Thursday, 8 March 2007

Swedes versus Rutabagas and associated poetry incidents

A friend in New York has informed me that any Americans reading yesterday’s blog will be lead to believe that unsuspecting Scandinavians are being crushed by tractors in the Archers. This might make for a more interesting plotline than already exists and could be a change from the exploitation of unsuspecting ex-Eastern block students for the purposes of picking Adam’s strawberries. However to avoid the BBC being called to book on humanitarian grounds, I need to clarify that alternative names for the swede is rutabaga, neep, yellow turnip, white turnip, Kalrabi(Norway), Kalrot (Sweden), snadgies ( NE England) and Steckruben(Germany). I have been forced to research the swede for the purposes of clarity.
I have discovered that there is a Rutabaga Festival held annually in a town in Wisconsin and that in New York State there is a Rutabaga Curling Championship. I imagine that this must involve ice, those scrubbing brushes to smooth the swedes way towards a target and people clad against the cold to scrub furiously at the ice with afore mentioned brushes. The winters can be long and hard there and I am sure practising the art of swede curling is a family sport that keeps the locals not only warm but challenged during the long dark nights. I have learnt more than I care to know about swedes and have learnt two valuable lessons about words.
a) Always do your research
b)Never presume that people know what you are talking about

I have had ‘swede/rutabaga’ type incidents at poetry readings, where, without the written text to follow surreal misinterpretations can occur quite easily. Someone has either misheard a word or they have not been listening attentively enough and misconstrued a particular word and they have been unable to apply context clues rapidly enough to sort the whole poem out. Personal iconography can also rear its head here (see previous post regarding the use of the Jubbly, sardines and milk in poetry). I feel there is a special chamber is purgatory reserved for those audience members who allow themselves to drift off and examine the pattern of the floor tiles or plan a dinner party for a group of people (one of whom is vegan and another suffers from Gluten intolerance) whilst I am reading. I cannot allow the thought to even enter my psyche that I am boring them to death or that I am too obscure in my language use. Should I do so it will plunge my already fragile ego into a deeper slough of despond and besides my psyche is already crammed with stuff, such as images bequeathed to me as a child by the Disney Empire.
“I loved that poem about clothes shops that you read” a couple told me once after a reading. I smiled beatifically at them whilst at the same time thinking, “Clothes, did I read a poem about clothes? I don’t recall writing a poem about clothes? Have I even used dress, suit, jacket, hat, Dior, braces or socks in a poem? Is the menopausal memory so shot that I can no longer recall poems I wrote or indeed read five minutes ago? Such feedback keeps you on your toes re communication with your audience. Do I presume that they are hard of hearing and have misheard the word stove, mess, root, pack it, rat, ignore, traces or clocks of which I might have an example somewhere in my oeuvre. Suddenly it clicked but the sound of my marbles rolling into place was drowned out by their coughing; I had given an introduction to a poem during which I had mentioned a new look at genes.
“We nearly didn’t come tonight” they continued “we both have stinking colds but we are so glad we did.” Immediately the couple were plucked from the dark realms of Dante’s inferno and restored to their rightful place in the heaven reserved for those wonderful stalwarts of poetry readings who turn out despite pneumonia and blizzards; may their god continue to bless their cotton socks.
To conclude, therefore, never presume. A young child I know once struggled under the burden of a particular bizarre image for weeks and finally asked me how you could make a lock out of hair and what sort of key would you use.It may be the case that a small number of people who inhabit New York State are busy practising the art of twisting the leaves of the humble rutabaga onto hair curlers.

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