Thankfully, without Alan Hansen telling me my linebreaks are diabolical.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased. I copped out and wrote chaff – limericks, haiku, doggerel, whatever – more than I wanted (six or seven times, in fact). But there were several things I produced which I actually liked. The bathyscaphe sonnet and the Essex poem probably stand out as the ones which feel most successful.
Other than just producing some poetry, I had two main aims going into this – to write some formal poetry, including at least one sonnet, and to try and stretch myself stylistically. Both were only semi-successful. I did write four formal poems, even discounting the double dactyls and so on, including what I think is my first ever Italian sonnet. But I didn’t exactly produce reams of good formal poetry. I had to wrestle for hours to produce two eight-line poems (House and Crow), both of which I would have liked to be longer but just ground to a halt. ‘long is the albatross…’ is quite successful, but technically a fiddle. Only the sonnet was really pleasing.
On the stylistic side, I think that the exercise of trying to write something differently from usual was valuable, but I never felt I made any kind of mental breakthrough; it felt very artificial (which it was, of course) and the results turned out to be either less different than I intended, or just not very good.
I think the most interesting aspect of the whole exercise is the way it gives you an insight into your own work. The need to take the line of least resistance to produce a poem in time means it becomes very clear what you find easy and what you find difficult. You also find shortcuts – ways to produce something quickly which is superficially effective but perhaps not what you really would have wanted to do if you had more time. For example, I wrote several poems (the albatross one, This Poem is Not a Pipe, and the foody one) which are basically lists of separate images, rather than an attempt to evoke a place or scene. That’s what I meant when I said the albatross one was a bit of a fiddle – it makes finding rhymes a lot easier if the images don’t have to be related. I also found myself resorting to bits of phrasing or rhetorical flourishes chosen because they sounded good, rather than because they were what I really think is ‘true’. The clearest example is This Poem is Not a Pipe, which hints at some kind of metaphysical profundity or metaphor or symbolism. Actually, it’s just phrase-making. I came up with a kind of post-facto justification to do with the Magritte reference in the title, but when I was writing it, I was just picking things which sounded good.
So what have I learnt about my own poetry? Well, on the positive side, I find concision and clarity quite easy. I’m pretty happy about my use of sound, as well, and I was pleased by the number of strong images I came up with. And I was intrigued by the emergence of a voice in some of the poems which is lighter, more collquial, less sonically and syntactically dense than my work tends to be but still felt quite controlled and effective. I’m thinking mainly of the Essex poem, the gas poem, and Poetry in Motion. I wouldn’t want to write all my poems like that, but having produced them basically because of time pressure, I can see some virtues to them.
Negatives – people are really hard. There’s a great temptation to produce poems full of things instead, but real poetry is about people, and people are hard. Have I ever written a poem which features people interacting in a fully realised place? I can’t think of one. The Whistler poem was an attempt to do something of the sort, but even though W’s wife was unconscious on the sofa, it still felt like wrestling mud trying to write it.
More generally, nice though clarity and concision are, there are times when I would like to be able to do something more ambiguous, more stream-of-consciousness. I find that very difficult. In fact I find it difficult just breaking out of the habit of conventional grammar in a productive way.
I also notice a lack of metaphor in my work, in a line-by-line descriptive sense. And while I think that metaphor is overrated as a poetic technique by beginners, and good clear literal description is often better, a really good metaphor is a thing of beauty, and perhaps I need to consciously reach for them more often.
And I tend to produce a moment in time, then stop. The challenge would be something more narrative, or just longer – although napowrimo may not be the best time to try that.
I should probably avoid drawing too many detailed conclusions on the basis of a rather artificial situation, but I did find it interesting.
In the garden
playing Mario vs. Donkey Kong
I became aware the bee-hum
was louder, harder, more urgent
I could feel it in my teeth
and I looked up to see the sky
was thick with noise and swirling,
but before I got into the house
the swarm passed.
At the Malawi/Tanzania border
I stepped out of the bus
and saw dark wisps
moving across the sky.
They were birds, sparrow-sized,
and each wisp was hundreds
or thousands. As each wisp left,
another appeared, and another
and another and another.
While we were there, I thought
perhaps 500 000 birds
flew over us, give or take
a hundred thousand.
Not many species
can be identified
by numbers alone.
When I tried to interest my friends
in one of nature
| dawnlight shines on the webwet | a fur of globes – pricked with shimmer — cold to the sole – as the shade slips back to itself | throaty effervescence of blackbird – orange and black — agape | darkness marks the walked on | a contrail ghosts the thinblue – spreads to air | stilled nymphs — unflying – a damsel clings the lilybud |
Passing traffic lifts
a blizzard of cherry petals.