That’s right, we’re skipping a few chapters. Believe me, you’re not missing much.
Mary has realized that life is pointless, and she’s decided to find something that gives it meaning. She’s taken a job at an obscure charity, and enrolled in a poetry workshop with a famous poet she’s never heard of…
Mary arrives late and marvels at her courage. A glass of wine with your pasta can really work wonders. The community centre has only got two function rooms, and in the smaller one, the tables are arranged in a semicircle facing a small chair, table and man. Seven eager women are watching in awe as a diminutive man with an impressive moustache and large glasses reads from a single sheet of paper. He was either just about to finish, or else he’s so annoyed by Mary’s late entry that he just stops, mid-rhyme and angry. All she manages to catch are the words “Come for you!” with a clear emphasis on the exclamation mark. Seven pairs of eyes join the bespectacled one in his study of an apologetic Mary.
“Erm. Yes, I’ve come for you, too. So to speak. I’m Mary.” None of the women say a word. They clearly leave the talking to their leader.
The famous poet (there would be no danger of mistaking him for anything else) frowns and says “Yes, you’re the last one on the list. Take a seat please. You missed my poem, which I used to illustrate the wrongful assumptions we all have about poetry. There doesn’t need to be a rhyme, or any old-fashioned scheme. The metre can be merely felt in the poet’s intentions. And my intention was…” At which he looks at his little crowd of followers. Mary feels herself excused for now.
A blonde woman in a loose cotton blouse dares to speak up. “To command attention, and to warn?”
The poet frowns again. Maybe it comes with the glasses; they move around his face merrily when he does it. Mary finds it hard to concentrate on anything else.
“A poet’s job is not to rouse the sleeping masses. Being mainly misunderstood and belittled, he has no place in society to warn of imminent disasters, as the socialist school would have you believe. A poet so revered has already lost his function as a poet. He is merely a mouthpiece for whichever grouping can command the most followers. In short, I’m glad you saw my piece as such a rabble-rouser,” another merry movement of the glasses, “but that was never my intention.”
The cotton-bloused woman blushes and looks down at her desk. Mary feels for her.
Another woman dares to answer. “Was it pure expression, not hampered by intention?” Wow. How many of those courses has she taken?
The poet smiles kindly on her. “Thank you, too, for seeing so much merit in it. Most people talk about expression when they have trouble understanding a poem.” Mary sees no fault in this statement. But then she can only judge the masterpiece on the last three words and a prominent exclamation mark.
The famous poet now looks directly at her. “What did you make of it… Mary?”
This must be a mistake. “I’m sorry, but I only caught the last three words.”
“And what did you make of them?”
Oh. No mistake. Serious poetic interpretation.
“They… seemed powerful. I have to agree with my…” What do you call those women? Colleagues? “The previous speaker. They sounded like a warning. Maybe not to the masses, but on a more personal level.” She inwardly applauds herself for not faltering to a question mark there. Fake it till you make it.
The poet turns away and looks down at his masterpiece. “Maybe that’s what it is, then. Thank you, ladies. Now we shall attempt a practical exercise. Use those last three words to create different kinds of warnings. Two or three lines, no more. Think about the metre you want to use, and if rhyme is important to convey your message.” He checks his watch. “I’ll give you twenty minutes, and after we discuss the results, we’ll finish for today.” He picks up a pencil and turns his sheet of paper over.
Mary hasn’t brought any paper, but she remembers a small address book she has in her bag. Now for a pen… She looks around the room and meets the eyes of her fellow speaker in the cotton blouse. She is holding up a pencil. Mary smiles a thank you, and the pencil is passed on to her. Now for the poetry. It can’t be that hard.
Twenty minutes later, she has two lines of something. That’s fine. He said two or three. Only the last line is “They’ve come for you!!!”, which is hardly inventive, and the first one has no discernible metre. It’s also longer than the last line. Maybe she can make it three, after all. She hectically starts drawing vertical lines through her writing, when the famous poet asks his first victim to read out her poem.
“Mary, why don’t you start. We don’t want you to lose out, since you arrived late.”
Mary knows that hers is the only name he remembers, and she knows she’ll be the first one here next week. She glances around, expecting her eager colleagues to feel left out, but everyone looks secretly relieved. Ah well, onwards. Think of the intellectual fulfillment.
“Ok. I’ve never done this before, but here goes.” She clears her throat, which is completely unnecessary, since there was no obstruction there.
“And when you’re down, and out of it | It’s time you finally admit | It’s here, they’ve come for you!”
Powerful, she hopes, and dark. There is definitely no giggle to be heard on her right.
The poet is silent for a minute. His glasses barely move. He looks up and gestures the other women to voice their semi-professional opinions. His professional one he reserves for now.
The woman whose pencil has been responsible for Mary’s masterpiece puts her out of her misery.
“Well, it’s certainly really close to the original.” Oh no. “But so is mine, actually. I think it’s hard to be creative and original when you’ve only just heard a real poem.” Some others nod.
Mary smiles disarmingly. She’s become really good at that.
“Oh. I swear I didn’t want to copy anything. That last phrase was probably just a logical conclusion to something like this.” Her new ally sends her an encouraging smile.
The poet nods sagely. “That’s right. And we’ve learned something about strong endings, ladies. Let’s hear another one of your pieces.”
Mary keeps smiling until her mouth feels stuck and the evening draws to a close.
There you have it. It’s the first chapter I actually had fun writing, in a novel that has been a hard slog for the most part. But I’m right on track, wordcount-wise, and soldiering on. And I don’t hate Mary anymore. What do you think?