During the Christmas period I am reposting some old posts from my archive.
Wishing all my readers a very happy Christmas, and joy and fulfilment in the new year.
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 not 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.
Why not give the poetry a rest and try a few novels? I would recommend Nick Hornby, Julian Barnes and John Updike (also a great poet!) for starters.
Merry Christmas from Simon
Thank you for this reminder, Anthony. From the book I keep on my desk at all times, The Writer on His Own, an old one by David Greenhood: “If we suppress our wackiness we’ll seal off the source of some of our most truing impulses. Our potential will dwindle. We’ll no longer feel the sweet daze and speed of the push of it.”
I believe the silliness is what makes Billy Collins so well-loved. And reading him carefully lets us know that Greenhood is right – the wackiness (silliness) begets the truing impulses. I suggest, too, Judith Mickel Sornberger’s wonderful poem, “Wallpapering to Patsy Cline,” a poem that resonates with metaphor, silliness, truth and love. (Open Heart, Calyx Books).
As always, Molly
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Love these quotes and ideas and titles. Never heard of the Greenwood. Is it good, sounds amazing!