I’ve been looking through my poetry work lately and I started to think that I could write a blog about writing a poem. Now I’ve started I’m not sure how this is going to work out but anyway, let’s give it a shot.
For me there are two ways to write a poem. One is where I have to work at it and the other is when the whole thing just comes to me. I once read that Paul McCartney thinks that his songs and melodies are just hanging in the air and all he does is to entice them down to him. I’m clearly not on the same level as McCartney but that image just captures exactly how I feel when a good poem comes to me.
There is a particular state of mind that I enter for this process to happen. The best time is when I’m driving my car. I don’t know why, and I can only guess that driving sends me into that perfect state of mental concentration where a poem or an idea will come to me, enticed down, as Paul McCartney suggested, from the cosmos. That is the purest way to write a poem, one where either the whole thing or at least a couple of verses present themselves and then I have to sit down and work at the rest.
Sometimes an idea comes to me in odd ways. Some years ago in one of my old jobs, I used to return home from work in the mid afternoon. I started very early and usually worked through my break, getting home between 2 and 3pm. I would get changed, have a quick wash and come into the kitchen to put the kettle on. The kitchen was in the front of the house and in the summer months I noticed the cat from the house across the road would usually be getting comfy under the small tree on their lawn while I waited for the kettle to boil. I often watched that cat. I never noticed it as I reversed my big van into my drive but later, in the kitchen, I would invariably see the cat settle down for an afternoon nap.
One day I came home from work, got washed, and from the kitchen noticed the cat getting into position as usual under the tree. I took my tea and toast into the lounge and settled down with the TV. Later I heard something, a commotion of some sort but nothing that was compelling enough for me to shift my lazy butt and see what was happening. Not long after that, my partner came home and I could hear something going on. She seemed to come in and go out again. When she finally came in I asked what had happened and it seemed that the lady opposite had returned home and found that her cat was still under the tree but not sleeping, it had died.
That particular lady was someone who was a bit of a diva and very often made a lot of fuss about things that really, weren’t worth making a fuss of. Apparently, she began shouting and screaming and various neighbours came over to assist while I, in blissful ignorance, was busy dozing. Still, that little event became the inspiration for the poem The Cat Across the Road. I made the assumption, rightly or wrongly, that the cat was ready to depart his life; maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he felt he had a few more years left of sun lounging, mouse chasing and bird catching. If he did his heart must have stopped without warning during his or her feline slumbers. All in all, not a bad way to go.
Everything seemed in order, I suppose, to die
It was a warm enough day
The sun shone and birds sung
Even though birds would cause a feline heart to race
I’ve had my fill of life
Of titbits and cosy sleeps, sometimes in next door’s shed
And I’ve had my chases and midnight hunts
And I’ve always remembered my owners and left them a mouse or two
A last cuddle would have been nice
Still, all in all it’s been a good life, and I’ve loved it
I’ve always liked this tree
I can keep my eye on the birds and the sun comes down
So now I’ll just close my eyes and die
And go on to the next of my nine lives
The other way of writing a poem is where I sit down determined to write something. Recently I saw in one of the poetry newsletters that I subscribe to, an item about a poetry contest. They wanted a poem about love. Now I am not a person who can describe himself as well qualified to write on that particular subject, but I settled down and began to play with ideas and words. After a while I came up with the beginning of a poem, one that I had to return to in the following days to flesh out. As I mentioned before, love isn’t one of my specialist subjects and I took that thought literally into the poem. As I am a cool sort of customer, not one for spouting or talking about my feelings I thought that might be a relevant message for me and others like me.
I don’t think I can remember my mother and certainly not my father ever talking about love. They loved me, I knew that. I knew it when my dad picked me up off the floor when I fell off a ride in the park. I knew it every time my mother washed my jeans and shirts and made my favourite meals. Still, there are others who need love spoken in words. I realise and respect that but for me there is No Need to Talk of Love.
To save me typing the poem out here and also to liven up this post a little, here’s my YouTube video version:
That’s about it really. Take an idea, try and boil it down into a phrase, something with resonance and some lyrical attributes and go with it. I was actually pretty pleased with the poem above. I sent it off to the poetry competition with high hopes. I have to admit, I didn’t send it off in the form it is above. Since then I’ve worked on it some more and edited it a little but sadly it wasn’t a winner or even a runner up.
As a writer though and not one who can really call himself a professional one, the fundamental result of writing and the reason for doing it has to be the pleasure of crafting something that is satisfying to me; satisfying to write and to read. It is the process of writing itself which is most rewarding to me, perhaps that is why I am always skimming back over my past work. Well, someone has to read this stuff, it might as well be me.
I do love it every time someone presses the like button here on WordPress or over on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube but the Ferrari, the motorboat and the Spanish villa that I expected, or more accurately hoped I might earn from all this scribbling has not arrived. Indeed, those things may never arrive but even so if you come looking for me you’ll probably find me with a notebook or my laptop in my hand, writing.
By the way, if you’d like to watch a video version of this blog: click here.