from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

dwelling in the house of poetry (again)

How good that poetry has stepped back over my threshold once again. During the last year, a year that included two family bereavements and other significant if (mostly) happier events, for the first time since I was a teenager poetry appeared to be perpetually on the cusp of vanishing over the brow of the hill in my rear-view mirror.

So here I am dwelling in it once again: reading it, writing it, and thinking about it.

In the Guardian of Saturday 16 January, Ben Wilkinson mentions the oft-quoted sentence by R S Thomas: 'Poetry is that which arrives at the intellect by way of the heart.'

In his review of Sarah Howe's debut T S Eliot-prizewinning collection Loop of Jade, he goes on:

'The poet's task is to find the effective middle ground to perform that lyric trick whereby thought and emotions seem to effortlessly combine. Seek to provoke only feeling, and crude sentimentality ensues; indulge in the cerebral, and the poem might remain interesting enough, but it will remain lifeless – a kind of versified intelligence.'

Couldn't have put it better myself. In my Elements of Poetry online course, I say:

'Poetry speaks the language of the heart in a way that no other literature does. Indeed many people come to reading and/or writing poetry at a time of deep personal feeling – maybe the tenderness and sensitivity of adolescence, or maybe after a time of heightened emotion – after a loss, or when falling in love – when one feels as if something inside oneself has broken open. In this way poetry may be cathartic: both expressive, and a means of healing or coming to terms with what is being expressed.
            'One’s early poetry then is likely to be full of feeling – and that’s how it should be. Looking back on our early poetry we can feel excruciating embarrassment; but in fact that early work is a gift, allowing something that is pushing at the surface to erupt into our lives. Starting as it so often does with the raw, the deeply personal, it has its roots in authentic experience which cannot be contrived.
'However, great feeling is not in itself great poetry. After that initial outpouring of feeling comes the time to shape and refine it. To this, we need to bring a certain amount of mental sharpness and objectivity. With experience comes a greater degree of sophistication, where one learns to use original imagery, a keener structure, and more subtle language instead of the usual over-emotional or sentimental expression or clichéd phraseology and self-consciously ‘poetic’ words with which, often, one starts. Nonetheless, to my mind poetry needs to express some level of emotional literacy.
'Poetry then is a meeting point between the heart and the head; in other words, it requires both the image-making feeling nature that is, for the sake of shorthand, associated with what is often described as the right hemisphere of the brain, and the more linear, analytical speech-based functions of the left brain.'
The drawing-together of head and heart is one way of defining the lyric poem. It's a joy when one comes across poets and poems that do this.

I have read or reread the last week a few poems that do it for me. Working as I do, it is not as frequent as it once was. I suspect that my taste has become, let's say, more refined; or perhaps simply more critical.

Then again, in the deluge that is the contemporary poetry world where everyone wants to write poetry – and why not – but few want to buy it, it is possible that the proportion of good poetry to OK or mediocre poetry is smaller.

One poet whose work I rate is Rosie Jackson. Forthcoming soon from Cultured Llama is her (overdue) first full collection, The Light Box. On Josephine Corcoran's site you can read the title poem, which is a fine, restrained and moving poem.

Last birthday a dear friend sent me a poem by David Sutton. I return over and over to this poem; in its simplicity and depth I find some kind of sanctuary. David has kindly given me permission to reprint it here.

The House

Come and live, they said,
In the house of science
With its solid floor of sense
Its tiled and timbered roof,
Its foursquare walls of proof.

But I chose instead
The house of poetry
Under its rowan tree,
Half ruin and half grave
With green grass like a wave,

Nettles and moss for bed,
And its people coming and going
Like seeds the wind might bring,
Like words in the wind's song,
Their tenancy not long.

© David Sutton

You can read more of David's poetry here.


  1. Thank you for those generous remarks, Roselle. It is true that depth of feeling asks for a strong enough vessel to hold it; the act of making a poem is rather like a potter turning his/her wheel, always hoping for that piece which will not crack in the fire. And if there is no fire, in head and heart, what is the point of reading?
    Yes, The Light Box is now in the kiln... with a wonderful Stanley Spencer image for the cover.
    Thank you for your support. love Rosie

  2. Hi Rosie - having read the ms I'm very much looking forward to reading a hard copy of this collection.

    I like the analogy with a potter's wheel. Thanks for your email, too: will think on the final q. Love it if you could make the w/end workshop of course.

    And yes would be happy to publish a poem on my blog; just didn't want to steal J C's thunder this time, having done it once recently.

    Love to you

  3. Hi Roselle, Thanks for linking to And Other Poems. I wasn't aware that you'd 'stolen my thunder' but I appreciate your thoughtfulness! Best wishes - Josephine

  4. Hi Josephine! I just meant that I'd asked Elizabeth Rimmer if I could repost her poem here from your AOP site. Didn't want to keep pinching them!




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