Friday, February 16, 2007

Being bold

I had a conversation with a poet called John Hall recently. One of the things he said that I agreed with was that an awful lot of English poets are scared of getting things wrong.

By which I think he meant that they pursue tried and tested techniques of writing, that they never try anything they've not really tried before; and they stay within certain boundaries with their work. They never try anything ambitious. Not always true, of course; but if you read a lot of poetry, as I do, you do seem to find a lot of the same kind of shapes (regular stanzas, lines all the same length, everything correctly punctuated) and subjects (personal stuff mostly, with occassional forays into history, or even very subtle, so subtle you almost miss them, political references). Emotionally, let's not whatever we do, go over the top.

It's good to read poets who do take chances, though. These can be anything from formal challenges, forays into abstraction or the use of open-form techniques, or language poetry, or even concrete or viso-poetry. I like the use of sound in the work of Geraldine Monk, I like the way some poets' poetry goes over my head in terms of subject matter but still keeps my attention because it sounds interesting. Or a poet like John Siddique, who takes risks with feeling: whose work veers away from sentimentality at the last minute in often very personal poems.

I reached a crisis in my own work where I had to do something drastic or give up, about a year and a half ago. I knew how to write poetry; but I could do it in my sleep and the poems I wrote sounded like they were written by somebody half-asleep. So I took a pair of scissors to my poems and cut them up, or a wrote them "backwards" or I mixed two poems in one. I made one poem out of lines culled from rejected poems. Suddenly, like when I began, I didn't know what I was doing anymore and my writing began to excite me again.

Being bold is good for the soul, methinks.

1 comment:

Bournemouth Runner said...

I agree Steven, its ridiculous how unadventurous so many published poets are; maybe they hide their experiments (which would be bad) or simply don't do them (which would be worse.) Though you can always turn it round, and wonder why the more angry poets don't occasionally write a love poem, or the oblique poet write something simply understandable. All a lack of nerve, one way or another.