I’ve had the best of reasons for neglecting the blog this time – I’ve been writing poetry instead. After my initial rush of poems, they dried up for a while. Instead I focused on reading, critiquing other people’s poems, and writing the blog. But now the ideas are coming again, and I think I’m better able to execute them due to the work I’ve done in the meantime. One got honourable mention in a sonnet competition!
And I have still been reading too. I read (well, OK, skimmed) a book about the movement I belong to, called The Ghost of Tradition – Expansive Poetry and Postmodernism. It put into context this struggle to break poetry away from the stranglehold of academic institutions and write poems about things that larger audiences can potentially relate to and comprehend. It also profiled a number of writers and made me curious to read more of them.
Principally XJ Kennedy. I already knew him as the co-author of that great textbook I wrote about last time, so now I got hold of his Cross Ties: Selected Poems. He usually rhymes and is often funny, although much of his work is a bit bleak. (There were a surprising number of poems about the deaths of children.) But overall I think it’s a good model for the sort of thing I would like to write. It alternates blocks of serious poems with ‘intermissions’ of lighter fare — there’s debate about whether that is advisable, but I guess it is easier in a selected work than in a single volume.
I also read two books by poets who, like me, grew up overseas but moved to Cambridge, for a time at least. I liked Granny Scarecrow a lot more than Anne Stevenson’s more recent work Stone Milk, although I did still find a lot of it slow going. And I’ve just finished Giotto’s Circle by Diana Brodie, who grew up in New Zealand. She’s the host of the Cambridge Writers’ Group meetings I attend, so I had read quite a few of the poems before, but it was fun to see them so professionally produced, and to read more of her work. She maintains a good balance between accessibility and mystery. There’s enough detail to get a pretty fair idea of what she’s driving at, but enough vagueness to keep you thinking. I could use work on that myself – as a scientist I think I tend toward making meaning too explicit. My last poems have been exercises in symbolism, training myself to try to bury layers of meaning. It’s like hiding Easter eggs for children. You don’t want the hunt over in 5 minutes, but you also don’t want to come across a boiled egg in 3 months that nobody managed to uncover.