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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The thing a poem has to be.

So, against all my expectations, it is here. There were certainly times I thought it would get no further than the bin, but what you see making up the second half of this post is the third of my three poems, my trilogy on the boy who disappeared. I have to say that it's been fun. Great fun. Whether it's been poetry I'm no so sure. For one thing, a poem, so far as I am concerned, has always had to have compression as one of its qualities, and these poems have precious little of that. To recap a moment for the benefit of those who may have just tuned in, the first poem, A Tale for Today was given, as I like to think of it - or was as close to beinggiven as anything I have ever experienced. I have had these flashpoint moments before, when someting has sparked off a poem, but it was never quite as complete before, never producing more than a vague outline which had to be worked on - often unsuccessfully. On this occasion it produced far more: I was going through some papers, and got as far as looking down a list of words and phrases when something sparked between a couple of them. (I could not now say which two.) More quickly than I could get it down on paper I had the first verse, and more. I don't wish to suggest that it was dictated, or was some form of automatic writing, certainly not that it was another Kubla Khan (I don't fancy myself as Coleridge), but that the feel and style of the poem and the uncompressed nature of it (which at the time seemed the whole point of it) were all there. Furthermore, the lines, as I wrote them down, suggested further lines. The whole thing came very easily, really like unwrapping a parcel. It was extraordinary, but so was what happened after I posted it. First of all Ken and then Ellumbra followed by Maekitso, Hope at The Road Less Traveled and Dick at Patteran all commented as though the poem had been at least partly based on a true story (which it was not, though in developing the poem I did have in mind the public concern, much publicised in the media just then, with knife crime and with missing young people). The suggestions mostly were that it would be nice to know a bit more. They were saying, with good reason, that there was a quality of incompleteness about it.

Now these are all people whose opinions I value highly, from whose blogs I get both inspiration and pleasure, as indeed, I did on this occasion, for their comments led me to explore the story further to see whether I could unearth a little more information about the boy and what might have happened to him. This had not been even a remote thought when writing A Tale for Today, so I had not prepared the ground, had not introduced difficulties with a thought in mind about how they might be resolved. Least of all had I sketched out a scenario from which to select facts for the poem.

The second poem, The Almost Lovers (both earlier poems are in the ealier posts list in the side panel), which was meant to prepare the ground for this final poem, was a real struggle, and I thought it showed. This one has been somewhere inbetween, bits have come easily, bits I've had to struggle with.

The title for the post came from an email I received from a lad too bashful to expose himself in the comments to the blog. He picked up my earlier remarks concerning the necessity for compression and added: "There is no one thing apoem has to be."
Initially I thought it sounded sane and sensible, even if I couldn't wholly subscribe to it - without fully knowing why - but later I thought it sounded like one of those exam questions: "There is no one thing a poem has to be: discuss."
Going Back

Into the house of mourning walks
one claiming to be him, the boy
who disappeared - repeatedly - and is feared dead.
He's like enough for hope, sufficiently dissimilar
for doubt; in looks and speech he is
and yet is not: the badger streak
much wider in his hair; the voice
less hoarse; the rudimentary third ear
less clear, less well-defined.
Suspiciously, he recollects
no further back than when he disappeared.
Before that day... zip, zero, nix. A set
of picture post card images begins
with the most perfect rainbow that began it all.
So by the light of that he gives
his affirmation, turns
the sadness of that house
to muddle and dismay.

Leaving Four Mile Wood, I saw it straight ahead,
a spray of light and colour in the nettles by the barn,
a spirit wake that arced the heavens where a messenger
had flown, wings folded back like hands in prayer
the way my world was folding back
to Miss Melissa's cadences;
to listening one blissed out hour that never left -
would never leave - my being. No,
not then, not after leaving Grey Moon Cottage;
not following the mallow trail -
sprigs left by either of the Mallows to beguile me
to the broken egg
and to the baffling nest above it in the tree.
I knew I must go back
(my life will be a life of going back),
my nature bade me back; a prelude
viewed in hues hung in the sky; an anthem
tasted, felt, or smelt in thunder or in flowers;
sonatas played by subtle plays of light;
things seen, not heard (as children used to be,
so we are told): all bade me back
and spelt out why
she called her works
small children of a soundling God;
why nothing now could slake my thirst
but her primeval sounds.


