There is a chapter in Julia Cameron’s well known book ‘The Artists’ Way’ that uses the phrase ‘dragging home the invisible bone’ to describe the anticipation an artist (whatever their medium of choice) feels when taking a piece of work that has excited them to create to its first audience.
There is a story the then-principle of the Traveller Primary School in Dublin told at a conference I attended many years ago about a little girl who came home to her mother and pulled at her to get her attention. ‘Mam, mam’ her daughter said ‘I was in school today.’ The mother looked at her little one and said’ I know. Sure I took you there myself’. ‘No’ said the baby bird with determination. ‘I was in SCHOOL today.’ The mother was wise enough to know that there was more to what was being said than was being said, if you follow. So she dropped what she was doing and listened and it turned out that after the lessons were done a bit early, the little girl’s teacher had said they could make jigsaws. And, so the little girl explained, the picture on hers was of a gypsy caravan. It was, the Principle told us, actually an old-fashioned tin-lid picture of a horse drawn candy-stripe caravan the like of which never travelled the roads of this country, but what it represented was the first time that little girl had had a reflection of her world in the ‘school’ environment that she was in. She was in school.
There is a story told about David Marcus – known among other things for his initiation of the Irish Hennessy Awards. The story went, and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t true, he would go round the houses of various poets and say ‘we haven’t heard for you for awhile. Are you writing?’ or ‘Have you a poem for me?’ even better.
There is a story, which may not be true, about a woman whose power of listening was so great that a bird that had never sung, began to find its voice in her presence. That story of the right kind of sustained attention to the power and beauty of the voice (here I mean poetry) continues to move me.
There is a point to all of this. There is a magazine sitting in state on my sofa here across the room that I just received this morning by post. The ‘DELETE’ edition of Abridged Leviathan (Ctrl + Alt +Delete) series. I did not think, nor need for there to be, an issue to equal ‘That Nostalgia is a Loaded Gun’ but it appears there is. The Leviathan and links post is to follow. But the link to the magazine with all editions available online HERE.
A Note about Innovation and the Value of Criticism
I was thinking about Ezra Pound this morning. It’s a name that makes me break out in rash but I’m always drawn back to the fact that he was in the midst of a lot of change in understanding about what poetry is, and what it might become. I have to give him that – and that his milieu who were certainly at the forefront of imagism, if not quite modernism, were quite unusually gender balanced. (Not maybe so much on the modernism side of things but that’s into a whole other river system). Innovation of systems, any system, is necessary. It’s a bit like children’s clothes. The parent buys sizes too big – so things don’t sit right at the beginning. Then the wonder time comes when all sits and fits just perfectly. Óchón, though, it doesn’t last long and then there is the ugly struggle. One fighting because they are putting off the cost of the new – and how do they grow so fast? The other because they are pure embarassed by the current state of ‘too small’ clothing. It’s a daft example but it does cover what it feels like to me. Innovative work is the ‘new clothes’. Everybody, kind of, wants that best-fit stage but this is not a static situation. What feels like ‘you can’t be doing that…sake (!)’ to one, can feel ‘over-used and much abused promises of delight’ to another. Some people are born to push the envelope, others would rather be writing in the language of Shakespeare’s choice.
‘We/I don’t want to talk about it.’ If I had a penny for all the times I’ve had that answer to my opener of ‘where is the stretch, the pull, the future in this indefinable thing we call poetry’ question. I started this blog as a way of documenting what were previously ephemeral and intense bursts of study into the rationale of aspects of my work. (The pronoun-and-power issue is on my mind at the moment, for example). Questions that have no (right) answer but by asking them you are drawing the whole project forward. A kind of going to the foundation and the future in one fell swoop. The record is for me so I know where I’m at.
I adore everything about poetry. It’s letterly existence. It’s size. It’s shape. It’s correspondance to other uses of language. It’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t shifts in the continuum between art and communication. It’s mad koan-like littleness and significance. And it is this adoration, I suspect, that has led to an excitment about what Ian Sansom once described, and I forever after quote, as the ‘excess of love’ that is criticism. Not the ‘now I’m going to tell you what you are doing wrong’ sort but the ‘this is pure class – now let’s knock it about a bit to see what will happen next’ variety. (A small note: I had been writing poetry and reading whatever poet’s reflections on development in their own writing, and poetry writing aspects in general, that I could get my hands on for almost twenty years before I entered the sphere of connecting to a sense of public for the work. So I was standing up on the surfboard, so to speak, in terms of where I was on what an old economics lecturer I had would have called ‘conversations in the primeval forest.’ before opening my beak in those conversations, if I could have found physical versions of them. This kind of conversation is less useful to those starting out with writing though, imho, as I did need to pick up a sense of my own resonance and voice before I was sure I could speak without a loading of ‘there’s a definitive and forever answer out there and I’m going to find it.. so help me’ in my offering).
