Friday, 24 September 2010

Just The Beginning?

So my creative dissertation has been handed in and on the whole I was quite pleased with it. My writing over  the course of the last year has changed dramatically. I came to the MA writing mainly semi-autobiographical poems about my dysfunctional family and growing up on a Thetford council estate. But recently I have moved away from using my past as the main subject of the poems. The need to write such deeply personal and uncomfortable poetry seemed to dissipate somewhat with the death of my mother and although what I was writing was still personal it had a different register and was more universally accessible. I found I no longer felt the need to write solely about childhood but was drawn to new subject matter. It was as if my mother’s passing and the end of what had become a difficult relationship had released me from the need to keep going back over old ground. I found myself in new writing territory. The journeys within my poems changed from the child’s journey into adulthood to physical journeys through real landscape. My reading matter has reflected this and I have been drawn to the river poems of Alice Oswald, T.S. Eliot, Ted Hughes and Philip Gross. 
I felt a sense of trepidation when I began these new poems. I wasn’t used to writing without the recognizable anchor of the past and was worried that without the obvious human element that the poems might lack something vital.  I didn’t want them to be purely descriptive. I also began to find that the language available to me somehow wasn’t adequate for what I wanted to express and I wanted to change it somehow. I tried to do this by using compound adjectives, a technique that Seamus Heaney often uses and one that I have always liked. I used this technique a lot when I first started writing poetry seriously. I also found myself wanting to play with the form of the poems. I have never been a fan of concrete poetry but these new poems felt like they needed to move around on the page. Redcastle Furze, for instance, felt flat in its early drafts - once I started moving the text around and took out the punctuation it gained a new momentum. The final version echoes the physical path that the narrator takes through the estate as well as giving clear emphasises when read aloud (projective poetry).

…the page can be used like a canvas, the lines stuck like pieces of a collage, or the page can be air, giving the lines room to move like the parts of a mobile.[1]

From the journey poems it seemed a natural progression to write from my personal rural experiences – I lived for ten years in a commune and also travelled around staying in other communities during that time.  From this time I drew inspiration for poems about wooding and milking cows (although only the cow poems made it into the dissertation).
By semester three I finally began to feel that I understood how to be rigorous with my editing: to recognize weaker lines (not as easy as it sounds) and what works/doesn't work. My practice now is to go back again and again when I feel a poem is finished and take out even more lines and words than I have would have done before. I have also learnt to detach myself from the subject matter and the need to include every detail when writing from direct experience – a poem is not an autobiography – to hold too tightly to the facts when writing can lead to a poem that doesn't make senses or excludes the reader. It is the greater truth rather than the actual truth of an experience that is the crux of a poem. A useful bit of advice given to me by a tutor was to examine each element of the poem separately – e.g. metaphor, punctuation or line endings. I used to try to look at everything at once and this made for much sloppier editing as well as an overwhelming feeling of where do I begin. I have also found it helpful to write down the imperative of each poem. The imperative is not the subject matter - for instance the subject of The Mound is a children's playground but the imperative is the loss of innocence.  It is not always easy to know what the imperative is, even in one's own poems, and this is where work-shopping can be invaluable. My block this semester has been in editing rather than writing.  Yare Song was problematic and eventually I put it away for a month before looking at it again. This worked as when I finally came back to it I immediately saw that I needed to cut more lines out rather than add lines to it – I had been stifling the imperative with uninteresting description.
The MA has been an exciting journey for me. My subject area has widened considerably and my writing has gone in new and exciting directions. Someone said to me recently that a previous student on the course had told her that it was only six months after the course had finished that she finally began to realise the profound effect that it had had on her - it's like you need that time to really begin to process and assimilate the intense learning journey you have been on. I feel for me that although I can see a real progression in my work: especially between my first and final submissions,  in some ways, my journey has just begun.