Monday, February 24

Over the summer, I helped to steward a conference (run by the Professor of Poetry at Strathclyde) around the subject of ‘ekphrasis’ (put simply: writing about art). One thing that stuck with me from the talks I heard was the idea of developing an ekphrastic gaze (I think it was the plenary speaker, Cole Swensen, who talked about this). What I took this to mean was: looking at ordinary life, and seeing it as a work of art. And then responding to that ‘art’ in writing.

This idea appeals to me, and I think that’s often what I’m trying to do through my writing. Trying to train my eyes to focus instead of just skimming surfaces. Trying to pay attention. To see with words.

With this in mind, I thought I’d pop a few of my favourite ‘noticings’ on here from recently. (Often when I’m feeling a bit uninspired writing-wise I’ll bring out my notebook and do some discreet people watching/eavesdropping – all in the name of art, of course – so here are a few from my green notebook):

one.) Observed from a coffee-shop window while waiting for a friend:

Two old ladies, in matching black beret hats, walking arm-in-arm up Buchanan Street: feet dragging, not talking, leaning on each other for support. They look identical in almost every way: the same ankle-length straight black skirts, the same comfort-fit chunky shoes, the same stout build, the same hair (white, cotton woolly). The only difference is the colour of their coats: one is bright pink, the other green, like a leaf. 

They remind me of two brambles.

two.) overheard on the train home:

The game’s a bogey, Mum,’ she shouts down the phone. Her voice rings out over the rumbling train, the crying baby, the rustling crisp-eater, the coughing granny. ‘I used t'be with Orange, and then it was that "EE" company. But m’phone’s been useless since it switched over to – eh – since it switched over to – eh – to - eh, what’s its chops.

(What’s its chops. Ha! I smiled.)

three.) observed while reading in the library:

A little girl wearing a headscarf sits cross-legged in the middle of the children’s section, flipping through a picture book. Her scarf is long with purple sequins, and reveals the smooth shape of her bare head underneath. She looks up when she sees another little girl come into the library. This girl - dressed in pink with stripy tights - has a long blonde ponytail, and she is making faces at her baby brother as her mum pushes his pram.

‘Hi Eve!’ the first girl calls from where she's sitting, and the girl in pink turns around and waves. Her hair bounces when she runs over.

The two of them wander round the early-reader shelves, chattering away to each other and looking at the books. At one point, the first girl turns her back to her friend and – ‘Look, Eve!’ – shows off the long tail of her sequined scarf. It flows half way down her back and swishes when she moves her head. 

She flicks Eve’s ponytail with the back of her hand, and then does the same flicking motion with her own scarf. The two of them laugh, and I now realise that the scarf has also been tied back in a ponytail, like a ponytail.

A little way off, the girls’ mothers stand watching them: hands pressed to their mouths, the baby brother crawling on the carpet by their feet. They don’t say anything to each other. They just watch. But... it’s something they’ll tell their partners about later, when they get home. After dinner, probably, when they’re doing the washing up

(‘-and I just felt really sad about it, you know?' Cutlery clinking against glasses. 'I think I could have cried.’)

four.) seen and heard while walking to university.

A motorcyclist at the traffic lights, waiting. Black helmet. Leather coat. Under the rumble of engines, the purr of his bike, I can hear him whistling. As I walk past, I hold my breath, trying to catch the tune. A smile of recognition. He's whistling ‘La Vie en Rose’ (and quite nicely as well. With soul).

The lights change. Red–amber–green. And he is gone.

Walking along the street, I find myself wondering: does he keep whistling, even when he can't hear the sound of the song?

(On a related note: I like Priscilla Ahn’s cover of that song. You can hear it: here.)

five.) experienced in the cafe:

There’s a gentleman in work – a customer – who often comes in with his friend for lunch. He always wears bright Pringle jumpers: red, green, mustard yellow etc. And he has a well-trimmed beard and a curly head of neat white hair. Both the jumpers and the beard give him the impression of joviality, so every time he comes in I expect him to be funny. I expect him to be one of those old men who smile and wink and make little joking comments when ordering their food. (‘I’ll have “le soup de jooor” as they say in France.’ ‘If I order the Seniors’ Fish Tea, do you need to see my bus pass?’ etc). But he’s actually quite surly. Serious. Even rude, sometimes. And I’m always taken aback.

I’m forever fooled by his friendly facial hair.

(The lovely pictures in this post come from: Liekeland.)

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