Last week I mentioned that the Poetry Society had a callout for poems that take note, in some way, of 99 of the mostly commonly used words used in 40 years of the National Poetry Competition. I wasn’t going to write anything for this because I thought it was too much of a distraction from my aim to write poems that might fit into the theme of my next book. That is to say, I’ve set myself a loose target/goal/aspiration to write poems that sit well together, with the hope that I produce a cohesive, fluent and not too disparate book. It’s fine to hope, right?
But then I found that I’d worked hard on a few poems during January, persevered, stuck with them even when the going was tough, and by the very end of January I seemed to have made headway – and then the snow came, so I allowed myself a diversion. A few days later, I had a poem of sorts – but was it enough? Although I seemed to have responded to the writing prompt, I wondered if that was all I’d done, and when I read the poem, it seemed rather flat – in fact, rather dead!
This got me thinking about the value of writing prompts and themes. I know that some writers love them and write well from them but I wonder if I should focus instead on poems that have started from scratch, from my own notebooks. Then again, I have sometimes started a poem from a prompt, in a workshop for example, then put the draft aside for months or even years, come back to it and written a decent poem. Maybe it’s time that’s needed then, regardless of how the work first started. I doubt that my poem is any good at all but I’ve sent it off. I’ve let go of it. Maybe my next poem will be better. Hope, again.
Something else I did this week was to listen to Alice Oswald talking about her book Falling Awake and answering questions from the audience at BBC R4’s Book Club programme which you can hear on iPlayer (or Sounds as it is now called). So good to have a poet featured in this programme – it would be wonderful if there are more in the future.
I have sent away for Falling Awake. I was glad to hear Oswald read her poem ‘Swan’ again. When I heard it on the radio, I remembered that I’d heard the poem in Bristol nearly four years ago at New Lyrical Ballads, an event at which 23 poets wrote poems in the spirit of Romanticism, in response to a poem by Coleridge or Wordsworth. I wrote about the event here and had this to say at the time:
Poets wrote about ‘ordinary’ experiences and lives; how we interact with each other, how we live and love with our children, partners, parents. Several poets wrote about nature by exploring environmental concerns. Alice Oswald, one of those whose starting point was the Ancient Mariner, wrote a startling poem about her experience of witnessing the decay of a dead swan on a series of daily walks. I’m probably misquoting horribly but there was a stunning image of the swan’s eye being like “a black, cold church” and the neck of the swan being “the bride walking to it.” Of all the poems, I want to read this one again the most.
So, it’s taken me all this time to come round to the poem again, and to buy the book which was published in 2016. Time again, being slow, not being in a rush, allowing time and poetry to sit together. Talking of which, I need to spend time with a batch of new poems bubbling up in my notebooks.