Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I've been such a rubbish blogger.
So I decided to write a random update post!

I'm not allowed to tap my feet in my house because my three year-old son shouts "mummy, don't sing with your feet"!

I normally read Plath's diaries over Christmastime every year but haven't managed to this year, I aim to read them this month though. Talking of Plath I read an interesting article in the Guardian the other day linked from Peter Steinberg's Sylvia Plath info blog: Nick Laird's Poems for a Baby. Laird states -
"I've been struck by how often, for male poets, having children roots itself in linear imagery, bloodlines, inheritance; whereas for female poets, the process is a form of replacement, of disappearing."

I was surprised to read this in relation to my recent baby poem which has the line about the trees and I becoming white shadows of ourselves. My primary thought was about post-pregnancy body shape, of me becoming a shadow of my former pregnant self. Now I wonder if there is an unconscious replacement thing going on here. One example Laird uses to support his theory (?) is from Plath's Morning Song -

"I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand"

Laird picks out Plath's use of the word effacement, "the act of one thing erasing another" as the key thing. But what he doesn't mention is that effacement is exactly the word every full-term pregnant woman wants to hear as it refers to the thinning of the cervix, one of the indications of the body preparing itself for labour.
But I loved Laird's comment at the end in reference to his newborn baby: "I find myself holding the wee dote on my knee thinking, now surely to God I can get a poem out of you . . ."!

On another note, I've been reading in various blogs and things about the lack of lit crit written by women, one of the usual explanations is that we are too caring and nurturous by nature to step easily into the big bad world of literary criticism. Personally I think this is nonsense, women in academia are able to scrutinise just as thoroughly and mercilessly (if need be) as the next bloke.

I got my Edinburgh Review in last week, really enjoyed reading it - it was a Czech themed issue and I did Slavonic studies for a year at uni and loved it, in fact one of my old lecturers has an article in it! Anyway there was an interesting essay by the poet John Hartely Williams titled 'Speaking of You' in which he certainly doesn't set out to pull any punches. He writes -

"Nowadays those who consider themselves to be poets think they should write poetry, but this is quite wrong. The last thing one should want to do while writing a poem is write poetry. The whole project of writing a poem ought to be to dodge the image of itself that confronts it in the mirror. (not sure what he means here) Writing poetry...involves you in questions of vocabularly. One might give up on vocabulary altogether and stop thinking. That way you might arrive at a poem".

Williams describes himself as a warty poet who has eschewed vocabularly and stopped thinking and this enables him to write poems as opposed to poetry.

Although I get the point about poetry as opposed to poems, I love language, I love words. I love playing around with images, sounds and language but I also know that that amounts to very little if there isn't a poem in amongst those words, sounds and images, if there isn't that unknown thing that makes itself know to me (at least partially) by the end of the poem, of what the poem is actually about. I'm strongly in favour of the stop thinking part (not easy to do) but giving up on vocabularly and sticking with plain language, I don't think so.


Rachel Fox said...

I love your spelling of vocabulary throughout! Is that Sorley's version?

I have to say male poets writing about their newborns is one of my least favourite areas of poetry! Shut up and go and do something helpful like some dishes or something, I often find myself thinking (very unfair no doubt...and generalising about men and women's writing always leads to trouble/nonsense in the end I find). Plus I do like Shug's one about pushing a pram whilst drinking beer anyway (there's always an exception...and that wasn't really a newborn, I don't think).

It's not exclusive to writers of course but I think there is something to the idea of women feeling replaced by their children (and we either enjoy it or fight it...). Certainly we take a back seat in many ways once the bairns are here (and sometimes I find that a real relief!). And men...it's like a challenge to them in some ways, isn't it? OK, you've got a kid now....what kind of man are you, one to look up to and respect? And all that...while our thoughts are much more about nipples and biscuits and sleep!


Sorlil said...

lol yeah sorley actually types up the posts for me, I just dictate them :)

Rachel Fox said...

Or maybe you type with your singing feet!

Sorlil said...

ha ha, might give it a go!!

deemikay said...

"Poems" are much better than "poetry". :)


Not having children (and unaware if I ever will) I can't really comment on that... I'm an uncle and have written things about my nephews, but probably in the same way as I'd write about a tree, or an old person.

Sorlil said...

