Ingrid at Experiments in Fiction can be found on Twitter @Experimentsinfc. She has started A Poem A Day challenge over where the bluebird flies – tweet a poem every day. When I first read her post about it I was very clear with myself that I was not going to get sucked into that! However, here we are. Not quite a poem a day, but here is my January poetry diary – in no particular order, just what Twitter threw up.
Dawn slumps in sullen doesn’t meet my eye
left her fags in the kitchen last night
no matches no light
still exhales greyness
Let’s go as close to the edge as we can –
to where the sand and the sea and the sky and the sand and the spray
are one great glorious roar of wildness
last night a lemon-peel moon, this morning, frost and hungry birds
sunrise and all those branches scratching at the sky begging for light
and it’s always hard to step into coldness yes but you must unfurl
the wood silent as a temple
suddenly a hare racing like a heartbeat
the sound of starlings wheeling and whorling – that rustle is winter
pause listen breathe
January and it’s easy to wake before the sun
to lie in the sullen dark
dreaming the world awake
today the world overflows with the sound of water running water all life and movement
filling the house with the scent of spice cinnamon and ginger cardamom and cloves warmth worth its weight in gold
not even sure the sun is rising
the sky all sludge and river mud
if you could plunge your arms into those clouds
they’d come out gleaming sticky
Press your fingertip into the clay and map the mountain of your story
contour lines like a labyrinth
because we are all seeking the silent centre
3am bitch-squats on my chest
not the gale or the rain clattering
not pain or grief or fear or anything
just the night whispering in my ear
what kind of fool keeps a wolf in a cage of bone?
not enough thread to stitch my story together
free to fly with the wind
today everything screams be alive
the hail shouts into my face
the wind grabs me shakes me
the sea roars
be alive be alive be alive
the world silver moth wing the sky tasting of nothing I could crush these clouds silver juice scented with snow
I love the suddenness of flames
how they open out
how they create themselves
our footprints melted in the sunlight
as if we’d never walked together up the lane beyond the shadows
the world ends at the end of the lane
dragons things with teeth and claws
mist the absence of colour
I don’t know
I turn back before I’m forced to see
I am a comma curving a brief pause into the word flow of the day cat-curling round the lines between the stories
Welcome to The Craft, my new monthly series. It’s partly a way of celebrating and uplifting some of my favourite poets, and partly a way to justify being really nosy. I’m interested in how people write, in why they write, and in what inspires them.
I’m so pleased that Jane is my first guest. Jane was one of the first poets I came across when I started my poetry blog, four years ago now. At the time she was putting out some great prompts and offering generous and helpful feedback. Through those prompts I met a group of poets who led me to my favourite sites. I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to Jane for really taking me seriously as I took my first poetic steps – like Bambi on ice, clutching at a pen for support. And now she’s here again, supporting me as I take my first steps in interviewing someone else.
Jane has written a series of YA fantasy novels, and has just published two books of poetry, birds and other feathers and thicker than water. She is a product of the Irish diaspora. She was brought up in Yorkshire and educated in Manchester and London before moving to France to work in the wine trade. She spent fourteen years in Paris where she married and had four children, studied Irish for a year and taught herself Italian. Next move was to Laon in Picardy, a medieval gem of a town set in beautiful countryside, where her fifth child was born. She spent four years in Bordeaux, and now lives in a meadow in rural Lot-et-Garonne with her family, a Spanish greyhound and a posse of cats.
To give you a flavour of Jane’s writing, here’s a poem from her collection birds and other feathers. It’s about her mother’s mother.
She walked with the Eagle, my gran, not the thin-lipped bishop with his pointing finger.
She walked the Reek alone, no ghosts to take her arm, but the dark, roiling presence of the mountain stone and the ocean waves that swelled in her heart, with the voices of the loved and lost.
Her sorrow is part of me still, though she flies now, eagle-high. I was born with her tears in my blood, like rain in the wild Mayo sky— they will run in its tide till I die.
So, welcome, Jane – and thank you for being my first guest!
What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?
That’s a difficult question for starters! There are so many kinds of poem, different styles and written for different reasons. I would have said that a poem ought to transcribe an emotion to the written or spoken word using as many of the senses as necessary. Story poems that have protagonists who aren’t the poet still use emotion to set out the story rather than dialogue or prosaic scene-setting. But there are also poems that don’t convey any emotion at all, that rely on surprise, humour, shape or an unfathomable element for effect. Whatever the style, the common denominator is the message. I see a poem as a form of communication, a two way effort between poet and reader.
