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
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.