Sunday, June 01, 2014

A Good Poet Has Fallow Years

I'm from a farming background; my grandparents being tenant farmers in the Midlands. A good farmer knows that you sometimes have to leave a field to recuperate, and have a "fallow" period. I lived for a number of years in "Fallowfield" in Manchester and never fail to smile at the name; especially given how urban and built-up this student-inhabited part of the city is. Most of the south Manchester suburbs used to be fields, but I'm not sure if "Fallowfield" was some kind of joke or whether there was a farmer Fallow.

Poetry in 2014 seems anything but fallow. Few are the writers who scrimp away their words these days. From our Laureate down to university undergraduates, overproduction is now the norm. I admire poets who seem to write verse every day, especially when they're not too precious about it. Did Eliot or Larkin really leave so little? Some of the "collected works" that you see nowadays are massive - long lives, perhaps, but perhaps also, unedited lives.

I seem to be in a bit of a fallow period myself. I'd been putting together a poetry collection (still am, kind of) wondering where it might find a home, but it was probably spending more time on fiction that has been the real reason for my falling off in productivity. Its not the first time.  I've had a good few gaps where I seem to have given up on poetry, or at least, poetry has given up on me. Sometimes its lack of a subject, but also, I think, I'm not so sure what I want to write at the moment.

So, when you're not writing poetry it becomes hard to define yourself as a poet - particularly in Facebook conversations where everyone is so energetic all the time - reviewing this book, producing this pamphlet, doing this reading. Well, I'm reading next Saturday between 3-4pm in St. Anne's square at the revitalised Manchester independent book market. I'll be reading new poems, but given what I've just said, they won't be that new.

In the meantime, "one I prepared earlier" which was published in "Bare Fiction" earlier this year is now on their website. "Impressions between places" was initially scribbled where you'd imagine, in Schiphol airport, waiting for a plane. I should probably see if KLM were interested in a sponsorship deal!

In the week I will feast on other people's genius, as the Other Room (this Wednesday), where some of my favourite artists (poet seems the wrong word for Leanne at least), Leanne  Bridgewater, Allan Fisher and Agnes Lehoczky will be reading.  I can guarantee it will be more skilful than England v. Ecuador. 

The next month of course will see any poetry readings competing with the World Cup schedule, though basically the crossover of football fans/poetry fans is pretty small from my experience. But as I'm one of that small number, I'll be having to prioritise if there are any clashes.

Finally, I  was going to write a blog post about the much-reported "banning" of "Of Mice and Men" in Michael Gove's new curriculum, but so much hot air has been spilt on the issue, that I'm not sure I want to add to it. I'm not a teacher, nor have any teenagers of my acquaintance about to take GCSE English, and really, they're the only points of view that really matter. For what its worth, we read Steinbeck's "The Pearl" pre-O-level and it put me off for life; but my love of the Metaphysicals, who we did study, I doubt was particularly shared by the 99% of my class who didn't want to grow up and be writers. We need a canon, for sure, but we also need an audience, and if that starts in a different place than where I started, then so be it.


Adrian Slatcher said...

Comment from Jim Murdoch: (sorry Jim, my clumsy fingers "deleted" rather than "published" this post)

I once went three years without writing a single thing—and by “thing” I mean poem because I only thought of myself as a poet back then—and then, out of pure frustration, I sat down one day to try and write a “thing” just to enjoy the feeling of words trickling down my arm and the next thing I knew I’d produced a novel. I don’t think writers have fallow periods. Okay, there are times when they’re not outputting but the writing process is a continual one. I’ve learned patience. When the words are good and ready they appear. Sometimes they’re poems, sometimes not. I wish I wrote more but then I look at what those who do write constantly produce and I think to myself that most of it hasn’t been chewed properly. I have a long gestation process. I content myself with the fact that when I do find myself writing something it’s something that needs to be written. If I am going through what you refer to as a fallow period—and the fact is I only produce a poem every few weeks these days—it’s because I have a lot less to say these days about things I have any opinion on, any opinion anyone would be interested in listening to. Not that I write for other people—never have—but I’m aware that they’re out there, more so than I used to be.

I read both The Pearl and Of Mice and Men for O-Level. Can’t say they put me off for life but I’ve still never got round to reading anything else by him and he’s not even on my long list. I particularly enjoyed the latter—so that’s where the characters in the cartoons come from!—and I made a point of watching the last film adaptation with John Malkovich as a surprisingly effective Lenny. Cannot see for the life of me why anyone would want to ban the book. It’s a great wee book and short. Big fan of short books as you know. If there’s one hope I have for the future of writing—once ebooks become the norm—is that more short books make it to print. (I suppose ‘make it to print’ will still exist as term. I still talk about taping TV programmes and there’s not been any tape involved for years.)

I’ve read a lot of books over the years but I do have to say that those we were assigned in secondary school made a particularly strong impression on me—in addition to the Steinbeck: Catcher in the Rye, Billy Liar, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm—plus the poetry of Larkin—HUGE influence there—and Ted Hughes (not so much). I also appreciated the Shakespeare more than I expected (we did Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice) but I think it would’ve been nice to look at some contemporary plays too.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Yep, I think the writing is only one part of the creating and sometimes they just brew away inside you. I was away for a week and wrote 4 poems and a story, after weeks of nothing.