Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Every Time I Was Astonished

It’s been a long time since poetry and I have been on speaking terms, just quietly. I have been giving it the test of time, distance and freedom. As a result, we have been looking a little sideways at each other.
I think it’s because my second poetry collection is still languishing somewhere on the publisher’s in tray. A date for publication wafts like an ion looking for something solid. To save the angst, I've mentally abandoned both the manuscript and the writing of any fresh material and haven't written a poem for weeks. Instead, I have been fraternising with prose. (Shhh, don’t tell poetry!)
A couple of times I’ve touched on the subject with friends who care and asked them if they think poetry and prose come from the same parts of the brain, but as yet no-one's been able to come up with an answer that completely satisfies me.
Yesterday, however, I started reading poetry again. And it felt good. I read David Howard’s book, ‘The Word Went Round’ and also Allison Wong’s book, ‘Cup’. David’s tough, sturdy language pleased me. He uses words that come from the land and from people who work it. He writes of his forbears and in particular, his late father who was of Irish stock; a plain man, a worker, whose character colours all that is in the book. He is a voice on David’s shoulder, an implant in his brain. It is a book largely about the land and people fighting to claim it and/or reclaim it; remember it or forget it. David’s similes and metaphors are unusual, yet how apt they are! They astonish. To my ear, they sound Irish, interesting, quixotic, fitting and fey. He is also very crafty with puns.
I read the book at work, when Baby H was asleep, and every time something written there astonished me, I’d lift my eyes from the book to the view out of the third storey window. Basically it's an angular view of ugly buildings in the part of Dunedin that is called The Exchange. It's called that because it's where the Stock Exchange used to be. The buildings, apart from the odd touch of masonry brilliance, such as the old Bank of New Zealand’s gargoyle-like lions, are largely made up of unimaginative, solid, square blocks of concrete in differing shades of grey, darkened with ingrained smut. And not one of the buildings is still being used for what it was originally built for.
Sometimes I see a silent pigeon winging it to where the empty post office’s flat roof rules its line against a white sky, then disappearing rather clumsily over the edge. I look over at that building and the bus-stop in front of it, and find it hard not to imagine that even from three storeys up, I can smell the whiff of urine that lingers on the steps near where I wait to catch the bus home.
The sound of buses pulling in and then pulling away again with a growl and a release of air from the brakes, intersperses my day. This is the sleepier end of Dunedin’s main street; it is the end that was historically the hub, but which in the last thirty years has slowly retreated as the city's shopping edged closer to the University end. The noises I hear from inside the apartment seem to reflect the inevitable hollowness of abandonment; the sudden roar of a car driven by a young male, echo-y shouts and bangs from builders refurbishing an old hotel, the squeak of brakes, the metal clang of a trailer bumping behind a van, a door slamming shut, the suck and trundle of the apartment’s lift.
Then last night in bed, I read Allison’s book. That is the great thing about poetry. If like me you are a guzzler, it’s possible to devour a whole book in one sitting. Of course I usually go back over to relive and savour. Somehow a poetry book is easy to return to, numerous times. I am not so inclined to go back to a book of prose as I am to a book of poems. Allison’s book was full of charm and tantalising subtlety - sensual and strong - as tough and cool as the fronds of a cabbage tree. Her voice is mesmerising, personal, patient and soft, but with undercurrents of - is it wryness? Bitterness? No, I think it’s maybe quizzical. Prosaic more than angry. Bewildered, amazed, amused, rather than revengeful or stubborn. And always affectionate, even in disappointment. And I like the way she can catch you unawares, surprise and shock you and cause you to start. (She wasn’t going to have me caught napping, even if I was in bed and near sleep.)
I have enjoyed catching up with poetry again and I can feel the urge to write a poem beginning to stir, slowly, like a blue-tongued lizard waking from a long sleep in the sun.

***
And what a lovely surprise tonight to hear a song-thrush! It has been so long since we’ve had them about here. Contrary to what I thought might happen, I recognised it for what it was straight away and didn't confuse it with a blackbird's song at all. It was unmistakable and seemed to trigger something deep; memories of bulldozed piles of fire-blackened wood; the sodden bonnets of foxgloves. Memories of my father’s voice. Primal memories.
I got out the binoculars, found the little fellow and laughed at his struggle to remain on the thin, wavery mast of a silver birch blustered about by the wind. He was a little ruffled, but undeterred; determined to keep singing until his song was finished, or until it got dark - whichever came first.

24 comments:

Tammy said...

You write so beautifully that I'm thrilled you are feeling poetic again ;) I never knew prose was different than poetry. I have much to learn yet. HUGS

Becky said...

What a beautiful image, you reading the poetry and looking out the window. That is exactly what good stuff does--makes you look out the window or up at the ceiling. I'M TELLING PROSE ON YOU!!

LOVE,B

Paris Parfait said...

Such a beautiful post, poetic in its own way - whatever you do, don't stop writing poetry! We need to read it. xo

wendy said...

Blue tongued lizard. You have poerty hiding in your prose, dear!!

I often wonder if it would be oh so much more practical to be a tech writer of manuals for gadgets and gizmos..rather than a poet. Somtimes it feel like the world in general has very little use for poets...

You seem rather accomplished at both crafts.

Shameless said...

a guzzler of poetry. lovely! :)

pepektheassassin said...

Good reading. Made me want to curl up and read....The world may have as little use for poetry as for coonskin caps, but have you noticed the bunches, the scads, the sheer number of poetry books being published? I am astounded and amazed. I hope your second one is soon among 'em!