That’s the scenic route to talking about the beauty of the Abridged project to my writing life. The talk about the poetry is all fine and well. But the first thing is to produce the poetry and put it out there. Maybe you are like me and your poetry writing endeavours include the odd innovative moment, by which I mean with some generosity of speaking in terms of my own work, ‘attractively odd’ . Are they innovative? Who knows – that’s the talk at the after-party. But within the pages of Abridged, consistently, there is work by other poets – flanked by incredible visual artists – where I know the poets are exploring the same territory. How do I make the sound that can kill someone (a la Kate Bush) or, alternatively, the sound that will ‘move the world to pity’ – and how will I place it on the page? Here, not only can I showcase the kettle that I have beaten until I’m pretty sure it has it’s own original music, I can also encounter other work has been beaten with the same kind of spoon. Some of my best work has appeared here (by which I mean where I’ve really pushed up against my own limits) and what I want to appreciate in this post is the call-and-answer for me of Abridged. These ‘invisible-bone’ poems, because that is what they are to me, dragged home and met with affirmation equals a happy muse ready for further action. This sense of a ‘knock on the door’ that is the circulation of a new theme for the magazine. The sense of attention to the magazine’s own business which means that I’m not trying to hit a moving target or that any rejection is personal.
A Note about Rejection
Criticism first, now rejection – two thorny subjects in every realm of human endeavour – and, yet, essential to know how to manage, because these can be best friends to a body if a body can get into the right space with them when going through the rye. It is not accurate to say that I am delighted to have a poem in each of the Leviathan editions. I am delighted because the three that are there now – each in its own way representing an upleveling of my own work – are IN it. I have received the nicely worded ‘no thanks’ from this magazine as well – and for work that I was excited about. That makes the acceptance even more of a good thing. Rejection of work is a very useful thing if it primes your pencil. Rejection, however, that leaves you confused about how to go forward and personally invalidated is not useful and should be avoided. A quick note to say, by the way, I don’t think that editors or publisher’s should be doing the work of workshop facilitators or first readers. I send out my best work, while I value affirmative feedback (even if it isn’t shiny), all I want and expect is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. I try to discern where my work might contribute to the overall being of the journal and its ethos, then I trust that those magic makers, those creative souls, on the other end have divined how my work and their publication can align like a night with a good portent in its sky. It’s not an exact science. I try and try again sometimes, I try once and then give up other times, and sometimes I hit the send button intermittently. Some wonderful journals which I utterly respect, I have spared a ‘what do you think that was all about’ moment altogether. If you have received a rejection from Abridged, do refer to their notes – read the publication, write work that fits and give it your best shot. It it fits, it’ll sit very well.
A note to ‘page poets’. Generally ‘page poetry’ is taken to mean work that is meant to be read (eyes or voice) rather than performed. But poetry on the page automatically enters it into the realm of the visual. I’m seeing some really gripping layouts in the DELETE edition that I’ll be interrogating. When I’m finished taking in the poems, I’ll be looking for the feel, the added dimension, the hit to the system coming from this one-of-many elements of the poetry. I’m interested in this generally and I think our visual articulateness in the written context is growing. There is a sense of going beyond the ‘it’s got a shape, it’s a concrete poem’ mentality to understanding placement on the page and how to use negative space in terms of overall carriage of the poem from the page to the receiver. ‘Learn about the pine, from the pine’, as a famous haikuist once said – learn about visual from the visual artists and there is a nice conversation between the two realms continuing here.
I didn’t come across the concept of bitters or sours until my early twenties. Things, up to that in my life, were either sweet or they weren’t mentioned. But bitters are the bomb. They really are. You need both in your life. Too much sweetness cloys and induces a sense that from somewhere, shortly, will follow a waft of the stench of decay. Keats knew what he was talking about when he confused us all with that truth and beauty business. That is to say that I will write as politely and sweet-mouthed as the next, if the muse arrives and makes a good case for it and it’s got no sniff of the intent to hurt or harm about it. But isn’t it really, actually, the role of poetry to ‘eff the ineffable’ and, in a whole lot of cases, isn’t the ineffable not that pleasant and isn’t it a complete relief that somebody, somewhere is saying what shouldn’t be said about what nobody’s comfortable to mention. I can feel pure relief out of my fingers as I type. Isn’t that the role of the poet, in a lot of ways. As an active reader of the magazine’s content, exploring the work in Abridged gives me that sense of relief.
Congratulations to all involved. Sorry to be missing tonight’s launch. Many more wonderful editions to come!