There have been moments when I've wondered why I blog. At times of greater clarity I know what keeps me doing it: it's mainly down to the generosity of spirit and the honesty (as I believe and hope) of those who take the time and trouble to pass comment. This willingness to comment freely is in marked contrast to what I have found in real life for example, where friends and family are rather loathe to put their heads above the parapet and say just how a piece of writing strikes them.
And one of the most interesting aspects to the commenting, so I have found, is the frequency of what I have come to think of as the Mmmmmmm? moment. This is a comment, maybe on a line or phrase of mine that misfires in some way; a word, perhaps, that has some unhelpful connotations, the lineation of a poem or some slight awkwardness of rhythm. Indeed, it could be a comment on absolutely any aspect of the poem's form, but what it always is, is something picked up that makes me think: Of course, why did I not spot that? to be followed, almost immediately afterwards, by the thought: Well, actually I did - all but! So by a Mmmmmmm? moment, I am referring to the time when someone hits on something in the poem which had caused me some unease, had caused me, in fact, to wonder Mmmmmmm? whenever I read it through. Perhaps the Mmmmmmm? moment had remained a Mmmmmmm? moment, for what was wrong had successfully eluded me. Not always, of course, would it be the case that I had sensed a flaw, but we are only interested here in the cracks and bugs in the woodwork which my sensors half pick up, while more sensitive ones elsewhere are left to complete the job.
It was the comments on my poem Autistic Boy that set the writing of this post in motion. I experienced several Mmmmmmm? moments when drafting and redrafting that poem, but whenever I met one, I would feel that there was something more urgent, more glaringly wrong that I must attend to first - and so, for all sorts of reasons, I never did get back to the more elusive ones - or if I did, I failed to resolve the difficulty, failed to see the wood from the trees, perhaps.
This experience throws up some interesting side-issues: am I being sloppy in not paying enough attention to the inner voice, indefinite though it may be, not thorough enough? Or too perfectionist maybe, in wanting there to be no Mmmmmmm? moments in my poems? Can there ever be none? Wouldn't that mean that I had either written a masterpiece (unlikely!) or had lost my critical faculty altogether?
Quite often, if I have worried about a Mmmmmmm? point during the day, I will wake up the next morning with a new word, phrase or line, sometimes several lines that appear to solve the problem, only to find that it no longer gels with what goes before or comes after. So I get a domino effect. It is as though an editor, somewhere deep in my subconscious, has been at work during the night, the same one, presumably, that was doing the Mmmmmmm?ing during the day - which editor, though, seems not to know the whole poem, just the bit that is misfiring!. Nevertheless, he is not to be marginalised for that. I recall a lecture I once heard in which the speaker spoke about prophetic dreams, but said that they always had a rational explanation. He gave as an example the case of a woman who dreamt she fell down the stairs, and a couple of days later, did exactly that. His explanation was that her subconscious mind had registered the fact that a carpet rod was loose. The fact never made it to her conscious mind, so the dream arose to warn her of the danger, though all unsuccessfully.
I have heard of poets and novelists being given the answers to difficult parts of their creation in dream form. I can't say I have ever had that experience - or maybe I just didn't recognise them for what they were. There are certainly cases on record, if not of poems then inventions. The invention of the sewing machine, for example, is said to have been facilitated by such a dream. The inventor, try as he would, could not see how to get the cotton back through the material from the garment's underside. In his dream he was captured by cannibals who danced around him and the pot heating on the fire. Their spears had ribbons flying from their business ends. When he awoke he had his answer: thread the needle at the pointed end.
And, in the arts there is the case of Coventry Cathedral. Sir Basil Spence, the architect, worried for ages that there was something missing. Or more precisely, that it needed something more. He worried so much that he developed an abscess under a tooth. Under the anaesthetic he saw the cathedral with concertina-shaped walls, an arrangement that allowed the windows all to face the altar and to direct all their light towards it. It is one of the features of the Cathedral.
Perhaps poetry is not so amenable to such visual interpretation, but the subconscious can still play its part. Indeed, I would argue that that is where poetry is born and raised. It may not be the perfect place to nurture something so vulnerable, but it is all we have.
What my examples have in common is the fact of them being preceded by a great amount of hard graft. The answers might have been given, but they were not just given. But what when the answer doesn't come, even after all that hard work? Should we then struggle on like good little perfectionists? Or should we be pragmatists, admit that this is as good as we are likely to get it and invite the world to see the result? Is there a point at which we should say; Enough, that is it, for good or ill? Of course, we are the lucky generation: we have a parachute; we have our friends out there in the blogosphere, and we have their comments for the final push - or if you'd rather I didn't mix my metaphors, we have their comments for a safer landing! My thanks to you all!
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