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I came to Ubud to get some writing done. My timing was fortuitous, in that the 6th UWRF began in the week of my arrival. Knowing I was mingling with writers, ranging from Wole Soyinka, Marco Calvani and Shamini Flint to unpublished hopefuls, has been inspiring and excellent for the work ethic. I met some lovely people — artist/designers/jewellers Tisha and Jan Oldham, their journalist friend Margo Lang and Kenyan Shalini Gidoomal shine out — It also gave me the opportunity to take two workshops. My new friend Shelley Keingsberg‘s Editing for Writers was a really helpful kick in the pants, reminding me that ‘less is more’ , language should be euphonic, and cliche’s should be avoided like the plague. Oops.

The same themes played through Michelle Cahill‘s workshop on poetry. Now comes confession time. I do write poetry. On rare occasions. At least stuff I wanted to have confirmed counted as poetry (or not). Michelle offered clear rules and sensitive feedback: Avoid lazy words (‘beautiful’ ‘lovely’), start with the specific before the abstract, don’t overindulge in intellectual gymnastics and vague referents, don’t be clever or sophisticated for the sake of being sophisticated or clever. And avoid cliches like the plague. Oops.

But when you’ve mastered the rules, she says, then sometimes you can break them.

Breaking the rules appeals to me, and in that spirit, here is the poem I read in the class, that I thought was an example of everything Not To Do, but which instead is, apparently, an example of ventriloquising. Breaking the rules in order to make them work better. Or something like that:

{with apologies to Eliot, Carson & Cummings}

In the room the women come and go
speaking of Plath and Pollock, or Foucault,
New beginnings (are there any other kind?) are hard.

Beatrice was 17 when Dante was inspired (the 2nd time)
She was 55 when La Commedia was complete. Sappho put it more simply.
Speaking of a young girl she said, You Burn Me.

Deneuve usually begins with herself: Sweater buttoned
almost to the neck, she sits at the head of the seminar table

“Did you know that Solon introduced coins as substitutes for real value?”
Athenian credit, a currency of promises. My Deneuve refers to disparities of colony, wealth and women’s health while inner monologues swirl

I grow old … I grow old …Shall I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled?
When I am an old woman shall I wear purple
with a red hat which doesn’t go?

If you asked her, Deneuve would say
Take these days away
pour them out on the ground in another country.

She has a point. Red hats have become too banal to be anymore
a true revolt against yellow fog curling like cats, spilled tea cups, the beauty
of past husbands and etc.

Maybe I will weave baskets and words amid gardens and waves, gaining notoriety in place of popularity, shading my eyes against the glare
of didn’ts, haven’ts, won’ts, can’ts

Perhaps I’ll climb among the up so many dells down,
listening to snowflakes and light bulbs and whistles in mountain
passes of a distant how-town,

No Beatrice I, let me go while I am able,
even though the evening is spread out against the sky
(yeah, just like a patient etherised upon a table)

Let me march against drummers of violent tides, in rhythm with what
– as Marilyn Monroe said to the Etruscans to make them laugh –
Tomorrow will certainly be