She'd meant to play him Phantom of the Idle Moon,
a psychic tour de force if ever there was one -
a psychic force, in fact. It would have stoned his mind.
The reason that she did not follow through
was down to his much altered state of mind,
because of which she did not pick up on his vibes.
He being now anonymous to mystic sense,
she missed his hour-long, second transit of Grey Moon.
He passed unnoticed and unsung,
without the contemplated change of tune.

Near where he'd walked had been
the other boys, the ones with knives, the ones
who'd thrown them at the hares.
They'd called to him. Perhaps he'd like to join their gang?

He would, part of him would, a big part would, a lot of him.
One word, a yes or no, but at its back.
those clamourings of fantasies;
ghosts carried under lock and key since prepubescent days,
now spilling out, too long denied - a fledgling mugger, he!
The boys had split their sides, derided him.
No matter then, the truth was there for all to see,
the genie out, no chance of its recapture.
The truth made manifest in words - and he within himself
could feel what others must have seen. And so,
from those who'd known him best he'd disappeared,

Like colours in a rainbow or like ink in milk,
his memories beyond that point, bleed one into the other:
Gutted he's missed out on the tall ships, slips. An old man
helps him to his feet; the Mallows ask him why he's crying.
(Boys don't cry.) They promise him a breeze
in Sea Sprite; catch the tall ships; picks
his bunk, sees not one sign of a tall ship; slips
silently to sleep, to dreams of snakes and spiders,
mushrooms and the Mallows -
who are fondling his hair.

There is a diary. A log. It doesn't seem to help.

... and still no sign of a tall ship, no ship of any sort,
nothing more than blackness like a sea of ink -
and navigation lights, occasionally them, though even they
are not reflected by this unresponsive sea.
Perpetual night.
I can't explain the total truancy of day. Nor dizziness,
not motion sickness, mal de mer... there is
no movement. And yet still the darkness dredged
up from the ocean floor, from Davy Jones's locker.
Hour on hour it works on me.
My mind begins to hang in shreds, like torn sails in a storm.


Then comes a sudden change of style:

... waking up last night and thinking I was buried...
Someone thought I'd died and buried me.

By contrast, dreamt of being born,
but not of woman, of the sea;
a whirlpool hurled me high upon the land - or deck,
perhaps,
I am a sea-horse made of quartz.

A little light, but half-awake, the day and I.
I stagger round the deck half dry
and try to catch a flying fish - of which
the sky is full. I see them falling back into
the sea, the sea, the sea holds everything.

The night outside is like a woman's gown,
jet black and starred with diamante, the whole robe
hanging on a living frame. Some life form is behind
the sky, beneath the sea and making inroads in the boat;
you see it in the way it moves,
the way the folds flow round the form.

The radio reports my sister's death. I shall jump ship
and make my way - hitch-hiking home - along the coast.

20 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

This is an interesting final chapter. It has some of the magic of the previous two but I didn't find the language quite as magical. I like the 'Mallen Streak' - a nice touch - but there were a few words that felt out of place: 'aerosol' for example (I suspected you might have meant aureola at first but I think 'spray' might have worked as well); 'stoned' and 'vibes' - too Sixties - and 'mafioso' - too Sicilian; 'zilch, zero, nix' nearly works but 'naught, nil, nix' would've been better or 'zip, zero, zilch' even.

These minor quibbles aside the actual story works well enough and is vague enough but I'd read a chunk of the first one and then a chunk of this one and you'll see the repetition that was so much a part of the charm of your original isn't quite so evident here and I think it suffers from it.

Now, what're you going to do with your wee trilogy?

Dave King said...

Jim
Thanks for that. Last things forst, you are quite right about the repetition. I was aware of that myself. I was also uneasy about Mafioso, but prefer aerosol to aureola, given that it is a young boy talking. I do quite like spray, though. I also like zip, zero, zilch, but not naught.

