Putting life into Words

Skardu valley Skardu valley in the Himalayas I have been re-reading the interview in PN Review 221 in which Maitreyabandhu talks to Mimi Khalvati. It’s an amazing interview – very different from the obsequious or challenging interviews in many poetry magazines. He talks about how he has read her new book ‘The Weather Wheel’ , ‘…each poem seems to rub the words away in order to leave us with things in themselves, as if you work at the writing until the writing disappears.’ It would be wonderful to be able to write in that way. I have felt in a turmoil with my writing; the more I do the more I question what it is I am trying to do, and the more the ‘things in themselves’ can disappear in the process of using language to try and express them. My problem is not lack of subject, I don’t need workshops or courses really to give me a subject, although the discipline of producing writing for a given target to a specific time is helpful sometimes. My head is full of places and people; when I stop to dream or day dream or just to think, when I am reading a book or looking at pictures or a television programme these places and people rise up in my mind and demand to be anchored down, made explicit and accessible with metaphor, description. This response of Mimi to Maitreyabandhu seems to be relevant: ‘This is the challenge to the older poet – can we talk straight from the mouth, the heart the mind? I think naturalness of expression has something to do with it; getting out of the way of the poem; suppressing the lyrical ego, its mellifluous soporific music (which I’m prone to), its self satisfaction that draws attention to felicities; leaning on syntax rather than lexical high jinks which grab the attention too greedily:all the inside-out stratagems that make not only the writing , but the writing process, seem invisible so that one might wonder how is it done? how did they do that? I do aspire to this condition in which poetry seems a given, a gift, in service of something other than the poet, or even her language.’ I couldn’t sum it up better – in fact I didn’t really know what I was talking about until I read this.  ‘The Weather Wheel’ is about place and dislocation, about the observed and what that means. I’ve read it three times now and am only just beginning to get to grips with its layers of meaning that come out of a simplicity of observation which I aspire to. It’s time to stop thinking about other poets, their successes and how they achieve publication, prizes, recognition. Time to concentrate on the poem in itself. These dark mornings, when the fields stretch without an end and the frosty air meets the icy ground in a meld of distance and cold, the way the light comes in is never the same. Today it was very dark except for a single band of light that stretched from side to side – width horizons if there is such a thing. It was breath taking, I felt myself being drawn into it. I came in and fed the cat and went to my room and started reading the interview and the poems referred to, and others on the way that caught my eye. It’s as if all the angst surrounding writing – good enough? clever enough? where should it be sent? started to deflate. I am an older person. I want to convey what I know, what I have seen – the scrape of rock under foot, the heat of sun burning on the back, those women with their depth in their eyes; the simple ride down The Mall in Lahore, trees meeting overhead and shading the chocolate brown canal and the boys leaping in and out with huge splashes; the hoots and dust and donkeys and overall the sense of wonder and excitement and the way it all took me away from speculation and into the moment, time after time, person after person. Today I am going to work on Ha Noi my long poem – or now as I think of it, set of poems. That place that both enthralled and appalled me, where I found myself in a different space in head and heart. I can’t wait to get started.                                                                                                                           Faisalabad            Eritrea Teacher in Faisalabad with her class and classroom.                           Children in the Eritrean mountains greeting the train.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Putting life into Words

  1. Brigid, I sent this to Sally ( who once spent months in Skardu) – I hope you don’t mind. A fascinating post, which made me think (probably your intention!). I confess to being a fan of lexical high jinks!
    Love,
    ViV

  2.  ” I am an older person. I want to convey what I know, what I have seem – the scrape of rock under foot, the heat of sun burning on the back, those women with their depth in their eyes; the simple ride down The Mall in Lahore, trees meeting overhead and shading the chocolate brown canal and the boys leaping in and out with huge splashes; the hoots and dust and donkeys and overall the sense of wonder and excitement and the way it all took me away from speculation and into the moment, time after time, person after person.”
    oh yes. Absolutely. You go, older person you.

  3. Read this in a review of biographies of Susan Sontag in TLS (which I merely bought to have something to read on the train home from Cambridge)and thought of your blog. 

    Dislike of metaphor, its insinuation of ultimate meaning. Sontag, in On Style: “metaphors mislead”. In Rolling Stone: “what was perishable in a lot of writing was precisely its ornament. ..the style for eternity was an unadorned one.”  

    Her enduring theme the tendency in modernity to excess: “We live in a world of copies… the work is not allowed to remain itself.” 

    Made me think about your clearing/cleaning/scraping.  Also GM Hopkins glorying in things ‘selving themselves’? 

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

  4. And loved that you arrived at that excitement at starting on Ha Noi …

    • Didn’t quite make it today – made marmalade instead as the oranges were going soft – or maybe I was! Love your TLS quotes – very intriguing and inspiring too. Love Susan Sontag as well

  5. Victoria Field

    Reblogged this on Poetry Therapy News.

  6. Victoria Field

    Dear Brigid, I’ve reblogged this as there’s such food for thought. I need to come back to it – and read The Weather Wheel which sounds wonderful. Oh marmalade- have I missed the boat this year? And I’m late in writing to you in response to your wonderful Christmas gift – please keep posting xx

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