Sunday, 21 October 2012

Viking Blood

 by David Riley

Poets all have Viking blood.

They raid the past as if it were a coastline, digging up the skeletons, making them articulate, singing songs like children playing. They do it with great beauty, rarely looking away from what they find in this history; often from the smallest thing great stories flow. You need look little further than the sections encompassing childhood in Neil Astley's Being Human trilogy of poetry anthologies to scratch the surface of what can be done. They remind us of children and childhood from all sorts of perspectives. Look up Adrian Mitchell's Beattie is Three for eye-watering restrained sentiment and his A Puppy Called Puberty for the laugh out loudness of shared (male) memories.

While these books are full of memories (is that what makes us human?) what passes as recollection there isn't child's play. The stuff of memory is worked and reworked to make it seem as if then is now and is eternal and shared by all. Even when such ideas are born of the uncomfortable or the meaning remains elusive it is something poets won't stop pursuing, showing child's play refracted through their words:

I cannot like the scent
Yet I would rather give up others more sweet
With no meaning, than this bitter one

as Edward Thomas mused on a childhood memory and the mysterious image it recalled. This sort of thing was raised again this week for me, obliquely, at some of the great events at Lancaster Litfest, particularly a talk following a reading by poet and short story writer David Constantine and writer Adam Marek. In response to a question about his writing Adam replied that what people saw in his work was the crust on a great amount that they didn't - but without all of it what was seen would not be as good. Implicitly a lot of what is below the surface was produced in a form of play.

Once again, the idea of memory and reworking surfaced for me. We must have that mass behind us to give rise to what is best. It might be produced in many ways (even play) and can be shared with others - but often it must then be put aside and we must carry on trying to quarry from it the best that we can.

Such things may never be finished but they are rarely ever wasted;Paul Valéry said, "poems are never completed, they are only abandoned." It reminds me of a child's toys and games, left haphazardly while they move on to other things but always there, the skeletons of child's play to support all we go on to do.


Ashley R Lister said...

I would dearly love to subscribe to the belief that I possess Viking blood.

Thanks for such an erudite take on this week's theme. I look forward to seeing you at next Friday's DGP event.


vicky ellis said...

I was thinking much the same at the gig last night. One or two of the slower songs didn't quite chime with the jovial mood but they were an essential element of the performance. That lull between the highs gave lift to the exuberance when it came round.

Great post as ever :)