No poem to write


Sometimes I think it’s gone forever

-Ken Smith

I want to write a poem, Seamus Heaney says, but I have no poem to write.

Nothing to say. Not a word. (Beckett? I think it was Krapp.)

The Silence. It happens. It comes to us all. (I may be kidding: I don’t talk about my writing, or even my ‘writing’, let alone my Writing.  This might be about three months ago. Or years. Or even yesterday morning.)

It is there, gnawing at us, knowing nothing, like Helen Dunmore’s speaker in the desert.

We feel its presence. Its absence. Which is the presence of something not yet solid, not yet called (I like that, ‘called’, I might use it) into being.

We want it to come. It does not come.

We follow the great Ken’s advice: we ‘mooch about…mucking about in a library with no particular book in mind…going on a journey; finding silence; entering places where English is not spoken…’

It refuses to come. We actually get on with our job, the one we are paid to do, somnambulant, giving it everything. All the while there is a ticking, an itching. It is the pebble in our shoe. The lump in our throat. A kind of homesickness. Frost.

We are in a meeting and we say: Frost. We should have said Freud, perhaps, or: statistics. Or ‘I don’t agree.’ There is a shuffling of paper. A cough.

You notice: There is one fly.

Poems surround you, their echoes mocking. Poems that have actually (last week you heard yourself say ‘literally’: literally) been written. Books. You remember those.

Nothing doing. There is TV. The weather. Books by others. Poets. Do you hate them? You think you might.

Ken again: ‘…sleeping a lot and dreaming; encountering strangers; recording strange events, consulting oracles, collecting images, getting drunk, staying sober, attempting to cleanse the doors of perception or forget what I know.’ (I like that ‘doors of perception’: how cheeky.)

Nothing to show. Admin. A party. Another party. A voice that is actuallyliterally (most unlikely) yours says: Oh, yes, fine thanks, great, quite a lot, actually. That’s quite a lot of commas, even for a party. You can’t even blame the wine.

And then. And then.

Only kidding. (That’s right. Nothing.)

You pray that Ken was right: ‘Over the years I’ve learned not to sweat it. To relax and let it go or come as it will, and conclude that my purpose in life is not to write poetry but to live my life. Therefore I do that.’

You live.

Ken Smith quotations from How to Publish Your Poetry, Peter Finch, Allison and Busby, 1985.


    1. So pleased you saw this and thank you for your kind RT etc.
      The Frost was not intended as a pun. But it could be. I was thinking of the poet.
      I like the idea of Robert Frost on the tip of my tongue though.
      What on earth would he say?
      As ever with thanks


  1. Yes – moving and funny, a great mixture! The muse (moose as a friend calls his!)…a tricky beast. Mooching is close to moosing perhaps! As you show, when you least expect it – words start squeezing out of the edges…

    The way that your poet was coming up with phrases, despite himself, reminded me of this. In response to an exercise called ‘the messenger’ set by Ruth Padel (on a radio programme) I wrote this stub of a ‘poem’ – about a poet with No Poem to Write – perhaps the opposite to your poet? Or perhaps not. I need to avoid the cliche of mercury – but haven’t worked out a new cliche yet!

    I am your muse,
    I came to tell you I will still slip into your mind like mercury,
    Prepare you to share my dreams,
    You think I can be pinned down, arrested, silenced,
    Really? How long can you hold out against me?
    Is there any message?

    Yes. Tell them I have nothing more to say.


    1. Thanks so much for this. What a great exercise. So direct, like your poem.
      There is also a well known critic and writer by the name of Moose. You can hear him on R4 etc. AKA Kevin Jackson. A marvellous person.
      Good wishes as ever


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