Monthly Archives: May 2013

Where the poems lie waiting …

I am reading Elizabeth Bishop on a morning when the the sun is picking apart the trees, the blossom is still and heavy in the orchard and when I walk across the gravel there is overnight rain left in the spaces.  The newly sown grass seed in poussaying like anything.

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I have been reading the early poems, alongside Anne Stevenson’s ‘Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop’.  It’s slow progress reading because I am trying to look at each of the poems that Stevenson quotes from or refers to.  Then I read the poem aloud.  Interesting that sometimes  the early poems in ‘North and South’ can look quite clumsy on the page, as if the lines are too long or bulge in an ungainly way in the middle,  sometimes the metaphors appear laboured or difficult to access.  Then – when I read them aloud they start to sing and move around in the air in a quite different way. 

This ‘awkwardness’ I notice in quite a lot of poets that I like; as if they were trying to squeeze the words to allow the truth to come through.  You have to work hard at them to make them into the song and music that they are under that complex skin.  Skin, bone, etchings, maps – I am deep into them at the moment as I try to make sense of memory.  I am overwhelmed by the remembering.  Places, people, incidents, words.  They are so sharp and sit in the front of my head: smells, sounds, the silence of the mountains, the women that I have held hands with, embraced.  Somewhere in my head they are knocking to come out.

When they do make an entrance it is often in a scribbled note, nearly always in a landscape.  I cannot escape landscape it is so intense and perfect here.  Ulrike, my French teacher, goes to photocopy all the amazing manifestations of the verb ‘aller’ for me and in that quiet moment, sitting in her garden…

A tractor grumbling in the distance

and the land falling in green folds above the river

at the foot of the hill.  A dog ‘salues’ in a gruff voice

echoes bouncing back,  threaded on the ring

of a repetitive bird singing on the wire.

I would have been inclined to ignore this – my early journals are a bit like this.  Now I suddenly see that this is all a kind of carapace; inside there is a potential life for the words and the image.  The problem is there are so many bits of paper, journal scribbles and backs of envelopes that I have to be assiduous in collecting them all and then writing them up as fragments and scribbles.  I am encouraged in this by Peter Redgrove’s method of having many poems at different stages on the go at the same time.  This is why I am looking forward to next week’s poetry retreat so much and the chance to nudge and open up some of these beginnings.  I am stopping worrying about competitions and such like – the real issue is to break open the shell and let out the poems hiding inside!

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So – who are we now?

It seems a long time since I engaged with writing properly – I get up early and enthusiastic then feel suddenly tired and dis-engaged.  The upstairs of the new part of the house nearly finished now – we have comfortable chairs to sit in and this is perhaps why I feel so sleepy! So reading Victoria Field’s lovely blog and discovering her link to Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘We are Many’ seems to sit comfortably with how I feel just now..

‘But when I call upon my DASHING BEING

outcomes the same OLD LAZY SELF,

and so I never know just WHO I AM,

nor how many I am, nor WHO WE WILL BE BEING.

I would like to be able to touch a bell

and call up my real self, the truly me,

because if I really  need my proper self

I must not allow myself to disappear.’

Vicky has been writing about the shadow self – how to find where the gaps are – mind them.  So often a metaphor or a simile creeps into my writing that is to do with scalpel-ing or slicing to the bone – as if the skeletal me articulates the real me but as if it is too difficult to find.   I wrote a long time ago about being a Gemini,  that astrological sign of ambivalence and androgyny.  On Ayurvedic analysis I am split between two differences, but they are opposite ends of the spectrum; I know myself to be both deeply introspective and also quite a jolly extrovert.   Does this layer of uncertainty about who you are create a shadow self?  Sometimes I think that I have been existing in a dream and it is time to wake up – and I think that it is all to do with what is the next kind of writing that I am going to do.  I have been reading old journals – up to 1992 now – just when I started to work abroad, to move through Asia, to find a different self being alone and dependent on others in places where I have no control of outcomes or experiences.  At the same time I am starting to write regularly, journal and poems.  As if the self was rising to the surface.  Now, of course, if feels more like versa – the life turning back on itself, trying to find where it has been and what is the meaning of it, as if preparing for wrapping some of it up into something usable and discrete.

On Being Gemini

Always sliding;  the image slipping across the horizon.

Ambiguous, undefined,  even to ourselves.

Uncertain.

Trailing leaves, remnants from the feast within the magic wood.

I disbelieve when the border is crossed.

He once said:  ‘You are Monkey Mind.

a shallow butterfly that flickers for a moment, moves on.’

I remember bleached times, hollow places;

the rasp of desert dryness on the lips.

I make a portrait.

What unfolds does not resonate with a self within.

I see my mother, catching myself in the shop window,

my sister; Chinese  eggs of family women.

Androgyny.

The middle name.  Gemini’s twin self,

A composite adventurer flirts and fades.

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