I couldn’t let this moment pass without a tip of the hat towards National Poetry Day. As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m semi-regular at a writing group in Second Life, and it forces me to churn out something in 20 minutes. Sometimes, with a little polishing, I’m reasonably content with these.
There’s this pebble that makes me feel small
But I can hold it in my palm
Broken, sheerly like a miniature cliff
Inlaid with lines, pencil fine
By spirit-level silty seas, advancing, retiring, layering
Then squeezed, tectonic tight
Then baked in earth’s belly and uncovered
By archaeologist’s brushes of
Wind and water
Shorn by ice and rolled in the tide
It’s just those lines, no thicker than a fingernail
Each a few thousand years deep
That make me feel
In accents deep set or bulging, narrow or wide, turned up or down
With lumen whites for a larynx, elastic lids for vocal cords
Blinking like a cursor
Pupil and iris for tongue and teeth
Punctuation marks, up or down at the end of sentences
Or hovering for emphasis
In accents fine or rough, round and knobbled, flecked like bark
Or medieval tones of lily white
They have ten inflections, each topped by a nail
Their salute is mightier than the sword
Speaking without boundaries of language
Forceful words seldom misinterpreted
They even vote and carry on political campaigns
With the whole entourage of body
All at once achatter
Although this is supposed to be a ‘writers blog’ it tends to be a repository for the things I don’t write: the stuff I do when I should be writing. When I do find the time to actually do some writing (for myself), I often find all my brain wants to do is mess about and compose nonsense. I find this incredibly easy and profoundly satisfying.
Really, ‘nonsense’, of the sort that Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear gave us, leaves a much wider space for readers or listeners’ imaginations to play in. It harps upon this beautiful feature of human languages: with syntax, sound and context we are more than half way to understanding meaning. Who the hell needs vocabulary?
I’d like some feedback on an experiment that may grow into a project or turn out to be a blind alley.
I call these “Word Salads”. They are improvised lists of words, spoken with minimal expression. I think they should give rise to cascading imagery in the minds of listeners. Because they are improvised, they are unique phenomena, ephemeral, immediate and unpredictable.
The first example here is a “dissociated improvisation”. As with all sorts of improvisation, there must be some rule. We have all played the word association game, but this tries to be a solo word dissociation game. It is very difficult to do as I don’t think it is possible for the mind to work without association. There are probably really three or four rapid associative steps between each word. Sometimes I am aware of this happening as I grasp for the next thing to say.
Without any context, the words become quite strange, I think, but each one has the power to evoke something, like the edge of a fin appearing momentarily above the water before disappearing again.
The second example tries to tell a story of some sort. The rule of this improvisation is that a narrative is allowed to take shape, although it has not been predetermined in any way.
See what you think.
Would these have any potential for performance? I think their improvisatory qualities make them exciting for the speaker if not the hearer. Are they evocative or just monotonous? Could I go anywhere with this or should I stop wasting my time?
Encouraged in no small way by Xe Sands, the curator of weekly audio gems at Going Public and one of the great cheerleaders among my online fellowship of creatives, I have been experimenting with sharing my poetry out loud. I have always written more for the ear than the eye, so it seems an appropriate medium for putting it out there.
For this week’s offering, I have picked a couple of poems scribbled in my teens and recently re-worked.
The first poem (Empty House) is what comes out when you read a lot of Craig Raine, you feel as if the whole world is against you and one day you come home to an empty house.
The second poem (Silver Story) is what comes out when you read a lot of the Elizabethans, you spend your weekends in your silversmithing workshop and one day you meet a beautiful woman.
It’s a morning in May 1993, I’m 16 years old. I step out into our garden after breakfast. Beyond the garden fence, there is an orchard and then a steep, treed slope down to the river Thames. It is spring; I can hear skylarks and boats chugging lazily up the river. There is still dew on the grass. Somewhere between the flowerbeds of giant poppies, Love in a Mist, and Borage, I am struck by a feeling of “at-one-ness” that I have never forgotten – everything seems stitched together. There have been several moments like this in my life (another one was in a pool of light under a streetlamp in Reading one rainy night), and I often feel closer to them at this time of year … Spring.
Quite soon after this intimation, I stitched together a naive poem that I still don’t really understand but which seemed to fix that moment in the garden like a photograph for me. I grew Nigella damascena (Love in a Mist) in my flowerbed when I was a youngster, and it is probably my favourite cultivated flower.
Here is an audio of the poem, “Love in a Mist” by my 16 year-old self, read by my 20-years-later self. This is followed by “A Daydream”, written the following year while I was travelling in Africa – somehow the two always seem to have come from the same stable in my psyche. Both seem to be haunted by a mermaid of some sort …
I have a folder with maybe an hundred poems in it; most of them were written between 1994 and 1999 and covered the span of time from GCSEs to my final year at University. In the last thirteen years my poetic productivity has died to a trickle. I have lost my way a bit. I feel embarrassed by the panting romanticism of the early stuff and the technicolour emotions and tangible intimations of immortality that fueled my late teens are not as keenly felt as I approach my mid-thirties.
When I was at school, I was surrounded by poetry. There were three of us in my A level English Literature class where poetry was inescapable, there was an annual poetry prize, there was even a Dead Poets Society and there was a library with a well stocked poetry section. With some friends and some support from the English department, I started a small literary magazine called “Apex”. These days I have to fight to make space in my life for reading poetry, let alone writing it, but there has been a modest output. Here’s one I wrote for a friend a few years ago:
there’s a person i know i could be
theres a woodsman and a soldier in me
a weather beaten soul that’s rarely seen
i know he’s there because he’s been in my dreams
there’s a monk called brother somebody
who leaves his cell to cross the sea
he doesn’t fear and he doesn’t flee
but stands on the weatherdeck scorning the lee
i have felt his anger and desire to be free
his feelings and mine always agree
his indian name is strong-man-going-boldly
god’s breath must be in him or he couldn’t breathe
a strong man this woodsman must be
to fell the hulk of my family tree
a bold soldier too and armed to the teeth
gallantry and loyalty stirring beneath
his bayonet gouges mediocrity
and the monk steps out on a distant beach
salt on his lips that are burning to preach
and he speaks of my soul and who i could be
More poetry postings from this blog can be found here.