Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Subjects for Poetry

Imagine you are an anthologist. The subject could be anything (and has been anything, I've seen anthologies for therapy, books of beasts, poetry about cinema...the list goes on), where do you start - with the poems or the idea?

Anthologies of nature poetry, religious poetry, poetry about children, poetry about death... these would probably be easy subjects, with most poets having written about most of these subjects over the years, and some poets being "specialist" nature poets or religious poets or whatever. A sensible anthologist might pitch a "poems of the city" book, (I'm sure there is one), but what about "poems about Manchester" (I'm not sure one's yet appeared, despite the number of poets based here - passing through here)?

As a writer you don't always choose your subjects, but sometimes your subjects choose you. In the collection I've got coming out shortly there are a number of "subject" poems (not all poems are so easily categorised) - a poem about the cinema ("Cinema"), a poem about festivals ("Festival Season"), and a poem about American literature ("Love and Death in the American Novel.") I'm not always that literal, and I'm not sure poets generally are.

I can't imagine writing a book of elegies, or love poems or nature poems, though I'm fond of the sequence and the longer poem. I admire writers who can focus their poetry on a particular subject, but I'm not sure I always like that approach, unless the poetry stands up to it. Prizes seem to be often won by themed collections - and a poet who manages the difficult trick of extracting a whole collection from a subject (even one as strong as love or death) probably wins them for having achieved this particularly difficult challenge. But a poem can also be a stand-alone object. Looking at recent poems I've written one about Cyprus (after going there) and one about Indonesia (after reading a newspaper article). It seems that there's always an element of chance, just as there was for Larkin when he caught a train journey safe one Whitsun, seeing the weddings taking place en route. Perhaps a poet has a keen antennae for the poetic subject, as well as the poetic image...and it can be a Georgian Techno Star (Don Paterson) or an inconsiderate snipping of a woman's hair (Alexander Pope).


Anonymous said...

Okay... I just wish you would stop going on as if you know everything, and you have gone through all the things that your blog almost scream at you to do.

Experience things, grow a little, then post.

No Arrogant people please.

Adrian Slatcher said...

I have no idea what you are talking about.