Other poetry titles
The Well Mouth
In 2002 and for the next year or so I kept returning to an idea I'd had years earlier - of writing about wells. Specifically the sense of being down there, fallen, inside a well. Neither dead nor alive, being in an imagined state of un-given consciousness, with thoughts, memories, feelings, in a language of permeability across these conditions. When I was a child there was a boarded-over well I was never to go near - and therefore it became a kind of sacred site - a place not to be. It might collapse, like the sand-cubbies kids had died in, or the burrows in sand hills that collapsed, or the caves and the mines deep underground.
Merged with this - the dreaming of this well theme and the voices were both about mergings - was the motif of entrapment and murder in our world, the world of newsflashes and sensation. Specifically, and centrally to this collection of poems, were the recurrent stories of women (usually) who had gone missing, presumed murdered, and were dropped down wells or shafts. The more I thought about this the more certain I became of a structure. The woman in the well exists at the bottom of the page, under the poems, and it is she who hears the suspended voices of the poems - which are the last thoughts and imaginings of the recently dead. And they are very talkative (or thinkative).
The Well Mouth began as a kind of answer to the desiring world of Sky Poems and then became darker and more of a Limbo. Desiring has ceased, and life does not progress so much as meditate upon itself. The reader makes the life and death of Limbo.
I have been asked why there are no titles in this book. There can't be titles, because titles would infer the many separate sections are 'poems' . They are not poems, they are the individual voices or representations of the people who inhabit this Limbo, this afterlife. They, the people, are themselves, they are not poems, even if their form and linguistic tone and style is that of a poem. The book is in this sense a verse novel, except that term itself is inaccurate and inadequate - the book is the world of the newly dead.
Nothing of genre fits and nor should it be made to, nor should they be made to - be reduced by genre. The dead woman in the well, the Tiresias figure, 'hears' them for us. She is their medium, their cypher and their sometimes commentator. Merged with their voices are the accounts of her own murder and those responsible for it. This aspect of the book is about criminals and corrupt police and the populist commercial ways media represent them.
It is a Dante-esque world, one of strangely poised levels of consciousness. It is lyrical yet dark, and grim but also oddly funny. It is also a world of mythical shifts through the shadows of Tiresias and Odysseus, parables of folly, narratives of want and fragments of phrasing, speaking, remembering.
A Cretive Life
Some books work as miscellanies and their strength is in variety and the unexpectedness of the different poems. Whereas the above two books are thematic and create an overall whole, A Cretive Life is made up of a broader mix of subjects and styles, with only one discontinuous group of poems holding to a theme. These poems memorialise my father, who died in the late 90s, and feature him within the context of family and the farm and his dying. The writing is therefore more personal. Different, especially, to the less immediately personal poems of the other books.
Again, though quite unlike the voices of The Well Mouth, there is voiced within this book a precariousness of perception and an awareness of that mindfulness which has no speech, or no public speech. Then there are poems which utilise the I Ching and digress into realms of chance. Against all these are poems of art, construction and invention, palimpsests or imitations, and especially preservation - the attempts we make to hold fast to our behaviours, memories and objects of value. This preservation, or 'holding onto' within form or pattern, seems a likely follow-through from the poems about loss. And I have included several longer poems which are decidedly playful and ironic takes on poetry and film to balance the more seriously emotional poems.
This was the book that changed me into a more mature poet and stylist. I say this without denying my two earlier books and also with this twist: once it was achieved, Sky Poems, paradoxically, led me forward by being a book that I would never want to repeat, in style or approach, but which opened or made acessible to me, the imaginative and linguistic possibilities I would need for all my future writing.
During the mid 80s I was looking for a more expansive style and vision for a new book. Oskar Kokoshka was an artist I had just discovered - his brilliant painting 'Bride of the Wind', in particular, had a haunting affect. It occurred to me there could be an poetic representation of this, a world set in the sky, where imagined desires, urges, impulses, became instantly real without the intervention of chance or accident (which is our actual world) and in this world all aspirations from the Id to the highest sense of after-worldly yearning, were realised. I didn't know the term then - but a virtual world.
Great idea, but how to write it? For more than a year I worried and daydreamed through the quandary of how to represent any persons's desires becoming real within a framework of others similarly creating their worlds. If I wrote the first poem, perhaps it would be the clue to the whole; if I could imagine the whole, it could be the clue to any individual poem. Catch 22 of a kind. Frustrated with this bind, I decided to be pragmatic and prompt my mind with a title: 'Instructions for Living in the Sky'. Write the bloody manual! And it worked. In one afternoon I wrote a long poem that outlined how the Sky world could be felt and thought. After a two week delay - with me thinking it was a year of cooking for one poem - it suddenly burst and the poems kept coming for months.
The collection is a virtual world where visions of Paradise or Hell and the imageries of history and memory all play back through the medium of the poems. It is a hugely inclusive book, therefore, reaching way beyond the exclusive, verse novel sequence of The Projectionist, the book that preceded it. It is lyrical and extraordinarily expansive and compassionate, but is often ironic, satiric, and it includes from this known and darker world of ours, the brutality of desire that history has shown us all too capable of.