Saturday, July 06, 2013

When the Writing Stops

My relationship with writing poetry remains a complex one, though I'm not the only one. In an interesting White Review interview, Paul Muldoon says "I haven’t written a poem for a while and I think – as many people do – that maybe I won’t be writing another one." In a discussion mainly about poetry vs. lyrics (Muldoon has recently published a book of the latter) he talks about not kniwing what he is doing when he writes. Its fascinating, as Muldoon - almost ridiculously consistently acclaimed - seems an interesting poet to me not because everything he writes is good, but because it at least tries to be interesting. He also says that "I never know what I'm doing," and I wondered about this. Certainly I would say that Heaney, who gave him his first leg up, seems to be a poet that always knows what he's doing; and I wondered whether this is just the kind of thing one says to interviewers, particularly when you're talking about the delicate subject of publishing your lyrics. He makes the interesting point that he grew up with the inner sleeve, often festooned in lyrics, and that he thinks that's important - in other words these lyrics - Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne whoever - were meant to be read, and not just, I think, to enable you to karaoke along.

I've frequently "not written a poem for a while" - but its more often the case that I've not published a poem for a while, and I don't really understand, even after all this time, where to go with that. Reading a few poems recently I've gone back to my little book, because, three years down the line, they're still there, still in print. I have to acknowledge them. Thats not always the case with manuscript poems. I can certainly remember reading this poem or that poem out some time but nobody's keeping my set lists, so unless it was recorded, I guess those poems are ultimately "deniable."

In some ways it does seem a little absurd to keep writing poetry (or for that matter songs or stories) if they are going to remain in the bottom drawer. I envy those writers who have the confidence that all their work will get published; or find a place. My ambition stops a little with the most recent work: wondering if this is good enough and then wondering "for whom?" 

It does seem important to write poems that move on, somehow, rather than be versions of what's come before; yet also there's a sense that maybe if you've found a model or two that works then a few replicas wouldn't be such a good idea. Its that old rock and roll cliche again, we like a band's style so wish they'd give us more in that style: too similar and we're bored; too different and we're not convinced. Yet I've always been interested in little artistic projects as much as individual poems - and fusing the two is one of the difficulties. I can sometimes follow an idea and write a bad poem around it; other times write something pleasant enough but which lacks any sense of originality to itself.

Depends which way you look at these things whether that makes me a bad poet or a good poet - I'm certainly not convinced my every utterance is worth your time; but surely they are not all one-offs? We trust a poet to, say, contribute to an anthology, because they have a track record; they have some of the tools - yet isn't the best work the stuff that surprises? Its certainly not the case that an intense experience - say, an operation - leads to an intense poem: I kind of think this is where the art comes in; its in the execution of the idea that we give it our best shot. 

So here I am again, in a bit of a poetry limboland, not really sure if I've got some poems that I should send out into the world, yet knowing that if I don't do that - by whatever means - that there's no way of anyone finding out that little bit more about my writing. The writing sometimes stops, by which I mean the serious writing. It feels a bit like that at the moment, which probably means that something good is round the corner, or maybe not.

I was going to stop there, but realise I'd forgotten something. I'm a bit overwhelmed by the seriousness (that's the wrong word, but will have to do) of other poets I know. I'm here questioning the why of it all, and they're so often convinced that there's a method in the madness - and, equally as important, are getting their work out there. Not for the first time, I think that's its possible to have missed the boat - to be like Eliot's Magi, glad to see the Messiah, but wishing they were young enough to enjoy it. We all can't be Huxleys or Gunns taking advantage of the new world. I guess there's a time in your life when slings and arrows are good for you - I don't think your middle 40s is that time. There's time to do a few things I think but not to start again; and somehow - in a way that I'm finding difficult to  articulate at the moment - starting again seems to be where I'm up to; roads less travelled and all that.

1 comment:

Julius bright said...

i like this post! nice blog!