Fiddling Around

Fiddled, diddled, breakfasted, counted the dust. I truly must ditch the domestic and apply myself to poetry that is …. ‘the sense that at its best, it is the closest language gets to evolving the whole the indivisible nature of being alive’. Well – it all sounds very delightful and even probable but what Adler called the demand of the object keeps intruding. Only so much dust, only so many frozen dinners left in the freezer…only. So we stumble on believing ourselves to be poets but finding all possible means of not being one on the way.

I am tempted to look for a wonderful cartoon from the Guardian years ago and to translate it into:

I think I’ll put a comma

I should have put comma

I shouldn’t have put a comma

Just lately I seem to spend all my time fiddling at this level, moving sheets of paper between the lovely colourful cardboard files I bought in the supermarket, changing the label from ‘To send out’ to ‘To revise (3)’
Anyway provided this pastes into Opsimathpoet I hope that the breakup of solid text will help opsimathreaders. (Woops – it didn’t copy!)
The problem with revision is that it creates real dilemmas of meaning and then all the underlying musical tropes and trills. I like lopping off the branches but then suddenly find that I have lopped off the intrinsic meaning of the whole poem. Perhaps it gets easier as one learns more, writes more, revises more.
I realised this morning that three years ago I had never heard of Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop or John Burnside and I had heard of but never read W.S.Graham. Now these icons of poetry are so sustaining and enriching I can’t imagine what life might have been without them.
The Poetry Retreat at Le Moulin starts on Tuesday morning. I still haven’t decided whether to be a travelling poet or to stay and retreat in situ. I need the proximity and input of poets, can’t wait to see Penny Shuttle and Caroline Carver again and be able to talk commas with them. This morning read Sightings again (Kathleen Jamie) – I am saving it up so I only read one section a day. It is good for the sense of commas – spare, nothing diverting or extraneous and yet a wonderful evocation of place and happenings. It is good to be thinking of what to take to read at the retreat – I am inclined to Fiona Sampson (3rd time), Maitreyabandhu (his two pieces on Spirituality and Poetry in Poetry review) and Don Patterson’s horrendously difficult The Domain of the Poem. Then I have been saving up Ha Noi 2,000 and I have a lot to think about (and hopefully a picky audience to help me with the pruning job). I have had really helpful writing about Vietnam from Isobel who went there some years ago – more dialogue about it to follow I hope.
I am going to reference this so that my  friend June in Canada can follow up poets if she wants and also to remind myself of the things that have fallen into my opsimath lap.
*Wallace Stevens: Collected poems plus letters, journal and some of his writing about poetry are all in the Library of America’s Wallace Stevens: Collected Poems and Prose
* Elizabeth Bishop: Complete Poems Chatto Poetry; The Collected Prose Chatto and Windus; Anne Stevenson’s ‘Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop’ Bloodaxe and the absolutely wonderful and inspiring Exchanging Hats which is a collection of her paintings (June you will love these)
*W.S. Graham: The Collected Poems: Faber and Faber
*The Nightfisherman: Collected Letters of W.S.Graham
*Penelope Shuttle: Redgrove’s Wife: Bloodaxe
Sandgrain and Hourglass: Bloodaxe (latest)
*Caroline Carver: Tiki Tiki Man; Ward Wood (latest)
*Kathleen Jamie The Tree House: Picador
Findings: Sort of Books
Sightings: Sort of Books (latest)
*John Burnside Black Cat Bone: Cape Poetry (latest)



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5 responses to “Fiddling Around

  1. Counting the dust sounds like an occupation to avoid! Thanks for the references, and for the marginally easier to read text!

  2. It’s been raining now non stop for forty years – here in Bogofarlo, we push our wooden punts between sodden thickets of alder and birch, constructing our simple homes out of reeds and hazel wands which we line with the skins of voles and rabbits, sewn together by our menfolk using strips of bark. We keep warm in our mallard-skin slippers and cloaks of Canada geese feathers, living mainly off raw pike and frogs, and the pounded roots of shrubs and flowers in addition to the few chickens and goats who provide us with eggs, milk and cheese. The remaining islets of mud on which we and our livestock live our precarious lives are steadily disappearing into the waterplains. On Firedays we gather on Tahnsenta Mound, a modest hill of dried yellow clay where the mysterious and holy Cansillas live, and, one by one, are led by their priests to reverently kneel and warm our hands at the Sacred Flame, burning in the lap of a stone family. We pray for absolution and acknowledge the fault in us that brought upon us the First Rains. We intone: Oh Fire, fierce warmer of our hands, our hearts, our souls, we worship you and call upon you to come once again into our lives. Pierce, oh spear of burning fire, the dribbly wetness of our sinful thoughts, scorch out from us the impure dankness of our mouldy vices … etc etc.

    • Dear Friend of the mouldy vices and the mallard-skin slippers I loved reading this. I am glad that you replied at length – this is a good place to communicate without interruption. I have had some severe ‘tellings off’ about my blog which have made me a bit insecure about writing it – but it is difficult to hit the right note in writing that just goes out but has a personal anchor. I am afraid my mouldy vices include just now a lot of temper and frustration with the donkey self – I am a hopelessly useless sufferer – have no saintly impulse to turn it into something noble and good. Just do a lot of wingeing and hate the continuous pain of it all – a pain in the neck literally. However think I may be slowly emerging – what skin will I have sloughed? What new shining scales of words and rhythm will emerge in a trail behind me as I rise to the surface? I will soon be a candidatae for the Tahnseta Mound. We never got very far with our collaborative novel did we?

  3. Dear Donkeyself – love Ratwoman xxx Shall we tweet, tra la la, shall we tweet, tra la la, tweetly tweetle tweet, twittery twee?

  4. The Cansillas of Tahnsenta Mound probably live at the top of the yellow-clay mound while the chickengirls of the collaborative novel live at the foot. Your messenger arrived in said novel like the Traveller in The Listeners: “Tell them I came…” But was anyone there?

    As for failing to be the good convent girl you were brought up to be, and sulkily failing to make holy alchemy – sanctity from pain, gold from lead, god from man, good from bad … didn’t you have to sing this at school?…

    Teach me my God and King,
    In all things thee to see,
    And what I do in anything,
    To do it as for thee….

    A servant with this clause
    Makes drudgery divine;
    Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
    Makes that and th’ action fine.

    This is the famous stone
    That turneth all to gold:
    For that which God doth touch and own
    Cannot for less be told.

    I like George Herbert in some of his other poems but I don’t like this! No amount of saintly impulses ever made the the straightening, the laundering, the scrubbing, sweeping or hoovering up of human detritus, divine.

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