Falling & Fake News

Write Poetry - Monday 27th February, Richard Jefferies Museum. 

Thank you to the online resources of the Poetry Foundation for James Dickey's poem, 'Falling'.

I am hearing the word 'Fake News' everyday - but what does it mean? I decided to base tonight's session around that idea of playing with news. Here's what Wikipedia says 'Fake News' is: 

Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or political.

The gain in the sessions is to be inspired by new poetries, to read more widely, and try out new ideas. There's no political or financial gain, although we have been raising money for a new library at the museum with the income from attendees. 

James Dickey's poem 'Falling' came into my mind as I prepared the session. I wondered if the news report at the beginning of his poem was real. It is real, but it has been arranged in a poetic way. This is what is on the New York Times website:

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn., Oct. 19--A 29-year-old stewardess fell 1,500 feet to her death tonight when she was swept through an emergency door that suddenly sprang open on an Allegheny Airlines plane. The craft was approaching Bradley Field here for a landing.

I had people think up a news head-line. Anything they liked, it could be from real life, their own life, or completely made up. We then read the long poem, 'Falling', by James Dickey. 


I asked the group to find the one word that sums up their headline. Michael's was extinct, Anna-May's was naked, Bethan's was Facebook. I asked them to obsess on that word and create their response to the headline. 

Short Stories

I've spent the last week reading short stories. Mainly because I have a unit to teach at New College, and each time I teach it I have grown myself as a writer and teacher, so I end up rewriting the whole unit! The pleasure of reading and discovering new stories can take you to new imaginations. I started with Best (British) Short Stories 2016 (Salt) I wanted to read what writers are writing and publishing now. There is a lively introduction by Nicholas Royle and he reminded me to read some of the excellent journals that publish short stories, in particular, Brittle Star, Lighthouse, and Ambit. 

I've also been reading, That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the finest short stories ever written. Selected by David Miller.

'Any anthology is a weird wonky wonder ...' he writes.

And it is a wonky wonder. I have loved revisiting The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and How to Write a Short Story by Sean O'Faolain.

It's hard to teach people to write, and giving structures and science can help a great deal. I was reading these stories with structure in mind, I wondered how they fit into Nigel Watts’ eight points, from Writing A Novel and Getting Published.  Here's my conclusion from The Red Shoes. 


ONCE upon a time there was little girl, pretty and dainty. But in summer time she was obliged to go barefooted because she was poor, and in winter she had to wear large wooden shoes, so that her little instep grew quite red.


In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker’s wife; she sat down and made, as well as she could, a pair of little shoes out of some old pieces of red cloth. They were clumsy, but she meant well, for they were intended for the little girl, whose name was Karen.
Karen received the shoes and wore them for the first time on the day of her mother’s funeral. They were certainly not suitable for mourning; but she had no others, and so she put her bare feet into them and walked behind the humble coffin.

•The quest

Just then a large old carriage came by, and in it sat an old lady; she looked at the little girl, and taking pity on her, said to the clergyman, “Look here, if you will give me the little girl, I will take care of her.”

Karen believed that this was all on account of the red shoes, but the old lady thought them hideous, and so they were burnt. Karen herself was dressed very neatly and cleanly; she was taught to read and to sew, and people said that she was pretty. But the mirror told her, “You are more than pretty—you are beautiful.”


Meeting the soldier: Now every one came out of church, and the old lady stepped into her carriage. But just as Karen was lifting up her foot to get in too, the old soldier said: “Dear me, what pretty dancing shoes!” and Karen could not help it, she was obliged to dance a few steps; and when she had once begun, her legs continued to dance. It seemed as if the shoes had got power over them. She danced round the church corner, for she could not stop; the coachman had to run after her and seize her. He lifted her into the carriage, but her feet continued to dance, so that she kicked the good old lady violently. At last they took off her shoes, and her legs were at rest.

•Critical choice

At home the shoes were put into the cupboard, but Karen could not help looking at them.
Now the old lady fell ill, and it was said that she would not rise from her bed again. She had to be nursed and waited upon, and this was no one’s duty more than Karen’s. But there was a grand ball in the town, and Karen was invited. She looked at the red shoes, saying to herself that there was no sin in doing that; she put the red shoes on, thinking there was no harm in that either; and then she went to the ball; and commenced to dance.


She danced, and was obliged to go on dancing through the dark night. The shoes bore her away over thorns and stumps till she was all torn and bleeding; she danced away over the heath to a lonely little house. Here, she knew, lived the executioner; and she tapped with her finger at the window and said:
“Come out, come out! I cannot come in, for I must dance.”
And the executioner said: “I don’t suppose you know who I am. I strike off the heads of the wicked, and I notice that my axe is tingling to do so.”
“Don’t cut off my head!” said Karen, “for then I could not repent of my sin. But cut off my feet with the red shoes.”
And then she confessed all her sin, and the executioner struck off her feet with the red shoes; but the shoes danced away with the little feet across the field into the deep forest.


On the following Sunday they all went to church, and she was asked whether she wished to go too; but, with tears in her eyes, she looked sadly at her crutches. And then the others went to hear God’s Word, but she went alone into her little room; this was only large enough to hold the bed and a chair. Here she sat down with her hymn-book, and as she was reading it with a pious mind, the wind carried the notes of the organ over to her from the church, and in tears she lifted up her face and said: “O God! help me!”


Then the sun shone so brightly, and right before her stood an angel of God in white robes; it was the same one whom she had seen that night at the church-door. He no longer carried the sharp sword, but a beautiful green branch, full of roses; with this he touched the ceiling, which rose up very high, and where he had touched it there shone a golden star. He touched the walls, which opened wide apart, and she saw the organ which was pealing forth; she saw the pictures of the old pastors and their wives, and the congregation sitting in the polished chairs and singing from their hymn-books. The church itself had come to the poor girl in her narrow room, or the room had gone to the church. She sat in the pew with the rest of the pastor’s household, and when they had finished the hymn and looked up, they nodded and said, “It was right of you to come, Karen.”
“It was mercy,” said she.

This might help you understand plot structure: