Despite being wary of lofty manifestos, (and ever aware that poetry itself is so contrary over self-conscious parameters – liking visible structure but needing its scaffolds to come in fluid form) I keep returning to a sense of shared urgency – a conviction that there is a formal place for poetry as butler for our apocalyptic times. May be it has always had this role, even before the prospect of mass extinctions and planetary collapse – we are a more than usually paranoid species after all, but, I suppose, in times of emergency we become more inclined to redefine our priorities, restate our different loyalties?
At its simplest, my writing is mostly about our relationship with fellow creatures; I like observing how the minutiae of human experience folds in with and spars with the enormous and cosmic.
Sometimes poems come merely as a list of unanswerable questions, sometimes as segmented and spirogyra-sized revelations, sometimes as necessary and practical as excretion – a type of human photosynthesis perhaps?
Verse as an exploration into the personhood of animals, plants, places, eras – keeping the faith in that old, well-trodden feeling that poetry is far-fetched only until science catches up and says the same thing too – the Jains aren’t Jains or unsentimental for nothing. Molecular biology, ecology, physics, our Big Bang theories – have they always huffed and puffed behind in second place?
And sometimes I write just for fun because I love words – those double, triple somersaults that they do – the painterliness and high calorific quality of language!
Yes, forgive me, I am not a quiet poet, most times happy to be Italianate, from surges to the largesse of stillnesses; and I’m prone to the unorthodox or the plainly experimental if it can help me spice-up a point, clarify a feeling.
It is symbiotic connections I strive for; perhaps that’s why I enjoy watching Torvill and Dean ice-skating videos so much – bolero poetry – the OTT glamour of existence! And, I write about biodiversity so what else can I be but be ridiculously over-blown!
“Art is like a foal that can walk straight away.” – John Berger.
So, poetry as our innate destiny? I love this Berger quote, it makes immediate sense – dolphins’ brains come ready with echolocation organs, warblers with song and vocal chords to match, ants with antennae, fish with their lateralis system – so it really does feel like poems, art and music come and go in our society like an international, bulbed spring and that our bleak, arid, fundamentalist winters are only enablers of that spring – a change of seasons – that huge yet infinitesimally tiny tilt of our axis that gets the sunlight side-stepping through placed stones in a circle. We humans cannot help but be self-centred, so yes, we did the cut and the haul of the granite blocks, the blood it cost, the fatuous vanity and all of that, the sale of plastic Stonehenge tat at kiosks along the way, but it was still the sun that joined us, not so static after all, that original king of rock ‘n roll, unbidden and nimble on its own suede shoes, for that crucial side-step into coronation and manufactured symbolism!
As soon as a person picks up a pen, a crayon, a flute, decides to observe, to listen, they knock up against well-worn ideas about the core of human identity and our relationship to our ‘outside’. I’ll choose to ride with Aristotle’s idea of ‘Horse’ long before Plato’s version, but I suppose I have less faith in Homo sapiens powers of perception than he did – the making of poems tends to push that old conceit off-centre. Ever eclectic by nature, poetry writing will collect whole piles of philosophers, hold them close, yet it is the power and glory of the unknown and unknowable that wins the day more often than not. For me, when grappling with this earth wind and fire equine example, I can see for sure that Shakespeare’s jennet, Shakespeare’s stallion, achieve immortalisation in our own minds – but they are still left eternally escaped and unattainable in the eye of the cosmos. (Words in rhythm want to be Olympians but their very birth delineates their limits). So, a horse, cheval, cavallo, there it remains, that impossibly beautiful, that indescribable, that vital superlative that it is (without us there to acknowledge its existence) and it is only when we resort to art/poetry in a humble attempt to do it justice – enter the sacred realm of remembrance – do we finally discard the inferiority complex that birthed our blind arrogance in the first place and concede that our powers of reason, our eloquent out-pourings, our gilt towers, our dug tunnels, are all but salt-sting sweat on a galloping Gaian hide, only feint echoes of its original snort of defiance. But, and it’s a big but, we can, and must, take comfort in the fact that echoes/shadows/excretions, whatever their origins, are real phenomena, they do happen and do have a natural-born value in their own right. It is for this reason, when man-made things metastasize to take on a life of their own, I feel we will always find joy in learning, off by heart, Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ poem, always understand why Yann Martel was driven to write a story in the very shape of ‘The Life of Pi’ and why, most of us, given the chance, yearn to read, hear and write poetry in particular.
