I have not
read a book in six months
-Raymond Carver, ‘Drinking While Driving’
I can still remember the shock of encountering the bare-handed honesty of these words, standing in a bookshop in the suburb I grew up in. Writers -published writers with book deals and international reputations- were not supposed to admit to such things. Because of this and lines like it (Mark Robinson’s ‘I have had time to stand and fart recently’; Marie Howe’s ‘Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important/ calls for my attention’; Tranströmer’s ‘We are at a party that doesn’t love us’) I can add to the list of What I Want In A Poem -devastating use of language, surprise, ending up somewhere new- vulnerability. I don’t mean look at me suffering please feel sorry for me vulnerability. I don’t mean poems that tell us they are having a jolly bad time. I mean poems that risk looking foolish and not as in control as the social fabric of our lives normally allows. Michael Laskey’s poem about going for the last swim of the year. Sharon Olds saying ‘I want to live’. Sylvia Plath saying ‘Let be, let be’ at the end of ‘Pheasant’. Poems that put a hand on your shoulder and risk saying I have no idea what is going on here but it seems important. Poems with a human face, as I think Seamus Heaney says somewhere. Poems, to quote Mozart in Amadeus, that don’t sound like they shit marble. Everything by Ann Sansom. Ditto Jean Sprackland (‘Everything comes to this’). Poems that are completely in control of their preparedness not to appear wise and all-knowing. That’s what I want. Poems that may appear foolish, childish, even. Silly. I love silliness. Why are we not more silly? We should institute prizes for clowning in poetry. For pulling the rug from under us. We could do it. Cliff Yates. Siân Hughes. Edwin Morgan’s ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’. Ian McMillan using words like ‘galoot’ and ‘settee’. Let’s lose control. We are not in control. We could all admit this more, and fall over while we’re at it.