Rumination, as promised in the website’s title …
Though roe by any other name would smell as briny, my grandfather wasn’t a fishsmith. Fishmongers don’t make fish. Writers don’t make words. We take them, arrange them, lay them out for consumption. There is no smithy; mongery is a bunch of ice racks to chill it on until someone passing likes a whiff or a set of dead scales sufficiently catches the evening light to merit a sale.
Dead scales metaphor. The reality is the poetry I share upon publication is often 12 – 18 months old; stuff that I’m nowhere near right now. That’s the process of submission / rejection / acceptance (so far, anything from 5 minutes to 18 months). It is an odd thing to show you in the moment where I was say 2 years ago; the relevance of it befuddles me. My Hamlet poem in the current Acumen was written 3 years back and was rejected by 28 lesser publications. Don’t look for logic here. I couldn’t write that piece now, it is a ghost of my current thinking, allegiances, foci.
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2016 is a great year to date with twenty-three poems published in print and online. 2015 felt at times unbearably arid. The silence is as nothing I have ever experienced; the baby snatched from birth by unseen decision-makers who may or may not let me know in a year or so whether the baby stands on its own or, more likely, still not. This is my greatest mental struggle with writing. I don’t, as many fine poets do, labour for days over words. I write quickly, few drafts, for better or for worse. My strenuous labour is post-production emotional sabotage. I have singularly failed to come to a zen reckoning about the reams of work that remain virtually nothing while waiting their turn on the supposed golden path to the top of the inbox.
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Asked at a recent reading at John Cabot University what we would advise young poets to read, my esteemed colleague, Aidan Fadden, reeled off a commendable list of historic and contemporary giants, because Aidan is a poet is the truest sense, a scholar of its provenances, a beautiful arranger of compactness, and a subtle intoner worthy of reverence. I suggested reading gardening manuals and Lego instructions.
This was not intended to be flippant. W.G. Sebald advised his students at UAE to do the same: to break free of ‘novelism’, read anything but novels. As a theatre scholar and practitioner, I prefer stage plays over poetry for the dialogue – I always find voice in quality stage dialogue – and the means of driving every line through with purpose. I’m not suggesting good poetry can’t manage these things, it’s rather that there is always something unexpected in stage dialogue, often through dialect or manner of speaking, or some other action occurring simultaneously, which is a rare find in poetry. In short, doing things as I do, away from the hated lectern, bouncy, irreverent, is, to anyone who has seen me, much more theatre than word on page.
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I have a self-performed poem entitled ‘Letter to my son, re. black dog’ going up at ‘The Good Men Project’ on Sunday 24 July. I say tentatively that this is the biggest opportunity for me so far, given that their Fb readership is around 600,000. No better way than to damn it to a vacant hell.