Where do Poems Grow?
The BBC are currently gearing up for a series of poetry-themed programmes over the next few weeks. I don't know what prompted it, whether it was the appointment of the new Poet Laureate or whatever (Clive James has written a superb piece in the light of Carol Ann Duffy's appointment for Radio 4/BBC Magazine), but I look forward to tuning in to a few of the programmes. I'm partial to a bit of poetry, particularly where it reflects a spiritual engagement with the world: be it the dense metaphysics (combined with sexual frisson) of Donne, the surreality of Blake, the interweaving of modern Irish interests with classics to be found in Heaney, the earthy spirituality of Woodbine Willie in the face of the horrors of the western front, the more contemporary and popular, yet no less potent work of Stewart Henderson or Godfrey Rust, or, of course The Psalms...
I have often used poetry to reflect on different issues myself, from the years when teenage angst overflowed in pages and pages of truly awful free-form poems. I am probably not much better now, but at least my emotions are not quite so exposed to the world in the few poems I compose these days. I am not, never have been, and probably never will be a disciplined poet. The most disciplined I have ever been was in writing a song for a friend... to a deadline... Not an experience I want to repeat in a hurry. But in that case and in every other case of poetry that I have felt in any way proud of, I have not had to work very hard at the core elements of the poem; the broad themes, imagery, even the phraseology. They have sprung fully formed from my head onto the page, like Athena springing fully armed from her father Zeus' head. In some cases that is because the phrases I use are, I will freely admit, little more than cliches. In other cases I have unashamedly stolen them. Found them in one context and thought "I can put that to better use". But occasionally they seem to come from nowhere.
Recently I have been reading "Small Wonder", by Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist, essayist and poet, and in that anthology of essays she describes her reluctance to call herself by the third of those descriptions, and that it is not simply because poetry doesn't put food on her table. She says:
"I rarely think of poetry as something I make happen; it is more accurate to say that it happens to me... I've overheard poems, virtually complete, in elevators or restaurants where I was minding my own business... When a poem does arrive, I gasp as if an apple had fallen into my hand, and give thanks for the luck involved. Poems are everywhere but easy to miss. I know I might very well stand under that tree all day, whistling, looking off to the side, waiting for a red delicious poen to fall so I could own it forever. But like as not, it wouldn't. Instead it will fall right when I'm changing the baby, or breaking up a rodeo event involving my children and the dog, ort wiping my teary eyes while I'm chopping onions and listening to the news; then that apple will land with a thud and will roll under the bed with the dust bunnies and lie there forgotten and lost for all time. There are dusty, lost poems all over my house, I assure you. In yours, too, I'd be willing to bet."
Yup... Buried under clutter... Wedged between books... Mouldering at the back of the fridge... and stuck down the back of the settee with £3.76, a button and a pen.
Do yourself a favour. Look out for falling apples. Listen up and write them down.
And give thanks to God for another gift of grace...