Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Management will worry about the state of poetry. Is it viable? Is it maximising its potential? Is it meeting its aims and objectives?

Here is an aim and objective, or rather an aim that has sprung into an object. It is the mother of the murdered Shaquille Smith, Sandra Maitland, speaking in court of the loss of her son:

A knot is in our hearts that will not undo. A light has been dimmed and put out of our lives. We never had a chance to say goodbye.

I listen to it on the radio. The first phrase goes straight through me. The second I recognise as a trope. The third is the plain human cry. I have, you see, an aesthetic ear, and I cannot help hearing even grief as a shape. That is cold-hearted of me, but a poet is nothing if not cold-hearted when it comes to language. You must turn to stone, to ice, to feel it as shape even as it comes hot in the breath.

But that first phrase, the knot in the heart that will not undo, is perfect. It is the poetry of everyone and everything. It is what we want poetry for: to transform the world into meaning. The image is clear. Yes, it is a metaphor. It's what metaphor exists to do. I cannot help feeling the tightness of the knot, the contraction of the heart, of the muscle and the nerve, and the sense that one is doomed to live with it for the rest of one's life.

There is more. The internal pun on knot and not - I really can't help hearing it - drums on the ear. Great poets do not hold the pun in contempt, even at the point of death. They know its nonsense humanises them. John Donne , Ann Donne, Undone, wrote John Donne. So here comes Donne's knot in The Exstasie, the knot as love and fixity and tense desire -

Our hands were firmly cemented
By a fast balm, which thence did spring ;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.

And then I think of R.D. Laing's Knots, those small tightly bound furious knots of language as undoable unmeaning whereby we look to defend ourselves or accuse another. Knots of utter failure.

And none of this is pertinent to Sandra Maitland's intention. Intentions - aims and objectives - are nowhere. To speak or write poetry is not to realise an intention, but to produce a form, an object. I am not analysing her line, the grief-stricken mother's line, I am just trying to understand why it goes right through me with all the sense of naked human grief - grief naked yet dressed as itself, becoming more naked, more itself, in the dressing. And I know that the second part about the light dimming is more commonplace and comes from a more ready-made set of articles in the drawer of pain and that the mind is relaxing a little here while still staring about itself, still searching.

And then the cry. And the odd joy of having, if nothing else, at least the cry formed, shaped, properly and fittingly dressed, as if for ever.


Poet in Residence said...

George, Lovely piece. Lovely photo.

"It is about those days
when each drop of the rising and setting sun
would drench with poetry."

(Satyapal Sehgal)
-opening words from Sehgal's poem today on PiR's front page.

Anonymous said...

Wow George. You hit it over the pavillion with this one. I mean, this an over full of sixes by Yuvraj Singh, as good a thing as I've read in a long time. I wish you have a million readers for this post.