“Don’t write poems about big subjects” (advice to students on a creative writing MA course).
I heard this repeated last week at a poetry workshop – quoted by someone who had been on the course and had just read out a poem on – a big subject (the Holocaust). But she approached the subject obliquely through a conversation between two people during a chance meeting on a journey.
Poetry’s way-in to big subjects is often through individuals and details – I think of that tender and poignant passage in the Iliad when Hector, saying farewell to Andromache and his baby son, takes off his plumed helmet because the child is frightened by it. Frances Cornford did a moving four-line version of this episode updated to the Second World War and Euston waiting-room. It’s “Parting in War-Time” (in Travelling Home) with a pen and ink illustration by Christopher Cornford. It was one of the Poems for Peace on the Underground.
Patricia McCarthy writes about the First World War in her fine poem “Clothes that escaped the Great War”. She focuses on the horse and cart which took the young men off to war. The poem is based on her mother’s childhood memory.
It won the National Poetry Competition recently and it’s brilliant. Congratulations, Patricia. You can read the poem here http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/competitions/npc/npc2012winners
Meanwhile the afterlife of the Mirehouse Prize continues – follow the link to hear a reading of “Beech Trees” complete with a photo montage. Digital credits and thanks due to Mike Smith and James Fryer-Spedding.
It is also on You Tube at http://youtu.be/pHgxU86Q-dc