You’ve written plenty of prose – flash fiction, short stories, novels. What brings you back to poetry?
The music. In both reading and writing prose I ‘see’ the story, like watching a film. Poetry though, I ‘hear’, which probably explains why I am drawn to lyrical poetry rather than ‘witty’ poetry which often has no melody. I can’t sing, but I love music. Writing poetry is the closest I get to making it.
Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to?
The kind of poetry that I am drawn to is in some ways like the novels I enjoy the most, escapist, with beautiful language, creating or describing worlds to explore. I don’t get much pleasure out of reading introspective stuff that takes the reader on a meandering/disjointed journey inside the writer’s head. I like the exploration of the natural and the mythical, emotion, writing that makes me weep. I can’t think of a contemporary poet that moves me the way some Walter de la Mare or John Masefield, Francis Ledwidge, or the best of them all, Yeats does. Seamus Heaney comes closest, and sometimes Mary Oliver. There are lines of Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, Donne, Coleridge, Shelley, Rossetti, Stephens that I love too. It’s a question of feeling empathy with what the poet chooses to write about and how he/she expresses it. Kipling might have written some rattling memorable lines, but it’s hard not to hear the jingo in the rhythm.
If you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?
Yeats and Ledwidge because of the beauty of their verse, and Shakespeare both because of the words and because reading his work is a journey into another era. There’s enough there for most lifetimes.
Do you have a writing routine?
I write all the time. After the birth of my third child, I started working from home and was in the ideal place (sitting in front of a computer) to switch to my own writing whenever I needed a break. Now the free-lance stuff has dried up, I can indulge myself as much as I want.
What about editing? How do you go about it?
I don’t. I ought to probably, and I’m sure real poets do, but I don’t. I write the poem and that’s it; done. Some poems with a strict form take time to tweak into shape, but I’m usually so pleased that I’ve finally found a world combination that works, that I don’t touch it again in case it all falls apart.
What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?
I hope the reader hears the same words that I hear and that they create an image similar to the one that is the backdrop I see. If I haven’t made others feel the way I felt at the moment of writing, there’s some connection not working.
You frequently write structured poetry, using a form. What do you think a form offers, as opposed to free verse?
As I said earlier, I ‘hear’ poems. I don’t get an acute visual image as I do with prose, but the words make a sort of music. A structured poem has obvious affinities with music, and it’s easier to get that song effect using a form with a regular beat. Most of us accept that when we sing a song, the words have to fit the tune. A poem-song should work the same way. I try to follow the music. There’s no reason why free verse can’t be melodic; we just have to listen to the words and how they sound together. Depends what effect you’re looking for, but that regular rhythm helps to make a line memorable, and a rhyme, I believe, can give it extra force.
How important is inspiration? How do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration, if you’re alive and curious, is there, in everything. I think we have to let ourselves find something to say about absolutely anything, in the same way that when you’re learning to draw, you should be able to find something interesting in every pebble or bit of junk in the road. I can be motivated by the sight of a kestrel landing in an oak tree on the lane as easily as by an old story, a memory or a family event. There’s always a new angle to be explored of even the most banal subjects.
Do you think you have particular themes that recur?
For the last three years I’ve lived in the countryside and very rarely leave these fields. I’m not sure how long it will be before the view and the cycle of the seasons begins to pall, but for the moment, it’s a fund of interest. The themes of growth and renewal often crop up, obviously birds are ever-present, the changing sky, life, death, but also roots. I think a lot about where mine started and where they’re going.
Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it?
No. I always have an idea on the boil. With novels, the story is there, the film just waiting to be turned into prose. There will always be sections that feel like a slog, where I have to force myself to keep at it, but I haven’t ground to a halt yet.
What are you working on at the moment?
My writing is almost always drawn from or wrapped up in myth, and the myths I know best are the Irish and Norse. Apparently there’s no call for that kind of stuff. It’s Greek or nothing, so for once, much as I dislike the Greek myths, I’ve decided to go with the flow. The story I’m currently working on is based on the Minotaur myth, set at the end of the Minoan civilisation, the fall of Knossos to the Greeks and their new ideas that turned the ancient world upside down. It’s basically the end of lingering matriarchy and the takeover of patriarchy. I hope it’s going to be Greek mythy enough to please someone.
