Thursday, 28 August 2014

From the Hurst 3

Coming to bed rather late so this might be a little shorter. The rain has lifted but not entirely departed. It hangs about like the police at a stage door.

The morning was Kathryn's, thinking about confessional poetry - mostly American - considering questions of autobiography and presentation. We look at poems by Jeffrey Harrison, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Pascale Petit, Sharon Olds, John Berryman, Dana Levin and Nuar Alsadir. We walk around notions of truth, of presentation, of the location of the self. We consider what is true and how it might be true, what is fiction and what is report.

Essentially, this is about the balance between imagination and recording. It is also about the pressure of events on the writing self or voice, about how far the reader is an invited or willing participant in other lives. It is interesting, I think, how the poems of Sexton and Olds tend to gather narrative then erupt into associational imagery as if an energy button had been pressed. At first the voice is only telling us about something, almost reporting on it, but then, as it realises its position, it expands under pressure. It's like a release button.

We are invited to write a poem in the form of a letter in the sense that an 'I' is addressing a 'you', We have twenty minutes. I write this:

Ice Cap

Jack, you might recall the time I told you
about my years in the galley, pulling hard
for Bergen or Stavander. It was metaphor
as you understood and you also knew what it meant,
that I was cold and tired and having a hard time.
    Well, times are hard now and the galley is waiting,
I can practically smell the sea in my bones,
or so I’d put it, knowing you understand the sea
and its ice, that this is quite clear to you.
Back in London was all kind of trouble. My mind was
winter in Norway. I was all fjords and islands,
life was glacial. I was North of the Northern Line
numb from waist upwards.
            You know how it is, Jack,
Colindale, Burnt Oak, Edgware, the ice cap of Metroland.
We know where the heart is, we understand metaphor
better than language, that desolation is too big a word
to handle with bare hands when the fingers are frozen.
How is life in the suburbs? How is winter in Ruislip?
My compass is gone, I mean really. Talk to me, Jack.

Hmm. It has something going for it.  It's raw and possibly clumsy yet it has a certain enticing quality. I always do the exercises set by the other poet and often it results in a genuine poem - two of the poems in Bad Machine came about like this.

After lunch the individual tutorials. Five times half hour, intense, engaged, then a walk in the grounds, not too long, and back into the house as the rain starts to patter. We chat in the sitting / reading room - and soon Hannah Lowe appears. We sit down to dinner and, after it, she reads from Chick and  from later poems, rich material mostly based around the gambler father. These are not confessional poems in that they are not about the voice that is doing the talking. They are conjurations and variations on a person, a filling out of memory with desire and dream and wonder.

Then we stay up late talking of education, of reading, of music.

It is late. Tomorrow is my morning and I have work to read before then. It is past midnight.|

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