“From a Stone” engages with the frustrations of bringing forth a poem when it feels like drawing blood from an inanimate source. Like “Glomurelonephritis” this is one of the rare instances where my personal health experiences feature in a poem. For 31 years I have lived with a chronic renal (kidney) condition. The blood drawing analogy in “From a Stone” touches on my real experiences of ‘having bloods done’ (as they say in some hospital lingo). Putting my arm out to have blood siphoned from a vein still feels easier than many pursuits: writing poetry, doing press-ups or following my dreams.
When I was at junior school, it was the end-of-term duty of the girls in the highest class, Standard 5, to gather news from each year. These reports were compiled in rhyming couplet form:
As we close the door to Sub A,
it’s to the next classroom we stray.
So now enter the class of the Sub B’s,
where this term they’ve been busy as bees.
It was often as stilted as that; after all the authors were twelve-year-olds, most of whom had had little exposure to rhyming odes themselves. These reports together with the school song, national anthem and hymns we were obliged to sing in assembly were among the early influences of rhyming English in my life. Before I went to school there was rhyme at home. This was fun and storytelling rhyme that shaped Rupert-the-Bear adventures, Ahlberg’s classic “Each, Peach, Pear, Plum” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. By the time I heard these and other rhyming songs and stories related to my younger sister, I was already reading long-form prose. Her educational video sang on a loop, “Five little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away…” and. I was reading ‘grown-up’ books. Rhyme was little kids’ stuff.
Consequently, rhyme struck me as something twee and childish. It was used to round off pairs of ideas – whether ideology or fun nonsense – so that they would stick in your mind. When I discovered that poetry could exist legitimately without rhyme, I was hooked, though initially, more to reading this sort of poetry than writing it. I loved non-rhyming poetry so much that I thought, I must be a child of modernism’s sentiment. Rhyme seemed to constrict words’ directions, and a sad fate simply because words found themselves slotted into the line of a poem.
Playing with rhythm and meter, musicality and lilt, alliteration and soundscapes enticed my ear and imagination. Yet it is still those predictable lines ribboned together by rhyme that tumble from my memory all these years later: “Success is cheering words of praise, in cheering other people’s ways; in doing just the best you can in every task and every plan”.
More recently I’ve reconciled with rhyme and now deliberately expose myself to old hymns (with wondrous words like ‘eyelids’ and ‘slander’). But I’m still not convinced that Proper Poetry has to rhyme in words. There are surely other tools that craft an idea worth remembering.
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012
My new muse is light in his visits, is late, never calls, smiles his cheek, tells me nothing. So I invent everything. My new muse wears white-soled trainers and a St. Christopher tucked against the tattoo, never seen in full. When the night begins, the muse’s t-shirt smells of clean laundry. My new muse is an impish sprite. He wears his hair in spikes, is light on his feet. He’ll offer 4 minutes to Prince Royce, “escucha las palabras” but I wear too much clothing and worry about accurate footwork. In the dance, the muse is patient with the serious poet. He smiles a thank-you, lets go, leaves the floor, leaves me turned, shares nothing. So I fabricate the poem.
This poem marks the final work of my 104 project. I set about to write two poems a week for 52 weeks, to total 104 poems across a year. The aim of this endeavour was simply to produce on a regular basis. Irrespective of quality, subject matter, tone, style or artistic investment, the resulting works would be allocated to the 104 project and posted on this blog.
The creative burnout I experienced at the end of February, after a solid month of posting work, was unexpected. Production seemed to be on such a high. Another learning curve has been the resistance to completion. I have wrestled with this over the last couple of weeks.
In truth, during this time I have written more than the two poems required to complete the count. I have judged some of the work too personal or inadequate to post, thereby ignoring the very rules established at the beginning. Each of these recent poems fell short. It was not my intention to have the project end on an unceremonious note. None of them deserved to be The Last Poem.
All in all, these 104 poems (plus the 25 that were siphoned off for Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys) were not the sorts of poems I had intended should fill a book. It was my intention to explore grand themes of ars poetica, politics, justice and humanity. It felt time to explore the wide, broad, deep, conflicted, enduring state of the world.
Instead, my writing inevitably turns to examine the minutiae. Much of this last year’s work presents daily concerns of an ordinary suburban life. There are the quandaries of emotion and soul, work and provision, grocery shopping and living in rented accommodation.
130+ poems later, I am tired. It would also seem I cannot count, for not only did I recalibrated the mark as 102 on Monday, I have also counted 107 poems posted since last year. I have swum in a sea of poems and I am weary.
Truly, it has started to feel as though the muse has left me.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will already know about my current interest in Bachata, a dance style from the Dominican Republic. I have now had all of eight lessons and this last Saturday attended my first open dance party.
In this inspiration dearth, I think the muse has met me on the dance floor.
The poems of the 104 project will be compiled into a book. This will be my third since February last year. Subscribe (see tab below right), or follow on Twitter or Facebook for updates.
“The hummingbird stands for love” remains one of my favourite poems. In this Vermeer-style scene, I see a young woman at the window of a Dutch interior. She is bathed in light. In my version, she holds open a book or a letter, but gazes at the window. The opulent curtains and tasteful furnishings draw my eye. The fall of the light amuses, but as I look at the scene for a longer period of time, I notice a tiny shimmer of green. This is the hummingbird. Sometimes it is inside the room, sometimes it is outside, visible only as a streak outside one of the window panes.
Rain slaps against the windowpane. Wee! Wee! It jests and jeers. Look at our ease of water-dash and drip and fall while you – Haha! – neith’ eight nor sixteen lines have wrought on that page. It’s all for nought, despite your ink-filled fountain pen. Yes, I see the sky makes way its blue for grey carriers of short-lived sport. The assent shows far more grace than any of those regiments of pressed attention marching in my head. Daily it is to their silver – buttons, medals, lining; to their praise, rigour and filing, my polishing by draft’s employed.
In 2013, I compiled two books of collected poetry online. Click on the titles below:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys bundles together twenty poems offering insightson life, love and work for the Modern Boy.
In addition to presenting poetry written by BeadedQuill from 1999 to 2012, Shining in Brightness includes two essays on creative process.