One other thing: I'm changing the title. The Homecoming was a working title which I later changed to "Going Back" to pick up the idea of Going Back to the music. Somehow I let it go to post with the old title. (Incidentally, but for your book I would have called it "Walking with the truth".) Too cose by half.

What will I do with it? Now, there's a question I had not considered.

Thanks again

Dick said...

A rich and dense piece, Dave, held together and carried forward by a compelling loping rhythm that makes it easy to read. I think it sits well with its partner pieces. They need to be placed end to end now and made available tout ensemble.

hope said...

You are always an interesting soul! I often come away from your work filled with wonder, because like Ken, poetry isn't something I attempt very often because it just never feels right. But I do understand that feeling of, "I wrote this down because my brain told me to and I just did what it asked" when writing is easy. :)

This line jumped out and made me smile,"she called her works
small children of a soundling God." Guess that's how I feel about writing sometimes...as if the words are my children.

Now to muddy the "zip/zilch" waters...I've always heard it phrased, "zero, zilch, nada". Funny thing is my childhood friend, who wrote me poems, was a boy whose last name was Zilch. :)

Fiendish said...

This has certainly encouraged me to go back and find the preceding chapters. I particularly loved the lines:

"wings folded back like hands in prayer
the way my world was folding back"

It is a strange and beautiful story. Well done.

maekitso said...

Hi Dave,

I can't venture to offer any suggestions about what a poem has to be. I can say however that your trilogy is fascinating and mysterious. I have read them repeatedly, and will continue to read them. I am not generally attracted to lengthy poetry. I like to be smacked in the face with an idea and then left to contemplate the feelings.

I struggled with the font size that you used for "The Almost Lovers", yet you kept me glued despite the fact that my eyes were screaming blue murder.

I haven't put the puzzle together yet, but I'm working on it.

Many thanks for a great read.

Dave King said...

Dick,
My thanks to you for your comments. I don't have any thoughts about making it available available tout ensemble at the moment, though maybe something will occur to me. I think there is still amodicum of work to be done.

Dave King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave King said...

Hope,
Much thanks for the encouragement, now and in the past.

Dave King said...

Fiendish
Yes, they were two lines that I was quite pleased with. Very generous comments. Thanks

Dave King said...

Maekitso
I am sorry about the font size. I was not aware that I had changed it, I will have to have a look at that. Thanks for your comments.

Crafty Green Poet said...

This has a wonderful rhythm to it and you use the sounds of words very well.

Roxana said...

'wings folded back like hands in prayer
the way my world was folding back
to Miss Melissa's cadences;
to listening one blissed out hour that never left -
would never leave - my being.'

this is superb! I don't know, it touches me so much...

Conda V. Douglas said...

I agree with Dick--I enjoyed the cadence and especially the imagery and all the poems need to be presented together--perhaps when the work you refer to is done, Dave. But I believe that poems work differently when apart as opposed to together--sometimes they resonate in unexpected ways when read altogether.

Dave King said...

Roxana
There is not very much I can say to your comment other than to thank you for it and to say that I in my turn am touched by it.

Dave King said...

Conda
Yes, I do agree with you that poems work differently together than apart and that these need to be together. I have a busy, busy couple of weeks coming up when I shall hardly get the chance to look at them. That may be a good thing, what I need in fact. After it I will try to think of something. My thanks for your interest and suggestions.

Dave King said...

Crafty Green Poet
Thanks for dropping by and for the useful feedback.

Lucas said...

Reading and re-reading this poem, I find there are many many memorable lines in it:images and sequences. I like the length and the oceanic rhythms of the piece, and think that shortening it is to lose its power.
The coming together of poetry and narrative is what makes this work for me.

Lucas said...

Reading and re-reading this poem, I find there are many many memorable lines in it:images and sequences. I like the length and the oceanic rhythms of the piece, and think that shortening it is to lose its power.
The coming together of poetry and narrative is what makes this work for me.

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Philippine Hospital Scam - Exposed As A Hoax!

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When the one who cried wolf, turns out to be the wolf itself

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Yes I am posting as Anonymous as he will be stalking me once I even reveal a single piece of my identity. He's too schizophrenic that he might think that I am one of his "enemies" so who cares.