Tuesday, 6 May 2008

You are now in a queue

It's the folk club here tonight and I've been having a look through my books and files to see which poems to read. I pretty much always read two in the open mic slot and sometimes I sing with Verona too but tonight I think I'll let her sing on her own...she's becoming a very good solo singer/songwriter as time goes by. She is starting to believe in the sound of her own voice more and more.

I'm probably going to read a poem I wrote years and years ago called 'Andy's ears'. I wrote it about one of my friends when he was working in a call centre and I know it's old (maybe 9 or 10 years old) because it's number 25 in my book of pretty-much-finished poems (and I'm up to 238 this week). The poem is a bit... clunky and shows no respect whatsoever for any poetic..well, anything really. Still, it was early days and I was really fairly crazy back then so the fact that I managed to write it at all pleased me at the time. And now? Well, I just like it as it is. It's not in my book-to-be. Maybe another time.

This poem shows all my bad poetry habits were formed fairly early on. It wears the capital letters at the beginning of every line that I have tried to grow out of but just won't/can't. Every time I put lower case letters at the beginnings of lines it just makes me uncomfortable...and not in a good way. I'm not saying anyone else should do like I do...not at all...but this is my way and I like it. Also I've kept more and more to line breaks as...well, breaks and I do read my poems out quite a lot so I test them all the time. I have read about other ways of writing and tried other variations but again...this is just what works for me. And, even more annoying for some, I only use punctuation in lines, never at the end of them. I know that upsets some readers but to me...when I look at my poems with a lot of punctuation they just look cluttered...and unhappy...and wrong, what can I say? I can't even use the excuse that I'm text message generation because I am a bit old for that. I just find I want to have different rules for poetry - I don't really like it having anything to do with prose or any of prose's conventions. And it's not that I'm just a performance poet because I'm really not particularly either/or. It's just what seems right. Love me or hate me or don't give a damn about me...this is how I write. So, here it is:

Andy's ears

He's on
The telephone all day
His ears full
Of all the complaints
Human beings can muster

After dark
His ears crave
The thrill that is
The human voice
When it's hanging
By a thread
Vocal chords fighting
Duels with each other

His ears make
The most of their diversions
They dance
By night
Free from the tensions
Of their daytime employment
They slurp down
Intoxicating alcoholic sounds
They live it up
Right up in there
They make believe passion
Is all there is
To hear
They tire themselves
To sleep and dream
Of aural joy
That's all days
And forever

RF about 1998?


Marion McCready said...

I know what you mean about line-end punctuation. It's one of those things I'm not sure if I should or shouldn't, I used to not bother but I've started putting it in now though I'm always looking at different poets checking whether they do or not!

Rachel Fox said...

I really have tried! I've gone through lots of poems and put it in...then looked at it later and had to take it all off again! Some magazine editors etc. have commented...negatively (one said it makes it look like they can't proofread...) but I'm afraid I can't live round their needs. I just find magazines who do like them and there are...some.

Hugh McMillan said...

I don't think it matters whether you have capital letters. I try and do with as little punctuation as possible but when it has to come, it comes, end of line or not.

I just started writing a poem about my feet, by the way. I don't think I've ever written about a body part before (apart from Felix Dzerzhinsky's penis, but that's another story)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes I agree 'when it has to come, it comes'...I feel that way about a lot of things to do with poetry.
So what have your feet been doing?

Rachel Fox said...

And by the way....it was blues night last night (more testosterone than usual) so the 'aural joy' went down well (as it were).It's quite a big folk club - audiences 50-100 people depending on the guest artist - so it's always a good experience reading there. Sometimes it's hard work, sometimes it's easy-peasy. Last night was good - friendly, interesting.
I read a couple of other poems on the theme of work and happiness including this short one:

That job'll be the death of you

My leaving present
Was a fine headstone
Named and dated
I carried it home


Jim Murdoch said...

