Sunday, February 04, 2018

I've been reading a lot lately, mixing poetry related books and counselling texts which has made for some interesting crossover thoughts. This week I pulled out of my bookcase the rather large collected letters of Tomas Transtromer and Robert Bly. I bought the book a few years ago hoping that the letters would illuminate Transtromer's writing processes, they didn't. So it sat on the shelf, I being slightly resentful that it took up so much space.

Being more confident in my own writing processes than I was back then I took it off the shelf this time interested in feeding my craving for anything Transtromer. What a wonderful collection of letters. Much of the letters are taken up with translation issues - a fascinating and complex process - and the wonderful relationship between the two poets. What I loved especially was the self-deprecating humour, a true joy to read poets who took their art seriously but most certainly didn't take themselves too seriously. I became fond of Bly throughout the book, whom I've not read in any depth but will get around to.

I've finally 'discovered' the work of Brigit Pegeen Kelly, how did it take me so long? I'm floating through her collection The Orchard at the moment.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Thoughts on Acceptance & Rejection

So far this month I have received two rejections and one acceptance.
I began to think about the position that writers, poets in particular, put themselves in - to be accepted or rejected.

No one forces us to write and submit ourselves to the mercy of editors. Most of us believe something inside of us forces us to write and subsequently submit ourselves to the mercy of editors.
Rather than considering the drive to write and where that comes from, which is where this line of thought usually goes, I've been thinking about the drive to put ourselves in a position of acceptance or rejection.

For me, and after many years of hardening myself or conditioning myself not to associate the rejection of a poem as a rejection of myself as a person, although I do believe this to be true I think still on an unconscious level the two are inseparable. So why do I do it?
The other side of the coin is that every acceptance of a poem is an affirmation of my worth, of my being, my existence even.

I wonder if by submitting poems and inviting the inevitability of rejection I am playing out my fears, or past experiences, of rejection in 'real' life.  And maybe if I can experience rejection in the confines and under the control of my writing life it will somehow magically save me from rejection in my interpersonal relationships. Also if my universal human need for acceptance is also met through my writing then I am not quite so dependent on having that need met in my personal life.

In this sense writing becomes an emotional buffer zone where the feelings of acceptance and rejection are experienced in a safer and more controllable space than in real life.

On a different note...
I think there is something mythical about writing poetry - admired poets past and present become absorbed in the greater project and historical continuum of 'poetry'. When I am reading poems, the authors of them, whether dead or alive all exist together in the otherworldly arena of poetry. So when I received an email from Eavan Boland taking a poem for Poetry Ireland Review it was as jolting as receiving an email from Seamus Heaney would be - someone who lives and exists in the great realm of poetry. That's my way of saying I'm very happy not just to have a poem in PIR, but to have one accepted by Eavan Boland is very special to me.

Also this finally arrived through the door the other day!



Saturday, January 13, 2018

So I finished reading the biography of Lorca last night - raced through the final hundred or so pages to get to his inevitable death and cried to read about it. I was thoroughly miserable all night. How utterly sad that his life should end that way.

Ironic the fact that he was barely a political person to have been shot by fascist militia on supposed political grounds. He didn't try to be a hero - he was terrified of death. When told he would die he attempted to recite a prayer his mother had taught him but in his terror and anguish couldn't remember the words. So terribly human and so terribly sad.

Some more quotes from the book that struck me -

“the tragic, the real, is what speaks to people’s hearts, and that’s why artists who seek popular success always create Christ figures full of purple sores.” 
"The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love, and the voice of art." 
"In art, you must never let yourself remain quiet or complacent … You must have the courage to hammer your head against things and against life … and then we’ll see what happens.… Another thing that’s essential is to respect your instincts. The day you stop fighting your instincts—that’s the day you’ve learned to live." 
"Success never satisfies me. Success is almost always a momentary stroke of luck that has nothing to do with a given work’s intrinsic value." 
“I don’t believe a poet should produce too much,” he had said in 1935. “One should be demanding. Scrutinize what you’ve written, take a close look at a book before hurling it out into the market.”




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Always fascinating to learn about the journey of a poet. As writers we are always evolving, every new book / new poem must push beyond what we have previously written.

I've been writing in this blog for over a decade, intermittently over the last number of years but still keeping record of my progress and development as a writer. I've kept this blog for that purpose - it's why I started it.

In my early days of writing and publishing poems I was obsessed with trying to understand the mysteries of how poets find their 'voice', and desperate to deepen my own poems and understanding of how poetry 'works' beyond the observable mechanics and tools of writing a poem.

It's something every writer has to work out for themselves with a kind of dedication and perseverance in the face of constant rejection and failure that seems idiotic from an outside perspective.  It has always been a help to me when I caught a glimpse into someone else's struggle and at times shone light on how I myself might move forward. I have always been grateful when writers have been open about the mysteries of their progress.


Right now I'm absorbed in Lorca's struggle through a wonderful in-depth biography about him by Leslie Stainton. Lucky for us Lorca was a prolific letter writer and many of his friends kept detailed diaries of their lives with him so the biography is incredibly informative. Despite being a huge fan of his work, I knew very little about Lorca beforehand and it is wonderful for me to read how each of his collections - poems that I so love - were brought into being - his struggles, his obsessions, his influences, his evolving philosophy of poetry.

Here are some quotes from the book so far that I have found particularly interesting -

"As a poet he remained committed to the ideal of “pure” poetry...Poetry must free itself from the “puzzle of the image and from the planes of reality.” It must ascend to an “ultimate plane of purity and simplicity”—the plane of “escape,” poetry’s last and purest realm." 
"To Lorca, the world of the child embodied the same type of “escape” he sought to achieve as a poet. Filled with gentle descriptions of mother and child, and wistful portraits of childhood itself" 
"The child, he said, inhabits an “inaccessible poetic world that neither rhetoric nor the pandering imagination nor fantasy can penetrate.” The child, like the poet or painter who courts pure inspiration, is capable of discovering mysterious and indecipherable relations between things."
"The lullaby, he told his audience, is the bridge that links the child’s magical world to the adult’s more rational one." 
“When I correct proofs, I experience the inevitable sensation of death,” 
"Lorca hoped to effect a radical new synthesis of the traditional and the avant-garde. Stylization, not imitation, was the key to his approach. In his lecture on cante jondo he had argued that artists should never seek to copy the ineffable modulations of traditional material, for “we can do nothing but blur them. Simply because of education.”"


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy New Year!

2018 has gotten off to a perfect start with my Ballad of the Clyde's Water in January's Poetry Magazine which you can read here. Such a privilege having a poem not only in Poetry but also in the same issue as Greenock poet W.S. Graham!

After eight months of working without any time off I'm grateful not to be working over the next few months where I can focus on writing some more Scottish ballad poems.

I've just started reading Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton and I'm looking forward to being fully immersed in the life of Lorca over the next few weeks.

I did manage to get the wonderful Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed: Psychoanalytic Writings for Christmas and absolutely love it. It's a beautiful two-volume hard-back box set. One book contains her writings interspersed with photos and the other has reproductions of her best known work.