Three Poems

At the moment I'm in the unusual position of having three poems on the go at the same time.

'Waking in Siena on Easter Sunday' is a title that's been in search of a poem for some time. I wanted to write something that collected some of my memories of the times I've visited Siena, but wasn't sure how to go about it until I read Kenneth Koch's poem 'To World War Two' in which he addresses the event in person. I have used this device and begun what reads like a long letter to the city.

One of the things I like about writing a longer poem is putting it aside when I'm not sure how to continue and waiting for a solution to suggest itself. I find this often takes the poem in a direction I hadn't anticipated or necessarily desired at the outset.

This element of surprise in the writing of a poem is something that readers generally aren't aware of. Many people believe poets are completely in control of their material and that a single word couldn't possibly be different to the published version. Poets I have spoken with differ. There seems to be two approaches: those who grapple to control and shape the language and to subjugate experience to their own ends; and those who use language more freely (not less carefully) to represent as well as possible the nature of experience.

Personally I spent many years following the former approach but in more recent times have felt less need to dominate or intrude upon my poems. This life of its own that a poem possesses is, I believe, what all poets seek in their different ways. It might also be why writers return to subjects and develop themes in their work as they seek to capture what eluded them the last time.

'I stopped writing poetry' is a more personal piece exploring how my relationship to poetry has changed in the last five years or so. The title is borrowed from Bernard Welt's incredible poem and appears as a refrain at the start of many stanzas throughout the poem. Writing it - and Welt refers to this in his poem - I'm reminded just how beautiful the stanza can be. That's got to be some unusual aesthetic response but no different perhaps to how painters feel about paint or sculptors about their material.

The third poem is about sweeping the back yard and death. Mandelstam spoke about poetry being a preparation for death as if the poet was a will-writer perpetuating his memory by leaving behind a legacy of poems. In fact all poems are about death, if not explicitly in their content then in the implicit fuck-you the creative impulse says to all that is deleterious about human existence.


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