Going back to the subject of horses, (though leaping dolphins or springbok will do just as well as examples) when a stallion arches his neck, trots like floating on air, he surely knows and intends to put on a show: a show about the intensity of life. At that moment he is writing poetry, (when he grazes quietly and unselfconsciously he is not) he is dancing and all for the continued survival of his kind – verses of stylised, repetitive movement that are deadly serious but gorgeous and for fun at the same time. Surely, at its root, that is what human poetry is about too? Putting on a show on the business of life, celebrating consciousness – our serenade to the breath we breathe – boasting because Life is boastful by nature – even amoebas are boastful little blighters!
So, when I write, am I supposing that whatever self-determined, obscene violence we do to our planetary ecology, we remain a necessary part of that web? Are we a virus but with balladeer skills thrown in for good measure – a sweetener to make us more tolerable to our host organism? (Mosquitos anesthetise, with the syrup of saliva, before they sting!) And, if we are tempted to turn biology into another cult “ism” are we making the claim that Humanity, in homoeopathically small doses, functions as a tonic and when in large ones it becomes the full-blown disease? Can human creativity be harnessed and set to work as the planet’s immune system or is it less ambitious and only strives to be our own struggling lymph nodes? Look at what a pretty pattern our clever thoughts make upon the printed page, but, at the same time, beware this, our pursuit and enthusiasm for exploration, this putting our intellect or eloquence onto a pedestal, thinking can be as dangerous a sport as not thinking at all – cleverness’s mirror image is often stupidity – was not the brilliant, cruel, pup-prodding Descartes one of our bigger neurotics, just yet another over-thinking fool to add to our collection? Why is it that the further we delve into the meaning of Art the more we reach abstraction as a destination? And why is it that Abstraction never quite satisfies us? Can concentration serve us better – poetry as rich yet economic cordial, processed essential oil phials of life?
Our innate angst – does being here and being cognisant mean we are meant to be here, meant to be the criminal peculiarity we are for a particular reason? Tin-shot excuses like that won’t stand up in a court of law but feel free to run with them, dance with them, down the higgledy-piggledy tributaries of poems. Please seek out, from beyond our slouches into the comforting nihilism of fear, some colourful redemption for us. Perhaps even black holes are not as randomly and accidentally scattered as they may seem? Facts, illustratively convincing as they are, can only ever be humanoid in shape – obedient Frankensteins to their maker and master. And misanthropy, well, it bears that wonderfully smouldering Heathcliff glower but it quenches little thirst. (I’m not waiting for answers to these befuddled wanderings – let’s keep, for flavour’s sake, our contradictory mysteries intact – after all, it’s poetry and not certainty that we are playing about with here – it likes to stand up, nonconformist to the end, before the shooting squad of the ologies). Did I say that, or did someone else, I forget…one and the same – perhaps no need for bibliographies when faced with the end of calendar time…
In the same way that it seems flowers are far more colourful and over-blown than is biologically necessary for pollination, their fruits far sweeter than successful germination demands, so, are we then recorders, archivists of life because there was always meant to be an official appreciator, a hand-clapper, an audience to the exuberant, fecund showing-off of this Earth? Either way, we’ve bought our tickets to this gorgeous horror show; bought them with ours and others’ blood; there is no turning back now. No way out, all we can do is write our reviews – write poetry.
Ultimately, I think what I am talking about, am I not, is that eternal knotted cherry tree branded upon Sethe’s back in Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, again; and, sometimes, that ploughed and rucked scar gets kissed by another – down the generations – every leaf and bloom defined in a new mind again. Nothing is new. Connections, connecting… books make good friends …why I like to write…why I want you to read my scrawl…