Monday, 18 June 2012

Fading Memories

It is that time of year again folks. People are finishing up their hand ins, attending their final seminars and sitting their final exams. I know a good five people in this predicament and for all you guys and girls out there- the very best of luck to you all, not that you’ll need it.

I’m in the brilliant yet sometimes unfortunate position of living with a poet. All of those generalisations and stereotypes with conflicting ‘would be artists’- it is not unlike a television sitcom at times. The thing about living with a poet, in fact with anyone, is that certain common ground things have a tendency to take precedent from time to time. Poetry, for example. A lot of the time.

Living with someone that writes better poetry brings an element of competition, if I’m honest. I still don’t think I have written anything to rival the poems regularly thrust upon me- I doubt that I ever will, given the very nature of our writing styles.

I write freely, most of the time. A tendency to get bogged down in an idea means I try to move on fast and with this, I am usually the one with the jumbled lines, uneven stresses and repetition. Pitch that against someone very much focused on all of these things- that redrafts stanzas four times before moving on and the competition comes in.

I have written poems, mostly in my head (to be forgotten) and then come home and scrapped them out with the keyboard. Fate, or something like it, normally makes these days coincide with her afternoon struggles- the post work no poem blues afternoons. So what do you do in a situation like this then?

I find that not writing the poems is worse- as you are only ever forced to type them up even quicker when they just won’t rest. You could find yourself losing the poem entirely- thinking you’ve dealt with a theme and actually not done it.

A festival poem, for instance. I am almost sure I have a festival poem somewhere that I ‘wrote’ in my head at work one afternoon. I don’t know where that poem ever went to, whether or not I have used the lines I had pieced together in something. Like any writer, I have a huge pile of NO poems; half-done poems, poems that have trailed off or poems that I just don’t like or didn’t like at the time. I need to sort through it; it must be full of recyclables.

I mention this only to contrast it with the other style of writing- the one I would like to adopt- her meticulous, attention to detail style of writing. As I write this, she is working on her collection- preening lines here and there, changing entire stanzas, growing the NO pile…

There is no jumping in to be done at this stage and the poet needs leaving to her own devices. Nothing I can say can change the fact she doesn’t like a poem anymore and so it goes. The fact that I would rate it much higher than she does is immaterial, obviously.

These are the poet’s fading memories. They are the poems that leapt from the most vivid scene straight into a notebook on a summer afternoon. They are the poems so favoured for so long but when looked back over, treated with a kind of contempt, as if written by a different person, a different poet.

To grow as a poet is a good thing, but not when you have a portfolio to hand in I suppose. I suspect the coming ten weeks will be full of these flash moments- the uncertain feeling moments- and this brings with it, the ever uncertain question- just when can you say a standard is good enough.

Those poems, those memories that were once so good and held such clarity in your mind that you wrote them into poems- they are my take on the theme this week, Fading Memories. All of you writers amongst us, you know who you are and you know you have these poems. Why not re-work them now- give them one more try?

Thanks for reading,


vicky ellis said...

Yep, I definitely recognize those agonizing moments. Poems that you were once really proud of being excluded because it doesn't cut the mustard anymore. Those poems are still important, on a personal level. They remind you where you've been. Good luck to Lara with fretting over the details. I bet it's pretty satisfying, even though it sounds like a lot of hard work.

Ashley R Lister said...

I have a hard drive interspersed with nuggets like this.

I think I might actually pull my finger out and see if I can reanimate one of these corpses for the next event.


Christo Heyworth said...

Thanks for raising this topic, Shaun.

Having a mental "hidey-hole" to return to when fresh inspiration seems to have dried up is massively important to me.

As far as I remember, actually writing down poems and asking the opinions of others began when I was in my early teens and compensated for my unhandsome, unsporty persona by foisting short poems on to girls I fancied, who were usually a good deal older and better-read than me.

What was hard especially was knowing when a poem was "finished", a problem I have still - I sympathise with Lara's perfectionism, but am encouraged that several of my favourite poems - Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, Tennyson's Ulysses and Eliot's The Waste Land - were crafted from many, many earlier fragments, and many writers whose poems I admire have a similar reluctance to finalise a text for publication.

Shall I then stick to haiku? Except haiku and tenka, though
brief demand even greater compact decisiveness.

And please don't believe that getting older removes the expectation that you will "hand in" your completed exam paper - I was one of "The Old Guys" treated to Fathers's Day Lunch with our son and daughter-in-law, and I think we more or less passed the test of not dribbling down our jumpers nor being too unPC for the parlance of nowadays - parents particularly, but other members of the family too can be soooooooooooo excruciatingly embarrassing, n'est-ce pas?

Jo Michaels said...

I can't write poetry. It's not that I haven't tried, it's that it just doesn't flow for me like telling a tale does. I have often sat and considered why. No answers. WRITE ON!