1. Recently, I experienced the strange sensation of having to 'press return to factory setting' on a couple of poems.
2. They were poems that were going in a certain direction towards being 'well-made' in the sense of being perfectly engineering little machines of ideas and emotions.
3. But they felt wrong. In trying to create a poem worked I was trying to squeeze the poem into a shape that 'looked good'. In doing that, I was actually falsifying whatever it was that I was trying to say with the poem.
4. I was trying to be 'clever.' Or maybe to merely appear clever. I find myself prey to the same appetites other poets I like to criticise have: the idea that you have to appear to be 'clever' in your poems, to fill it with 'wit' and the kind of musical lines that get you admired.
5. But the poem didn't fit. I was, for instance, trying to write in regularish stanzas. Not strictly iambic but heading in that direction. I seemed to be going back to the time before I started cutting and pasting.
6. Writing can become habitual, which is why you have to constantly 'make it new'. When it feels like I've done it before, or very nearly, I get twitchy.
7. So I had these poems that weren't working. They were well-made in a sense. They may have been clever.
8. With the first one, I took the first two lines which I thought were good, and wrote about them and a lot of other stuff came out, whilst free writing around them. I started with the phrase "So I had these two good lines..."
9. With the second, I again rewrote if from scratch.
10. In both cases, I did it at night before I went to bed. My mind was loose. I wasn't trying to be clever.
11. They both work better now. They're freer, looser, baggier even. They don't look like little boxes one on top of one another.
12. So what do I conclude? That I can't do the well-made poem? That the well-made poem is, in the end, a back alley?
THE MOTHER OF ALL WEEKS
1 week ago