Philip Larkin once commented in interview: "A well-known publisher asked me how one punctuated poetry, and looked flabbergasted when I said, The same as prose. By which I mean that I write, or wrote, as everyone did till the mad lads started, using words and syntax in the normal way to describe recognizable experiences as memorably as possible. That doesn’t seem to me a tradition. The other stuff, the mad stuff, is more an aberration."

I'm afraid I agree. I can tolerate the capitals at the beginning of lines although I do find it a bit old-fashioned but, other than that, commas, full stops, hyphens, and even the unfashionable semicolons all appear in my poems in exactly the same places they would were I writing prose. They help me negotiate sentences.

Line breaks are there, to my mind, to delineate structure although I accept, in some spheres, a line can be treated as a unit of thought (although that doesn't have to be a complete sentence) or, as in the case of the poet Charles Olson, a unit of breath.

Olson's philosophy was that instead of counting syllables and metrical feet (the practice that turns most people away from poetry at an early age) "Projective Verse" offered the idea of "the breath-line," wherein each line in a poem represents a unit of breath to be spoken or sung. His 1950 essay is an interesting read.

I note that you say you "want to have different rules for poetry" and I'm okay with that but can you define your rules?

Rachel Fox said...

That must make me a 'mad lass' of sorts then. No great surprise. I love Larkin but not enough to want to do everything as he did.

I don't mind the capitals being old-fashioned...most of us are a mixture of old and new (and probably even borrowed and blue when it comes to that).

As for rules...you're so analytical and I am so...not. I analyse people's behaviour a great deal (that's a family trait) and then I use what I see in my writing but I can't get so wrapped up in writing rules. I don't read much theory about writing either though I have tried - lots of times...and I still do try...all this blogging is partly me trying to be at least a bit interested in 'writing - the theory'. Generally though I'd much rather read a novel or some poems or something in the newspaper. Saying that, that 'breath line' you mention sounds interesting...I suppose I do think of lines in that way (or at least in something like that way) and I do perform/read the poems a lot so the sound and breathing spaces are big considerations. I think my rules probably change from poem to poem and perhaps that's because I am really not much of a rules person. I keep to the basics in the sense that I've never knowingly killed another person, for example, but apart from that...I'm generally open to variety and change and what feels right at the time. I know that's the kind of wishy-washy nonsense lots of poets and poetry people hate but I've never been one for schools of poetry (indeed schools of anything). How often do you read writers complaining about the wars between schools of writing or about how so-and-so didn't get fair recognition because they were lumped in with such-and-such school? I could come up with a big theory about what I do and give it a name...maybe I would have more of a chance of being taken seriously that way but I am, above all, interested in the words and the meaning and the sound and the feeling (I loved the cummings quote about feeling you used a while back). I have tried but I just don't care as much about the other stuff as some people do. And that doesn't make me any less serious about what I write or read - it's just different priorities and brain habits. I know there are heaps of reasons you could give me to show that rules about punctuation can help with meaning. I have thought about it...just not come to any conclusions in particular. Yet.

Now I must help small girl with her homework. Interestingly I was really good with rules in primary school. After that it all fell apart...

Jim Murdoch said...

As you might expect I'm already 1200 words into a blog about all this so I won't lambast you here and now, probably next month, but I have one thing to say about punctuation because my article is concentrating on the line break: you know how your poem should be read, exactly how it should be read. I don't. I haven't a clue. Not a scooby's. And you need to communicate to me using only letters and symbols how I should read that piece. That is a problem. You know. I don't. How do we bridge that gap?

I love musical notation. It is so precise – crescendos, diminuendos, ritardando, sforzando, staccato, allegro ma non troppo – and yet it still leaves room for personal interpretation. Why can't poems be like that?

Rachel Fox said...

