dissertation particulars

26 August, 2010

Well, it’s almost done. I need to give my critical commentary (a 1,500-word account of myself as a writer – terrifying) a good edit, and I’m taking my poems away with me this weekend to a festival I’m going to (madness!) so that I can continue mulling them over and make any last-minute tweaks, but really, I’m finished. Almost a week before the deadline, too – wonders will clearly never cease.

It’s been a very strange, intense time. At times I’ve felt sick with panic and wondered if I’d ever get it done (I still have a knot in my stomach); at other times it’s felt joyously focused and weirdly trance-like. I probably won’t really relax until next Wednesday, and I have no idea how I’ll feel when I finally hand in.

One of the last jobs to do is sort out the order in which I want to submit the poems. I doubt there’s a right way and a wrong way, but I feel that it is important to at least think about how they all relate to one another – and to open and close with my strongest pieces. Of course it’s hard to work out which those are… some of the pieces I’ve written I’m really attached to just because of the way they came about (the ones that just stroll in are the best), but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re the best.

Anyway, here’s the final roll-call. There were a few last-minute substitutions, and there may well still be a bit of shuffling around, but this is the team, in the order in which I’m expecting them to play:

All those unattended mornings. This one’s free verse, though there are some quiet rhymes that chime through it. It feels slightly Emily Dickinson-ish to me. I’m still nervous around free verse but this feels utterly right. The germ of the poem came from a dream I had in July, about a friend who told me that I should write a poem about ‘all those unattended mornings’. So I did.

Seed. More free verse, and one of the first things I wrote for the dissertation, back in June, though much has been edited out from it. I played around with the lineation and spacing this week and it totally changed the feel of the whole poem, which was a lesson in itself.

For Arin Ruth, one day old. I guess you would call this an ‘occasion’ poem, given that I wrote it to celebrate the birth of my friends’ daughter (to whom I am now godmother). It’s a straightforward sonnet, though I used a slightly unusual rhyme scheme that I lifted from Seamus Heaney’s magnificent ‘The Skylight’.

Hymn. More free verse! And another one I wrote back in June, which feels an age away now. (It was actually sunny then, for a start.) I was trying to write poems that turned up the emotional volume somewhat, but the only way I could allow myself to write an excited poem was to write it in the voice of a dog. I like it. It’s sort of e. e. cummings-ish, which is I think how dogs would write, if they could write poetry.

Oh. The first of rather too many love poems, I’m sorry to say. Also written back in June. It’s sort of free verse, though (like ‘Hymn’) it’s written in couplets. This started off as an exercise that Simon Armitage suggested when he gave a talk at UEA: write down twenty words that you associate with the thing you’re writing about. Now write the poem without using any of those words.

Our constituent parts. Another love poem. The title came to me first, which is what gave me the idea for the poem as a whole. I really enjoyed writing it: I think I did it in an afternoon, which is fast for me. It felt more like doing a crossword puzzle than anything else. It’s a sonnet, but written so that every alternate line is a footnote to the previous line. I made up the form and I really like it – I think it’s a nice conceit and works well. I also like that it’s a fairly straightforward sonnet in terms of the rhyme scheme, but you wouldn’t necessarily notice.

Ascent. Another love poem, written in fairly loose triplets. This was a fun one to write, but it took a lot of sifting to get there. I think it’s the longest one of the whole collection, but it’s still not that long.

Love poem by a button. Initially I didn’t want to group all four love poems together but actually I think this order works well. This one came from an idea I had (and wrote notes for) back in 2005: I was flicking through an old notebook and found it and was still intrigued enough by it to give it a go. Initially I wanted it to be a riddle, so that it was a love poem by an object, but you had to work out what the object was. But it soon became apparent that actually it needed to be simpler than that. The riddle idea still structures the poem, though.

The road home. This was the penultimate poem I wrote, last week. I read this beautiful quote in a book called The Sacred Journey, by Charles Foster. After it took him seven years to find the ‘Promised Land’, someone said to St Brendan that ‘you could not find it immediately because God wanted to show you his varied secrets in the great ocean.’ I was really struck by that, and then it turned itself into a poem, which quite naturally wanted to be an unrhymed sonnet. I see it as the sequel (if poems can have sequels) to my favourite of my own poems, ‘All the maps of Russia stop at Moscow’.

