Saturday, August 09, 2008

Taking Risks: an extract

We've been having a few arguments on the Poets on Fire forum boards this week about various topics, but most interestingly from my point of view, the question of 'risk' in poetry.

Now one person's risk is another person's lame duck, so it was always going to be contentious as a discussion topic. But because some of us hold very strong opinions, and emotions sometimes run high on the forum boards, we've got into all sorts of verbal tangles over this key issue of risk:

-- "It's not 'existential agony' that I'm talking about, but the need to write. Doesn't always matter what, you just need to write. It's a frustration and a single-mindedness that keeps you working at a single line even when it's knocked you back several dozen times already.

For me, it's about the struggle to combine complexity with simplicity. Or rather, to find a simplicity that has reached complexity.

A bit Zen, maybe. But it's about balance, the poem as spirit level. As though there's a point where the whole poem balances perfectly, and in the beginning it feels like a theoretical point, something you can't depend on reaching, and only too often you fail to get anywhere near it, but then every now and then you hit it, a sort of perfect form, and everything in that poem comes into line.

The demands of the long poem are very different from that of the 'little box' poem. It's like suddenly being given a gigantic canvas to work on after years of painting miniatures. At first you try to work in the same way, starting neatly in the corners. But then you take a step back from the canvas and realise it won't work like that. To be seen properly, the work has to be about big gestures and big themes and pattern and structure and variation and expansiveness and experimentation.

And that's when the inherent complexity - and potential for chaos - of the long poem needs to be brought back to a condition of simplicity, using whatever method works best for you.

So that's basically what gets me out of bed in the morning, and keeps me at the keyboard well into the early hours, and that's what I'm trying to sell. Though just writing is what I'm about right now. Everything has its moment." --

From the Poem forum, Poets on Fire.


Bo said...

This strong. I like it.

Bo said...

Sorry - 'This IS strong'. Can't spell.

Jane Holland said...

That's okay, Bo. I just assumed the power of my critical prose had temporarily scrambled your speech centres.

Jx ;)