Sunday, 29 March 2009

Dylan Thomas said that when he first came to love poetry as a child that it was the sound of the words that he came to love first and the meaning was only secondary. For me it was the opposite - I loved the places that the nursery rhymes and poems took me to. I wanted to be that pedlar man driving his gypsy caravan through the countryside or dancing round a fire at night in the woods with the raggle taggle gypsies. I didn't neccessarily need my poems to have a narrative but I did need them to have something that drew me in and allowed me to dream myself out of my ordinary life and into some mysterious other world inside the poem.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Magic of Existence

"It is not 'how' things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists."

Similarly poetry doesn't seek to describe 'how' things are but the magic of their very existence. One way of doing this is ostranenie (остранение) or defamiliarizaation - the poet seek to show us something ordinary or mundane in a new way - an example of this is the poem "Fork" by Charles Simic:


This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around the cannibal’s neck.

As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.

Simic believes that "The labor of poetry is is finding ways through language to point to what cannot be put into words." (Simic, Charles, Wonderful Words, Silent Truth - Essays on Poetry and a Memoir, University of Michigan Press, 1990). I like this analogy, when I read a poem I like it to take me by surprise, to turn reality on it's head for a moment.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

(Hans Hoffman)

When Hoffman said this he was talking about painting but I think that this quote equally applies to poetry. Good poetry is all about eliminating the unnecessary words and creating space (like Hoffman's light) for the ideas to breathe and grow in. The words are like colours in a painting if you pile to many on or crowd them too close together they become muddied and lose some of their beauty.