Don’t tell me what to write!

You should write a poem about that.
Tell me a joke.
Can you take a look at this rash?

There are certain people in life who cannot avoid their occupation outside of the ‘office’. When people know what you do for a living they have a tendency to expect certain things of you.

Doctors and physiotherapists get asked for on the spot diagnoses. Comedians get asked to say something funny. Authors get told they should write about certain situations.

It’s funny. As a teacher I am never asked to correct someone’s spelling or grammar but, as a poet, I am regularly told I should write about this and that.

Oh, you broke the laminator? There’s a poem in that.
You know that kid who failed year 10? They’re going to uni now. There’s a poem in that.
Did you see that group of kids in their pyjamas, mourning their lost friend? There’s a poem in that.

Admittedly, there may be a poem in all of those situations but the minute you speak those words or echo their sentiments you’ve broken every creative bone in my body. If you think there’s a poem or a story in it, you write it. Let me come up with my own.

I’m not saying that I don’t have dry patches where inspiration and motivation have evaporated. I’m not saying I will reject every idea that is thrown at me. I’m just saying that you need to let me decide what the story is because the story I see in a situation is not necessarily the same one you see.

The broken laminator? Maybe the poem would be about the failed lesson plan or about the student who put the sheet in the wrong way or about the crushed self esteem of the laminator who can no longer fulfill their function.

The kid at uni? Maybe the poem is about the distractions they faced in year 10 or about that internal fire to be the best one can be or about the failure of a system that no loner suits our society or about the pride the teacher feels in knowing the student’s success, having seen the potential despite the dismal grades.

The pyjama mourners? Maybe the poem is about mortality or about stupidity or maybe it’s a comparison between those teens and the ones who, at the same time, were in neat, uniform rows sitting their exams.

Whatever the story is, you have to let me see it. It’s the same rebellious attitude you see when you tell your kids not to do something and they go behind your back and do it anyway. You tell me to write it; NO! You tell me the situation; I’ll see the story in it and put pen to paper.

Let the story evolve by itself, don’t force it.

These are the words that make me

A friend shared a post on Facebook where a designer/illustrator offered her services to bloggers. I looked at the artist’s stuff and knew that I didn’t fit her usual style but I responded anyway. To be honest, her work didn’t fit my usual style either.

I’ve had a caricature drawn by Dan Heyman before and this suits me perfectly; I’m a larrikin.

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So when Sheryl said she’d draw me an image I didn’t know what to expect. I still don’t think our styles align but I love the picture. I’ve been sitting on it for a few days because I wanted to honour it; I wanted to write something decent that justified the effort she went to. AND… if you like her stuff you can see more on her website (http://nevertheless.com.au/) and/or Behance (https://www.behance.net/sherylyoung).

RonBarton-illustration

I still don’t know what to write but I’m going to spew out some words and hope it all makes sense in the finish…

Recently I was asked by Australian Slam Poet, Abe Nouk, to come up with 6 words that would serve as a short bio, 6 words that defined me. I came up with “Poet, Teacher, Father, Doer of Stuff”. These are the words that make me.

I am a poet. I never thought I would be. I mean, I always wanted to write but I was hoping to be the next Stephen King. I sort of fell into poetry. At uni I would scribble words on tiny notepads that could fit in your pocket and eventually I started writing pieces that could fit on one page. Aside from a few friends I would entertain with some comedic verse every now and then, my words were for me.

At some point a few years ago I was looking at submission suggestions online to see what length was expected for book length manuscripts. The site I was on had suggested word counts for novels and short story collections as well as the normal amount of poems required to fill out an anthology (60-80). With forty poems on my hard drive I was two thirds of the way into my own book of poetry – it was just the motivation I needed.

I’ve been lucky. I sent my full manuscript out to 5 publishers and one of them (Ginninderra Press) said they would produce my book. Following this I sent two new poems to Tincture Journal which were accepted and published in their first edition. I’ve been published elsewhere but I’m building a list of ‘rejected’ submissions that keeps me grounded.

I’m a teacher too. I love my job. It’s the career path I decided upon when I was fifteen and there have been no regrets at any stage. It’s funny, when I told my year coordinator that I wanted to become a teacher she said it would never happen. I’m now a Level 3 Classroom Teacher, Associate Dean (2nd in charge of my department) and have almost 11 years of experience behind me. Who saw that coming?

