Well, I’m a published poet …..thanks to Valley Press …..I’ve had the launch….and I’m only 16,893 in the Amazon poetry charts…not that I check them every morning…perish the thought. I’ve got my name on the front of a book and I’ve had some great reviews as well. The question is:
What happens now ?
Do I sit around waiting for an email of congratulation from Carol Ann or Andy Motion, or maybe a jokey tweet from Si Armitage ? Of course not. I spend a week worrying that I might never write a decent poem again. I’m too old… .It was a fluke, an accident. It’s time to take up knitting, or collecting bus numbers.
And then I dare to look at the poems which didn’t quite make it into the final selection. Hmm… that one’s not too bad… needs tweaking, though. I move on. and discover why those poems I wrote ten years ago had been rejected, on average, eleven times. Delete them ? …taking up too much disc space ? Ye…NO…a couple of lines here stand up…keep them and cannibalise the best later.
It’s not proper writing, of course. I’m not ready for that yet. It’s just stripping out a line here, a metaphor there….a tiny glimmer in the dark. While I’m doing this, an idea the size of a small mouse is scratching away in a corner of my mind., What about…eek ..eek…you could try it, honestly…just jot down a line or two…fountain pen’s empty…the Parker isn’t…it’s loaded and ready to go…you like writing with the Parker…you know you want to…..
So I do.
I always end up writing about the lake – I don’t know why. It’s only a minute from my front door – so perhaps it’s the easy access which makes me choose that dog-walking route rather than any other. And I always have something to write about.
The lake is constantly changing – for the last ten days it has had a crust of ice on it – sometimes three or four inches thick, sometimes transparent as cellophane
This is a diary poem – a marker for something I saw, which I don’t want to forget.
Lake – January 2018
Light leaks into the air;
clouds take their substance
from the the morning twilight.
The stripped trees hold
clattering their wings.
The grass is blanched with frost,
puddles splintered glass
and the lake alive
with shifting rafts of ice
where a swan struggles
snake neck stretched,
webs strive for grip
as white wings thrash the water,
till it lifts, makes the air
sing with every wingbeat.
“Quantum Theory for Cats” available here
Bone white stone bleeds
shadow on the grass.The air dulls.
Outside the coffee shop, a girl
is stacking chairs. A scooter putters by.
The tourists have gone back to their hotels.
A shifting of the light. A slur
of movement, and he’s there,
trotting past the sundial.
No Reynard in a red coat.
Ash grey, sandy flanks
all smudged with mud,
his eyes ink black, cautious.
Rat-back snapper, chicken slasher,
worm chewer, sparrow splitter,
knocker down of bins,
lurking in the shadows
by the pub’s back door.
He stops there in the sunlight,
eyes me over.
Resolving I am neither threat
nor promise, trots away
down College Street and into Minster Yard.
Jane Nightwork was one of Shakespeare’s characters who never quite made it on stage.
She’s mentioned briefly in ” Henry IV Pt 2.” Two old country lawyers, Shallow and Silence are looking back fifty years to the time when they were at university when they were roaring boys, drinking and wenching. Jane Nightwork was one of the ladies of the night, who relieved them of their money, as well as their virginity.
I decided to give Jane a voice.
Here she is.
Flat on my back
in the black grass,
daisies, like fallen stars
about my face,
and his hand
up my petticoats
and heading slowly north.
We haven’t got all night.
I am his first time.
He is fifteen.
Our clothes fall, rustling, to the ground
and he is on me, gasping, urgent,
shivering between fear and lust.
My fingers skim his chest, feel
the soft skin, the beating heart beneath.
Flat on my back
in the black grass,
open as earth
and he the plowman.
Afterwards he wept – they often do
that first time, then
I kissed away his tears
and we danced again.
Underneath his cloak we lay
and watched the circling stars until
dizzy with their reeling,
we fell asleep.
The moon tilted, tipped
her bowl of light
so the air shimmered,
each field was spiked with frost,
and the river slithered sleek
through the sooty dark.
We dressed, backs turned
and took our separate ways,
each nursing our delight, and shame
like Eve and Adam
that first night in Eden.
I wish I knew. Writing poetry has been a central part of my life since…well…my early teens. There have been ups and downs in the past – intervals when nothing much has come up- but for the past eighteen months I’ve been writing like a runaway freight train. Except that I’ve just crashed into the buffers..
I love the process of writing more than I can say. I pick up a line, an idea, and I spend a few days rolling it round my mouth. Larkin said that “ if it doesn’t sing, then it isn’t poetry,” so I wait until it sounds right in my mind. Then I write it down.
Then I write it down again, and again. I play around with it until a second line floats into my mind, and I start reconciling the two. Before I know it I’m playing with rhyme and rhythm and ambiguity, balancing one idea with another, testing all the time for cliche or mawkishness. As soon as I start to flag, I put it away.
The following day I start again, revising, altering, adding. I’m playing with the best Lego set ever invented. Look at me, Ma ! I’m building !
And yet there is no certainty until I’ve finished. The danger point is half way through when I suddenly think “ This is rubbish I can’t finish this !” It’s real fear I’m feeling here- and real relief when I find a way through the maze.
I know when it’s finished. If it isn’t finished I stick it in the file called “ Oddments” and swear to return to it one day. I never do.
For a couple of days I bask in my own brilliance, taking the poem out now and then to reassure myself is saying what I want it to say. And then I take a break. A week or ten days or so- and then I start looking for the next poem.
I’ve been looking for three months now and there’s nothing there. I’ve tried forcing myself to write – about anything. I tried to write poem about cleaning shoes ! Can you imagine !
