Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance - Carl Sandburg..........Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject - John Keats .........Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge - William Wordsworth ..........Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand - Plato .........No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrance of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language - Samuel Taylor Coleridge .........One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective. What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves - W. H. Auden ...........Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash - Leonard Cohen .........There is a pleasure in poetic pains which only poets know - William Cowper .........Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood -T. S. Eliot ..........Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason - Novalis...........He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life - George Sand .........A poem is never finished, only abandoned - Paul Valery ........A poet is a bird of unearthly excellence, who escapes from his celestial realm arrives in this world warbling. If we do not cherish him, he spreads his wings and flies back into his homeland - Kahlil Gibran.............Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance - John Keats..........To be a poet is a condition, not a profession - Robert Frost........A poem is true if it hangs together. Information points to something else. A poem points to nothing but itself - E. M. Forster.........Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo - Don Marquis...........Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things - T. S. Eliot ..........You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick. You're back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in - Dylan Thomas .........Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words - Paul Engle......... There is not a joy the world can give like that it takes away! Lord Byron

Prudence's Diary
Winner of the South China Morning Post Short Story Competition, 1999
By Martin Alexander - UK

It was a bitter street, with grey houses cluttered along a sharp, dishevelled terrace, steep against the hill; but Prudence's house was neat and bright and lovely. “We keep our house spick and span, don't we, pet?” her mother would say; and when they'd finished their housework, they would look cosily out of their gleaming windows at the drab town. As a child, Prudence had loved that: standing waist-high next to her mother's crisp apron, with her mother's firm, encircling arm gripping her daughter's shoulder in tight satisfaction.

Prudence remembered, and looked with her own satisfaction at the careful disarray of her college room: her spare coffee mug, with a tide mark above the evaporating sludge; some ash still on the floor from the previous late night's smoke; crumbs and cake and the ripped carcases of Christmas crackers; and clothes, carelessly dumped and rumpled on the bed and over the back of the chair.

Her suitcase was on the bed, and she began to pack, eager in spite of herself to return to her home, her mother's home, after the breathless excitement of that first term. There was so much to tell, and yet so much that her mother just wouldn't understand. Prudence remembered the three telephone conversations, and the post card she'd sent: all carefully composed, just like her mother's diary.

Dear Mum,

I'm sorry I haven't phoned or written, but it's been ever so hectic. Lectures and meetings, and getting to know the other students, and writing essays, and hours and hours in the library! I've made friends with a girl on my corridor, and we're both besotted with Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is a brilliant poet. Must go - I'm meeting some friends at the Union to join the Literature Club! And I'm keeping my room spick and span!!!

lots of love,


Most of what she said was perfectly true, but it was all somehow made a lie by what she didn't say. Somehow those bright, flat accounts of her life left out all the shading that would have given them the depth of reality: the third dimension was missing. She hadn't mentioned the bleary mornings and the late nights; the drink and the smoke and climbing in through windows; and the smothered giggles in the dark. She enjoyed using words like "besotted", and she did like Browning; but her room had never been spick and span, not since the beginning of term, the day she had first scattered her things around the small, spare room.

On the desk was her diary, her most cherished possession, and she hesitated before putting it carefully not into the suitcase, but into her shoulder bag. All her other diaries waited in a neat row on her shelf at home, but this one was special; different; private.

Both Prudence and her mother had always kept meticulous diaries, and had always shared every word, delighting in their sensible and systematic accumulation of detail.

"Perfectly plain - that's me," her mother used to say. "What you see is what you get. I've no time for all that soul-searching and silly anguish. Sensible people see things as they are." She would read out aloud her comfortable account of all that day's events and, miraculously, all the haphazard turmoil, the uncertainty and unpredictability, would be smoothed away, leaving a sensible skeleton of incidents, each bone in the right place, picked dry and clean, spic and span.

