Sometimes, compared to the pressing matters of the world, it feels self-indulgent and pointless.
What is it, after all, this writing of poems and filing them away? Filing them away and stacking them up. Stacking them up and putting them in pamphlets. Putting them in pamphlets and collecting them in books.
And before that, the laying out of the lines. The disposition of commas. The agony of a semi-colon. The messiness of dashes.
And before that the rehearsal of a line, the snatch of a few words, the distraction of it, the idiosyncrasy.
Sometimes it feels, and can be suggested, that such a preoccupation is unnatural. Especially when – let’s face it – for most of these little poemettes there are no readers. There is no reason. There’s only the irrational making of things the maker calls ‘poems’, not knowing what else they might be.
You could call it attention-seeking. You could call it self-obsessed. But not all poems are about their authors. Not all poems are hurled into the ether, or the mail. Not all poems feel the need to be ‘published’. Not all poems try to find readers.
And perhaps the why of it is not the point. There are people who need to keep making things, and poems are some of the things they need to make, and there’s an end of it. You can have worse things on your shelves than poems.
All this because I woke thinking about Sylvia Townsend Warner’s poem ‘Wish in Spring’. You can find it in one of the volumes published by Carcanet Press. And here it is:
Wish in Spring
Today I wish that I were a tree,
And not myself,
Confronting spring with a neat little row of poems
Like cups and saucers on a shelf.
For then I should have poems innumerable,
One kissing the other;
Authentic, perfect in shape and lovely variety,
And all of the same tireless green colour.
No one would think it unnatural
Or question my right;
All day I would wave them above the heads of the people,
And sing them to myself all night.
But as I am only a woman
And not a tree,
With piteous human care I have made this poem,
And set it now on the shelf with the rest to be.
Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-19780