Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Fly on wall reports

BLOGGER’S RETREAT, yesterday. The Newport-Paddington leg of my inward journey lasted two hours, just time to write the following but without refurbishment.

To call him square as once a Frenchman did
Was slanderous - he had a baby’s lines.
His stomach made an unrestrained bid
To match his mango cheeks and, from the vines,
Sketched on his nose, hung sweetish rosebud lips.
Sine-curved, his textiled bulk and mincing hand
Moved primly on well-polished tripping tips
Proclaiming rosbif in an alien land.
And on his head a condign, bulbous crown
An overarching stroke to this cartoon,
A melon, bowler, derby, curved surround,
The perfect stigma for a male balloon.
Basil, a herb, a feature of Red Square
Deserves affection more than I can spare.

The subject is (was? – de mortuis…) a mutual acquaintance of fifty years ago and I was able to read the sonnet to Plutarch as the champagne was being opened. Afterwards, chicken bhuna, chicken korma, poppadums, several chutneys, two types of curried vegetable and a pint of Kingfisher each.

An agenda had been prepared (P’s reponses in italics): Is my delight in inserting multi-syllabic words in sonnet lines justifiable? (It’s old-fashioned.). I worry about my verse being unintentionally obscure. (Fight hard against this. Aim for clarity. And yet...) Can vivid scenes in the novel be used to disguise lack of plot momentum? (In a word, yes. But it depends on the vividness.)

Because I offered it hypothetically P spent some time on “Is it legitimate to parachute in a character for a single scene and not to refer to him/her again?” P gave a qualified yes but urged me to consider later indirect references. However a woman at an adjacent table, who’d been listening, said very firmly: “Yes, the author is king.”

Instead of going the short way (ie, over Waterloo Bridge) to the pub in Roupell Street we went down Fleet Street and examined the Blackfriars Bridge – Embankment intersection to check the geography of the most crucial scene in the novel. At Roupell Street, two pints of Breakspear each; discussed Lucy's prepositional infinitive. P gave me The Penguin Book of German Verse and lent me The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.

12 comments:

The Crow said...

This fly still wishes she had been there, but is grateful for this summation, distillation, of your five-hour meeting.

Your poem fleshed out a character so well, I almost think I know him.

I am curious about the parachuted character in your novel. Does he/she act as a catalyst in some way, someone necessary for something to happen between two other characters, or for some pivotal piece of the plot to come about? Seems okay to me, because we encounter parachutists all (figuratively speaking) the time in real life, don't we? People we interact with only for that moment, or a few moments, then never see again or hear from thereafter?

I like what your eavesdropper said, about the absolute power of the author. But characters have been known to mount an insurrection and dethrone a monarch...though you'd not let that happen, I'm sure.

Thanks for sharing with us your visit with Plutarch.

The Crow said...

What is a prepositional infinitive? I know what each is alone, but I've never heard of this before.

Is Lucy's question at the end of her response to Plutarch's poetic query an example of a prepositional infinitive? Pray, enlighten me Professor Higgins.

marja-leena said...

I wish I'd been a fly on that wall, so familiar after being there a year ago (May 13th) with you and Mrs B, and also having met Plutarch a bit earlier. I can just picture you two and taste the food!

Not being a writer of novels or poetry, I have no authority in the matter, but my instinct says that the author has absolute power, as does the visual artist. So long as the results are good, of course, and that's where the critics get to judge, not that most of us care.

CC said...

Found your version after reading Plutarch's description of the eavesdropper parachuting into your conversation.....probably never to be
brought into the plot again. ;-)

herhimnbryn said...

I wanted to meet the character in your poem...
Your meeting with P. sounds grand and I applaud your choice of vittles.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: The subject of the sonnet is/was a quintessentially middle-class Englishman who edited a technical magazine and provided for me at least an amusing touchstone of someone born into the Home Counties. As I say, the sonnet was written against a very tight deadline, and Plutarch said the verse reminded him more of yet another middle-class Englishmen with aspirational hints (I'm afraid you have to be a Brit to appreciate the nuances) of being upper-middle-class.

As to the parachuted character I deliberately kept things hypothetical when I posed the query to Plutarch in order to get a generalised response. As things turned out this made it difficult for him and I should have included more detail. Which I will now add. Hatch has a working acquaintance with this woman outlined previously in a single scene. On the verge of taking a significant step in his life, he has dinner with her. He is increasingly attracted although there's more to the encounter than just that and the dialogue helps define aspects of Hatch's character. She gives him to understand that for unexplained reasons she is unlikely to see him again. The encounter is more like a visitation than a simple social/sexual event, she leaves Hatch having dispensed wisdom and mystery, and she does not reappear. The encounter is fairly long but could be easily excised without changing the plot. As I wrote it the woman's character grew and offered potential as a peripheral but briefly powerful influence on Hatch. This could, however, be self-delusion and I have yet to reach the relevant chapter during my editing saga.

