As part of the poetry development course I'm currently taking part in, Clare Pollard has asked everbody to think about writing a poetic manifesto, a statement of what they believe about poetry. It's an extremely challenging, yet rewarding thing to think about, but I've given it a bash and feel quite good having done so. Like I've given my a brain a spring clean. Here it is:
For me, it’s a sort of filter; a straining device through which I can squeeze my life. Clearly, not everything that comes out is useful or pretty, but it is, in a sense, a kind of purification of the mind; a defragging; a means by which I can see where I’ve been and how I might carry on. I use it to…I would say to make sense of the world, but I think really I mean to reconfigure the world. There’s definitely a process of separation: the ‘me’ of the poem and the ‘me’ of my ego in the real world. The friction, the interest, comes from banging the two together and seeing what falls off and what stays intact. Because there’s this perception (and I speak broadly when I say this) that some things are fixed ‒ eternal truths, if you will ‒ the need for poetry to challenge these assumptions remains strong. I suspect by putting the subconscious mind through the gauze of poetry, it may be possible to unscrew these apparent certainties. I mean, yes, the instant it actually becomes a poem ‒ marks on a page, a published product in the public domain ‒ it becomes far more enigmatic and susceptible to ridicule, misinterpretation and petty dogmas or concerns. But for me, as long as it’s unhinged things a little; as long as it’s said this is one world, but it may have been like this, or even like that, then it has succeeded. I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘poetry’ being used lightly as an intensifier, as if my writing is inherently going to be more serious-minded or lofty in its intentions because I call it ‘poetry’ and not ‘prose’. I think a lot of it is shit, but similarly I think a lot of novels, films and other art forms are shit. You’ve got to be selective, but I believe in reacting with the heart and then the head. That said, I’ve come to realise that poets whose work seems too obscure to merit attention may just require closer consideration. This is not to disrespect more ‘conversational’ or free-verse poets for being simplistic, nor to slander ‘complex’ poets for writing meaty work, more that as a reader I am aware of being part of a culture of 24 hour news, relentless social media and myriad other digital content, and as a result, the incessant barrage has surely affected my ability to concentrate. Handily, the craft of poetry functions almost as an antidote to this. I’m learning not to rush it, that the ‘6 months in the sock drawer’ rule is still a golden one. Remaining part of a vibrant scene of like-minded people is important, though: I’m firmly against the notion of the writer tapping into the muse from his isolated ivory tower. It’s healthy to put your work into a safe realm for critiquing, but I also believe that ultimately, I make the decisions and if you don’t like it, tough. Similarly, it’s healthy to get away from it for a time: to exercise, to travel, to spend time with other people, to get really fucking drunk. It doesn’t go away, though, and that’s good. I think about poetry when I’m on trains and when I’m in nightclubs. There’s no need for me to make a particular space for it. I’ve written drafts, or ‘seeds’ of poems on my mobile phone and on the back of Metro tickets. I try to always carry a pen, but I’m only human: I forget. I’m interested in form and want to spend more time trying it out, but I’m more interested in working out recurring themes and voices and how I can cultivate them into coherent narratives. More and more I become fascinated by the musicality of poems. I don’t simply mean their meter, rhythm or rhyme-scheme, I mean how these sonic qualities, combined and layered in various ways, can create that spooky sense of knowingness – Frost’s sound of sense. I always hunt for words and am not afraid to use a thesaurus. I’m aware of the rich tapestry of my dialect and its heritage; old North Eastern colloquialisms that have a profound depth to them, but are in danger of dying out. I fear language becoming globalised, homogenous. I’m thinking about a collection, but I haven’t set a date or time that I want to have it out by; there’s too many other things to do in the mean time. I like some of the e-poetry that’s being experimented with at the minute and I’ve enjoyed working collaboratively with other artists. Performance poetry is something I’m on the fence about: now and again I see a set which blows me away, but too much of it seems to be poorly-constructed drivel, brain farts I’d rather not hear. I do recognise that when done well, though, it can be tremendously powerful. Some of the magazines are great, and it’s vital to keep up to date with trends, but there’s often a lack of cohesion in the banding together of many diverse voices and I come away feeling a bit cold. I prefer collections and spending time being subsumed by a voice and a world. I think poetry as a medium has to keep evolving, but I doubt its central aim – to communicate – will change as long as the human condition remains fallible.