Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Expiry Dates

Can poetry expire? One would like to think that this is a ridiculous, unnecessary question ‒ after all, we still read, study and enjoy the likes of Blake, Shakespeare and Larkin ‒ but these three writers have become so much a part of the pantheon of literary culture that I think the question is indicative of (my own) much deeper wonderings on the idea of a project passing its expiry date and, importantly, what might happen after that.

Certainly the concerns of each of the three writers I’ve mentioned were wildly different and it is foolhardy to try and write in a manner similar to one or more of them; the inspiration and drive which fuelled their poetry came from very different times and places to my own. But I wonder, does this urge, this guttural desire to write poetry necessarily have a limited lifespan; can we rekindle our passions a year or more down the line and shape them into crafted verse, or do we need to draw on that energy and get the bulk of it down as quickly as possible before doing the leg-work on refining that raw energy into well-honed verse?

Or is the distance an absolute necessity? I mean, in taking those innate enthusiasms and allowing them to grow into the body of poems, should we embrace the fact that in undergoing that process, those initial emotions are channelled into useful, readable, memorable directions and are likely to develop and mature?

I don’t know. I’d like to think Blake could only have written Songs... at the particular time in his life (as well as within the wider socio-political climate), and I would be willing to bet that all of the ‘great poets’ didn’t set a time-scale or impose any cut off points on their ‘greatest works’, but I’ve been wondering about my own collection in this regard. It was a year ago, more or less, that I submitted it as my MA dissertation. A year has passed and the manuscript has changed. Not radically, but it has definitely evolved. I can only surmise that this is a good thing and I’ve clearly kept on developing as a writer and critic, but I have this nagging feeling that if I don’t get it ‘finished’ by point X (probably within 2 years), I will somehow never be able to encapsulate the energies which are currently driving me.

I realise, of course, that this is probably a very natural thing to worry over, and I am not in any rush to be a ‘proper published poet’, with a book and all the rest of it, but I sense a window being imposed on this project soon and if I don’t pull my finger out, the collection might end up peering out from behind the blinds.

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