The rest is easy

I like a lot of talk in a book 
     and I don’t like to have nobody tell me 
what the guy that’s talking looks like 
I want to figure out what he looks like 
     from the way he talks. 
Never say ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose’. 
     The reader will just leaf ahead 
          looking for people. 
               When an idea comes, spend silent time with it. 
          Good ideas are often murdered 
     by better ones. Afterwards 
     it won’t matter to you that the kitchen’s a mess. 
The rest is easy. 
     Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge 
          from a few brief keystrokes. 
     On the page they flare 
          into desire. A lot of men still think that women 
     lack imagination of the fiery kind. 
I once noticed Mary McCarthy 
     ending a line of dialogue with 
‘she asseverated’ 
     and I had to stop reading. 
If it was bad when it went in the drawer 
     it will be worse when it comes out. 
          Stop feeling sorry for yourself. 
     Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch 
then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. 
     No amount of black pullovers or being 
          publicly obnoxious 
               will ever add up to your being a writer. 
          Your own life will never have 
Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House  
     before he started writing it. 
          But if you’re writing a novel with a contemporary setting 
     there need to be long passages where nothing happens 
save for TV watching. 
     Don’t write in public places. 
     Don’t make telephone calls or go to a party. 
     No going to London. 
     No going anywhere else either. 
          The first twelve years are the worst. 
     If nobody will put your play on 
          put it on yourself. No one cares. 
     Don’t write letters 
to the editor. No one cares. 
          Read Keats’s letters. 
     In my 30s I used to go to the gym 
          even though I hated it. Was I performing a haka, 
     or just shuffling my feet? 
          But it is the gestation time 
     which counts. Writers 
write. On you go. 


In an interview on the eve of his film release, 
Paul Giamatti described what people’s souls would look like 
if everyone could see them. For example 
Willie Nelson’s soul would be an ear of roasted corn. 
Giamatti liked the idea, personally, of having a country singer’s soul, 
but not Merle Haggard’s, which would be kind of rusty 
with lots of buildup. 
The guitarist Slash’s soul was ‘a blood orange 
left out on a windowsill, 
all dried out and leathery’. 
Freud’s soul was a piece of Babylonian statuary, 
with the fulsome beard, the half-a-lion, the wings. 
Jessica Simpson’s soul was hard to pin down, but in the end 
was maybe a tape measure. 
Donald Trump’s was a nice set of whitewall tyres. 
Kim Jong II’s, ‘a crazy box of crabs’, 
and Henry Kissinger’s, ‘a doorknob’. 
Giamatti thought his own soul, truthfully, might be 
a hand-painted ceramic toad. Something decorative 
yet inconspicuous, to go in the yard, something that visitors 
would refer to (in hushed wonder) as a ‘thing’: ‘You know, 
I kind of 
like that thing.’ 
Giamatti was very good at bestowing souls. 
I bet it was a game he liked to play 
as he walked round Brooklyn, glowering at the homeless, 
the autograph hunters, the blood-sucking poets 
the misspellers of his name. 
His approach was poetic: you could look at his souls 
in a number of ways; they crossed a number of windows, to and fro. 
The problem is, though: if the soul was (for example) a peahen 
then what about the peahen’s soul? Where does it reside? 
We will never know the inner life of the peahen 
nor that of the ear of roasted corn 
that the peahen has eaten. 
My mother’s soul might resemble a moon 
but that only seems so because I am far away. 
In the Giamatti film the soul is burdensome. 
His character is weighed down 
by all the nameless anxieties inside. 
But as it turns out, Paul Giamatti’s character’s soul 
is nothing more 
than a single, heat-treated chickpea. 
As he peers into the plastic cylinder 
where his extracted soul rolls about 
he looks so lonely for himself 
it breaks my heart. 
Is that my soul, I used to wonder 
when I woke up sad? It was as if in my sleep 
my soul had mistakenly risen to the surface, forgetting 
that its adaptations were meant for the deep. 
Or was that not my soul at all – just the undertow 
of a dream? And was my soul like nothing, or nothing more 
than passing through light and shadow, with eyes closed; or nothing more 
than a forgotten driftnet, growing things on its ropes? 

