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Disembowelling poetry

Mine, you understand, not other people’s, that would just be rude.

For me trying to edit poetry is the most messy process. I start off with what I think are some respectable enough poems, that might be built upon somewhat, or improved.

I go back with fresh eyes and consider rhythm, metre and form.
I look at the words and imagery and see whether it works.
I speak aloud and see how it sounds and feels.

Then what I do is awful. After a few hours, or days, I end up with sentences pulled apart, words all over the floor, ideas stuffed into forms that don’t suit and generally get to the point where I have most certainly lost the itness of the original; that elusive essence of anything that makes us what we are, life what is and a simple poem work, or not. Don’t ask me what that essence is though, because if I knew, perhaps I wouldn’t lose it in the first place.

The whole process becomes a traumatic incident in my head. Instead of a couple of poems I end up having a whole heap of tangled thoughts and words in all the wrong places, and I have only two choices. One is to go further into the torture of the poor poem, the other is to shove the pile under the carpet and pretend it never happened. I have done the former before. Today I did the latter. It was like being a butcher.

I hung, drew and quartered, I disembowelled. I burnt whole sentences on the stake and pressed others to a slow and painful death. I dragged verbs through the street until they cried out in pain. I walled up sonnets and I stuck the heads of villanelles on stakes on the bridge. It was a bloody and brutal exercise and nothing like the one I expected which would have been something like a neat little back and sides and a bit of a trim up.

All this bloodshed and torture only goes to show me that I have probably never done the job properly before. Living and learning I suppose, for now.

Here’s someone who has done a proper job.

The cats of Greece

The cats of Greece have
eyes grey as plague.
Their voices are limpid,
all hunger.
As they dodge in the gutters
Their bones clack.
Dogs run from them.
In tavernas they sit
at tableside and
watch you eat.
Their moonpale cries
hurl themselves
against your full spoon.
If you touch one gently
it goes crazy.
Its eyes turn up.
It wraps itself
around your ankle
and purrs a rusty millenium,
you liar,
you tourist.

by Marge Piercy, from Eight Chambers of the Heart

*dog covers ears*

The eldest came home from school with a violin today with a view to commencing lessons.

As I have been down this road myself, I know what aural torture lies in store.

One thing’s for sure, she’ll not be playing this any time soon on that contraption.