Children, trees and old people - a bit random but I think I get what you mean! :)

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve read over Williams’ words several times. He could be clearer. What is the difference between ‘a poem’ and ‘poetry’? To my mind a poem is an exercise in vocabulary, a translation (or perhaps distillation would be a better word) of a poetic sensation; I feel a poem before I articulate it. Oftentimes I struggle to find the words because the words I have prove inadequate. And yet the poems I find myself writing are the least poetic things (in a traditional sense) that you could imagine generally avoiding anything that smacks of technique which, to my mind, is evidence of a facility with words and nothing more. It’s like music: there is more to music that melody, harmony and rhythm and yet all music comprises of melody, harmony and rhythm. Do you see where I’m coming from? I think I might actually be saying the very opposite of Williams.

Roxana said...

such an interesting post, so many things to ponder - just one quick note: i don't understand the complain about the lack of literary criticism by women, as one coming from that (academic) world and whose job is to do exactly that, i can say that in my personal experience i don't see any difference in the way female and male scholars practice literary criticism - besides, even in the "real" world i often find women to be harsher than men (at least when it comes to our female clerks :-). so i totally agree with you!

Sorlil said...

sorry jim, it was probably unfair of me to quote from the article without spending more time defining the context of the quote.

Williams is talking about the use of, what he considers, fanciful wordage, imagery and, from what I can gather, subject-matter to refer to 'poetry'. Where as a real 'poem' happens when the poet "slap[s] his steaming heart down on the table". Another quote from Williams - "A real poet answers the door when a poem knocks and lets it in, whether it wipes its feet or no". I actually think what you're saying is quite close to Williams' view.

Sorlil said...

hi roxana, when people discuss lit crit here, for some reason proper academic criticism seems to become interchangable with general literature reviewing.

But the point about there being a lack of female critical reviewers of current poetry is the same for both, and I don't, in any way, attribute this to the stereotypical boxing of women that you'd have thought we would have outgrown by now! (I've never forgotten Hegel's designation of men as animals and women as plants!!!).

Michelle said...

"don't sing with your feet" ...

Brilliant child!

James Owens said...

Sorley’s comment is one of the best things I’ve read in a while. You’ve got a young poet there :-)

But poems about children, especially very young children …I can’t think of a single decent poem by a man about a newborn. Maybe it’s just me (there must be some) … or maybe Nick Laird has something there. I know I’ve never written any such poems….

Lit crit by women … yeah, the idea’s rubbish, even for popular reviews … Helen Vendler, Maxine Chernoff, etc.

Poems vs. poetry. It seems to me that this fellow has it dead wrong backward. It is precisely the intense focus on words and language that produces poems.

Titus said...

Great post. Still thinking.

Rob said...

I think I'd need to read JHW's article to really get what he's saying. One thing is for sure - he is a very good poet himself and uses vocabulary exteremely well! It sounds to me as if he is talking about process. He wants to avoid the image we might have of what 'poetry' *ought* to look like and instead go for something that comes from that deep, dark place, the skewer in the brain - something like that? Making it new, as Pound said.

Sorlil said...

michelle, he's definitely an abstract thinker, he surprises me all the time with the things he says and does!

james, I'm trying my best on the poetry front with the kids but you know that means that it'll go either one of two ways...!
I can't think of any male poets writing about newborns off the top of my head, the earliest that springs to mind is Hughes' Full Moon and Little Frieda. I entirely agree with you about words and language.

hi titus :)

hi rob, he states quite clearly that there are not many actual poets out there but that 'dextrous poetic card sharks cruise everywhere in the waters of 'the poetry world'". From my understanding of the article, Williams has no time for 'poeticality' i.e. pretty language for its own sake, and feels that the poetry of the poetry world is bowed with political correctness.

I don't mean to suggest he's not interested in vocabulary, just that language, for him, is mainly the medium for the poem that comes from the dark recesses of the poet's mind/body/soul. Whereas I agree with James that the intense focus on and the mixing/matching of words/language/ is not just the medium but actually produces the poems.

I really like Williams' poems in the issue and I enjoyed the forthrightness of his article.

Bill said...

Really like your quote from JHW. I suppose he's saying we should bear in mind in the writing of a poem that poems amaze us when they confound our expectations in one way or another so we shouldn't fall into the trap of writing what we expect a poem to be.

What I love is when the vocabulary of plain language rearranges itself in unexpected ways.

Sorlil said...

yes, I think that's part of it. oh and me too, thanks bill!