Every year has brought new challenges. I’m not going to shy away from the hard times and say that it’s all been easy. It hasn’t. In 2009 the stress of the job caused me physical pain; I would double over with severe stomach cramps. I was working myself into a hole, taking on more than I should have. As I said before though, I have no regrets – that year taught me a lot about my own boundaries.

Regardless, the best thing about the job is the kids. People who are concerned about the future because they don’t trust/like the current generation of youth are clearly influenced by the media’s bias. I’m constantly amazed by what my students have been through and what they are able to produce. I know I’m making a difference too. I was invited to an ex-student’s wedding recently and her mum was telling me how concerned she was about ensuring that I would be at a table where I could have intelligent conversations. Her mum also told me that my angry voice (punctuated by a short, sharp yell of “GUYS!) was incredibly intimidating. It was amazing to think that our teacher-student relationship wasn’t smooth sailing and yet I still had enough of an influence to justify being invited to her wedding. I did feel a bit weird being there but I couldn’t help but be touched by the invite and consideration that went into ensuring I had a good time.

Most important to me, though, is that I’m a father. I won’t spend many words on it here. I don’t do well with emotions (which seems ironic coming from a poet) so I’ll just skim the surface. I don’t like being away from my family where it’s avoidable. My wife is amazing and she’s gifted me two fantastic children. My daughter is top of her class, even though she can’t throw over arm. My son is into everything I like – Ninja Turtles, superheroes, Lego. And I got to name them too! I had each of their names in my head since I was in high school but what I couldn’t imagine is how great they would be. They frustrate the hell out of me sometimes but they know I love them.

Finally, I’m a doer of stuff. I’ve successfully run two TEDx events and two writers’ festivals. I’ve just finished a season of basketball and signed up for a season of Aussie Rules. When my mates need a hand around the house, I’m there. I like to think of myself as reliable and I do what I can to maintain that reputation.

So that’s me in a ‘little’ more than 6 words. Poet, teacher, father, doer of stuff – these are the words that make me.

What price do you put on poetry?

Parking: $10.60
Cover charge: $15
Beer: $7 per can
Zine: $2
Book: $20
An insight into other people’s worlds: Priceless

Thank you MasterCard for the formula.

Last night I ventured into the Perth for an evening of spoken word poetry in a small boutique bar that doubles as an art gallery and creative space. We sat in small groups on low chairs or sprawled across the floor. We sat in awe.

Spoken word poetry is a unique art form. When the practiced poet speaks the room is blanketed in captivated silence but not for long. Spoken word encourages audience participation. Call out when the words resonate with who you are and who you want to be. Click or clap when lines reach out and touch you. Do not be ashamed of your tears or your laughter. Do allow yourself to be immersed in the moment.

If you want to compare spoken word poetry to anything it’s like walking into one of those African American churches you see in the movies. It’s an appropriate analogy too. Religion and poetry have a lot in common and they are both built on storytelling. The poets who have the greatest effect on me are those who have a narrative at the core of their verse.

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing the Australian Slam Poetry Champion wax lyrical about his life. Abe Nouk speaks openly about his upbringing, his refugee status and his Australian citizenship. He captivates his audience with his honesty and his charm. Most importantly, while he was there as a guest feature, he was as enthusiastic about listening as he was about spitting (a term that is synonymous with spoken word poetry). Abe praised many of the performers for the bravery of their verse.

Also in attendance were many poets I’ve come to know and admire. Coral Carter read one of my favourite poems, the titular verse from her book Descended From Theives. It cycles through various scenarios but the crowd pleaser is always this:
“He wears a blue shearer’s singlet.
My daughter calls those singlets Wife Beaters.
But he has not got a wife that I know of, unless she is chained up down the back.”
Marcus, the Scrutineer of Splodge, wowed the crowd with his poem kept us all guessing. He touched on a number of issues without committing to any. He spoke with his usual flair; the consummate performer.

Paul Harrison read his best poem and made many a person wish he would return to writing verse. I miss his sharpness.

Jakub Dammer was also there. He is fast becoming my favourite poet and I’ve only seen him perform twice. Last year I saw him commentate a boxing match between two emotions. Last night he spun the turntables of life.

I also saw DVS perform in a way I hadn’t seen before. David Vincent Smith is equal parts poet and musician. The first time I saw him was at a workshop he ran with FG and Wisdom2th on writing hip hop lyrics. Last night he was rocking the mic as part of The Sophists – a hip-hop/poetry mash. DVS is also the person who took the photo that is the featured image for this blog post – I hope he doesn’t mind that I lifted it from Facebook.

