t deny that there are some seriously nasty things happening in the world, but we actually live in a time which is safer than it has ever been. 

Our single biggest threat is that of greed, and our insatiable belief that we have a right to everything. We don’t.  We are not the only inhabitants on this planet and one day our greed will come back to haunt us. My poem ‘Have a Care’ which was recently linked to Poets United’s Midweek Motif on Respect, addressed this issue.

Sherry: I could not agree more, John, especially about most people being good and wanting simple, peaceful lives. Well said.  Looking back on your childhood, can you see anything that you think led to your becoming a poet? 

John: At school my spelling was atrocious and I was actively discouraged from taking the English Literature exams. I suspect the school was worried about its pass rate record;-)

I remember reading a mock exam paper that contained two amazing poems: Robert Frost's ‘A Road Not Taken’ and Edward Thomas’ ‘Tall Nettles’. That was the first time I can remember seriously enjoying and understanding the power of poetry.  Unfortunately being a boarder meant that we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves and there was not too much in the way of 'encouragement'.  My real focus was on sport, specifically athletics, swimming and archery, and watching out for my brother who was a bit of a tearaway.

Sherry: Well, poetry found you at just the right time, I suspect. What other things do you enjoy, when you aren’t writing or working?

John: I was always a keen sportsman. I did athletics, swimming, archery, martial arts, boxing, rugby, skiing (both snow and water), rock climbing, windsurfing, kayaking and the list goes on.  Unfortunately the reality is those days have passed. Even if I wasn’t injured I would still be 53 and having to calm down a bit!

Unfortunately my life revolves around managing the pain long enough to earn the proverbial crust.  My average day is get up, hit the gym, go to work, come home and collapse.  If I am lucky I will have enough strength left to write something.  My weekends are spent recovering, although sometimes I manage to fly my power kite or go kayaking along the Island’s spectacular South coast, which is just five minutes from my house.  


Power kiting on Vazon Bay – West Coast of Guernsey

Oh and I dabble in a bit of Cake decorating, which is great when I am able to sit or stand for long periods of time, but can get a bit fraught when my pain kicks up a notch.


One of my Christmas Cakes

Sherry: The kiting looks fun - and the cake is amazing! Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

John: Yes, three things, if I might:  firstly I would like to thank the administrators of the Poets United blog for providing us all with such a great platform, I know the work that this involves and I really appreciate it, as I am sure other contributors do. 

Secondly I would like to thank all of the poets who have contributed by submitting poems or simply adding a comment to a blog post; both these activities bring joy and we can’t have too much of that.

Finally, I guess I would encourage people to write about their difficulties and subjects that challenge.  That lone voice might be the first roll of the snowball that turns into a massive avalanche, or it perhaps it will give someone else a beacon of hope in an hour of darkness – Happy writing.

Sherry: Thank you, John. You are so right about the beacon  of hope. We have all felt the impact of poems from the heart that resonate, move us, inspire us, give us hope, remind us of what really matters.

Thank you so much for this amazing visit, and for sharing your story. What a story it is! There are many unsung heroes in this world and you, my friend, are one of them!

Wow, kids, I don't know what we'll do to top this. We might have to coast on its coattails for a while. Smiles. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Poetry Pantry #375

Photos Taken Along the Bay Trail (3)
by Bekkie Sanchez


Businesses, like hotels and restaurants line the Bay Trail.
That is Kincaid's, a very good restaurant which is a chain in this area.

There’s plenty of grasses that grow in the sloughs and waterways
of my area. Besides the bay, there are man-made and natural
waterways that connect and the creeks that run from the Bay to the coast.

This is my heart rock. It’s a piece of concrete
from the old road that looks like a heart, I love it.

I cross this bridge a lot and finally read the sign!
It’s the Sanchez Lagoon and no one asked me about water sports! Lol!


On the way home the other day, the sky greeted me
with a giant S for Sanchez!

It’s always exciting to see a seal! They are hard to see because
you see a head, it goes under and never comes up again.

Good day, poetry friends.  This is the third weekend we are treated to photos taken by Bekkie Sanchez.  Thank you, Bekkie, for sharing your bike ride views with us.

We had a lot of participation in our Midweek Motif this past Wednesday.  Autumn was the theme.  No matter how many autumns we have lived through, it seems we can always come up with an autumn poem.  Smiles.

I hope you all have taken a look at Rosemary's Moonlight Musings.  She asks us about our favorite books for writers.  Do you have one?  If you do, please take part in this interesting discussion!

On Monday please return to read Sherry's feature of poets who share poems of strength and hope.    It is a wonderful feature, sharing the works of three fine PU poets.

Next week's Midweek Motif will be Dark Moon, New Moon. Plan ahead to share with us on Wednesday.

With no further delay, let's share poetry.  Link your poem below. Say 'hello' in the comments.  Visit the poems of others who have posted.  See you on the trail!


Friday, October 13, 2017

Moonlight Musings

What Are Your Favourite Books for Writers?

(Don’t tell me you don’t have any!)

