I happened to hear the last moments of ‘One to One’ on Radio 4 this morning during which Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, was telling of a woman she’d met who, it seems in a state of despair, set herself on fire in the street. While the woman burned a tree nearby caught fire. Horribly, I anticipated Juliet Lyon’s next utterance: the woman is in prison for criminal damage. It seems absurdly naive to wonder how such a scenario is possible because how easily mistaken we evidently still are as a society and seemingly oblivious to the damaging effects that can follow certain misunderstandings.
These thoughts stayed with me as I set out to assess the effectiveness of my recent attempts with language.
Perhaps I was hoping that some of the symmetry of the date (14/1/14) would inspire my poems with a discernible patterning. Perhaps also in reaction to my internal censor I had a feeling to go maverick, to rebel against this niggling know-it-all voice. So, across my front room floor, I made a carpet of my poems, drafts and ideas. Somehow I needed to see all the material I had - perhaps to get a sense of the shape of it. And I think it was also that I had a feeling that the language was shouting out to me - I just needed to sit down for a moment in a quiet space and listen to it. So I did.
Passing off those doubts of not being able to do justice to the language, of being wrapped up in wanting to let the language speak for itself, while knowing I have to handle it in some way - I came to the realisation that, once I sat quietly and listened, in this instance, it was my own voice that I was hearing and because it was my own, that explained why I had been missing it. In amongst the array of voices spreading out around me, I hadn’t thought to be listening out for my own.
Looking forward to receiving my pre-ordered copy of this second volume of poems by Bill Griffiths, published by Reality Street and edited by Alan Halsey.
I have not been prolific in writing poetry. I write in bursts fired by a poetics dedicated to one set of poems. There is a progression, a level of coherence in my practice, but once a set of poems is completed the poetics which fired them also completes itself. It is not enough to repeat these processes with other materials; I have to find other ways of engaging language in order to form it into poetry. Some of the poems I’ve written have been so driven by language that they have shouted themselves onto the page with little help. I was lucky to experience those, though such poems came out of strong, emotionally centered responses, so there is a price to pay.
I also write by ear and can do this well enough that I haven’t yet composed pre-set sound patterns. I have used the method - ‘Does it sound right?’ and have edited accordingly. As I continue to compose poetics for a new set of poems I’m working on, I am exploring how to compose poems with more complex and varied sounds and rhythms. I am finding that it is time to engage with such things as phonology and phonetics. My ‘ear’ has not become redundant as I will always check the sound quality in that way. However now, to extend my practice and with the idea of a poem as art, I am introducing extra elements and layers to my work.
I am learning patience. Let the language material accumulate and reach simmering point instead of pushing it onto the page prematurely. That seems to have had an element of bullying, rather it was a response in eagerness to see how the language arrangements would work. But ‘free form’ arranging of language has not been working; language has not been speaking to me; I can’t hear it which has made me dissatisfied with recent past poems. They have seemed ‘dead on the page’.
My daughter is studying Art. Watching her move through the processes involved in creating an ‘end’ piece has reminded me of the purpose and importance of poetics to my writing. I have been lucky to have great teaching and should know better than to get carried away too soon. My eagerness sometimes creates a busy twirling of ideas that needs time to become stilled. Then it is useful.
Allow language to accumulate and reach simmering point = it is ready to speak to me and announce itself on the space of the page.
As the language begins to tap its fingers, ready to go, it inspires both nerves and excitement in me. But this is what I’ve been waiting for, so here goes, with a hoping to perhaps fail better...
As part of my research project I am continuing to explore possibilities for composing poems using various arrangements of lyric voices. Formulating those experiments in poetry has also brought me to consider ‘voices’ in prose. I was aware that attempting writings in both poetry and prose forms at this time could be problematic. Perhaps I would end up confusing the two and producing a hybrid form before I had developed poetry and prose as separate concepts in my writing practice. My research already being threefold in forms of writing and focused on poetry, I did not welcome engaging with any unnecessary complication. Experimenting and finding my way in one area of my writing practices seemed enough.
Poetics, as I have come to know, is vital to my writing in either, in any, form. In beginning to develop my poetics of lyric voice in poetry, I discovered I was developing a distinct idea of ‘voices’ in prose as well. These distinctions began to allow me to write both poetry and prose with a renewed clarity of purpose. I am working with the idea that I move differently through each in language, while maintaining a similarly heightened use of the music of words and rhythms along the lines.
In writing poetry, language is accumulating and simmering in the background in readiness to populate the page. The language for prose comes from a narrative forming, unravelling, filling itself out. In moving between poetry and prose, what each is, and does, in relation to my writing practice, has begun to distinguish itself and create its ‘other’ as being made differently. I like these distinctions and similarities. I have a way to go in composing my poetics of lyric voices in poetry; it should be open ended journey (with the necessary stop points!). As I travel along it is a privilege to continue making attempts to sing in both forms.