I was in Standard 5, all of twelve years old. We relocated to the school hall while our ordinary classroom was enlarged and converted into a specialist science classroom. (Now that I think about it, this was quite a progressive enterprise for an all girls’ school in 1990s South Africa.)
The hall was dark and echo-ey. On the hall wall, as in the school passages, there were block-mounted reproductions of famous Works of Western Art. I spent many hours staring at a faded, blue-tinged reproduction of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” wondering if the lady in conversation under the black umbrella would ever make it down the riverbank to the water’s edge. Of course, I had spent six years sitting through assemblies and other high day occasions in the hall, yet being taught in this formal space made it more intimate. The back corner of the ceremonial cavern became our classroom and learning nest for half a year.
It was during an English lesson that we sat over photocopies of “In a Station of the Metro” as an introduction to haiku. Years later, with some literature knowledge, I know that this is an unconvincing approximation of a haiku (inasmuch as haiku can even work in the English language and literary tradition) and an example rather of the Imagist poems of the twentieth century. I have also learnt a bit more about Pound’s work and life, which now adds conflicted layers to my adult reading of the poem.
But when I was twelve and I first read the poem, it was just me, the scene in the metro and the vivid image of petal-faces, a visual motif that I realise crops up in my own verse.
‘Supportasse’ is another term for the starched, lace collars worn by courtiers during the Renaissance. Read more about supportasses courtesy of the following links:
The lack of craft and productivity in my writing annoys me. My attempt at the professional/ aspirational middle class life has been a total non-starter for the last half decade. While I churn these frustrations, I do a lot of exercise. I practise yoga when I wake. I walk in the nearby woods, which I follow with some exercise on the grass when the weather is accommodating. I attend dance and other lessons and in the evening, when I have the energy, it’s time for press-ups on my bedroom carpet. The press-ups started with one in April this year. The aim is to reach 100 by February 2015. Currently the mark is 76/78.
I am neither naturally athletic nor trim. When I was younger, I hated playing sport. At High School, playing a team sport was compulsory. I couldn’t face it, so I requested exemptions based on my health issues and cultural involvements. I was the kid who was picked last for teams in Phys Ed. I certainly failed Physical Education in Std. 3 because I couldn’t do a bunny hop. Yet I can now do a yoga crow and I can still cartwheel. Life is a funny business.
In my mid-20s, when I did a lot of Ashtanga yoga, I was leaner but not as strong – or as adept with a wooden sword. I don’t know how long this fitness spell will last (I keep thinking I’m going to get sick again, as I did in 2012, and it will all implode and have been for naught). For now, while other people may be earning reasonable pay-checks, building careers or producing more literary writing, I walk around with an apparently “great ass.” It has been called “the most perfect bum.”
I did not set out to write poetry. I intended to write Novels. And anyway, I am of the view that much superbly written and evocative poetry already exists. The Shadows of Giants loom large. At the moment I have no illusion about even coming close to their kneecaps, never mind shoulders. This time last year I posted “Emulation“, a poem about the finely wrought craft of three (English language) poetry giants.
“Emulation” references two poems that had a notable impact on me during my adolescence: Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms” and “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes. (Yes, we studied them at school in our English lessons. Some exposures in life just can’t be helped.) Both poems struck me with the synaesthetic potential of words. To this day, I can still feel those mushrooms mouthing their insidious, hollow-breathed o’s at the world (“So many of us! So many of us!”). That Thought Fox still darts with a hot fox stink across my imagination.
(I had not noted, until reviewing these poems for this post, that both set the scene in a forest. How very archetypal; how very Brothers Grimm.)
“Mushrooms” is referenced via Plath’s famous “Tulips” (1961). I came across “Tulips” when I was older . Although a recognised and fine work, it does not evoke the same nostalgia for me.
The third poet to whom homage is paid is John Donne for his poem “The Flea“. Besides the pleasure of the words, it latched onto my leaning towards the miniature and slightly odd. Perhaps my little poem “An arrangement of Strangers” owes Donne a debt.
This greeting comes cold from the residue
of morning, 3rd October. Last draff of coffee
in the cup on a saucer that would rather be
the stippled salver that serves red
to passersby and those who scan
the street for things to watch
and then behold anthuriums
for sale at the florist.
On relocating to London, I jettisoned my personal library. Since then I have forbad myself from spending on books. As far as possible I beg and borrow. On a few rare occasions I have caved – for Zadie Smith’s essays, Chinese poetry and a tome of Charles Bukowski poems, The Pleasures of the Damned (Canongate, 2010).
It started with ‘hell is a lonely place’ which punched me in the stomach. There in the bookshop I decided that I had to have the whole book, at £15.99. I didn’t care what else was in it. It turned out Bukowski is quite well known. I was a latecomer to his work.
Bukowski’s poem ‘the last generation’ introduces the literary scene of Paris in the 1920s, a time when writing “was a romantic grand game…, full of fury and discovery”. In short, “it was much easier to be a genius in the twenties”.
Part tongue-in-cheek (I’m guessing), the poem suggests:
.. if you sent your stuff postmarked from Paris
chance of publication became much better.
most writers bottomed their manuscripts with the
word “Paris” and the date.
I’ve paired this little joke with today’s prompt: “Write a poem in the form of a letter to someone”. I guess you, dear reader, are the someone.
I love writing letters, and the subject has featured in other poems: