Sunday, 30 November 2008

Why not to write a poem

I was "commended" in a poetry competition. It put me in the top 5% and stated, accurately, that my poem wasn't good enough to win. There's something depressing about that. It was depressing, too, to attend the public adjudication alone. I left having spoken to four or five people, briefly - the people sitting on either side of me, who were friendly; a poet I recognized and a couple of people who gave me directions. I felt worse after leaving than after arriving, even though I'd read and heard some good poems.

That probably says a lot about my mood - perhaps I gave off an aura of unapproachability. It's more likely that the society members running the competition wanted to meet and talk with old friends. I was an outsider and felt all the shyness that implies.

Writing a poem can be a compulsion rather than a pleasure, though it's a relief to put it aside, more or less finished. Just before I submitted this poem for the competition, I realised it wasn't finished and did some more work on it. Since then, I've restored some of the earlier version. It's not quite right. I preferred the other poems I submitted - the ones that weren't commended.

I don't know why I write poems and I can't remember when I started. I just know that I've been playing with words for as long as I can remember and have never given it as much time as I would like. I've spent most of my life trying to conceal this embarrassing little habit.

But these days quite a few people have found out about the poems, though they mostly have the friendly tact to remain silent on the subject. I also get to talk to poets quite often - mostly not about poetry - and enjoy reading their work. I'm fortunate to know Pam Thompson who posts several poems a month on her blog. It made me wonder about posting a poem of my own.

This is the commended poem and I'm not making great claims for it.- But sometimes poems give pleasure even when they aren't great. And I have an affection for this because I wrote it when I was staying all alone in a friend's caravan in Llansteffan. I was thinking of the villages abandoned so that they could be flooded for reservoirs. And I was also thinking of what happens to language when people move to a new place.

After the Valley Was Flooded

Having left, she learned again the shape of fields,
new names for birds, the way another town
clung to the hillside, then fanned out
running roads across slopes, drawing trains
from powerful cities. Marrying, she became fluent
in her new place, as rivers were
the same and not the same, altering course.

There was a blue brooch once, lost for ever
on a careless morning, rocks for children
who climbed and laughed as gulls called,
a father’s crumpling smile – all different
in this new world where old shapes lost their force.
At night, she dreamed of distant bells. By day
the unused words twisted about her heart.


Alan Baker said...

There's a lot more in this than is immediately apparent from the plain language: The alientation of the migrant, dispossession... And some nice human touches: "the father's crumpling smile...".

Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...


Kathz said...

Thanks for your kind comments.

Kate J said...

I wonder about the bells she heard - just about every story of flooding has an associated myth or memory of bells heard ringing from under the water. There's a story in Wales about the village of Cantre'r Gwaelod, - a sort of Welsh Atlantis legend - which was supposedly in Cardigan Bay. Legend says on a clear night you can hear the bells ringing from 'neath the sea: "Clychau Cantre'r Gwaelod yn canu dan y mor" according to a poem about it, by J.J. Williams.
On the other hand, maybe it was the bells of Llansteffan Church you heard - one of the few in Wales to have a "proper" peal of bells.
I liked your poem very much, by the way!

Kathz said...

I'm not sure where the bells came from - or the other details. A schoolfriend used to play Debussy's "Cathedrale sous la mer" so it may have been a memory of the bells in the music. Or I may have heard the bells of Llasteffan church. They just seemed to belong.

Pam said...

This are lovely resonances in this poem; it's very controlled and yet not stilted at all. I know what you mean about going to poetry gatherings like that. It can be dispiriting-but you were commended and have bloogged this. Do keep doing that!

Pam said...
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