I write first drafts of poems quickly. Except in a few happy cases when the form writes itself, almost all of my subsequent work is an attempt to find the most effective form.
For me there is usually tension between imposed and natural pattern. I did not grow up in a city, and in a city my eyes are drawn to birds, parks, puddles, sky. I remain at greatest ease with looser forms and believe these facts are connected.
I seldom have managed to write metrically or to traditional forms. If I decide a poem I am writing is not a free-verse poem, like many poets, I set about identifying the given patterns in it, often within the poem’s existing lining, or lilt. Then I attempt to regularise that pattern, a little, or a lot. I am not always successful. A poem that has found its true form is a potent thing.
After starting out as free verse, ‘The Fugitives’ became a poem of short 4 line stanzas, but in the higher tempo sections, I realized it needed space to expand the line. I settled on looser couplets which also suited the dialogue.
‘Campfire’ moved into stanzas because it needed dignity. But as its cadence demanded it sway continuously through its enjambments, I fused the stanzas.
‘The Rising’ often fell into 4 line stanzas. 4 line stanzas and couplets feel traditional, stable and known, and things which apparently endure, (like ritual, love, desire for life) are needed as stability in times of disaster.
After watching a kestrel in action I played with the word lift. Lift went to loft, aloft , lug, luft. I then carried the language thing though. Birds don’t have national borders is one way to justify it. However it was actually the static consonants, the progression of vowel-sounds and the variation on refrain which captured my interest, reflecting something of the bird’s behavior.
I love oral poetry and poetry-on-the-page that urges me to read it out loud. I am interested in how the body and the unconscious understand and respond to sound, rather than the actual meaning of words. Sometimes it feels more important to run with the sound-patterning or image in a line, than with the meaning. I trust the reader will get it.
But, because I am not always good enough at it, this is sometimes not the case. The thrills and drivers of my work, have always been playing with sound and imagery. But I also find these things can be blinding and trapping habits. 2 curves of the same egg.
So over time I have become increasingly attentive to a poem’s architecture – as a third, but for me, more difficult task. Robert Hass observes: ‘What’s special about poetry … is that it is a kind of speech that’s meant to be said by others’ (my emphasis). For a poem to be satisfying enough to be read or said by others, it requires the acute attention of the writer. Part of this attention (for me) is the attempt to achieve a coherent internal structure that allows the reader to find the poem’s music, sense and undersong.
Hass also quotes Simone Weil: ‘Attention is prayer, and form in art is the way attention comes to life’.