From a Garden with Teachers

I had never seen Mrs. Smart’s bare arms 
but there they were, chalky white/grey 
like clay 
yet to be made into something 
til then I had managed to get around the fact that 
teachers had skin 
had whole bodies underneath their clothes. 
Because she was a big lady 
some kids called her names 
she would lose her temper in class 
and her face shook terribly. 
In the garden, her face folding into a smile 
she asked about my future. 
Mrs. Wards had a laugh 
that belonged in the air, in the trees. 
She put her full weight behind it: 
it was incredible how far she could make it go. 
Then it would do an about-turn 
and billow down to the garden. 
I don’t remember the joke 
but Mrs. Wards clutched my arm 
and gave me a look 
like she knew me through 
and through, because I was thirteen 
and a girl. 
I was afraid of and in love with Mr. Frame 
who was forever consumed by a fury: 
he threw chairs 
at the blackboard, at us; he threw himself 
at the wall; his blue eyes burned. 
My mother had taught him fourth-form French 
he had been a beautiful boy. 
He stood alone in our garden, smoking 
he looked different 
knocking the ash out of his cigarette 
and I liked to pretend 
we had never met. 
Sad Mr. Muir, whose name always 
made me think 
of the moa, 
mooching along in the fading terrain 
overturning fronds and skeletons. 
Mr. Muir’s first name was Ian, and that immediately 
seemed to me 
the sound a moa might have made, calling 
for its mate, at night. Ian, Ian, Ian 
Muir. There was a rumour 
that his wife 
had left him. 
Next year I was leaving town 
but the teachers would go on 
every December, standing in one another’s gardens. 
Mr. McVinnie would go on peering over his glasses 
sweat patches would go on growing under his arms 
as he went on flicking the baton to the military marches 
that would march on sure as time. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ 
he’d said when asking me to play 
in the stage band 
I would’ve done anything for him. 
How long they could stand, 
holding the same pose 
and the same glass, the wine knowing 
when to refill itself, their smiles 
when to brighten 
their voices blurring 
the way the tennis nets do 
in late afternoon, when the dark 
is beginning to bloom around them 
and their colours are beginning to run 
outside their lines 
like paint 
with too much water. 

My hairdresser and my heart

My hairdresser, he’s not a beautiful man 
        or not in the way you were, blatantly 
             but he’s very nearly symmetrical, which 
        is this year’s definition of beauty 
        and he has quick hands the colour of matches 
             a shirt of flame-whiteness 
             and a bitchin’ military-styled 
        apron. Is he in love, 
             is he hetero or gay; is he green, does he 
        give cyclists room? It’s impossible to know 
what he’s like when he doesn’t know 
where to stand in relation to you or 
what to do with his hands. 
He moves about my head with grace 
and urgency, as if deactivating 
a bomb 
like Kip at the end of The English Patient 
the greatest love story of all time. 
All women deserve to be carried out of a desert cave 
by a crying man, to be billowed all around by a sheet. 
Well I hate my head at the hairdresser: big and blotted 
knoll on a hill, knot in a curtain. 
A head that belongs on a pillow only 
besides which you used to tell me softly 
I wasn’t that ugly. 
        My fringe is snowing slowly 
             but I feel I’m catching fire. 
        The way we let them touch us, it’s not right is it? 
             I don’t unplug myself the way you told me to 
                so when my hairdresser presses down 
             on my shoulders, my heart jumpstarts 
        and when I leave the salon 
I almost go out looking for you. 


Ashleigh Young currently lives in London where she works as an editor and blogs sporadically. She thought about making this a “cute” biographical note but has decided to stick to the cold hard facts.