It’s clear that for performance poets, poetry is something of an extreme sport. I am far more of a page poet although I do enjoy reading my work in public and one day I might even pluck up the courage to perform it a little. But it’s writing the stuff that thrills and exhilarates me.
By the time I start a poem, the seed of it has usually – though not always – been dormant in my head for some time. Then, as I feel my way towards it, I fall in love – with its subject, its sound, the look of it on the page, the adrenalin rush of hunting down the right word and trapping it, only to have a tiny doubt – ‘surely there must be something a bit more perfect? Yes, here it is, look!’ – until it’s done. Obviously interspersed with all that passion are stretches of doubt and discouragement of the ‘God, this is total crap’ variety, but unless I put it to one side in despair, nine times out of ten I end up with my mouth full of something that pleases me.
Then obviously I start something else, look back after a week or so and realise how buck-toothed and bespectacled my previous amour was. So I ignore it for months, then finally go back to it for more tweaking, its weaknesses having become obvious in our estrangement.
There’s a picture of Lizzie Siddal, painted by her husband and dark star, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, called ‘Beata Beatrix’. It depicts Beatrice Portinari from Dante Aligheri’s poem ‘La Vita Nuova’ at the moment of her death. I’m not a big fan of Rossetti or his art. Although he was supremely talented, much of his later work, particularly of Jane Morris, is too decadent for my sensibilities. And he treated both Lizzie and William Morris, whom I venerate, shamefully. But this canvas is sumptuous in colour and composition. With her face upturned, her eyes shut and her hands held out to receive the poppy which Death’s messenger, a red dove, is about to put in them, Beatrix is anticipating – even welcoming - her death. The biographer Jan Marsh has identified Lizzie’s posture as being reminiscent of someone in the throes of drug-induced euphoria, and poor Lizzie being addicted to laudanum, this is entirely plausible.
I mention this partly to have a beautiful picture to post with this blog, but mainly because that is how I feel about writing poetry. It’s a rush, an addiction, a passion and a thrill. I hope it never gives up on me.