Thursday, 13 March 2014


Earlier this week I read Kevin Prufer's 'Churches' in the Paris Review - it caused me to become preoccupied. While there was much to absorb and appreciate - the postcard rack is vivid and lasting - it was this stanza which plucked an unfinished poem from the archive of my mind and lay it out on the table:

In 2009, my father lay in a hospital bed 
gesturing sweepingly with his hands. 
                                  “What are you doing?” 
I asked him. “I’m building a church,” he said. 
“You’re making a church?” I said. 
                                  “Can’t you see?” he said. 
He seemed to be patting something 
in the air, sculpting something—a roof?—that floated above him. 
The hospital room was quiet and white. 
“What kind of church is it?” “I’m not finished.” 
“Is it a church you remember?” 
                                                    “Goddamn it,” he said. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Five years ago, back 'home' in the city where I was born, in the same hospital in fact, I met the foundry man. My Grandpop lay in the hospital bed, his hands moving through the air in a similar way to that described in Prufer's poem. He'd thrust his arms forward toward the unseen furnace, pull them back and then pour the invisible steel liquid into moulds lined up along the hospital table. After hours of repeating the same actions he'd suddenly switch to rubbing his palms together, sliding the fingers on his right-hand between those on his left. When he plunged his hands into the dry bed sheets to wash off the soap, my mum said he was back home now. Standing at the kitchen sink - as he did every night after work - washing off the stains.

For five years I've been trying to write the foundry man poem. I've lost count of how many drafts I've written, how many different ways I've tried to write his story. I know the details - still so clear - are those worthy of a poem, but every attempt I have made feels wrong, unfinished. With each failed attempted I file another draft away in the filing cabinet, leave it alone and decide that maybe now isn't the right time for this poem to be written. But eventually something triggers the foundry man to rise vividly back into my thoughts and I'm compelled, almost powerless, to make another attempt.

*          *          *

Conversations with poets over the years have revealed that many have that one stubborn/ difficult poem which seems to take far longer to finish than others. After years of revisiting an idea, writing unsuccessful drafts, something finally clicks and they find their poem - exactly as they hoped it would be. So maybe this time, when I revisit the foundry man, I'll write the poem and it'll be just as I hoped it would be. 

Thank you for reading,



vicky ellis said...

So much of the writing takes place in the head before the ink sees the paper.

Remember your stanza last week with the crossed out words? Maybe you could combine your previous attempts using that method. It might fit with the repetitive action if your grandpop's imaginary work.

Colin Davies said...

After my father died in 2001 I wrote this:

"And as Pink sang black and blue
there was nothing left for you to do
but to let go of that shell
You'd occupied, since Hitler fell"

It took me 10 years to finish it.

I agree, some poems need to ready to come out. Otherwise they are just forced.

Adele said...

Like Lady Macbeth sleep walking while attempting to wash away the blood and guilt. I was also put in mind of muscle-memory. When my daughter Katie leant a new gymnastic move, the coaches would promise that once the muscles knew how to execute the pattern it would become natural. The neuro-pathways connect in a particular way respond automatically to reproduce the action. Turn the drafts upside down - try starting at the end and walking to change your own neuropathways.