I’ll tell you mine:

For sure you’ll know the ones at the top of my list. Always and forever, Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES and its sequel, WILD MIND. A friend introduced me to BONES soon after it was first published in 1986. I immediately loved and embraced it, and have come back to it repeatedly over the years. WILD MIND was published in 1990, and I was given that one by another friend soon after. ('More of the same good stuff,' she said. Indeed it is, and not merely repetitive but taking things a little further.) 



I knew about free association, in its psychological context and as a tool for writers – but Goldberg’s concept of ‘timed writings’ made it easy and delightful, an all-purpose method. And she presents it in a most engaging way, her own writing endearing and positively inspirational. There are a lot of other great pieces of advice for writers in these books, too, all drawn from personal experience and all revving up my excitement about writing.

The other one I keep coming back to, published in 1994, is Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, her 12-week course for ‘discovering or recovering’ the artist within. It’s not only for writers, though her most famous method (a way of dumping extraneous thoughts out of your head, leaving your mind clear to create) consists of writing ’morning pages’ every day. I write them, I lapse after a while, I eventually remember and start again…. I have actually done the full 12-week course, which has other components as well, several times over.

So those are at the top of the list, and please note that both authors have also written other excellent books for writers, which are worth exploring too. In fact, I own and use a number of them.

The precursor of these books was Dorothea Brande’s BECOMING A WRITER. I think I read about it somewhere, a long time ago; some writer I admired recommended it highly enough for me to seek it out and get my own copy. Back then it was the book – before Goldberg and Cameron produced theirs.

From Brande I learned about making an appointment with yourself every day, to write for 15 minutes, scheduling it in at the beginning of the day; and to treat this as ‘an appointment of honour’ which must not be broken except in direst emergency (e.g. your dog gets injured and must be rushed to the vet). If you do have to break it, you immediately reschedule it in your head – just as if you were negotiating an important meeting with a VIP. (You are!) 

She has a number of other effective ideas too. I know they work; I tried them all. This book was first published in 1934, was re-issued in 1983, is still available in paperback, and now includes Kindle and Audible editions.

I should also mention the ultimate book for journallers: Tristine Rainer's THE NEW DIARY, first published in 1979, with a foreword by Anais Nin. It was groundbreaking and thorough, and I believe everything that has been written since about journal writing owes a debt to Rainer. 

These are books for writers in general, as distinct from poets – in fact Brande assumes fiction writers – though on the whole they are as useful to poets as anyone else. There are many other good books for writers, and several of them are on my shelf. The ones I’ve mentioned just happen to be the ones I most highly recommend. Also, they have not gone out of print, which tells you something.

What about books specifically for poets? 

Yes, there are a number of them too.  They come in different kinds.  

The How

There are those which discuss the poetic basics such as metaphor, metre and form (i.e. prosody: the art / science of versification). I think we all need to come to grips with those things. I believe we need to know our craft. 

I started making poems when I was very young; and a family friend who was a teacher explained to me about prosody when I was maybe nine. He advised me which book to get to study it further. It was the late Australian poet James McAuley’s VERSIFICATION. I see with surprise that it is still available in paperback and hard cover from Amazon.


I don’t know what else is available because I haven’t needed to know – except for Stephen Fry’s THE ODE LESS TRAVELLED, which I encountered somewhere and dipped into. In scholarly mode rather than wearing his comedian’s hat, he obviously knows what he's talking about and expresses it clearly. Lots of people declare that they love and value this book.

The What

Contrary to what I just said about the necessity to learn prosody, a friend whom I consider a brilliant poet writes only in free verse. However, she does know her craft; its just that it’s a craft which doesn't include formal metrical or rhyme schemes. 

She likes books which suggest new subjects to write about and where to find yet more; various ways to revive flagging inspiration; and technical questions – such as whether to write in the first person, if breath dictates line length, and how to circumvent the cliché. Kim Addonizio’s ORDINARY GENIUS and Sage Cohen’s WRITING THE LIFE POETIC are examples. They are excellent, comprehensive books, and do include some discussion of form. I own both, and still refer to them, but they are not the kind I like best of all.

The which 
(i.e. which way?)

I love free verse too, and probably use it most often, but I also enjoy playing with form. And I’m particularly interested in process – in the various ways by which one might create a poem: not only form and technique but also approach and structure; not only craft and pattern but also games and disruptions. 

Each of the books I most often turn to these days when I want help has recently gone into a Volume II (so, four books in all). They are WINGBEATS: EXERCISES AND PRACTICES IN POETRY, by Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen, and THE CRAFTY POET: A PORTABLE WORKSHOP, by Diane Lockward.

Both consist of chapters written by a number of different poets, with tips, exercises, and examples. They suggest crazy things like turning a poem around and writing it backwards to see where that leads, or detaching oneself from the left margin and wandering all over the page to learn what effects that might create. They show you in detail how to make a poem funny; or instruct you to use a different, specific constraint for every line – mentioning a flower here, counting syllables there…. They have you writing really bad sonnets on purpose; or trying out ways to make the title play a larger role in a poem. They remind me that art is play. I have enormous fun with them.


Note: Diane Lockward also publishes a free newsletter you can subscribe to by email, from which both volumes of THE CRAFTY POET were drawn, and which offers opportunity for (optional) participation as well as learning.


So what are your favourite books for writers, and why?