Well, I find that lots of people do manage to read my poems and understand plenty. Quite often, as I've said before, it is people who are less...let's say...within the poetry world who do this (but that's not always the case). In this age when fewer and fewer people use or are helped by a lot of our punctuation using 'good' punctuation may help you but that's not true for everybody. I say to people (some of whom are put off or frightened or intimidated by poetry in general, rightly or wrongly) 'just take it a line at a time' and they do and they read it (or hear it) and it works (for me...and quite a lot of them). As always I am in no way saying everyone or anyone else should do what I do...I am not a rule-maker! Everyone should write their own way...some will succeed, some will fail, depending on how you judge those two of course.

As for musical notation...yes, but lots of my favourite music was 'written' by people who have no knowledge whatsoever of that notation and have never used it. Some music has been passed from generation to generation without it. I know classically-trained musicians who say they wish they hadn't learned that way because what they know can hinder them when it comes to other types of musical expression.

I think we are coming from opposite ends of somewhere perhaps. I hope you won't be singling me out for ridicule in class!

Jim Murdoch said...

No, but just look how creatively you use punctuation in your opening paragraph.

Rachel Fox said...

I woke up this morning singing Lynyrd Skynyrd 'Free Bird' which is... interesting (never happened before). Not the greatest (most poetic) lyric ever written perhaps...but I used to love it as a teenager. Big, loud 70s rock music was easily as much an influence on me as any books of poetry.

Which leads me to...probably the poem that best covers my punctuation issues. It's called 'The song remains' (Led Zep for breakfast anyone? Oh, go on...) and it's on my website in the 'writing' section of 'poems'. It's not one I've read out anywhere (yet) and I have had comments about it 'telling people how to write' but it's really not about that...just trying to work out why I do what I do, I think. The last line gave me the name for this blog and my book-to-be. It's as close as I get to a theory of anything.

Jim Murdoch said...

It is strange how you would choose the most mathematical and orderly of the art foms to illustrate freedom from rules; music is nothing without them, just noise. It's all matter of what you regard as beautiful.

In Neil Gailmen's Sandman comics there are a host of colourful characters. In the Seansons of Mist storyline representative of the Lords of Order and Chaos are sent to attend a meeting in The Dreaming; the Lord of Chaos is represented by a little girl holding a balloon; the Lord or Order is represented by a lidless box. Perhaps this poem might help:


Unable to find words angry enough
yet still needing to write,
he resorted to scribbling wildly,
and ended doodling:
boxes within boxes.

I guess that says it all about me. Order for me is a lidless box. If I was to look at a sprawling countryside scene my eye would be drawn to the little cottage in the distance. I'd wonder about who lived there, had they always lived there and why had they chosen to live in such a remote location.

Rachel Fox said...

That's so funny that you say lidless box! I wrote this poem a few years ago..I think the blog may change my lines a bit...it's on the site under 'seeing and believing' too.

The mystery retained

Don't explain to me how music works
Leave me the mystery, the miracle
The same for tides, keep it to yourself
All the sensible science, the hows and whys
Don't dissect the perfect line of words
With an 'obviously the writer knew what they were doing'
Says who? Why? How? Are you sure?
You are so neat, methodical
And you have a lot of boxes
I have little order, much overspill
And no lids anywhere in the house
It's messy here, a mass of mysteries
But the dreams that come this way
They are limitless
They last forever

I don't expect you to like the above at all but I thought the lids link was interesting. I wrote it one day when I received a list of dos and don'ts about getting poetry published. Lists of rules...just not the way I work.

Ken Armstrong said...

What an abundant and rewarding comment section! Jeez, what can I add to it?

Only William Goldman's much-used comment, in which I place a lot of stock:

"Nobody knows anything."

Its one of those neat sentences where each word can be emphasised, in turn, to alter the meaning. My weight is on 'knows'.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Ken. Sometimes a nice, short, sharp stab at truth is just what is needed!

It's funny...for quite a while I wrote this blog more or less for myself I think. I found it helpful in sorting out my thoughts and ideas. Now people actually read it! It's all a bit of a shock and makes it hard work (sometimes) and fantastic (other times)...maybe even both together...