Friday, May 20, 2005

Magazine verse

Have you ever gone through a whole magazine, reading the first line of each poem and not wanting to read a single one through to the end? Frequently happens with me, I'm afraid. I read a line like, say, "The garden was damp with dew..." and think, this is going to be one of those domestic little epiphanies that the little mag world is full of, where the narrator will inform us of the incident with the fox, or cat, or bloke with a lawnmower next door. Or they've been to Italy and seen a statue. Now if the statue were buying a pizza, for instance, that might just perk up my interest.

Still, they're were a lot of writers try things out and make a reputation, and (watch this space) it looks like Brando's Hat the magazine may be returning.

Anyway, in the interests of linguistic innovation, I thought I'd try a little experiment. Using first lines culled from the latest Rialto, taken at random (well, not strictly random, but certainly with little or no forethought), I'd create a poem "before your very eyes" as it were:

Under a promising moon
I met someone like you once on the train.
Who was I that summer?
The journal mentions the summer rain.
Supine under starlight
A white butterfly comes to rest.

It is quite clear what these distinguished:
Things, more solid than we are,
As if the light let go along
Trees lining this road, now bare.
This is the climactic scene:
He was climbing up the pulpit steps,
Clonk! Oh the excitement - seven, up and alone!
To think that I will never write that year
Time put an arm around my shoulder -
Inside the house it was like gold, a pool -
It was not the reality she would have chosen.

I don't know, it makes a kind of sense, there may even be a narrative buried deep in it. To all those poets who contributed lines, and who happen to come along and see this, my gracious thanks. Now if anyone can suggest a title...


Matthew Francis said...

These kind of tricks bother me. If it's intended to make a critical point, I don't think it does, because you're not giving the poets a chance to justify their lines. It reminds me of Peter Sansom's attack on seagull imagery (in Writing Poems) where he says, in effect: you can tell the image is naff because if you substitute 'teapot' for 'seagull' look how silly it becomes. Er, yes, same with any other image, 'Ode on a Grecian Teapot', 'thou wast not born for death, immortal teapot' etc. If the poems were so famous that we all knew them, they would be fair game for a little disrespectful playfulness. Similarly, if the lines you quoted were self-evidently ridiculous. But surely in most cases the only fair alternatives are serious criticism or leaving them alone?

Steven Waling said...

Well, except, Mathew, I rather like the poem. In fact, if I can think of a title for it, I might just send it somewhere... maybe with a few adjustments; or maybe not. I think there's a name for this kind of poem (Cento, I think.)

Matthew Francis said...

Yes, I was trying to remember the word. There's one in one of the New Formalist anthologies, based on the Norton Anthology of Poetry. A fun form, and obviously it suits the postmodern mood. But I do wonder what the authors of the original poems feel about it.