little lyrical cripples

18 May, 2010

So, we’re now well into the dissertation period: a couple of weeks ago we had a meeting to discuss how to get on with it, what’s expected of us, how our supervisions will work and so on; yesterday I had my first supervision. Which was very helpful, though I don’t feel I brought much to the party. Somehow I still don’t feel quite in the zone. I suppose partly because my fiction coursework dragged on (thanks to laptop poorliness, though it’s just today been restored to me, all data intact), but I’m not sure why else. Certainly I don’t feel remotely excited by any of the random notes and ideas that I usually mine from when I’m starting something new.

Still, my supervisor has told me not to worry. You can’t regulate writing. And things will come when they’re ready. In the mean time I’ve been enjoying mulling over various things that various people have said over the last few weeks. The main theme it seems to me – or maybe the idea that I most need to pay attention to at the moment – is that of distance. Writing lyric poetry is obviously a rather personal affair, and the majority of what I write/have written has been borne to some degree or another directly from my own life and experience (though not much of it is what you’d call confessional). But one of the fascinating things that my supervisor said in a talk about her own work a few weeks ago is the need to use your life to talk about something, rather than writing out of your own life. It’s an important distinction and one that resonates deeply with me for all sorts of reasons. (It’s not about me…) And it reminds me of the connections between poetry and prayer that I wrote about in my last post… perhaps it’s about moving away from the ego to some degree? Anyway it’s something I’ve been learning over the course of this, er, course – that you don’t need to be constrained to tell the truth of a certain situation just because you’re writing a piece that has come out of something that’s actually happened to you. We’re creating art (or endeavouring to), not autobiography. Perhaps that’s part of maturing as a writer? Certainly I subscribe to the view that sometimes you need to ‘lie’ in order to tell a deeper truth. And I’m definitely beginning to appreciate that it is in fact easier to write about things from a distance. I suppose it’s part of being surprised by the direction a poem takes: you may start off thinking you’re writing about this particular desk from your childhood, but actually it ends up being about something entirely different.

In a talk he gave today another of our tutors spoke about a poem he wrote that he said changed everything, because for the first time he was no longer talking about the way he felt, but about a situation: he’d learned objective distance. Distance from the poem; self-control; no longer needing the poem to be a photo-realistic portrait of something. All things I need to learn. While remembering that, as Don Paterson said, people like reading poems that move them…

Another important distance that this particular tutor mentioned is the one you create when you put your drafts away for two or three weeks. Hopefully by then there’s less of a visceral connection, which is what enables you to edit them. The analogy he used was how when your children are first born the desire to protect them is intense… but after a while you need to let them go; ‘let the little lyrical cripples walk on their own two feet. And if you don’t like their feet, change them’…

Of course the poems I need to be working on are still hidden somewhere inside. And I’m rather worried they’re less lyrical cripples than stone babies by now…

This post brought to you by a newly resurrected laptop, the sadness of dandelion clocks, party vibes by Uncle Ron, and that last disturbing image courtesy of Robin Robertson’s stunning The Wrecking Light

5 Responses to “little lyrical cripples”

  1. thea said

    Lithopedion. What an amazing, awful image. I wouldn’t fear, love. There is living poetry in you yet.

  2. kayvee said

    Thanks love. And don’t do an image search for that, ok?
    The poem it comes from is called ‘By Clachan Bridge’ and it’s a beauty. Dark and terrible but beautiful.

  3. pupski said

    Maybe workshopping or writing exercises with some of the group would get you more in the zone…I would be up for it.

    • kayvee said

      Definitely. Looking forward to tomorrow night, too. Let’s sort something out. Oh and I’m looking forward to hearing about the Les Murray masterclass, too…

  4. […] question of distance that I wrote about in my last post came up, too, with one tutor writing ‘You are allowing a lot more immediacy in while […]

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