Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Iron Filings

07:30:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , , , , , , , , 3 comments

electrons leap from atom to atom
we don’t ask to see their papers

These lines are shavings, iron filings, left on the floor after I had taken a poem through several drafts of attack.  I like the sentiment behind these lines, especially this week, given the political atrocities, but the thought was a distraction when set in a poem whose subject was the quiet moment after an argument with my daughter.  What I wanted was a sense of metal cooling.  These lines were inappropriate.

can she see yet?                                                                                  
how the silver slips through my fingers?
how I rust, unburnished? 

These lines are from the same poem.  Also discarded. The 'rust, unburnished' comes from Tennyson's Ulysses.  This was more appropriate in terms of subject but, by the time I came to the fifth draft, it didn't quite fit the narrative.  I had decided to focus on the conflict between the dark, quiet room and her heated words.  This introverted metaphysical questioning prevented the reader from directly relating to that scene.  Again, I like the lines but not in this place.

Looking back, I can also place a finger where I replaced the word 'unfathomable' with 'recondite' - following Norman Hadley's wise advice that four syllable words do not scan easily and therefore five syllable words should be kept for special occasions.  Recondite is pleasing because it sounds like a mineral and reflects the title of the poem: Among a mineral of metals base.

The title was taken from Gertrude's line in Hamlet.  It's a line which I only noticed for the first time when I saw the play in Stratford-Upon-Avon with my daughter.  It relates to a chink of morality among madness and Hamlet's tears after murdering Polonius.  This seemed appropriate. 

The poem in question has a sub-theme of metals as it was written for a competition on that theme.  In its initial drafts it was creatively arranged on the page, so that it read as three columns which could be understood separately or taken as a whole.  The feedback I received told me that this style was confusing to read and unnecessary.  The final piece is a simple poem, left-aligned, in six stanzas.  When I showed the final draft to my other half he told me he had quite liked it when it was arranged in three strands.  I reminded him that he had found this confusing to read, as had others, hence the change to a simple layout.  He thought I had lost something in conceding to my readers. 

I agree that I lost something of the elemental (if you don't mind) fierceness of the original layout when I rearranged it into a more standard page poem.  Having said that, in working those three strands into one I was able to concentrate the image into something more immediate.  It comes down to how hard I would like my audience to work.  I think they might have found the initial style more satisfying after a few readings but perhaps it's a tad rude to expect them to have to work that hard? 

What do you think?





vicky ellis said...

On the subject of making readers work hard...

What I meant to ask at the end was: To what extent should we sacrifice our artistic intention to allow for the audience's pleasure in reading the poem?

Colin Davies said...

It's always tricky to find the balance between artistic integrity and audience satisfaction.

Designing a horse by committee ends up with a camel.

However, in saying that, sometimes as artists we produce work that is over challenging then complain that no is getting it.

Pink Floyd knew that Syd was stretching out to far with his ideas and changed, yet still didn't conform.

My own personal view is I'm not a fan of all that format messing, but I like to hear poetry.

I'm not right. I think for me it comes down to whether you want people to get it, or are you happy forever explaining it.

Listen to the advice then make you own choices. Sometime ignoring advice can be as important as taking it.

And if you're not sure, it usually means you were not fully committed to the idea in the first place.

Really enjoyed this post.

vicky ellis said...

"...ignoring advice can be as important as taking it."

I agree. It takes self-assurance and self-awareness to be able to do this. You've got to be sure that the poem works on your terms. It took me ages to get to the point where I could defend my decisions against poets whose work I very much admired. A real revelation: their way isn't always my way.

Wise words Colin, thanks.