Friday, April 16, 2010

I Used to Write Poems...

This week one of my colleagues did my Introduction to Creative Writing lecture for me. It was - broadly speaking - on poetry, and the use of poetic techniques and language in writing more generally. He's a poet - writes it, teaches it, thinks about it and, of course, publishes it. Wins prizes for it. Talks about it with an incredible depth of knowledge and thought.

He's definitely a poet.

I'm not. So I asked him to do the lecture on poetic writing instead of me. And he did a great job.

While he was talking, he got me to thinking about the fact that I don't really write poetry, anymore. I used to - once upon a time. I used to scribble away poetry about anything and everything. I used to fill notebooks with the stuff. I don't know what's become of them - they're probably buried in an attic somewhere, or else just chucked away at some point.

It's probably a good thing. I can't recall my poems being much good. I can recall what one of my creative writing teachers (a poet!) said about them when I was an undergraduate. I won't repeat it here, but she was right.

But, listening to Paul's lecture the other day, I realised that I don't write poems any more. I told my class yesterday afternoon that I still do write poetry, just not for public consumption, but when I actually stopped and actively thought about the last time I wrote a poem, it occurred to me that I haven't done it in years. Somehow prose has gotten in the way, taken over my thinking, so that I've disregarded the sort of stuff I used to fiddle with - good or otherwise.

And I think I might have done myself a big disservice. I think - to steal from Stephen King's analogy - that I've neglected one of the key tools in my writer's toolbox.

Don't get me wrong - I've got no pretensions about being thought of as 'a poet'. I suspect that, just like in the old days, my poetry is probably still given to overblown images, unsubtle metaphor, and hackneyed subject matter.

All that's beside the point, anyway.

The point is in the writing. In the playing and messing around. In having to really think about every individual word, and every connotation and denotation and moment and idea and meaning and linkage of images.

That's what writing is all about. That's how you keep the tools in your writer's toolbox sharp. Poetry is a whetstone for the craft, if you want to put it in wanky terms.

And so, as a result of all this, I've written a poem. I've been working on it - on and off - since Wednesday afternoon, actually. I jotted the first line down in my notes towards the end of Paul's lecture. It's a line I once cut out of one of my books - can't even remember which one now, I think it might have been Fireshadow - But which stayed in my head afterward, so I started with that.

Like I say - I'm no poet. There's a reason I need a 100,000 words to get my stories out. But I've had a lot of fun playing with this. And, because if you're silly enough to check and read this blog, then I suspect you're silly enough to read anything (This is a joke, I really love and respect you all...) I'm going to draw a deep breath, and do exactly what I told my class I never do under any circumstances - I'm going to put it out there. Read on at your own risk.

It's probably just one big cliche, so make what you will of it. It's not very cheerful. It's about tension in relationships (and no, before you even wonder it, everything is just fine at home. I have no idea why I found myself thinking about this particular subject matter - it's just the nature of thinking in poetry, I guess.) I'd say more about it, but I seem to remember someone telling me once that if you need to explain your metaphor, then it's a pretty crappy metaphor, so I won't. You should also ignore the fairly blatant and only slightly reworked theft of a Crowded House album title towards the end.

So... okay... here is a poem that I wrote...

Tidal Break
A domestic moment, played out, perhaps
on a thousand simple stages.
Their long-drawn shadows falling -
in and out as ripples of lust, of loathing
drawing tides apart

As ocean from beach
as sea from air

And each, rooted, treelike, waves
in the same wind;
the same moment.

Actors, without lines.
Alone.
Together,
under an aching sky.

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