I’m just here, thinking about the poetry that investigates poetry itself. It’s inspired by the recent debate on compositional notes, but only a little. (By the way, if you want you can check out Issue 5 of Haiku Review, which features work from Ali Smith, Jennifer Compton, Jill Jones, Joanne Burns, Kristin Hannaford, Lizz Murphy, Louise Waller, Samuel Webster, Simon Taylor & myself. The pre-requisite for this issue was that every series of poems would feature a note on the composition. My note is kinda bland & not that intriguing. However, the focus of the issue was process…)
So, poetry about poetry. Some editors just don’t want to read it. I do, but there’s some qualification needed: no-one wants to read about a writer having writers’ block. That’s just fundamentally uninteresting. (I marked some student’s poetry assignments last year & I had to make that comment many, many times.) But of course it is a truth that many readers of poetry are writers, or potential writers. For them, for me, how one writes (as opposed to the torment that’s an adjunct to how one doesn’t write) is an interesting thing. Here’s another link: my poem from Ars Poetica.
The process can become part of the experience or subject of a poem. A compositional note like the one I wrote for Haiku Review, something like ‘I took the third word from here, the third word from there etc’ don’t interest me a lot, & in some instances it can detract from a work. For instance, I don’t much like learning that a poem was made with complete chance arrangement, that all the poet had control over was the parameters – ‘I used a six-sided dice…’ I like that writers do court chance, but to foreground the totality of their chance-arrangement can seem like a justification for a weak piece, an apology. Perhaps because of this the important line from my Haiku Review note is ‘Then just organising into cool lines’, because this is the part where I consciously changed a lot of things, in order to give the poems direction & flow. I am the author, reconstituted & all, & I won’t apologise for that.
Process from within though is intriguing. I won’t say too much, but I do want to hold up alicia sometimes’ piece ‘evolution of a poem’ as a great example. This is a 5 part poem that begins with the following:
i saw a documentary.
i like the way otters
seem to tickle each
other all the time.
want to write about it.
The other 4 parts are labelled ‘scribbles’, ‘further notes’, ‘adjectives’, & finally ‘the otter poem’. This is a poem about the way a momentary image (a segment from a documentary here) can lead us to a poem. But also, it is a poem about an otter. The output is twofold, or even more, because section 5 is not simply a poem about an otter, nor are the rest of the sections simply poems about the semi-titles.
Do you want a return like that, or do you just want an otter poem? I dunno. I tend to want more. Not all the time, but often.
Oh yeah, the book is kissing the curve, out a number of years ago through five island press. I like it.