As I labour at my desk I stare at the filthy clock, willing its stubborn hand to move; and as the clock ticks a minute to twelve the inert, shadowy form of the Present staggers at a clift’s edge, gasps a final, ragged breath and tumbles into the yawning grave of the Past…and then again, I am miraculously reborn once more, aching desperately for another hanging grain of sand; suspense building to an uncomfortably ominous momentum…but that last grain dissolves into space as the minute hand finally strikes its target – hooray, it’s lunchtime!
(If you haven’t seen my Single Sentence Tale series, check out my first one here. )
Hello, hello…it’s been a while, readers. My mind has not seen the light of day. I’ve been burying myself, albeit willingly, under a pile of books, music and other assorted bric-a-brac.
This is probably going to be another rambling post, but I’ll try not to make it so.
First up – seriously, 90 followers?! What the hell is this? I wasn’t expecting anyone to hang around this blog for so long! So, from me to my readers: Thank you for reading my poetry! It’s been a pleasure to meet and know other writers too – of astonishing calibre, mind you. I’ll have to put up something soon to thank all of you properly. Any suggestions?
Ulp, I’ve only been writing poetry for a month. Naturally enough, the mere mention of convoluted words like ‘iambic pentameter’ (“What is that???” My brain screamed as it encountered this word for the first time. It’s still shuddering as I write, I haven’t actually recovered) and ‘sestina’ (I thought this was a sensual Latino term, please do not laugh at me) were more than enough for me to break out into cold sweat. So I made a resolution to myself. I resolved to educate my ignorant self in the art of reading and writing poetry. I have to make another confession here: other than reading the works of other WordPress writers, I never actually read poetry, or deigned to see the works of other poets were up to till a month ago.
So I headed to the library, and promptly got myself lost in the literature section. Amidst rows and rows of books on Shakespeare, I found a mint-green Penguin book nestled comfortably between some musty, fat volumes. I slid the book out.
So, who would be the first poet to pop my poetry-reading cherry?
I scrutinize the spine. A thin, unassuming collection of poetry by John Keats. Ah.
For some reason the book feels good in my hands, and I check it out of the library.
John Keats was an English poet who was said to be one of the best poets in the Romantic movement, leaving behind a body of literary finesse on his assiduous appreciations of beauty and his beloved Fanny Browne. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 25 from tuberculosis. Lest you think him some flowery, bookish fop, he was definitely not inclined towards books as a young boy. His schoolmate Edward Holmes described his favourite pastime astutely. “…His penchant was for fighting. He would fight anyone.” This sounds amusingly like Tumblr meme material, but it’s worth noting that he only started writing poetry when he got older. So technically, he only had about a decade to get his shit together. Highly admirable.
His writing leaves me cold during the first few poems, but when I get to On a Dream his poetry opens my eyes for the first time. As stone-cold as I am in the appreciation poetic form, his choice of words reveal and yet conceal; he tells a story in the fewest of lines. The most tender love, coupled with the most terrible ennui and heartaches. Keats’s appreciation of beauty is finely-wrought gold; never overtly romantic to the point of tastelessness, but underscored by faerie luminescence. On a Dream was written about a dream he had after reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo And Francesca:
As Hermes once took to his feathers light,
When lulled Argus, baffled, swoon’d and slept,
So on a Delphic reed, my idle spright
So play’d, so charm’d, so conquer’d, so bereft
The dragon-world of all its hundred eyes;
And seeing it asleep, so fled away,
Not to pure Ida with its snow-cold skies,
Nor unto Tempe where Jove griev’d that day;
But to that second circle of sad Hell,
Where in the gust, the whirlwind, and the flaw
Of rain and hail-stones, lovers need not tell
Their sorrows—pale were the sweet lips I saw,
Pale were the lips I kiss’d, and fair the form
I floated with, about that melancholy storm.
My favourite lines? “So on a Delphic reed, my idle spright/ So play’d, so charm’d, so conquer’d, so bereft/ The dragon-world of all its hundred eyes;” I’m still dazzled by the image of a Delphic reed. I’ve no idea what it is, but it sounds divine.
And then I thought of what I thought about while writing poetry. Why did I write poems? What did I look at them as? Part of me felt a teeny bit revolted at the idea of discussing the form of poetry since I am still an amateur, after all – I probably had no business trying to talk about something that I still didn’t know much about. But my fascination at trying to flesh out my reasons for writing seemed to be stronger than my revulsion, so here you go.
My initial idea of poetry was that it allowed for one to be perfectly succinct but yet flexible enough for expressing ideas, thoughts, emotion and beauty in a block of words. There’s so much to play around with. Indentation, punctuation, words – like actors, ready to take on whatever role the poet wants, all easily alterable by the change of a single, or different factors. Besides, I have not the stamina for writing a novel. I did think that poems were supposed to rhyme, so when I discovered the existence of free verse a part of me was delighted (“You mean they don’t need to?”)
The initial things that inspire me to write are…bits of something. A lovely quote by a favourite author, a strange fascination with an idea, a trembling weed…usually scribbled on the most horrible of Mondays, or a summery Wednesday. Sometimes they come together in an occassional burst of brilliance, sometimes they fall apart..but I still try. Also, the shower is a really great area for inspiration.
So…how about my readers out there? What inspires you to write? What does poetry mean to you? Do you find inspiration in the weirdest places? Favourite authors or poets that I should read, or that anyone should read to nourish themselves?
*shoves sleeves up arms* Let’s chat in the comments!
I open my mouth to speak,
where syllables borne from flesh, bone
and a spark
push and shove each other
wanting to take a great leap
off that giant springboard, the tongue
And then up there, in
an enormous grey cavern, a
familiar imp blazes through playfully
pressing panic buttons
on stressed, rickety systems where
half-formed thoughts start hollering and
run amok, like frightened cockroaches –
what if I say something stupid
and offend someone or make someone
angry and then they’ll start whispering behind my back
about how weird I am and what if they laugh at my opinions
and how half-baked they sound so why are they still talking to me
they must have taken pity on this poor shivering soul they really didn’t
want to speak,
phonetics broke their ankles
dramatically in response
and moody syllables took their places
on the side benches,
firmly ensconced –
“So, what do you think of this, then?”
I could only nod,
(For anyone that has had their mind [and tongue] held at bay by anxiety…)
Elegiac ferocity spins its own yarn, the wayward axis
ripped and tore itself, into decaying ribbons of silken
wrestling out of pliant form – an awkward mantis
First; a hair-crack,
dooby-a-doo wop gone by the smoky river –
then a sundering sadness that approached the great stench;
you know how wolves howl for
that inky, silent black
And I watched a man slowly hack himself in two –
The glint of a rusty penknife caught my eye;
His mottled skin
buzzed and crackled,
with spattered blood on dogs’ paws;
well and truly tortured,
as I remembered his dry ripostes –
“45, Mississippi,” I heard him once say,
To a rather humbled, pink-faced pew
“Where’s that man now?” you ask,
Well, I..really don’t know, boy…
I don’t know.
All I know is –
I last saw him stagger round a corner, and then
a wondrous burst of light,
like how the heavens touched
the fluttering of Icarus’ feathers,
as he might have meant.