I sometimes ask myself why I write poetry, after all there are so many great writers I imagine that the world doesn’t really need mine.But time and again I am drawn to read other people’s poetry and every so often am motivated to write another myself.
I think, and I am only thinking rather than concluding, that it’s everything to do with organising memories, feelings and observations in life. Sure, I can do this through photography and recording a video or just audio, but none of these are quite the same. They simply are about things captured in a very planned mechanical straight forward way. The sound is recorded, a picture taken, or a video captured, but none of those are truly instantaneous, although just like a poem I can edit them, and then decide their purpose. Conversely, a poem comes out of thin air, nothing mechanical, and nothing complete to start with. A poem just appears with its heartbeat and then grows, almost by its own devices. I can look at a flower, and from somewhere comes a thought that grows, and I don’t truly know why.
Yes, we can consider consciousness, and knowledge and experiences assimilated that perhaps determined an internal condition which rewards us, et voila, we like poetry. Subsequently we desire to organise thoughts into words and poems, but it still doesn’t explain to me really why I want to do it. I’m thinking that it just matters to me perhaps. I have a voice, I wave and say I’m here. I believe that the word ‘resonates’ is an important factor in all this. I search poetry, open up a blog and that word surfaces. It’s intangible but real. I recognise that poetry gives me something in a way that nothing else does. I wonder then, why isn’t everyone else interested in poetry? Then here I am, back arriving at where I started. Why do I write poetry>
The Pocket of My Life a poem by Neil William Holland
In the pocket of my life I found there was a tear, I could feel it.
I think that grief and sadness had worn the fabric.
I probed within, something I had never done before.
In the lining of my life things had gathered.
I pulled them out one by one.
First came the dream, from younger days
when dreaming mattered.
Oh it was somewhat faded and somewhat tattered,
but I recognised it.
I knew it was my dream, still there, still wanting fulfilment.
I pulled out happiness.
I hadn’t realised how much happiness had slipped
into the lining of my life.
In truth, I never realised how happy I had been
on so many occasions.
How sad that I should let happiness slip away.
I pulled out choice.
Somehow I let the power of choosing slip into the lining of my life.
The Lord has always given me this precious gift called choice.
I laid them out in front of me, side by side,
all within my grasp again.
My coat of life suddenly felt lighter.
The dream was brighter now that I could see it.
Now that it was free.
I removed my coat of life and studied it with fresh interest.
I hadn’t realised how tired I’d let it become.
I kept looking, reflecting.
My life looked new and bright again.
My dream intense, alluring.
I carefully wrapped my dream in choice, it felt empowering.
My dream, my power of choice, my happiness meant to be.
I found my spirit again.
I found my purpose, my reason for being,
the reason I was me.
Just before having a very recent holiday in Madeira I attended a writing workshop at my local museum which was themed around their current exhibition on mapping. It was with this theme in mind that I wrote the following poem. One of the things I love to do is to write about things that are there in front of me when I can process what I am seeing, hearing and feeling in real-time to be polished later at my leisure. Not only is the poem now a great moment of my holiday, but it and two others I wrote are going to be published in an anthology to help raise funds for the museum. I love the idea of poetry in action. I hope you enjoy it.
FUNCHAL. by Neil William Holland
The first light declares itself like a land-based star,
one single point taking its place in a soon-to-be constellation
that is Funchal at night.
Others follow and I find my way by them.
The up-lit trees and jeweled homes
trespassing on ancient volcanic slopes.
A brighter white north-star of light marks the headland of the bay.
Lamps colour doors like chameleons morphing night from day.
I have walked their ways, the shops, the parks, the roads,
now they exchange their white globes
for a world of warmth and mysterious shadows.
The streets help me to navigate from my balcony, the tall hotels,
the churches, the malls, illuminate my memory as their lights
pulse in the hot night air. I make it a familiar place, standing there,
counting the nights left of our stay, my glass of wine in hand.
I’m tired from our Levada walk, and retiring to a different land.
At first light, our balcony rail silhouettes its shadow, creeps
around the fabric-folds and valleys of our net curtain.
To my right, in the old villa garden a cockerel crows
as Funchal begins to stir. To my left the feint murmur
of traffic grows, but the silence of the sea remains.
This compass of sound is a gentle wakening.
