'Haiku: Robin at New Year' by David Redfield is Poem of the Week
The Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘Haiku: Robin at New Year’ by David Redfield. New Year is already fading into memory, but David’s beautifully focused poem brings it back to vibrant, twittering life. Haiku: Robin at New Year also reminds us of the power of a short, well-crafted piece, and the thrill of working with traditional form. Maybe, once you’ve enjoyed this poem, you can go away and write a haiku of your own ... Here are his fascinating answers to our questions:
Is poetry an important part of your life and can you remember when and why it became so?
Poetry has been one of the most rewarding things in my life since I was a student in the early 1980s and undoubtedly so for the past 30 years. I had my first "proper" poem published in 1994, and have since dedicated increasing amounts of time and energy to the reading, writing, promotion and creative teaching of this wonderful, tantalising, infuriating, and ultimately ineffable means of linguistic expression. Put simply, I am at the point now where I'm unable to understand or engage with many of the contradictions of life, and complexities of the world at large, except through the medium of poetry (particularly as the years march relentlessly on). Poetry for me is the most perfect expression of an innermost language, a mode of thought, a means of being and receiving.
If you could only have one poet’s work to read (desert island book) which one would you choose and why?
Very tricky! For a desert island existence I'd definitely need a corpus of work that would sustain me through all the various moods and weathers that might be thrown at me, plus it would also need to be poetry that I could constantly be learning from, and not just in a technical sense, but in terms of subject, treatment, outlook, etc. Names that I'd throw in might well include Yeats, Neruda, or Heaney, but if I were allowed to bend the rules a bit I'd be lobbying strongly for Neil Astley's three volume Bloodaxe anthology (Staying Alive/Being Alive/Being Human), one of the outstanding collections of contemporary English-language poetry in recent years.
Do you think your poetry style has changed since you started writing?
Yes, I think that's an inevitable consequence of writing over such a long period of time. As a poet you should always be seeking to change, experiment, move on - it goes with the title and the territory! Generally, I guess my movement is towards greater simplicity and clarity of expression. I believe that the ultimate goal of the poet should be to disappear from his or her work, to have the poem stand upright on its own without support, and with its own identity. I constantly try to live up to some very sage advice that was given to me by the first writer I approached with my earliest efforts: "When we are young there is a joy in tying difficult knots, but this is really immaturity. Profound things are simple - and, paradoxically, only the complex mind can arrive at them. When you know what you want to say, you will say it."
Do you perform your work and if so, what advice would you give to poets just starting out? If you don’t perform would you like to in the future?
I haven't performed for a few months now. The last time was at a National Poetry Day event on the Norfolk coast (where I live) called Strictly Speaking, modelled on a well-known Saturday night prime-time TV format. A great event - which certainly gave its judges some headaches - such was the quality of the entrants, including some first-timers. I'd advise anyone who is interested in developing their poetry to get to their feet and give it a go; it will do wonders for your confidence and sense of purpose and you'll never look back. If you're part of a reading/writing group, you're probably already developing some of the skills you need, but if the idea of public performance gives you the shakes, make your performance spot brief, but make it count - choose the event carefully though.
It takes courage to sign up for an open-mic slot or poetry slam, but if you do my own top tips are as follows:
1) Know your material well. Even if you're not reciting from memory, practise and practise again so that nothing half-forgotten trips you up.
2) Eye contact. Do try to fix your attention to different points of the room throughout your reading - you are interacting with an audience, and need to establish a rapport. Look over their heads if necessary, but at least look up from paper or book occasionally.
3) Don't over-introduce. A poem with too much spoken prologue can often disappoint. Remember - you want the work to speak for itself, so limit yourself to a couple of basic glosses re background to composition, etc. Don't be tempted to ‘explain away’ what you were driving at: everyone will want to establish their own personal response to your work.
4) Breathe, and take your time. Try to keep your voice level and rhythmic throughout, and particularly be wary of dropping out the ends of lines or poems - you could be dynamiting some of your best effects.
5) Mics and papers. If you're faced with a mic, don't be afraid of taking a moment to adjust it to your needs. Same with your books/papers - any decent room of poetry lovers will respect that you are taking the time to get your 'reading environment' right. While you're up there, it's your stage. It also shows the seriousness of your approach.
6) If you mess up ... simply apologise, gather your thoughts and go back to an appropriate point to begin again. (Patti Smith did just that at Bob Dylan's Nobel prize award performance in 2016 and the audience loved her for it). Seriousness of approach again.
7) Water not alcohol. Save the beer for celebration afterwards - it's amazing just how quickly alcohol dries out your mouth and vocal cords. Water really is the best lubrication for any public speaking.
8) Believe in the worth of what you read. Easily the most important.
What inspires you most when gathering material for new poetry?
This sounds like a cop-out, but it's not meant to be ... Truly, anything is grist to the mill where poetry goes. Poetry is a process, and the process is the gold, so in theory it can be worked up from any base metal - it's almost the opposite of alchemy! As far as inspiration goes - keep observing, keep filling your notebooks, and just try to be alive to all the possibilities for poetry around you - in the end, that's poetry greatest gift to you. Often the subject will find you, rather than the reverse.
HAIKU: ROBIN AT NEW YEAR
by David Redfield
against the grey chill
a fire-red heart hammers its
fine threads of silver