Monday, July 19, 2010

Moving On

One of the things about being an artist or a writer is that you're constantly moving your own goalposts, changing the way you write. I'm sure there are some who seem to be writing very similar poems to ones they did before; but even the most seemingly familiar poet like Seamus Heaney has changed his poetry over the years. He's not writing Digging anymore, though there are continuities.

But readers sometimes don't want you to move on, and I had this experience recently. My first "proper" book, Calling Myself On The Phone, is very different from the more experimental poetry I'm writing now, though again there are probably continuities. This person, a very good friend of mine, said she liked the simple love poems I wrote then, and why couldn't I write like that now? It's the kind of challenging question that I think every poet should ask themselves now and again: why did I change?

It's a difficult question, because it also came with her feeling that I was no longer expressing my feelings in my poetry. After going through the two-fold process of "am I really avoiding feeling? (doubt)/no I bloody well am not! (anger)" I began to think this through.

And I came to the conclusion that I am basically right, after all, and there is an element of not being able to go back to what I did before, even if I wanted to. Quite simply, I haven't become a less feeling poet, and when I'm writing well, I'm not just doing it for show either. The poems I write now have as much emotion invested in them as the poems I wrote then. This friend of mine helped me to break through to writing about feelings in a way I never had before; and I've never looked back since.

But to expect me to write the same kinds of poems as I used it is impossible. Since then, there have been several more breakthroughs, including the one that led to the cut-ups of my second book Travelator, and the even more experimental poems of my latest pamphlet. Expecting me to go back now would be rather like asking Picasso to stop being cubist and go back to his Rose period. Like him, I can still look back on my earlier book with affection; but I can't repeat myself. I've forgotten how to write like that anyway.

So I'm going to keep moving on: probably my writing in the future will be different from what it is now. Who knows, some kind of clarity will return to my writing; but it won't be the same kind as before. Am I still expressing emotions through my writing? Yes, I am: but now I'm much more abstract. Still bothered about beauty as I always was. Still angry, still alive to feelings of love and loss (my mother has dementia: and the poems I write about that are very painful to write, however much I use cut-up, overheard conversation and chance proceedures.)

Anyway, I'm sure there's still copies of Travelator available, and Salt need your support. So if you still haven't got a copy, do get hold of one...


Angela Topping said...

I too love those early poems Steve, in the same way as I love Heaney's early stuff still. But you are right, the best move on, like the Beatles did. Matt Simpson did as well, and a lot of people didn't 'get' it at first and preferred him being 'the poet of the back-to-backs'. I too have moved on from the intensely personal poems I used to write, to stuff that is more meditative, or possible just as personal but including some fictionalising, or taking a different angle. Auden said that if we don't move on we become self-parodists. I understood your newer poems so much more fully when I heard them read aloud. You ought to make a CD.
I second the urge to buy Travelator. Salt is a marvellous press and deserves your support in this difficult time for booksellers. And it's a good book.

aen1mpo said...

I agree with you, Steve writing is a development... I think for me - my experiences and my outlook are different from example for when I met you at the end off 2007, when I was trying to keep my writing as simple as I could.

Certainly nowadays, for me it has changed apart from the occasional heartbreak possibly by my taste when I suspect it has with you, Steve... Certainly for me over the past year or so, that has being down to getting into the American Poet / Writer Paul Auster whose pieces are as detective novels where you have to work it out for yourself often with a massive amount of limited information.

But still, it's fun as like you I reckon - you wonder what your writing is going to be like in 5 years time etc..

scrībĭte said...

About continuity in writing... and about feeling, too.
Here's what I think:
Writing (good writing above all) is pretty much like Janus. It has two faces. On the one hand (or face), there is what might be called an inner hard core that never changes, no matter what the writes does or goes through. On the other hand (face), writing is an essentially transforming process; and, I guess, no other writer's writing can serve as a better example than Joyce's early Irish novellas, at one extreme, and his last, almost unreadable novel, at the other extreme.
However, I bet all these hugely different ways of writing were put down from the bottom of the wirter's heart, which is always filled with... feelings.