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

Friday 14 April 2017

word temple

Just back from the Isle of Iona and my two weeklong retreats, I find I have no words as yet for the profundity of the experience. Instead, I want to write a few words on poetry that I'd intended to post before I left.

I should say that I'm in a poetry-trough at the moment – not as in 'feeding like a pig' but as in the lull between two big waves. It's been two years since my own poetry-well was really brimming, and as long since I was deeply inspired, except once or twice, by new poetry that I've read.

I expect it mostly says something about me and my own processes: perhaps I'm simply worded-out for the moment, although my Forest book – when I get the time to work on it – is moving ahead well; just not so much poetry.

I also have a sneaking feeling, however, that after a lifelong immersion in poetry, and many years of teaching it, what I'm increasingly looking for is that left-field surprise: poems that set me aflame, that enliven and catapult or seduce me into new ways of seeing and being; and frankly there aren't that many of those. This of course doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of good poetry – there is; and it might simply suggest that the romance of discovering new poets and ways of making words sing together is, like romantic love, a phase, and that I'm well settled into the quotidian experience of co-habiting with poetry.

What triggered the thoughts below was a comment from someone about the heartfelt and 'true' but nonetheless safe and predictable poems I had tended towards posting in my LOST SPECIES series.

Well, the focus was on the subject matter, and I wasn't looking for tricksy self-important poems but ones that conveyed the urgency of the issues raised. 

To which, of course, an answer might be that a poem can do both: speak of important things and make us see anew through the art of its making.

Anyway, these are the scribbles I'd made a few weeks ago in seconds, just retrieved from the back of an envelope in the recycling box under my desk:

Chase Twichell said that poetry is not about cleaning the windows but about breaking the glass.

Poetry is arguably offering a threshold from feeling to meaning.

Poetry's job is to wake us up.

Poetry is perhaps the closest words get to profound silence.

Some say the Chinese word for poetry is made from the characters for 'word' and 'temple' (others say it's 'word' and, variously, pile/heap/ritual/feet/beat/aspiration/eunuch/song).

A poem needs to set up a fizz on the tongue like sherbet.

It needs to be a lightning bolt.

It needs to change us, no matter how slightly.

It needs to set up collisions and resonances that carry on ringing.

It needs to be the gap that is a lost filling that your tongue probes over and over.

It needs to be that thing you find under a stone that needs to be kissed before its truth can be revealed.

It needs to be one of those Chinese paper water flowers.

It needs to be that 7th sister of the Pleaides that you only see by looking away.

It needs to balance on the cliff of the heart.

A poem needs to set up in the mind a stormcloud of questions, then it needs to run away into the rain before you've quite grasped it.

A poem needs to be a new land.

Other than that, it's simple: 'the best words in the best order'...


  1. Good read. (I think there's a good poem hiding in the collective wisdom of good poetry) I've been having the same motivational-inspirational issue writing poetry. I've decided to fight back, break glass/habits and try to convey more honest thoughts...


    I don't write for you, god damn it,
    I write for me, god damn it.
    I don't write because it's my job,
    I write because it's my life.
    If this seems arrogant, it’s not;
    this is your life, too, god damn it.

  2. Excellent, Gerald. Glad you agree. Thanks for the fiery poem. Me too.

    All power to those who are trying to make words sing on the edge of the void.


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