Poetry

My first love of writing was poetry. Well, actually, my first love of writing began when I was young and reading Fungus the Bogeyman, Watership Down, LOTR, The Adventures of Asterix, Judge Dredd, The Adventures of Tintin, the Earthsea Trilogy, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. I didn’t start reading and loving poetry until I was in my 20s. And my favourite poets were (and still are): Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Ted Hughes, Blake, Byron, Kenneth Patchen, Holderlin, Shelley, Yeats, Wilde, Graves, Robinson Jeffers, Manley Hopkins, Johannes Bobrowski, Lawrence, Keats, Tennyson, Rimbaud, TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke.

I still read poetry because I need to shake-up the prose, add some dimension to my own writing that needs to fill my creativity, not just space. And some of the contemporary poets I love are: Don Paterson, Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, Alice Oswald, Owain Sheers, Merwin, Tomas Tranströmer, Simon Armitage, Czeslaw Milosz, James Merrill, Brigit Pegeen Kelly.

And I’ve written poetry, a ton when I lived in a thatch in Ireland, staying up late beside the peat fire, scratching out poetry as I peeled tangerines and spat the seeds into the flames. I wrote mounds of crap and would go out to the tourlough in the evening, sit on a rock and look at the stars, hear a distant blackbird, and wonder what the hell I was doing. But I always went back to my reading and my writing, sometimes on the bus to Galway, sometimes on the grass in a copse of hazels. But the poetry didn’t get any better with all the Irish moods and scenery around me.

I still write a few here and there, but I’ve never gotten the balls up to publish any. And I think you’ve got to be really invested in poetry to contribute and read all there is out there, which I don’t do enough of. And I also get a bit discouraged  because when I read these days, I see a good amount of poems that are literally prose in columns with no particular style or striking metaphors, or any real deep-rooted sense of technique and layered meaning. It’s just a couple of prose lines broken up haphazardly, following a semi-serious poetical meter, but not really.

What I need to do is start reading more, that’s my problem. Finding the stuff I like, finding that powerful language. And I’m not saying it should all be JH Prynne or Geoffrey Hill, but I think there needs to be powerful language in poetry, a language that is unconstitutional and breaks the mould of our regular speech, a language that touches the root of words but digs deeper in the way that poetry should if it’s to be read. Or spoken is way better. Because I think poetry lives on the tongue, in the mouth. But even I read poetry more than recite it, read it aloud. That’s where poetry lives, in the mouth with the tongue and the spit and the teeth and the air, fighting to be heard.

And that’s when you get lines like these:

“And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns.” Dylan Thomas

 

“I would never have thought to be born here

 

So late in the stone so long before morning

Between the rivers learning of salt.” Merwin

 

“Shelley’s faint-shriek

Trying to thaw while zero

Itself loses consciousness.” Ted Hughes

 

“At the next bend the bus broke free of the mountain’s cold shadow,

turned its nose to the sun, and crept roaring upward.” Tomas Transtromer

 

“While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,

heavily thickening to empire,

And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops

And sighs out, and the mass hardens.” Jeffers

 

“I think the dead are tender. Shall we kiss?—” Roethke

 

“It’s not the lover that we love, but love

itself, love as in nothing, as in O.” Don Paterson

 

“Pity would be no more,

If we did not make somebody Poor:

And Mercy no more could be,

If all were as happy as we.” Blake

 

“Wait…, that tastes good…It’s already in flight.” Rilke

 

“By the beads you sleep, laden in scrip.

How can you love me in a dream,

Always walking from field to field.

You sleep on, seeded by snowy drift.” JH Prynne

 

“Though nurtured like the sailing moon

In beauty’s murderous brood.” Yeats

 

“A hare stopped in the clover and sawing flower-

bells, and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the

spider’s web.” Rimbaud.

Moominvalley in November

Since golden October has declined into sombre November (I’m quoting TS Eliot), it seems the perfect time to start reading ghost stories. One I’ve always wanted to read is Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. And so I will. There’s nothing better to read on a dark chilly November night than a good ghost story, a cup of hot decaf Earl Grey steaming, the rain drizzling at the window.

I also love walking at dusk in November, as the darkness swells up, protuberant and dizzy. I live in a wood by the sea and there are no outside lights and no sounds except for the slosh of the ocean and sometimes an owl or a dog barking or if I’m lucking a fox yelps. And it’s fun to head for home after doing a short walk and see the lights in my window, one of my two cats stretching, or the head of my daughter as she dances around.  It’s exciting to look into a lit world from a dark one and imagine yourself in the warmth and comfort, arriving like a stranger.

And the best part, just before I step inside, is seeing an erratic bat unfurl out of the sky with its wind-up, mad, clattering flight and dissolve in a heartbeat into the rising moon.

Then I know it’s time to go in and read a scary tale.

Between Fecundity and the Scrap Heap

It’s an odd thing, but if I go for a while without writing, I feel like a damn criminal. I get anxious and feel as though the entire world is scrutinizing. Of course it’s not; every writer knows that nobody is ever waiting to see their work — people have to be told they are.

I feel some much more at home exploring the nature and the limits of what it means to be human in a narrative way. There’s only so much living you can do in a day, but there’s so much more life that can transpire and expire in a work of fiction.

It’s raining in Maine with a drab winterish sky. Most of the leaves have fallen, whipped high and low by the wind, washed away by the rain, and sluiced about. It’s the kind of day to stay in, bothered by thoughts of a book that has no predetermined direction and nothing to prove, written in the spirit of Cervantes.

“Writers are people who don’t grow up to realize they can’t be God.” Fran Lebowitz

True Grit

The Good: The midterm elections are over.

The Bad: A Republican scourge has been unleashed.

The Ugly: Maine voted in a Tea Party governor. Although 62 percent of the electorate didn’t vote for him.

“Knowledge acquired but thrown away,

Ambition battered and bruised.” Yeats

I’m no political pollster or huckster for any party, but four years of a Tea Party governor is going to be irritating. At least in Maine, though, I’m still surrounded by like-minded individuals. And that’s what it’s all about, really, since Maine has a good helping of rugged individuals who are contemptuous of trends, devoted to their work, impossible to seduce of bribe, and love doing what they please.

There’s just enough of that spirit to get me through these four years.

But that’s enough about politics. Right now I could go for bug-eyed scary monsters and women in brass brassieres.

“I have never been able to look upon American as young and vital but rather as prematurely old, as fruit which rotted before it had a chance to ripen.” Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

“We want wisdom. We want hope. We want to be good. Therefore we sometimes tell ourselves warning stories that deal with the darker side of some of our other wants. As William Blake noted long ago, the human imagination drives the world. Now we’re close to being in control of everything except earthquakes and the weather.” Margaret Atwood