Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Hardest Battle

"A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy, but it isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody but yourself. To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody but yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time – and whenever we do it, we are not poets. If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed. And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die."

e.e. cummings

Monday, 17 September 2012

Careful Observers

I said a few months ago that I wanted to take some ‘down time’; to reassess what I’m doing what I’m hoping to achieve as a writer. I quoted other writers and sources of intrigue The Dark Mountain Project, Sam Riviere’s 81 Austerities, the Occupy Movement etcetera. – saying that I was – am – bored, frankly, of several things: chiefly the malaise of being an unemployed graduate, but also other things, such as 24 hour news feeds, Twitter, blogs, poetry itself, the me-me-me culture.

Reading this fascinating dialogue, between the poet and journalist Paul Kingsnorth and Doug and Kris Tompkins, former big business owners, I realise that my anger, confusion and hurt stems from not yet having a fully-formed worldview. I suspect that, being 24 years old, this is perfectly normal. Indeed, the above article implies that some of the most ‘successful’ entrepreneurs in history, including Tompkins’s former friend Steve Jobs, have not, or did not, find or attempt to find any such thing. (For the record, this makes a lot more sense in light of having read the whole conversation.)

Reading the latest reviews of my pamphlet, I was heartened and reinvigorated to hear that people I don’t know had recently found merit in poems which I have grown quite cold about. My publisher and other, experienced writers have told me that these feelings are completely natural: that poems written 2,3, 4+ years ago are always going to feel a bit incongruous; a bit jet-lagged, if you will. Nonetheless, being patted on the back is always going to feel good. I may have lost all desire to read a third of the pamphlet ever again, but that doesn’t mean others feel the same. This is the great thing about poetry: published in 1912 or 2012 – it can still win over hearts and minds, as long as it’s convincing.

That in mind, I’m sure you’re now hoping that I will go on (briefly) to link an environmentally-minded conversation to the misgivings of an unknown British poet. I probably won’t do a good job, sorry. It’s not important. If I’ve felt detached lately, it’s because I don’t know who I am. Don’t worry: I’m not going to go all Taking Back Sunday on you here, nor begin firing Nietzsche quotes your way, I’m just stating it as plainly as I can, for myself. I don’t know. I may know parts of it, but I don’t know it all. The quest probably isn’t to do so, though. I doubt there’s a holy grail, in a religious, spiritual or lazy metaphor sense.

I said in a previous blog that I want my poetry to rise to Adrian Mitchell’s challenge; for it to connect with those it portends to satisfy. For it to begin doing that, I think I must first spend more time – years, I expect – getting to know what the ‘it’ I mentioned above might be made of; what I believe and feel and want and need. There will be many wrong turns and dead-ends. Secondly, and (for now) I hold on to this, I think it must embrace fallibility and contradiction, especially my own. I don’t know what the results will look like, but I feel that I’m just beginning to get to a position where I want to write again; where I have that urgency. I’m excited and I’m terrified. I’m waiting as a careful observer.