In his foreword to John Hall’s On Performance Writing, Poetics and Poetry, Larry Lynch cites Hall’s description of his working identity as being ‘poet, teacher and essayist’ (13).
My own teaching experience agrees with this dynamic which places teaching at the centre of my activity (during semesters) to which (borrowing Lynch’s terms) my roles as poet and essayist respond by absorbing and reformulating knowledge about writing practices (and how to write/talk about it).
At the moment this inter-relationship between writing practice, teaching and critical approaches to writing about writing is occurring in response to my helping students to prepare their portfolios of poems. Observing their processes as they are writing and ordering, and being part of those processes, feeds into my own thinking about how I am assembling the new pieces I am working on. But this is not about stealing ideas from students, rather it is a coming into consciousness regarding what I as a writer and teacher need to know in order to compose a portfolio. And the essayist part sets that knowing into dialogue / dialect, in order to address what is not known, to communicate that to myself and others.
So while ideas about porfolios form and settle, I am attending to writing some poetry. ‘What the Tree Said’ is the first of a sequence of poems, which will be one of a 4-part work for my research into multi-voice lyric words/worlds. ‘What the Tree Said’ is forming as a sequence composed of single poems - unlike my previous attempts at sequences, these poems can stand alone, but are forming a relationship with each other that is determining where, and how, they should be placed.
I have been used to using constraints and working with other poets’s work and methods in order to source materials and create poems. I felt I have been too reliant on other voices and have determined to take on the responsibility to stand up and create something out of my own words. In the process of writing I have felt this to be a stepping outside my comfort zone. And it has become like I am having to learn to write poetry all over from fresh. I am not a painter but the process of assembling words on the page(s) seems to me like painting. I am sketching parts, I can colour and shade some of what I have sketched. In my mind’s eye I know the whole but I can’t get it all on the page at once. It hovers in the wings, humming at me. The language is sometimes insistent that it needs to change form or be moved. Words call other words or fragments in to the poem. When I am curious to see, and hear, what is being created, it is requiring patience to let the thing simmer in this way! However I am finding that some of it can come through in bursts of language...
This process of composition also reminds me of writing a short story - when I have an overall idea of the direction of the writing but there are obvious holes / gaps that are waiting to be filled in. As in narrative I can place some elements of the language with an awareness that there has been a leap which has missed words out that need to be there. The poem is incomplete - A phantom limb of language is missing from the poem. It eludes me. And I sit with each word and stare it into my mind and I invite it to cast itself about until I can see, and hear, it in the form it is choosing for this space in the poem. ‘What the Tree Said’ is showing me how that clipped, elided use of language that I have previously been concerned with, the creating impressions, needs extending here. A loosening. A listening to.
So I am continuing. Language is being drawn, centripetal, to the core of the poem. Growing it wings. Splittings of ‘one voice’ into 2, or more. Creating discourses...
Hall, J. (2013) Essays On Performance Writing, Poetics and Poetry: Vol. I. Bristol: Shearsman.