Deciding on a title for this post, the first of a few I hope to write on the subject, was a very difficult thing for me to determine. I could call it ‘How I Write Poetry’ really, or ‘My Poetry Journey’ perhaps.I would never be so pretentious as to say this is how to write a good poem or this is how to be a successful poet. I don’t really know myself. It’s a case of the more I know the more I don’t know so to speak, but I do know about my own poetry journey and I can very well recall how much I wanted to write better than I could when I started, when I first became interested and discovered that I too would like to create poems. Ever since that moment I have been looking for help while discovering things about writing poetry, and part of that process leads me to want to share my journey. Maybe, just maybe, I can help someone else just as others have helped me.
I’m very much still chasing the poetry-rainbow with an ambition to write just one really good poem, one perhaps that will live longer than me, something to be remembered by many others hopefully. Realistic? Perhaps not, but I am happy with the journey so far, after all I don’t set free my self-judged failures, so whatever I make public means something to me at least. Maybe the thrill is in the chase. By doing just that I am exploring myself creatively. It can only be a good thing to live life and engage with it as opposed to simply hoping life is something that happens to you, not through you. I once had a cancer diagnosis and came through that, and partly it is why I want to write at all. That sort of thing is a game-changer. You start to look at life more closely, yet we can all do just that without such a jolt. It’s a question of centering ourselves through choice.
Everything we write will not appeal to others, it’s the nature of personal taste, but to be honest I own five volumes of Wordsworth’s poetry from boy to older man, yet most people will likely just recall the one about daffodils, but what a poem that is. That is the pot of gold in a creative sense. At least, while heading in that direction as best as we can, towards the rainbow, I guarantee that we writers and poets will leave behind a valuable mark on the world for our loved ones, friends and descendants at the very least. Poems are time machines, you can bring somebody back to your time, your world, what it was like and how you saw it, how you felt it and engaged with it through your five senses.
What I know is that if you want to explore who you are, what you are about, then poetry is a very good way of doing just that. If you start writing and thinking in a poetic way then lots of what you write will incorporate some part of who you are, your place in this world and how you see the world around you. That latter perspective will always be unique to you, only you. Not even your spouse, siblings or parents will have your world because only you are at it’s very centre. You are quite simply a unique human being and you deserve to write poetry about your world. Others have their own.
All you need, in order to start or to continue your journey, is a pen and paper, or for many, a means to write using today’s technology. It’s that simple. The most important thing at this juncture, is to start writing, keep writing or to re-invigorate your writing journey. The important thing in progressing your poetry is always to take that next step, to actually take it. Doing just that is the start of your journey, or the start of the next stage of your journey. Don’t worry about, or fear failure or rejection, you are entitled to your unique poetic voice. In a future post on this subject, I’ll talk about the early pitfalls I found, the stumbling blocks, the poetry-world I encountered and some quite magical things too.
One of the ways I enjoy a holiday is to capture a memory of the essence of a moment. One could take a picture, or a video, or simply just enjoy it. But as a writer I must admit that converting all of these things into a poem affords me a richer quality of memory and observation. Writers are observers I think, and many folk are people-watchers. It’s how I came to think of street-observatories in the poem. I hope you like it. The bells are the actual bells of Dubrovnik, they were important to me, their resonance. The written poem has been included in an anthology ‘Connections’ ISBN 978-0-9573346-9-4, published by City Voices Writing group Stoke on Trent of which I am a member.
Poem by Neil William Holland
Twelve Noon in Dubrovnik
Beneath the toy monkey rising on a tour guide’s stick,
the Japanese numeral bobbing above bowing heads
and the stall holders selling their lavender,
sit the café-goers supping in their street observatories.
They assemble, in star-masses, uncountable and unaccountable.
Populating the roof-tops with their iridescent necks,
their nodding napes orange eyes and constant preening.
Cocking their heads downwards listening for signs.
The rumble of the bucket filling with feed.
We gather below, an infusion in the square
but there is no room there, people and stalls are everywhere.
Waiting, waiting, selfie sticks growing, cameras rising
and in this fusion of faces and feathers launches
a melody of cathedral bells at noon, the cruise-ships tune
as the man with the feed appears
and the clapping cloud of pigeons strum
an airborne chord; thrumming noise ricochets
off louvre-windowed buildings and marble streets.
They spiral down, a tumult, a grey cloud writhing at your feet.
Jousting and jostling until the frenzy is done
and every grain is gone, at twelve noon in Dubrovnik.