New voices found my ears too. Jakob Boyd, aka Laundry Man (son of the legendary Anti Poet), Maddie Godfrey and Matt (who had a surname, I just can’t remember it) stood out as poets for me to start following – and I’m probably behind the 8 ball here. I’m sure they’ve been working with words for a while and I’ve just been oblivious to their magnificence.

Many thanks must go to Rahima Velagic who organised last night’s event and has been tirelessly working to bring poetry to the people.

I will leave you with a line from Abe’s book, Dear Child, and hope you find your way to verse…

“Be the Puzzle not the piece.”

On Malcolm, Martin and that X-Men Analogy Thing

Such an informed opinion on a topic I’ve been guilty of accepting without further thought.

Phenderson Djèlí Clark

malcolmmagnetoOn the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the activist, orator and the man once referred to in eulogy by the late Ossie Davis as “Our Shining Black Prince,” El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (most commonly known as Malcolm X), I quite foolishly decide to wade into that whole X-Men analogy thingy. Of course I’ve been warned. Of course I know better. But since when has that stopped me? So then, let’s do this thing.

And that supremely bad ass Malcolm & Magneto mash-up art you’re seeing, is courtesy of the amazing John Jennings and his 2012-2013 exhibit Black Kirby. If yuh dunno, now yuh know.

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Free book!

So, I wrote a new story to use with my year 10 class.

I’d done one of the exercises from The Writers’ Workout (the one where you cut up the different elements from a variety of stories). The students had their prompts and I had mine and we all went away and wrote a maximum of 300 words. I wrote 300 exactly because I’m weird like that.

Anyway, since then I’ve turned the story into a mini-book.

Book

If you want your own copy, you can download the template HERE.

Once you’ve cut off the excess, follow the instructions on this video (you might have to pause and rewind a few times).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21qi9ZcQVto

Ensure you have the page writing side down when you do the folding.

Enjoy!

Ron Barton – Poetic Smackdown

This was the first interview I ever did as a result of my writing. I still can’t believe how fortunate I was to find a reader in Abbie.

URBAN F

If God Is A Poet

“I could write a sonnet on it.

Yes, that would suffice.

Perhaps a ballad would be better

Or a free verse, just as nice”.

The Thought Process Of A Poet

Ron Barton - Perth Poetry Club Ron Barton – Perth Poetry Club

This is Ron Barton – my appointed Poet Laureate for today’s ‘Smackdown’. A man on a word mission, to share and teach the intricacies of verse in all it’s styles and traditions.

Discovering Ron bounding from the pages of the Australian based e-magazine The Tincture Journal, was another one of life’s unexpected pleasures. An excellent collection of authors from both hemispheres, their thoughts micro and long. It was Ron Barton’s poetry that hit me first. His swaggering word beats, his insights and mirth. I could hear his music, lilt and rhythm. An assonance filled with honesty, regret, pride, frustration, identity, humour and darkest dark glimpsed light.

Ron’s poetry hatches…

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Me, My Shelf and I

My book shelf is dominated by three names: King, Pratchett and Marvel.

shelfie

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since I was a teenager. He was, and still is, my idol. The sheer volume of work he has produced is ridiculous; he’s a writing machine! The modern master of horror has written over 50 novels and nearly 200 short stories. If I get one novel published in my lifetime I’ll be happy.

With that much to choose from, narrowing down a favourite is extremely difficult. The Shining is a contemporary classic and its sequel, Doctor Sleep, was much anticipated and well received. The Stand, Pet Sematary, and Misery are often talked up as some of his greatest extended pieces but they’re still not my favourite. I was tempted to pick Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas – three of which have been turned into films. Ultimately, I couldn’t go past

The Dark Half

The Dark Half is an important King novel because of what it is a reaction to. When Stephen King felt people were buying his novels simply because they had his name on them he started writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman to see if the quality of his writing was still strong enough to sell books. The Dark Half is a response to this period of his career.

In the novel, the protagonist is an author whose pseudonym sells better than he does. When it is revealed that the author (Thad Beaumont) and the moniker (George Stark) are one in the same Thad and his wife hold a mock funeral for the now redundant pen name. In true King style, the fake grave gives birth to a real threat as George rises from the dead and starts killing all of those responsible for his ‘death’.

