Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Finding the point and letting go of order

The worries that I had been having about losing the heart of my poems when the more personal element was taken out somehow don't seem to be so important now. After all one of our poetry tutors said a poem is not a story or an atmosphere - it is about making a particular point - and I realise now that my journey poems are making a spiritual point.

When I started writing this series of poems I thought that they were simply poems about walking and connecting with location and nature. But of course in poetry (and life!) nothing is ever as simple as that, and as I discussed the poems with my tutor today I had one of those "Eureka" moments where it suddenly became clear to me that the poems were about far more than simply going for a walk. Footslog (which was previously called Unfurling Spring) is a poem that uses highly descriptive language to chart a physical journey through a real landscape. The poem is about nature but the underlying theme of the poem is how man affects (and is affected by) the landscape.

The poet Charles Wright makes this distinction between nature and landscape:
"Landscape is something you determine and dominate. Nature is something that determines
and dominates you."

(Wright, Charles, Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995)

There is an antithesis within the poem between the happy compromise between man and nature and the more destructive ways that man affects the landscape.

The second poem in the series is about Thetford Forest. The poem describes a physical journey through the forest, beginning amidst densely planted conifers and progressing into lighter natural woodland. It also describes arriving at a place where a lot of the trees are marked with yellow crosses, earmarking them for felling. As well as being about passing from one landscape to another the poem has deeper underlying themes of death and loss: death of the trees - trees being the lungs of the planet and what keeps us alive, loss of forest, loss of history and loss in general.

I had a sudden realisation when the tutor and I were discussing these larger themes that both poems could also be seen as a metaphor for the death of my mother - even though I had no conscious intention of writing about her death when I began them.

A good point that my tutor made today was that I should not get too hung up on keeping the chronological order of events intact - this order after all is only important to me, the writer. The reader won't know what order things were in on a particular walk, and the point is not to recreate the exact journey but to convey the feeling that I got from the walk that was the driving force behind writing the poem. It seems an obvious point but it is all too easy to forget.

Today's poetry tutorial was really helpful, it left me feeling excited and hopeful but it has also left me with a lot of editing to do and a lot to think about.

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