Who should I interview next? And why?
That’s another tough one. I’m getting to know a lot of new poets, so one of them would be appropriate. Andy MacGregor, for example, whose poems are very much rooted in the natural world. Another choice would be Yvonne Marjot who I knew first as a novelist, so her path has been similar to my own in that way at least. I’d like to hear how she works and why.
If you want to read more of Jane’s work, she blogs at janedougherty.wordpress.com and tweets as @MJDougherty33. And best of all, you can find her poetry collections here:
Why did you always keep the window closed? What did you fear? I’m asking – look – she’s barefoot in the field, she’s dusty, arms scratched, squinting at the sun. Didn’t you notice she was always gazing out of the window? That she itched and twitched in rhythm with the blackbird, that she sighed.
Was it the sound of sunlight that you hated? Or the scent of bees? or the blue screaming of the sky? Tell me. I’m waiting.
For Laura at dVerse. Thinking about how we end poems. Laura gives us lines to springboard from and use as epigraph
I don’t ask if you remember those footprints in that cave – mother and child, walking. I wonder if she took a moment to look back at where they’d walked, or if she kept on moving, eyes fixed ahead.
Our footprints will be gone by lunchtime – washed away, meltwater merging into mud, and looking back, it’s hard to know which of us is mother, which is child. You’ve grown. Sneaked up on me, like time.
This is for Brendan’s earthweal challenge on Deep Time. There’s a bit of synchronicity here – I had a poem called “Pech Merl” published in Black Bough’s Deep Time II collection last year. Walking in the snow at the weekend with my son reminded me of the parent and child footprints we saw in the caves there, several years ago. I had that in my head trying to be a poem, and then Brendan’s prompt came along. If you’re interested, there is a Deep Time soundtrack with lots of great poetry readings here: https://soundcloud.com/stuartrawlinson/sets/black-bough-poetry-deep-time
She looked at her work, and sagged a little. “Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy” she sighed. Mother took the hammer and chisel from her hands, and hugged her. “Come and play a little.” Mother led her across the studio and and handed her a tiny brush and a tray of colours.
So she played. She painted carapaces that shone like jewels or glimmered like moonlight, rainbow wings and feet with microscopic hooks. Around her, her sisters created birds with clean-cut flight feathers, or concentrated on the precise dappling of a cat’s fur.
As the evening light slanted through the window, Mother clapped her hands. Everyone looked around.
“The Work is good” she told them, and together they blew Life into what they had created. Earth was ready to be populated.
How beautiful her insects were. How beautiful.
Prosery – 144 words of prose, including a quotation from a poem. This session is hosted by Linda at dVerse, and our line is from Mary Oliver: “Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy”.
What could a birch tree be, except a girl? A young girl, poised on the edge of a dance with her arms wide, and her hair uncurled, loose round her shoulders; and her friends clustered around her, whispering secrets, rustling and murmuring in their pale dresses, telling each other which bird did this, and what the squirrel said. Nobody guesses how much they see, the supple birch trees, that sway as they wait, feeling the notes sung by the robin, played by the breeze – they can’t resist. Even when they’re old they sway like that, to music half-forgotten, melodies half-heard, echoes of rhythm.
This is for Grace at dVerse, who is asking us to use imagery and/or personification. there is, of course, a nod to Robert Frost here, and I’m still wrestling with the sonnet form. The rhymes got pretty slant-y in this one.
She dabbles her fingers in his dreams – leaves silvery smears on every surface – trails his desires behind her, like a fox-tail robe. She smiles the way a cat yawns, unconscious of teeth, no malice, nothing personal, just that need to toy a little.
A quadrille for De at dVerse. Our word is “dabble”
The first sunrise of 2021 was a smear of raspberry pink over a monochrome world that crunched under foot. We discovered a new walk, and that we have made some new friends over the last year. At the top of the hill we looked back over a landscape that we know well, made new and different by a change in perspective. I think that perspective will be the only thing that changes over the next few weeks. Our plans are blown around like so many brown leaves. We’re entering a new lockdown. It’s like we’re not moving, we’re just bobbing up and down, waiting to set sail.