Beyond the gruesome killings the book features brain tumours and parasitic twins but the scariest element for me is wrapped up in one phrase:

“The sparrows are flying again.”

I hate birds. Talons. Beaks. The ability to swoop. Birds are freaky. And, if the book didn’t scar me enough, George A. Romero’s film version echoed Hitchcock’s classic and I haven’t looked at birds the same way since.

As for Pratchett, I read Truckers when I was in high school. I thought it was awesome but I was deep into horror at the time and wasn’t interested in genre hopping. Thus, it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I really fell in love with Discworld. The best thing about this universe is the variation. Fans are divided as to which series within this space is Pratchett’s best. Is it the chronicles of Rincewind and the wizards, Granny Weatherwax and the witches (that now includes the YA Tiffany Aching books), Grimes and the City Watch, Death or the more recent adventures of conman Moist Von Lipwig?

Again, like King, Terry Pratchett is a prolific writer – there are 40 novels in the Discworld series alone. It makes it hard to pin down an absolute favourite. As an Australian, it’s hard to go past The Last Continent, a parody of Aussie culture. I love the development of Pratchett’s characters and Thud sheds new light on Vimes but I don’t know The Da Vinci Code well enough to get all of the jokes.

Aaargh! Choices!

Ultimately, I’d have to say my favourite Pratchett book is

Carpe Jugulum

Carpe Jugulum has possibly the best title of any book ever. This vampire tale belongs to the witches series of books and features Granny Weatherwax and co. standing up against a family of vampires who have built up a tolerance for garlic, bright light, and religious symbols.

This book also marks the first appearance of an Igor, a clan of servants who have gone on to appear in nine other Discworld novels.

As a horror fan and high school teacher, I probably gravitate towards this book because it parodies gothic literature, the Hammer horror films and youth culture. It practically screams out “READ ME!”

The final dominant presence on my bookshelves is Marvel Comics. Being a fan of graphic novels and comics used to be a little embarrassing but the success of the Marvel movie universe has made it a more acceptable social practice. Extreme fanboy behaviour is still discouraged but it’s okay to admit to an interest in superheroes.

My own interests here tend to gravitate towards new perspectives on mainstream characters. Villain centered collections like Identity Disc and Villains for Hire offer new insights on characters that often go underdeveloped and the Ultimate Marvel universe updated existing characters for a new generation. But, I was always a fan of the What If? comics that would explore alternate versions of existing characters so my favourite trade paperback would have to be

Exiles

Exiles (volume 1) saw the creation of a new superhero team led by Blink from the Age of Apocalypse storyline. We are told that they are brought together by the Timebroker to fix broken realities within the Marvel multiverse. The premise is Quantum Leap meets the X-Men and Avengers.

One of the coolest things about this series (and the first book) is that you get to see alternate Marvel universes where history has been altered because of a single change at a key point in time. There are gender swapped characters and new characters who are the offspring of well know superheroes and villains. Beyond that, the make up of the team can change at any point as heroes get replaced upon their death or the completion of a specific mission.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’ve written this blog post (or any of the others really) but I hope you find something here that tickles your fancy. If not, use the comments to tell me who dominates your bookshelves and what your favourite books are.

Complete, 214 Valentine’s Day Erasure Poem by Ron Barton

This was my first ever attempt at erasure poetry. It’s a fascinating form and a Google image search reveals some beautiful examples. I’ve since used it as a classroom activity for low ability students and a number of my colleagues have now done the same. In fact, we’ve started a box in our storeroom where we have books we’re happy to destroy in the name of this art form.

Silver Birch Press

Image
COMPLETE
by Ron Barton

Brian held on for a second time.
But nothing happened.
The doorbell didn’t ring.
Nor did the telephone.
He went to bed frustrated.
The next day Brian was on his way down to the park
when he came upon a woman.
Brian smiled to himself.
He reached for his ticker.
The woman was young and pretty
–  younger and prettier.
“I’m very sorry,” she said.
“But I’ve managed to fix you.”

SOURCE: “Complete” by Ron Barton is based on page 214 of The Complete Horowitz Horror by Anthony Horowitz (Puffin, 2008), available at Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Published twice by Tincture Journal in 2013, Ron Barton is a fresh face to the Perth (Australia) poetry scene. His first collection of poetry, *If God is a Poet*, was released at the end of 2012 and, more recently, he has had poems displayed at the Sydney Fringe Festival and the…

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