Sometimes, most times, I sit on poems like a bird on a nest. I look at them quite proudly, warm and variegated in their colouring, turn them, fiddle them, incubate them. Then, even with all that tender loving care maybe they just don’t hatch. There comes a point where perhaps they are simply not fertile enough, never will be ready to hatch and fly as poems do once they are fledged and ready for a life of their own. it’s what we do, poets, we give something life only for it to fly away and have a life of its own. It’s what we hope for.
Sometimes though, you just want to soar, free from the burden of it all, but deep down you know you must start all over again, trying to perpetuate that species of writing you know simply has to exist. It’s inside, eternal, a driving force. Ok, perhaps not all eggs lead to magnificent birds, but if only one, just one of those eggs finally hatches and soars with all of those other magnificent birds it will be something to truly marvel at. Your own D.N.A, a piece of you up there silhouetted against the sky like a printed letter on a blank page and a natural testament to you as the provider. Sometimes such creating, such giving, seems a lonely thing but still you must fly and nest and incubate, hoping. Always hoping.
In reality, most of the time, I line my nest with the feathers of other birds, each one a phrase or a line that fired my imagination, wanting to nurture and hatch my own complete but original bird from all those collected. I line my nest with them, warm in the knowledge that they truly are fine feathers. Warm in the knowledge that hopefully, one day, all my eggs will hatch, warmed by the fine feathers I surrounded them with. Now, I sit, and write, and incubate. Just don’t try and tell me it’s pointless, for what is a world without birds?
Some things in life just leave their mark on you, affect you. On our first holiday in Madeira we chanced upon a flower festival and I saw a lady selecting blooms from a display which people were allowed to do as it was ending. However, they were not for herself, she promptly walked up to my wife, a stranger to her, handed the bouquet to her and then walked off down the street. I watched her go, this small elegant elderly lady and I am sure she was just a member of the public in Funchal. What an act of kindness, a thought for someone else, a creator of memories. Isn’t it good to be human sometimes? How far does an act of kindness and selflessness reach? I’ve held on to this memory until finally I produced a poem from it which I like to think is my gift back to the lady, the island and its people. We had the flowers in our room for our whole two week stay. The actual flowers are in the vase below. My poem they led me to create is also below. Sometimes the world can be a truly wonderful place.
It’s not every day you get to go on holiday with a Poet Laureate, but I managed it, well, sort of. The Poet Laureate in question is the very amiable Bert Flitcroft, who is the poet laureate for Staffordshire for 2016. It was actually two poetry books he has published that accompanied me to Dubrovnik in Croatia, but by the time I’d finished two weeks with them, I felt like he was indeed there with me.
I met Bert recently at a reading session he did for our writing group. He read some of his work and allowed us, invited us, to make it an informal occasion. Brilliant. The comments and questions flowed and Bert gave us a remarkable insight into how he writes and how he sees contemporary poetry. It was a very rewarding afternoon. Bert with his confident assured readings and ourselves with the audience interaction. What strikes me about Bert’s poems is how accessible they are, anyone can reach into them very easily.
What I always like about poetry, is that poems allow you close to the poet. Poems always seem to have something of the poet entwined within them. This I think is particularly the case with Bert, he invites you to witness a marital moment of disagreement in Sonnet For A Bacon Sandwich and makes me smile broadly at the wry observation in Naked. Fishing is presented in a completely new light in First Contact and in my view he has written the best ever poem about retirement in Finished.
There are loads more, so many easily read poems but still poems that kept calling me back. It’s not the poems speaking, it’s Bert himself, and the words let me plug into his intellect. Believe me it’s worth it. Keepers for sure. Singing Puccini at the kitchen sink. ISBN 978-1-907741-03-6 and Thought-Apples ISBN 9780956551870 both by Bert Flitcroft. Go on, treat yourself.
It has taken me a while to post this but it relates to my fairy recent (for me) post The Fastest Poems Ever Written and this is a recording I made of Looking At An Arthur Berry Exhibition. The tone of it is about my response to his paintings, which are very dark colour-wise, and very reflective of life in a raw sense, a bit like Lowry which Arthur’s works were exhibited with.
Here is the final tone-poem I recorded in response to my tour of his work. You can read more on my earlier post if you wish, The Fastest Poems Ever Written.
Beginning March 20th, 2016 Poetry Breakfast will once again serve a little poetic nourishment every morning. Start your day with our new expanded menu. Poems, of course, are our specialty. But we will also be serving a fuller menu that includes poetry related creative non-fiction such as letters to and from poets, essays on poetry, and anything else that might feed a poet and poetry lover’s soul.