Thursday, 14 June 2012

Writing Poetry as an Extreme Sport


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. 

5 comments:

  1. I doing my first ever reading on Saturday (apart from writing groups). Wish me luck. At least it's only one poem.

    Nick

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    1. Indeed - I hope it's the first of many!

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  2. It's such an addiction, elating, potentially destructive, potentially life enhancing, but with something of worth and beauty at the end. Write, write, write...

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  3. Hauntingly beautiful painting to complement your encouraging words laced with good humour. I am lately between the polemical views of the fine figurative artist, poet and polymath Miles Mathis and the great Ted Hughes. Mathis: "I am not denying that poetry has an oral tradition or that poetry can benefit from being spoken. I am saying that poetry is not a performance art, in the sense that the performance cannot be more important than the art. Nor can the performance stand for the art.

    "In a true performance art like dance, the performance IS the art. Without a performance, there is no art. Without a dance, there is no dance. You cannot have a written dance.

    "With poetry, however, the bulk of the art is in the writing. Speaking the poem can bring this art to life, but it cannot create it. A good reading and a nice voice can maximize the power of the words, but even without a reading, a poem is art, in full. Or it should be."
    http://mileswmathis.com/slam.html

    Hughes, from "Myths, Metres, Rhythms": "If we attempt to understand this demand [of musical interpretation], we have to leave technicalities, and test things on ourselves. The most obvious novelty of demand, in both Coleridge and Hopkins, is the demand on the reader's voice, for whar might be called a new kind of psychosomatic co-operation with the vitality of the statement...The voice has to make a shift, from the speaking mode to what -- for want of the right word -- one might call the 'performing' mode. That is, it is a demand for creative musical input, from the reader...Each line is like a dancer who, if you are going to read the line at all, forces you to be a partner and dance. Or is like a singer whose voice you can join only by singing the same melody. You can pronounce the line as silently as you like, but that launching of the inner self into full kinaesthetic participation is, so to speak, compulsory. Otherwise, you can't read the line."

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    1. I think so-called 'performance poetry' is often somewhere between a poem and a song. It might have a glossier surface than 'page poetry' but its waters don't always run deep.

      If you have to make a distinction between the two genres, then I would definitely fall into the category of a page poet. That said, I walk and walk and read and read my poems until I am sure that they work. (Then I abandon them for a while and discover they don't - or sometimes (joy!) that they do.)

      A good page poem has to read beautifully otherwise it is a failure as a poem. I am always disappointed when I go to see a poet whose work I admire or love, and their poems are let down by their delivery. Or even newcomers. If the audience doesn't have the printed item in front of them, it has to be conveyed competently orally otherwise it doesn't exist.

      I read my poems OK but I would like to read them better. I hope I'll improve with practice. I don't get nervous but I could probably do with having a bit more confidence.

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