dangerous liaisons between the living and the dead


The last of three posts about metaphor. If you’ve missed the other two then you can find them here:

and 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.

How do YOU write a poem…no….honestly..


I wanted to set myself very specific brief for the poem below.It was going to be about an old man remembering his first love affair. I wanted it to be technically tight, as far as rhyme and rhythm are concerned. But I didn’t want it to sound stilted. And I wanted to use as few words as possible to tell the story- the silences had to contribute to the finished article.

Well. Here it is

Old love

Street light slanted through the half pulled curtain.
She took my hand and put it to her breast.
“It’s you I want.” She smiled. “ As for the rest…”

That she should want me then…to be so certain..

Yes. I have memories which sting me yet
even as they console- the way she purred
against my neck when we were done…. No word

seems apt…so long ago..I can’t forget…..

Well…what do you think ? How far did I succeed ? How long did it take to write?
Ten days.About twenty odd hours.

Writing ” Old love” brought all sorts of practical writing questions to mind, and I thought they might be of some interest to other people. Let me know how relevant they are to your writing style.

Do you have a clear idea about what you’re going to write about before you start ?
Or do you just take a pen for a walk ?

Do you have the first line in your head before you begin ? Or any other line ?

Can see a planned journey from beginning to end ? Or do you allow yourself to wander down golden pathways ?

Do you use a pen and paper or a computer ? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each mode of writing. Anyone dictate a poem ?

5. Do you usually finish a poem in one session, or do you write it over a period of time ?

6. How much do you revise your poem ? Do you just give it a tweak and move on to the next ? Or do you go over it line by line, word by word, silence by silence ? And if you do, how long does it take you ? Hours ? Days ? Weeks ?

7.Who do you write for ? Yourself ? Another specific person ? An audience in general ?

8. Raymond Carver said that every poem needs an audience. It’s like a kiss. You can’t do it on your own. Was he right ?

9.Which is more important- structure ? Or subject ? If you choose quite a strict format in terms of rhyme and rhythm, does this make writing the poem harder ? Or easier ?

10.Who are your poetic role models ? Do you consciously attempt to imitate them ?

John Clare – the poems


You there ? Good. Last time I gave you a quick outline of Clare’s life and the kind of time he lived in- the class system,lack of mass communication etc.

It’s time to have a look at one of his poems.

The wild duck startles like a sudden thought,
And heron slow as if it might be caught.
The flopping crows on weary wings go by
And grey beard jackdaws noising as they fly.
The crowds of starnels whizz and hurry by,
And darken like a clod the evening sky.
The larks like thunder rise and suthy round,
Then drop and nestle in the stubble ground.
The wild swan hurries hight and noises loud
With white neck peering to the evening clowd.
The weary rooks to distant woods are gone.
With lengths of tail the magpie winnows on
To neighbouring tree, and leaves the distant crow
While small birds nestle in the edge below.

It’s a sonnet- you might have noticed. And it’s about birds.I don’t know how good you are on bird recognition- but can you tell the difference between a jackdaw and a crow ? Have you ever seen a heron ? If, like me, you live in the town, you might have a problem.

Clare lived in the country and knew wild birds the way a town boy can recognise motor cars. He knew the way they flew, what they lived on, and this poem shows off his knowledge and his ability to differentiate them.

The answer lies in the verbs he uses – “startles” “flopping” “noising” “whizz” ducks fly as sudden as thought; crows flop through the air.

But it’s not just verbs.
“The weary rooks to distant woods have gone”
Eight words paint a picture- an autumn evening, the rooks flapping away in the dying light.
I’m not sure about the magpies “winnowing” – that usually applies to sorting the wheat from the chaff- I think maybe he’s describing the way the magpies thread their way through the trees.

And what about the larks who “thunder”- their song echoes down from a height, and then they”suthy” (flutter) back to the stubbly ground. Literally a rise and fall.

Fourteen lines- and ten birds named and described in detail- and notice, he doesn’t tell you what they look like- he tells you how they move..
Not bad for a frail, lonely farm boy.

If you’ve found this piece interesting, then get hold of some John Clare. He’s disconcertingly simple at first reading- but there’s a lot beneath the surface.

I think John Clare deserves a place on the Desert Island..don’t you ?