I thought I’d start this month by talking about the process of writing one poem, and what typically goes right and wrong.
So I normally get up at 7.23am and if it’s my turn (we have a genius alternating system), I’ll go down, stick his Go Jetters on, make two cups of tea, bring one up, go back down and get about 20 minutes to surface. I check my phone, see Peter Stringfellow has died and the mind inevitably starts ticking over. I tend to skim-read articles and let the mind alight on key words, and the second paragraph of the Guardian article included the sentence: “Stringfellow, who had cancer but wanted to keep his illness private, died early on Thursday after spending time in hospital.”
If you’re in the mindset of writing a poem, it’s not a huge mental leap to see a rhyme in cancer/dancer, but when I saw the word ‘private’ it felt like an idea – from the curtained booth of the nightclub to the curtained booth of a hospital ward. So I wrote the first line and then the word ‘seedily’ came to mind and line 3 happened before line 2. Then I wanted to mention the curtained booth, which led me to the rhyme with ‘truth’, which is a better word than I would have found if I hadn’t needed it to rhyme.
The ‘needily/seedily’ also set up a structure for ‘shyly, slyly’ and, having written the first stanza, I knew the second would have to follow the same structure, with lines 2 and 4 rhyming. By about 8am, I had the first stanza done and a rough version of the second. Then the morning routine kicks in – breakfast, getting ready for school etc. And this is where the writing isn’t exactly ‘real time’ – there’s still an internal editing process as your subconscious ticks over, and then you return to it fresh after a break.
So by about 8.40am, I’m looking at it fresh again and making improvements in the second stanza, and feeling a certain urgency to get it done because I had other work to get on with.
But to be honest, I messed it up. I wanted to end with ‘that’s all you get dear’, and I set up the rhyme with ‘titillatingly tilting to cup your ear’. But for some reason I messed up the penultimate line – introducing ‘young’ is a whole different vowel sound, and the metre generally goes a bit clunky. Coming back to it now, even at a glance, I don’t know why I didn’t write ‘her hot breath so young and near’. That would be an immediate improvement.
So the question is – why don’t I just slow down and write better poems? Sometimes I think I should, but I also think it’s part of the bigger spirit of the project to keep the rough edges and embrace the highs and lows. When it goes right, it makes those moments better. And what you lose in craft, you gain in urgency – it’s a different experience reading a poem in that ‘breaking news’ moment when the event takes place, rather than weeks later. And even reading it afterwards, it changes your perception to know it was written ‘in the moment’ – it alters what the poem is. (To some extent, I’m not sure how much I care about people reading it afterwards – even if 500 people see it fleetingly on Instagram, it’s more people than read most poems.)
Anyway, apologies if all of this is more interesting to me than it is to you. The newsletter will now speed up.
If likes and shares are a good measure, I had some big hits this month. This one owes a debt to Shooting Stars. (Great to see how Bob Mortimer is now at national treasure status with Gone Fishing – his Athletico Mince stuff is operating at the highest possible level of humour.)
My biggest hit was this in-the-moment tribute to Christopher Chope – an example of a poem that I think is better because it was written quickly. Just not the same if you do it three weeks later.
I do get sweary sometimes, so it’s nice to balance it out with some gentle pastoral stuff. Some people think ‘prose poem’ is a contradiction, but I think it’s a genuine ‘thing’ – doing away with the linebreaks, but retaining the heightened attention to musicality and rhyme that you get in a poem.
This was another one with a domestic setting – you don’t always need someone to die or a war to start for things to be realtime news.
But, as ever, people did die, including Peter Stringfellow, Anthony Bourdain, Gena Turgel (the ‘bride of Belsen’) Jerry Maren (Wizard of Oz), Leslie Grantham and Kate Spade. Something touching and meaningful about the way a brand can outlive its founder.
Half-rhyme of the month was ‘Stormy Daniels’ and ‘Attorney General’s’.
And it was the month the World Cup started – it’s enjoyable trying to keep track of the mood in poems.
As our entire government is holed up in Chequers for ‘crunch day’, I’ll finish with Brexit and a tribute to Mr Rees-Mogg (below).
Thanks for reading – July already looks pretty interesting and the moron is heading this way…