Happen

Stance

Enough! Or Too much

I feel this week as though I've read more poetry than anybody else in the world. It's an enriching experience, in some ways, reading a great deal of verse -- I mean bookfuls every day. At the same time, it's frustrating because  what I really like is spending time with an individual poem, turning it inside out, trying it on for size. Perhaps that's why I like doing the pamphlets: typing out each poem by hand, getting the feel of it, hanging it outside on the line to dry.

I feel this week as though I've read more poetry than anybody else in the world. It's an enriching experience, in some ways, reading a great deal of verse -- I mean bookfuls every day. At the same time, it's frustrating because  what I really like is spending time with an individual poem, turning it inside out, trying it on for size. Perhaps that's why I like doing the pamphlets: typing out each poem by hand, getting the feel of it, hanging it outside on the line to dry.

I was very taken, as they say, with a little pamphlet of poems by A C H Smith, a  Greville Press pamphlet. Smith has written lots: novels, plays, 'novelizations', libretti, thrillers, non-fiction -- but his Wikipedia page doesn't mention poetry. This brief selection, with a foreword by Tom Stoppard, consists only of ten poems (though one, 'Structures of Cancer', is a long one). Something about the quiet particularity  reached out and grabbed me. I've read so much lately where lines break arbitrarily or to achieve some kind of fracturing effect -- attempts to render the text as 'poem' rather than a set of words. But here is a man who just offers a handful of beautiful phrases, and they add up to a great deal more. The opening of 'No 11, The Polygon, in Winter' is:

You are potential in this room's air, about
To condense, always about. The flowers I bought
Last summer still imperishably bloom
On my desk, except when I look for them.

For years I used to think all poetry was about either love or loss. These days I think love and loss are simply two sides of the same coin. This little pamphlet has just enough poems in it. You could read it for a long long time and dispense with much else.

On the other hand . . . I'm working on a pamphlet of poems by four contemporary Dorset poets (Kate Scott, Pam Zinnemann-Hope, Catherine Simmonds and Paul Hyland), all responses to poems by Thomas Hardy, and some of the old poet's poems are in there too.

 

Thomas Hardy

 

Doing this, of course, took me back to The Complete Poems, all 954 pages of them. I recall having an argument with Angus Calder about Hardy's poems: not all of them were all that great, I said. But Angus was for having the bard's absolute calibre in every word. It is so much easier to be nice about huge works by dead poets. At least you know they can't rush off and write another 500 poems and brandish them.

I'm inclined to think Hardy wrote some bad lines, as well as quite a lot of poems I could live without. But then some of them have such lovely bits in them and all of them have that beautiful musicality and playfulness of form.

And occasionally one just catches you with a little shock, like static electricity, and you cannot imagine how you didn't notice it before.

There's much that contemporary writers can learn from Hardy at his best, not least the power of what is not said. Here's 'In the Moonlight':

'O lonely workman, standing there
In a dream, why do you stare and stare
At her grave,as no other grave there were?

'If your great gaunt eyes so importune
Her soul by the shine of this corpse-cold moon
Maybe you'll raise her phantom soon!'

'Why, fool, it is what I would rather see
Than all the living folk there be;
But alas, there is no such joy for me!'

'Ah -- she was one you loved, no doubt,
Through good and evil, through rain and drought,
And when she passed, all your sun went out?'

'Nay: she was the woman I did not love,
Whom all the others were ranked above,
Whom during her life I thought nothing of.'

Great-great-great-granddaughter gets cake
The life of a poetry mogul
 

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017