Prudence would look up at her mother, fascinated, reassured and worried: there was no uncertainty in that smooth, dependable, inscrutable face. It made her feel safe, but also guilty: she could never walk fast enough; her clothes got dirty too quickly; jam and smudges appeared inexplicably on her face and in her hair. There was always a vague and inarticulate catalogue of daydreams, frustrations and anxieties that shifted and moved disconcertingly and uncomfortably beneath the carefully organised, bright routine of her days, but somehow they weren't to be written, and so weren't to be spoken. Of course, none of this was explicit in her cloudy, wordless understanding: she just knew that she would never get it right, and so she pretended that the diary told all her life, and she struggled harder to please.

Prudence remembered herself as a little girl, before she could write, chewing her tight braids as she sat next to her mother's tight perm, dutifully mimicking in pencilled scribbles the neat script of her mother's hand. At the end of their silent evening ritual, they would read to each other what they had written, and Prudence's mother would laugh with pride as her daughter "read" those empty, scribbled lines in the dry, tidy shorthand of her mother's diary voice:

Got up. Had breakfast. Helped hang up the clothes in the garden. Went shopping with Mummy. Saw a puppy in the window but they're messy. Mummy says I'm a good girl. Watched television and then read my book.

The child would look up, face glowing with the reflection of her mother's approval.

Her childhood mornings, before she was swallowed by the junior school across the park, were spent trailing after her mother: around the house, dusting and rubbing at the glistening floors, and trudging with baskets into the garden to hang up the washing.

She stood precarious on a stool under the swaying prop, and was given responsibility for socks and smalls. Prudence shivered in the wind and watched in awe as her mother tamed the huge flapping sheets that threatened to slap her off her stool with their wet, white wings.

Prudence looked with anxious love at her mother's beauty: her own pale freckles were an affront to the smooth, rouged porcelain of her mother's cheeks, and her braids flapped like the sheets in an unruly contrast to the perfect rigidity of her mother's uniform waves and curls. Wobbling on her stool, she gazed at her mother's sturdy legs, planted firm and steady in the grass, and winced at the raised hand as the white socks slipped from her fingers and flopped to the ground, where they lay speckled with dirt. She squeezed her eyes against the sudden slap that came from her mother's hand, damp and stinging like the sheets that flapped against her legs. Prudence's eyes squeezed tears, and when she opened them, her mother was bending to lift the heavy twist of wet, wrung towel from the bright red of the new plastic basket. Prudence swallowed her sobs, and neither of the two said a word.

Later, in the High Street, Prudence helped with the bags, and the one she carried dragged slightly, even though she leaned away from it as far as she could. In the cafe, her eyes smarted again with the smoke of her mother's cigarette, and her feet dangled above the floor, tapping rhythmically against the legs of the chair until a tilted head and warning look stilled her legs and brought her hands into her lap.

Outside, they passed the pet shop, and her mother walked on, unaware of the magnet of the window. Prudence couldn't help it, and the bag sagged with her jaw at the sight of the puppies. She sucked back her dribble as her mouth widened into a grin, and she said, "Oh, mum, I would so love a puppy of my own!" Prudence turned, and looked up, but her mother was gone, a distant figure at the corner in a brown coat, talking to a woman in blue. In a panic, she hauled on the bag, and hobbled desperately down the pavement. Her mother grew in size as she grew nearer, until Prudence was next to her, looking up from the familiar perspective at the giant that dwarfed her.

"Well, I can't stay chatting all day. Must be off."

"Yes, and here's Prudence. You mustn't wander off: a man will take you away and do dreadful things if you don't stay close to your mum."

The woman in blue receded, and Prudence's mother bent down to slap each of her daughter's legs, hard, with a short, sharp swing of her hand.

"I was looking at the puppies!" the child whined. "Oh, mum, can't we get one?"

"Don't be silly, dear." Her mother's voice was firm, reasonable, implacable, and held no hint of anger. "Dogs are dirty things. There would be mud and all sorts all over our nice clean house. Come along, there's a good girl."

