Saturday, December 08, 2007

First Drafts: 'On Dark Places'

You will find below the first drafts of workshop poems 'on dark places'.

If anyone else would like to follow this exercise (see earlier post, 15 minutes first draft, not incl. thinking time) please email me your poems by midnight, Wednesday 12th December.

Julie (see below) found it tricky, thinking about the project first without writing anything down. That's generally how I work, but I expect it won't suit everyone. I deliberately block out concrete 'lines' during this stage, though phrases which stick in my mind are allowed. It means I can freewheel through a large range of wobbly possibilities - without committing myself or losing momentum through note-making - until I find the image or idea that locks on and forces me, often compulsively, to paper.

A revised draft of my own poem will appear, with comments on the process, within the next week. Plus any other revised drafts sent to me.


Pont Du Gard

Stone hall for the shrunken,
black pit interior
fish-scaled in urine.
And the grim shadows of men
blocking the light.
Broad squares of sun-flash,
rectangular access
to blind air and buffet.
Swimmers below
pale fins burning in water.
We sank back into darkness
at the next space,
hands well-worn on stone
blackened with water,
the rough runnels of history.
Corrugated, filigree depths
where the heart struggles to rise.
Pinioned to single file,
we passed through the low-roofed
night haul of the Roman.
Troll-trod, dwarf dominion.
Afterwards, hot dust and olives,
a dazzle of strangers
met on the long road backwards.

Jane Holland


Sea Cave

sight dies
saturnine dark
hiss of sea air

blind blind
blind as bats the yawning jaws
hells droppings
dreams shrink to nighmares
boats extinguished
rolling ripples
styx to
empty places

darkness wrapping
winding sheet
by livid silence

echoes of miles and miles and miles

rocking bark
slushing tips
oil oil drippling
tallow wax

scorpion fringed
curling fingers
steel blackness
tea lights

chill vacuum
cut rock
blind senses
freezing slope

scraping bone
sinking voices
mole cladding
edging gripping ledging
tactile stripped

tongue is drying
light is crawling
gloom is rising
searing vision

Virtual Journey


A Dark Place

Gravel highway guarded by poplars.
In the far distance memorials rise
Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant.
A sea of slabs, rectangles like
plant beds. But barrack bunks instead.

Arbeit Macht Frei
The camp guide offers
to take my picture at the gate.
It’s smaller than I imagined.
How did they fit them all through?

I dreamt of the chimneys
in black and white. Daughter
of a survivor can’t stop talking
all the way through the chamber.

A town in Bavaria
can’t stand the connotations.
You flinch when I say
I caught the bus from Dachau.

Poetry In Progress


December. The month of the drowned god.

Milk-water seeps from the clay’s glands,

Clots the forest paths, thickens

Through the veins of the wood.

Late afternoon. Rooks creak

in the darkness, and westward

a tideline of sun is washed by black waves.

Greedy branches crane to cram night’s gullet

With his brief, red fruit.

Expulsion of the Blatant Beast



virtual nexus said...

Jane -

I've only written a handful of poems in thirty years, so my idea of how to revise this is fairly crude.

First instinct would be to lose a third of it, then unbolt the image shards, reconstruct and develop them with more feel for verse, and to get a clearer idea of what is actually going on.

First response of spouse was that he could feel the oppressive sense of the darkness, which is was what I set out for.

Feel free to go for it re any suggestions. I'm not sure where to start with it as it stands, and don't want to kill what 'freshness' there is by overworking.

Jane Holland said...

I don't like to give close textual advice on such delicately written first drafts, as that could be destructive while the poem is 'in limbo', still looking around for rhythm and purpose.

If this was mine, I would be hoping to link these preliminary words together into some sort of coherent structure. For instance - and this is merely an illustration of the method rather than a suggested order for the words - you could re-arrange the first stanza thus:

Sight dies
in the saturnine dark; pinnacles
of sea air
hiss nothing.

Or with some other arrangement of line-breaks or alterations in sense.

First up though, I would go through with a red pen, and circle words and phrases which seem definitely weak. Then another colour, perhaps, to highlight key elements, the parts you want to retain and/or rework.

Then rewrite, moving words about and altering them as necessary - nouns to verbs - as with 'hiss' above. Remember to keep checking back with the overarching design, purpose or 'feel' of the poem. Whatever you change or import needs to stay in tune with that.

One important thing at this stage is to consider your title and what role it plays in the poem. Should it stay the same? Does it need to change as you rewrite?

Are there any hidden/double meanings suggested by the title that you could bring out in the next draft? Often these will already exist in an early draft. If so, you just have to strengthen and highlight them. (Subtly!) If not, you may want to consider how to bring them into the poem during revision without disturbing the delicate balance that all very early drafts possess.

Now I have to go off and think about how to do something very similar with my own draft!

Good luck.

Jane Holland said...

By the way, the reason I stress reworking that first stanza quite early on in the revision process is that the key (thematic and rhythmic) to most poems tends to lie in its opening phrase or image. If you can get that right, the rest may fall quite easily into place.

That's the theory, anyway!

But don't rush into rewriting instantly. You could end up becoming frustrated and making mistakes. Keep all your drafts and compare them occasionally in case you DO inadvertently overwork the process and need to shift back to an earlier 'purer' draft.

virtual nexus said...

Thankyou; good suggestions and much appreciated. I read a high percentage of non-fiction, and my awareness of modern poetry is vague in terms of knowing what I am aiming for.

I like a few unrelated word strings/images but feel at this length its untenable.

I've just noticed the unintentional twist in the title - sea cave, see cave?

- the day we saw Pont du Gard there was blinding sunlight - and deep shadow. The word that halted me in your draft was 'filigree'- the juxtaposition of the rough and the delicate.

Bo said...

This is great. i'll pitch in with something before the deadline, I hope.

Jane Holland: Editor said...

Oh, the Wednesday midnight deadline sounds dead, but it's more sort of hovering in a coma. In other words, I won't be turning poems away that arrive on Thursday.

Besides, for 'special friends of Rick's ...'

Sorry, couldn't resist the old Casablanca quotation there. Too many hours spent poring over Bob McKee's thoughts on film structure. (Years ago now, haven't looked at it in ages, but some things stick.)

Hope to get some poetry out of you, and others here. The exercise won't work very well without a few more volunteers!