I came up with four lines which shamed me by their pretentiousness.
I’ve tried writing prompts. Gimme a break ! I do not want to write poetry about “ A tropical Island” or “ A time I was scared.”
I’ve tried listening to music, looking at pictures, reading other poets ( I’ve used them before.) I’m looking for something shiny to pick up and there’s nothing there but sand.
Don’t talk to me about my Inner Critic either. You need an inner critic, and I’ve got one. I keep him chained to my chair and he’s only allowed to suggest improvements. He doesn’t have a power of veto.
I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t know what to do next. I’ve shut off the poetry switch and I’ve read- everything from “ Mapp and Lucia” to John le Carre. I still enjoy my reading, thank God, but it hasn’t helped me get back to my real joy – which is writing.
I’ve had plenty of rejections, including a big one which rocked me back on my heels for a couple of days – but that isn’t it. I believe in the stuff I write. I’m not going to pick up my bat and ball and run off home in a sulk. And it was the kindest rejection letter I’ve ever had.
I WANT to write. I just can’t.
Come on then, fellowship of the internet, help me out here. Do I keep sifting through the sand in the hope of finding a gold nugget ? Do I award myself a sabbatical from poetry ?
A crude sketch
of trees against an empty sky.
Crusted with dirty snow,
the bank offers only
curls of frozen mud,
slick paths to turn an ankle.
On the flat river,
one solitary gull performs
his circus trick, seeming
to walk on water, steady
on the unseen floe
beneath his feet.
The last of three posts about metaphor. If you’ve missed the other two then you can find them here:
And here is the the summing up – the last word:
Opens the door to doubt,
pricks logic’s tight balloon,
lets light in, darkness out,
confuses silver pennies with the moon,
turns on lights in empty buildings
rips the covers from every bed,
offers dangerous liaisons
between the living and the dead,
treads the wires of contradiction,
turns lead to gold, makes truth of fiction.
If you have any comments on this three- stage post, then, as always, they are very welcome.
I was talking to Maggie Mendus the other day
( see her work here:http://tinyurl.com/q7pr7a2) and I said that she was probably physically unable to write a bad poem- (she writes a lot- and all of it good) and she replied that I knew nothing of the starts that never finished, the odd ideas that trickled away into the sand and never came to anything.
So I looked at my own junk folder ( keep everything– throw nothing away) and I was amazed at the amount of false starts, stupid ideas, bad writing that was lying around. Most of it will never see the light of day, but I came across one recent effort and, aware of the need to recycle, I thought I would post it here as a writing prompt.
I had this dream about snakes. It happened on some distant planet where the moon only comes out once in ten years.I could see snakes uncoiling out of the rocks and raising their heads up to the moonlight ( I know it sounds silly-but it sounded like a good idea at the time, ok?) As the moonlight touches them they SING. I like the idea of singing snakes. I wondered what sort of a noise they might make. I wrote…something….and then it faltered and died. I had no idea where it was all leading me- I had no end in view- and the writing was mediocre. It was not for me.
But it might just be for you. Here it is- the hulk of a poem which didn’t quite make it. Take what you want- the idea, the language whatever you fancy. Use it as a starting point for your own journey.
Let me know how you get on.
I have seen them in my dream,
the singing snakes. Like ammonites
they seem, waiting for the touch of moonlight
to release them .
Slowly, they uncoil-
longer than a man can reach
and thicker than his wrist.
Scales rustle, whisper on the broken schist.
Blind, blunt heads lift
to the bonelight, jaws snap wide
and they sing
a thin, high note
unrelenting, folding on itself until
the air quivers, and blurs.
I see ice cliffs, stinging hail
and burrows hollowed from the frozen soil.
Literary criticism is over. Finito. No more explanations of ” The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”
(it’s about a bird, stupid.) No more tortured dissections of Gerard Manley-Hopkins.
Because literary criticism is now objective.
I came across this on the Poetry Society website the other day.
It is, of course, an algorithm. It’s an attempt to place any piece of poetry on a spectrum which has “professional” at one end and “ amateur” at the other. Copy your poem and paste it into the box, press the button and….you’ve got a score. Anything plus is in the professional range, anything in the minus,logically, is at the amateur end.
Obviously, there are problems- distinguishing professional from amateur being the first. The authors of this piece of research took a selection of modern, unpublished works and called them “ amateur” – the professional collection came from a selection of poetry magazines.
All the poems chosen were modern, so you can’t try out a chunk of “ Hamlet” to see how Shakespeare scored.
And what criteria did they set ? Rhyme and rhythm were important and, interestingly, perfect rhyme came out as an amateur indicator.
Complexity of vocabulary was important- the nature of nouns used – abstract or concrete. Concrete vocabulary was a professional trait; amateurs took refuge in woolly abstracts. The number of letters and syllables was also significant, as was the “ ease of definition “ – I’m not sure what that means but I suspect they’re talking about the use of ambiguity, double meaning.
Sylvia Plath’s “ Crossing the Water” scored 2.53.
I had to have a go, didn’t I ? This is the poem I copied into the text box
the hills tentative
the valley bottoms
still settling into shape
Then,immersed in sunlight,
the day develops,
fixes the eye.
Stone walls grow
a coat of green velvet;
purple moors shake themselves
into a quilt, and in the village
a church spire’s shadow points
the way to sunset and the west.
And the score ? Only 3.9. Not bad eh ?
Of course the whole thing is nothing more than a bit of fun. Sylvia Plath is ten times the poet I am- and poetry, thank goodness, will always be intensely personal, passionate and elusive.
Have a go yourself and let me know how you get on.