If you click this link, you’ll find my snappily named poem ‘The creature runs through the Arctic ice, pursued by Doctor Frankenstein’, just published at Cordite. The issue has the name ‘Monster’ and was edited by Nathan Curnow. I’ve been sitting on that monster of a poem for ages, so it’s nice to see it out and about.

There are some wondrous monstrous things lurking there, so do have a read. If you dare. (I always wanted to write that sentence.)

FrankenFriday the first

March 20, 2015

As we move towards 2016, and the 200th anniversary of the night when Mary Shelley came up with the story of Frankenstein, I intend to blog from time to time about the author, her circle, and her creation. Friday will be my posting day, as you may gather from the header.

Mary Shelley’s Cookbook

Bind this book
in the skin of man.
Keep your place marked
with fingers,
or tongues to taste
the lineaments.
Take kidneys, lights and liver
and animate the contents
with diseased and wandering imagination.
Forget your sex.
Just write.

‘Diseased and wandering imagination’ is from an early review of Frankenstein in The British Critic. Possibly the first reviewer to realise that the author was female, the writer criticised Shelley for ‘forgetting the gentleness of her sex’. I think, somehow, that ‘The British Critic’ was most often a white man…I stand to be corrected.

Here I am playing with what was seen as a proper interest for middle class women, in at least overseeing a household’s consumption of food, and contrasting it with Shelley’s recipe for creating a novel in which a man was scientifically constructed.

As with cooking, he was made of various ingredients, and heated…at least in some filmic versions of the tale. In the novel itself, lightning is not used as the means to vivify the creature, although the phenomenon does appear in the book, almost as a character in its own right. The Modern Prometheus is the book’s subtitle, and Prometheus was tortured by the Gods for giving people the secret of fire.

A bird ate his liver, again and again.

Thiel Grant Shortlist

March 11, 2015


Who is the only shortlisted person to use words in capitals in their application title…THAT WOULD BE ME!

Yes, I am shortlisted for Philip Thiel’s grant for on-line writing. My suggestion is to look forward to the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley creating the story of Frankenstein, and to blog about the book, the author, her times and the science. Also, I would consider the use of Frankenstein in culture generally, and how the book seems even more vital today. Gender, genius and monsters; literature, film, science and ethics. A big stack of of material there! Eight feet high like the creature himself.

I must say that it is an honour to be shortlisted with such a great list of on-line writers.

The winner will be announced next week, and receives $5000 to blog for a year on the short-listed topic.

A celebratory tipple

A celebratory tipple

UPDATE 18/3/15:
Congratulations to Patrick Lenton who won the grant. I look forward to following his blog.

I think I’ll still be writing about Mary Shelley here, but perhaps a little less intensively than if I had won.

Remembering those who gathered in 1816 by the shores of Lake Geneva, along with monsters and vampires

We’d all be Byron, if we could;
titled, desired, trangressive.
What wouldn’t we all give
to write Mary’s monster half as good?
Or to pen Ozymandias,
and find ourselves anthologised,
with the glamour of one who died
as young as PB. There’s a bias
towards such as he, or Jimi Hendrix.
Mary Shelley lived a longish life
but many cast her just as the wife
of genius drowned. As if she were thick!
Yes, in our hearts, we opt for glory.
Pity we’re all Polidori.

P.S. Cottier

Polidori was Byron’s doctor, who accompanied the poet to the villa he rented near Lake Geneva, where he hosted his friends Mary and Percy Shelley.* They read ghost stories and composed their own. Mary came up with the idea for Frankenstein, and Byron wrote a fragment of a vampire novel. Polidori wrote the first full length vampire story written in English. When published it was attributed to Byron, who denied authorship. It is still listed as written by Byron in various catalogues. You can see how keen someone was to attribute it to Byron in the image above!

Polidori has had a bad rap; an anthology of vampire stories I am reading prints not a paragraph of that first novel, on the basis that the author was a ‘hack’. I am also beginning to read his book (The Vampyre: A Tale) and it’s true to say that the prose doesn’t sing:

“THE superstition upon which this tale is founded is very general in the East. Among the Arabians it appears to be common: it did not, however, extend itself to the Greeks until after the establishment of Christianity; and it has only assumed its present form since the division of the Latin and Greek churches; at which time, the idea becoming prevalent, that a Latin body could not corrupt if buried in their territory, it gradually increased, and formed the subject of many wonderful stories, still extant, of the dead rising from their graves, and feeding upon the blood of the young and beautiful.”

My poem above is, to some extent, about our tendency to feed upon the ‘young and beautiful’ after they die, at least.

Poor John Polidori died very young himself, like Percy Bysshe Shelley and Byron. He was best known for who he associated with; a groupie, not a musician. There is some evidence that he committed suicide, but this is controversial.

The poem deals with the way that most writers, whether poets or novelists, far fall short of the Shelleys or Byron, and most musicians are not Hendrix. That does not mean that nothing worthwhile can be written by those ‘silver poets’. It just means that some people seem blessed with an additional talent to take what was around and transform it into something instantly recognisable as new. A glamour, perhaps, to use that word in an old way meaning spell or magic. A blessing is another word that could be applied. Some use the word ‘genius’, and surely that reminds us of something magical, that grants wishes?

Next year is the 200th anniversary of that meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva, and I hope to write a lot about Frankenstein and his monster this year. Let’s praise the genius of Mary Shelley who took scientific ideas of her time and created a profoundly moving tale that examines what it is to be human.

By the way, there was another visitor in Byron’s house in 1816, who is not mentioned in the sonnet; Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, who had a child in 1817. Byron was the father.

(Public domain image from Wiki Commons.)

*They were married in late 1816, after the famous meeting, but I’ll use the name under which Mary became better known here.