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WRITING ABOUT WRITING When I was on my prestigious creative writing course at Warwick University, a fellow poet there said she wrote to reconcile the languages of mother and father. I suppose reconciling the languages of mother and father can be hard when they have fundamental disagreements about the way one should write poetry. So I shall compare and contrast them instead of reconciling them. For instance, before my father passed he left behind eight precepts to help with my writing: 1. All writing is fiction. 2. It is rude to write of the living. 3. A writer has a right to a name otherwise an Exclusion of the Individual Machine can close ranks against you. 4. Literature either has moral compass or sheer cleverness alone. 5. A standard of truthfulness should come before the need to sell a story. 6. “Why not?” is not a good reason for writing a poem. 7. You’re supposed to get the ball over the other’s guy’s head. 8. A poet is a translator of feelings and the feelings you get on illegal drugs are all fake. My mother (who is still living) has also contributed a few telling and salient points to the list, some of which contradict my father’s advice. A list might run as follows: 1. You should always make your poems understandable by your average Joe Bloggs on the street. 2. You should imagine the ghost of your English-teaching grandmother floating above you when you write. 3. A true poet can get a poem out of anything even a cup of tea. 4. A poem can come from the most mundane thing. 5. You should try to only write of beautiful things. 6. Poetry is not a competition it is the unique expression of the unique individual. 7. You need to do things in-between writing so you have something to write about. 8. Having a clean writing space is one of the main ingredients you need. The issue that most vexes me is that of Saying VS Opacity. My father who read Ulysses where Joyce says it is not the words or music themselves that matter but what lies behind them, said you should get the ball over the other guy’s head; my mother took a different, more egalitarian attitude, saying you should make your poems understandable by one and all. I think I tend to my mother’s side on this one, partly because I have known some success in getting published by Snakeskin. Snakeskin are the oldest literary webzine online and profess to being old-fashioned. They like poems that rhyme, that have strong metre, that are intelligible and focussed and make sense. They do not like poems that retain a meaning from the reader. However, on Creative Writing courses they will tell you it should all be about delighting in a wilful opacity, encryption, bats, black magnets, archetypal symbolism, firking, retaining a meaning from the reader. The courses will tell you that saying is daft – but surely that is what poetry is for? To complicate things further, you could argue that my father is right in his reductive statement about literature cleaving into that with moral compass and that with sheer cleverness alone: that not saying things breeds poetry that is merely clever rather than having moral compass. I don’t know the answers myself; but it all makes one wonder what poetry really is and invites a discussion therein. Is it language jazzed up and on LSD? Is it as Stephen Fry’s poet character says in The Hippopotamus “the prosaic compressed?” Well, on the first day of my Warwick University course we were asked “what is poetry?” whereupon I quoted Neil Curry in a letter to me saying “nothing can be said for certain except Pound’s claim that the poet chooses where to end his lines, selecting a tiny, poised pause instead of letting the type writer run on.” Neil Curry said that to me in a letter correspondence we had when I was a teenager; also that “the image is just the plastic Santa on top of the Christmas cake not the cake itself.” It is also from Neil Curry that I get the idea that “a poem is the opposite of a bus-ticket” in taking you on an inward journey. In my reading I find poets often leave definitions of poetry embedded in the poems like brother-poet Michael McKimm saying “a gift of air.” T. S. Eliot says a raid on the inarticulate. Sam Riviere says yesterday’s horoscope which we can rigorously test for accuracy. Hugo Williams says a technology of waiting. Michael Hofmann says the cream of whatever crust cracks yellow (he also says a poem is a machine for re-reading; and he also poetry is a life story in illicit instalments). Helen Farish says a science of longing. David Morley says a ribbon bound your finger, as in an aid to memory (he also says poetry is the opposite of money). Well, I could go on. For me, literature should contain timeless ideas transmitted across time. I also think poetry can be intelligence distilled into truth, an experiment into more advanced modes of perception and even the esemplastic fled away with the quadlibetical. Certainly poems might be people, people on the roof fixing the TV aerial who have been up there for months in all weathers. Poetry could be the ash of yesterday’s cold fire wrapped up in yesterday’s newspaper and put in the right green bin. At some point someone will say it is a quasi-religion – and that turns me off. I think it can be what you make of it, that like Hofmann I deem there to be “no authorities,” that even an imaginary designer drug called Strictly Free can enact physiological poems on the CNS of the human subject. Simon Pomery, meanwhile, has recently put on Twitter that “poetry is the cancer of language.” It seems extreme and we don’t know whether to take it as him being genuine or playing a game. He also says “every poem is an experiment,” and I like that. I would say that without poetry the new mouth has cancer. Overall I think I agree with my father that a poet is a translator of feelings and the feelings you get on drugs are all fake. I also like the way the word poetry comes from Greek poesis meaning ‘something which is brought into being’ as is discussed in The Symposium by Plato. You could also say poetry is the Transforming Agent of change in the perceptual and socio-political realms at once. You could also say poetry is just, you know, a necessary thing. I say that, but I live in a county without a poetry press. It shocks and appals me. I keep thinking I will start a magazine but my brothers keep telling me nobody reads poetry: that “poetry is a dead art form.” I would also say that poetry is not a competition; that the prize-oriented, competition-based poetry world has got it all wrong. Poetry is nearer the unique expression of the unique individual than a competition. It is not about winning and is probably more about losing. The whole competition thing is too Darwinian and based on vengeance, as opposed to Eastern values of forgiveness and compassion. It is not about better and worse. It is more about the internalisation of the sacred than the externalisation of the material.


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<Deleted User> (28273)

Thu 28th Jan 2021 20:23


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Tue 6th Oct 2020 02:49

Welcome John! I’m enjoying your poetry already. Write on! ~V

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