Prepositional infinitive. In a recent post Lucy talked about teaching English to well-educated French teenagers and made a grammatical allusion. Grammar interests me and I thanked her for this. In her response she mentioned problems the teenagers have with English because of the nature of their own language. The example she cited (involving the prepositional infinitive) is fascinating but complex since it requires me to think backwards linguistically. To be truthful I haven't quite worked it out to my own satisfaction. In brief a "bare" infinitive is "do" whereas the PI form is "to do" from which French-English problems flow.

M-L: I don't think either Plutarch or I would make any great claims for the food at the Retreat. It is Anglicised Indian cuisine, it is cheap and it is eaten in a strangely time-warped environment. My account is inevitably ego-centric and suggests that Plutarch merely reacted, did not initiate. This was not the case.

CC: I like your opportunistic application of parachuting. I was too close to the event to make use of its neatness.

HHB: Verse permits reactions that real-life might well inhibit. So you might well have got on with Basil in a virtual sense. For me he is trapped in amber.

The Crow said...

Thank you, Professor Higgins. I understand.

Rouchswalwe said...

"Can vivid scenes in the novel be used to disguise lack of plot momentum? (In a word, yes. But it depends on the vividness.)"
I've been mulling this exchange over. Perhaps coming on the heels of your vivid sonnet, it stuck with me. The japanese art of conversation is more circular in nature than our linear style of conversation. That is how it was explained to me once. This is the connection that is playing around in my brain ... still mulling ... simply sharing it here with you, BB.

Barrett Bonden said...

RW (zS): These exchanges were of necessity very pruned down. I have a particular chapter in mind where I fear the plot may stagnate but which may be entertaining in its own right. I wanted Plutarch's general reaction before I reach this chapter so that I can bear it in mind while raising the axe. Funnily enough I am presently reading another chapter which might suffer from the same disease. As a pro tem measure I have re-shaped the dialogue so that when I attempt to read the MS as a reader would (rather than as an editor - it's quite hard to do) I'll have a clearer idea of the priorities.

Avus said...

A perfect day out, BB.

Lucy said...

It's a curious kind of post-modern irony that the woman who advised you on the deus-ex-machina parachuted-in character turns out to have been one herself, in the dual narrative of your meeting, bobbing into the conversation to affirm not only that you were on track but to supply the delicious detail about herself that she was the author of one of the 50 best novels about Hackney, then disappearing never to be seen again, presumably. This is the kind of arch cleverness you couldn't make up.

It's really the propositional infinitive, not prepositional, I'm afraid. Not as in making a proposition ("If I told you you wrote the 49th best novel about Hackney would you hold it against me?"), but as in the French for a clause: the infinitive creates a new clause without the need to conjugate another verb form, with or without the subjunctive.

And I am a sad-minded pedant.

I propose (not proposition) a rule for the Bloggers' Retreat of speaking for only so long as one is holding the chutney-and-other-relish tray. I would be the most in need of it. I came away realising that I had probably divested myself of large parts of my familial, academic and emotional history to Plutarch in the space of an aubergine, lamb and chicken curry fest while remaining largely in ignorance of his. He could be exempt from the rule.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: A Comme je suis imbécile communication on the subject of grammatical pratfalls is travelling via another channel. I am perfectly willing to commit a literary version of seppuku in public but this one has its complexities and I can't risk shrinking my ever-shrinking audience any further.

Re the parachuted one, I let Plutarch have the best lines. Actually, that's not quite true; I was up against my 300-word limit. I was delighted by the interruption because it confirmed Plutarch's symbiosis with the world at large and we'd already had another random, if minor, encounter even before the meal started. People seem to seek him out. I liked the lady's brisk confidence; it was obvious she knew she would be appreciated. But for me the event was undermined when she held up a copy of her book and I recognised it as having come via the Lulu (vanity publishing) route. I shouldn't sneer. I may be reduced to that myself.

As to your suggestion about a BR variant on the procedure outlined in Lord of the Flies I wholeheartedly agree. The previous visit was repeatedly inconclusive on my part and that's why I raised the subject of a conversational agenda on the blog and later practised it. It had the added benefit of casting Plutarch in the role of guru which may even have embarrassed him slightly. The subject of his and my attitudes towards embarrassment on the social stage has been thrashed out over the decades and again it is my 300-word limit that has prevented me giving it the full 5000 words it deserves.