With her free hand accepted by her mother's dry, warm grasp, Prudence trotted in silence, leaning towards her mother against the weight of the bag that pulled against her numb fingers. Her legs didn't sting much any more, and anyway, she was imagining a soft and fluffy puppy held tight and warm in her arms.

At school, Prudence learned to read, and started to write a real diary, just like her mother's; and every night's ritual reading mirrored the words of the previous day - a crisp catalogue of their familiar routine. The familiar phrases tidied away the tears and swept up Prudence's scattered misdemeanours into a small and almost invisible heap behind the comforting rearrangement of each repeated day.

However, as she grew older, Prudence felt a vague sense of something missing: another audience, things left unsaid; an uneasy feeling that she was being unfaithful to each day by changing its emphasis and leaving out the messy details of which her mother so disapproved.

It was a shock and a revelation to read Anne Frank, and find that she could write to an imaginary friend, and share some of the innocent secrets that she began to want to write about, but hesitated to show her mother. She started to write to Anne's Kitty, and drifted out of the habit of sharing her diary with her mother. Her mother said nothing, and they wrote separately, mother downstairs, and Prudence up in her room. She knew her mother still read her diary - and expected to read it - because once, when she'd taken it to school, her mother had casually asked about it almost as soon as she returned.

"I couldn't find your diary this morning when I was tidying your room. You're not keeping secrets from me, are you?"

"No, mum, of course not." And she'd felt herself stiffen, and her eyes moistened with a helpless anger that was suddenly and inexplicably engulfed in guilt.

She had begun to write about boys, about the friendships and jealousies of her classroom, but disguised names, and developed a simple code to protect herself from an intrusive reader. There was still a nagging dissatisfaction, though; an awareness that there was so much left unwritten, so much that she dared not say.

Her mother commented only once, and it made things worse. "I saw your diary when I was tidying your room this morning. It was most peculiar! All those initials and all those silly phrases! Really! What sort of a diary is that? Why don't you keep a proper diary, with a record of the day, of what happened and what you did? Everything neatly in order! That's much more sensible! When you come to read it again in years to come, all this muddle won't make any sense, and then you'll be disappointed, mark my words!"

Prudence clenched her teeth in frustration: she wanted to write about her mother's irritating tone of voice; she wanted to wake up early and write down her dreams; she wanted to lay in bed late at night and tell Kitty the stories of her romantic fantasies; she wanted to write down the words she'd never formed on paper and hardly ever spoken aloud; she wanted to write about how her heart thumped and her body tingled when that boy spoke to her, or when she saw him across the road and through the crowd in the town centre. And she couldn't. Her mother would tidy her room. She could picture her pausing to read aloud in the empty house: those pursed lips putting a different voice to her daughter's private words; the caked powder and the scattered rouge; and the frown under the thinning, puffed-up hair.

Finally, with college, there was a delicious freedom. When she unpacked her case in that bare room, her own room, in the hall of residence, she had found a package, carefully wrapped. It was a diary: a beautiful, leather-bound diary with a strap and a clasp. Prudence smiled wryly: no lock. But her room was at last her own, and all her thoughts and feelings, her impulses and urges, truths, lies and imaginings could spill in sudden tumbles onto those magical pages, now bare with promise. Sometimes she felt as though she was bursting with pages and poems of which she hadn't the slightest inkling until her pen started to move across the bare page. It was like that automatic writing she'd read about, except that it wasn't anything to do with spirits: it was her own hidden self, full of the surprises of her unsuspected imagination.

And once out, there was the pleasure of reflection, of letting the words roll silently in her head, or of reading them aloud and making them frighteningly, deliciously and dangerously real.

Suddenly released, Prudence sat down at her bare desk, opened the diary and, leaving the suitcase still open and full on the bed, held her pen poised to write. She hesitated; then her mother's frown creased into a grin, and she wrote the first momentous, blasphemous words:

Dear Shitty,

She paused, and then went over the letters again and again, thickening them, and adding long swirling tails to the 'S' and the 'y'. Then, satisfied, she began to write.


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