Working on poems
Sunday 24th September 2017
Back in March this year, I had my first poetry week – seven days during which I did no other work than editing and transcribing my poetry. It was a successful project and so I marked up another week – from 18th September to 24th September. As with my last project, much of the work was about transcribing hand-written poems into word processing documents and printing them out for the Poetry folder. During the week I worked on 80 of my poems, transcribing them into the current anthology.
The project allowed me to become reacquainted with my early poems, just as it did last time. As before, I was impressed by the quality of some of the pieces I composed in the 1960s through to the 70s; others I just left in place as a record and archive – having looked at them and judged them to be too poor to justify even the work of typing them. In those early days, my approach to writing was spontaneous; there was no planning, no premeditation. I just sat down with some paper and wrote. Whatever came into my brain I committed to paper. That is not something I can do these days. During the 60s I was very given to writing in decametres – lines with ten syllables. I loved the way the thing flows and its rhythms and I still do. It is, however, an outmoded style of poetry – a bit like a contemporary composer writing a piece of music that sounds like Mozart.
Reading through my teenage poems put me in touch with myself, the self I had some fifty years ago. Having edited a large number of pieces, I began to think like my teenage alter ego. A couple of pieces were turned into metrical versions just so they would fit more into the flow of the work of that period. In doing this I had to be careful not to alter what the piece was about or to add new material that was not in some way or another present in the original. An example of this is The ever dying men, 1968, where I gave each line ten syllables but took great care not to doctor the content. It is still the same poem; it is just presented differently.
Some pieces I looked at and thought it was not worth the effort of typing them; they were just so bad. A few poems were transferred to my Journals – these were written like pieces of prose and lacked either poetic form or style. Now, much of the Poetry folder has been committed to typescript and only a small number of pieces remain in their handwritten format. When I was working on some of the poems, I thought they were worthy of a complete re-edit and that I might one day compose them again, afresh. Several of my early works went through a number of versions before being placed in one of the anthologies.
Reserving time for a project – setting aside days for working on something specific – has been, I think, useful and beneficial. These two weeks of poetry time have seen a lot done that would otherwise not have been done. It is an approach I might use for other aspects of my work.
It might be some time before I work on poetry again. In a life spent doing many other things, there are few opportunities for making poems; there is little now that inspires me and rouses my passions. Too little in today’s life to be passionate about. I rarely write poetry these days because I cannot seem to find subjects, as once I could. I would not sit down and write poetry for the sake of writing poetry – I must have something to be poetic about. My youth was full of poetry; not something that one finds in old age, quite so much. I have one work in progress – The age of starlight – a poem that contemplates the history of the cosmos from its birth through to its final end and all that means for humanity and the world we cherish so much. It is the last of my ‘cosmological poems.’