GeL (Emerald Eyes) said...

Hello Chief B,
Your stunning poetic prose is just the right tonic for ending my day. Loved your wry sense of humor interspersed amongst delicious dewdrops letting us evesdrop into your marvelous brain.

I'm a guzzler, too and also do not usually reread prose, but yes to poetry and yes again and again...

chiefbiscuit said...

tammy - Thanks. I wish I knew if different parts of the brain light up depending on whether one is prose-ing or poetry-ing ;) And what it looks like! That'd be cool huh?

becky - Ha ha! You're right - isn't looking up meant to help to cement knowledge? Teaching children to look up when learning facts is meant to be good brain gym. So I've heard. Who knows?

pp - Thanks so much PP. You're a sweetie.

wendy - The world needs poets - they just won't regard them or pay them - but still ... the world needs poets. Maybe we should write poetical technical manuals? ;)

shameless- You one too?

pepek - You crack me up! Thanks.

gel - Thanks for the reassurance. Poetry is looking better and better these days!

Cailleach said...

I know what you mean about taking a holiday from poetry. I've done that pretty much the most of last year, writing very little, whilst consuming all the academic books.

I just love the way you say that you and poetry looked sideways at each other, that made me chuckle!

A lovely piece of writing and your enthusiasm for both collections is refreshing too!

chiefbiscuit said...

cailleach - Thanks. Yes I think I'm on a reading binge - I find I can't do both - write and read - concurrently.

Remiman said...

Cb,
I'm glad to hear that your flirting with poetry once more. I think when it's in your blood, you can only ignore it for so long before it wends it's way back to the fore.

IMHO. poetry starts in the right brain, the side where your imagination is resideing, then it is sent across to the left side for structuring. Fictional prose may follow a simila format. Then again maybe I'm just blowing smoke.
rel

Jan said...

Chief Biscuit:
THIS is lovely prose, poetic prose. If poetry is supposedly The Best Words In The Best Order, then your prose follows suit.
I do hope you hear good news from the publisher of your poetry soon.

chiefbiscuit said...

rel - Thanks. What you say kinda all makes sense.

jan - Thanks so much, I am encouraged by your kind words.

Rethabile said...

There you go. Beauty in a post. These are rare, you know. One of the best poems I've ever read is Seamus Heaney's "Digging." He talks about his Irish father, a hardworker. "By God, the old man could handle a spade," he says at some stage.

This kind of poem is often truly heartfelt, and often comes out fighting, wanting to be said, with certain, unavoidable pictures and sounds. It's like the gods themselves whispering the words of the poem to the writer's pen, instead of it being the Muses talking to the writer.

I go back to Mr heaney's poem again and again and again. Very nice post here, ChiefBiscuit.

Digging

Lee said...

I find that if I go for a day or two without reading poetry, I feel undernourished in some essential way - partly because poetry is where language is stretched to its limits, partly because it makes me see in a way that nothing else can, partly because ... no, I need a poem to express this.

chiefbiscuit said...

rethabile - Mmmm .... Heaney is a poet I haven't read for some time - maybe I need to go read him again and refresh my memory. Thanks for the link to his poem - I will use it as inspiration. Thanks again.

lee - I know what you mean! Poetry has this winning way - it gets into your blood and will not - indeed cannot - be washed away.

Catherine said...

I'm not sure if poetry and prose are in different parts of the brain. But apparently language is not consistently in one part of the brain - that is, I read that in English, language is in a different part of the brain from music, but in Japanese, they are in the same part of the brain. Which makes sense to me, since there are a huge number of onomatopoeic expressions in Japanese ie expressions that sound like the sound they imitate.
Of course there are so many ways to write poetry these days, some are more prose-like than others.
Glad to see you have your comments back!

chiefbiscuit said...

Catherine - As ever your comments are informative and interesting .. thank
you and yes it is good to get the comments back. I alerted Blogger and a nice person who actually exists got back to me to say she'd fixed it.

Endment said...

This has been an inspiring visit! Now I have to see if I can find out whether the brain responds differently to poetry and prose--- Where would one find this kind of information?

I was surprised to discover that our library system does not have either of the books you mentioned... The local book store does not have the books either - I didn't even find them on Amazon --- sigh

chiefbiscuit said...

endment - Welcome back! Thanks for your kind words.
Bless you for looking up the books - I'm surprised you couldn't find 'The Word Goes Round'(note that's 'word' not 'world') by David Howard on Amazon, as it's a larger publishing outfit (Otago University Press.) The other book, 'Cup'by Alison Wong is publ by a smaller publ. Roger Steele and may not be on Amazon.

kj said...

chief, i can't NOT write poetry. i write short stories and self help articles and one loving first draft novel, but always poetry sneaks in and finds a way to release itself. i am happiest writing poetry. i never think that i have any chance of getting a volume of poems published, but i'm hoping to see one of my poems published somewhere, and then another....

keep at it, chief. we are writers.

chiefbiscuit said...

kj - Thanks for the support and encouragement - I really haven't deserted poetry - would never - I just like bluffing. Seeing if I can scare it out into the open. ;)

apprentice said...

I think reading will just nurish your writing, and if this post is anything to go by it's already working. I'm glad the job allows you to enjoy moments when the baby is sleeping.

Song thrushes are a joy, I have an anvil stone in my garden where my thrush takes all her snails to beat the hell out of them. I try to think of it as her oyster bar.

chiefbiscuit said...

Apprentice - That is so cute re the song-thrush!
Thanks for your encouragements.

Harbour

Harbour
'how this all harbours light'