Swifts. Back in July-ish when I was feeling rather stressed out about coming up with enough interesting ideas for poems I spent a lot of time sitting in the back yard, or at my desk, listening to swifts screaming, or not screaming, depending on – who knows? So I wrote a poem about it. Another sonnet, but so wonky as to be almost unrecognisable.

Festival. Bit of a departure, this. A few weekends ago (around the time I wrote about feeling all dried up) I spent a day writing prose poems, just to do something, and because nothing else was happening for me. So this is a prose poem. It’s also a bit full-on. I feel quite nervous about submitting it but I think it’s better than the two other early drafts that I’ve binned. I hope so!

Haruspex. This was the last poem I wrote, just at the weekend. Like ‘Our constituent parts’ the first line just came to me, and then the central image, and I knew I had a poem on my hands. I wrote it incredibly quickly, in a morning I think. I’d been reading Seamus Heaney’s second collection, Death of a Naturalist, and I knew immediately that I wanted to use one of his forms: three stanzas of five tetrameters, rhyming aabba. The rhyme and the short metre makes it quite pointed. I think it works. I hope so.

Kreutzer etudes. More free verse. This is something I’ve wanted to write about since 2004. I don’t know how successful it is. At first I had the idea that it was going to start off in incredibly tight, almost laboured form, and then sort of wind down and gradually taper off into free verse… but it didn’t work like that. I spent a day labouring at it and then ripped it up and started again. I really want this one to be a good poem because the imperative has been a part of my life for six years but I just don’t know.

Blessing. More free verse, though it looks like it might have wanted to be a sonnet in another life. I thought I wanted to write a list poem about sunlight, but I soon realised that I wanted to write about just one particular moment of lying in the sun. I’m fond of it, though I’m not sure the title’s quite right.

Gift. Another sonnet, but with a rhyme scheme that’s purely couplets, ie aabbccdd etc. I love this one: it’s probably my favourite. It’s another one that came out of that period a few weeks back when I felt completely devoid of inspiration. None of the ideas on my list or in my notebook seemed to have any life, so I thought I’d just write about how I was feeling about life in general at that point (amazingly, not depressed about not being able to write, but excited about the next chapter). It started off gently and then this surreal image just barged its way in in the most brilliant way. I like that it surprised me like that, because that’s what the whole poem is about too.

So there you go. The complete works. Who knows how good they really are, or what kind of mark they’ll get, and all the rest. But I’m pleased with them: I think there are a few special moments. And that’s all you can really ask for, isn’t it.

If you’d like to read any/all of them, just leave me a comment or send me an e-mail.

And for anyone who’s going to Greenbelt this weekend, I’m speaking on poetry and faith in the Hub on Monday at 11.30am. Come and ask nice questions, or buy me a drink afterwards…

This post brought to you by the support of many loving and much-loved friends. Thank you.

10 Responses to “dissertation particulars”

  1. Claire said

    I’d like to read em please mate!

    Good luck with the marks.

  2. Andrew S said

    Very best of luck! Would really like to read the poems!


  3. Ella Fantasia said

    Would I like to read them? Let me think…. OF COURSE I WOULD! Well done x

  4. sarah kift said

    Can’t wait to see the fruit of all your hard, thoughtful labours…mayhap even a published fruit.

  5. Sarah Walter said

    Yes please, and well done for getting it all done. xxx

  6. Martin said


    Heard you at Greenbelt yesterday (I was the one that asked the question about creative process). thanks for what you shared. Made me think that I will try and write a little more.

    I would be interested to read more of your poems if you are able to send them to me.

    Enjoy your post-dissertation celebrations.



  7. Peter King said

    As I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to say to you in person, I thought your talk at Greenbelt yesterday was incredibly profound and helpful and your experience as a poet resonated in so many ways with my own experience of doing theology. Thank you !

    I hope the talk will be made available on the GB site (it’s not as yet)as I would like to hear it again and would be very interested to read the poems you mention above.

    All the best with the MA submission.

  8. kayvee said

    Thanks everyone – will e-mail you all the finished thing. Hope you enjoy it.

    Martin – thanks – so glad you enjoyed it! Good luck in your wish to write more – it’s definitely something worth pursuing.

    Peter – thank you too – and the talk is now up, here: http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/shop/talks/details/GB10-104

  9. Lucy said

    Hi Katherine,

    Really enjoyed the talk – one of the most interesting of GB10 I thought – and would love to read more of your poems.

    All the best and good luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: