Friday, 18 September 2020


I've just 'returned' from a poetry and art course, 'Voices of the Earth', with Philip and Zélie Gross.  

I originally signed up for a week's residential, but, like so many other things, it had to move on-line.  It then morphed into a six week course.  The result was a most creative and imaginative course with a cornucopia of stimulating material.  One of the many good things about the course was the opportunity to discuss and share work and ideas regularly with a small group of participants.

At the same time I've been reading the new Edwin Morgan Centenary Selected Poems.  I've enjoyed discovering new poems and revisiting old favourites.  I admire Morgan's virtuosic mastery of many poetic forms, his direct and accessible style and his enormous variety of subject matter.  

'Making a Poem' captures that moment of returning home with an idea for a poem in one's head:

     Coming in with it
     from frost and buses
     gently burning

He details the simple pleasures before settling to write - hanging up his scarf, talking to the cat, making tea, cutting a slice of 'white new bread', sharpening a pencil, and then -

     It comes, and the cat shines.
     And make the poem now.

Poems about poems.  

Dilys Rose's 'The Unemployable Poem' begins 

     A poem is not a rabbit's foot, a comfort blanket, a keepsake

and she goes on to undermine reductionist ideas of what a poem is for.  She ends

     though it may light up a dark day or draw the blinds on an abomination
     this is not its job.  A poem does not have a job.  A poem is unemployable.
     It is just a poem.  Take it or leave it.  Either way, it couldn't care.

In a similar vein is Blake Morrison's satirical sequence 'This Poem ...' - wonderful send-up of the way poets always introduce a poem with 'This poem is ...'  The first poem in the sequence ('Bonus') tells us that this poem 'is my annual bonus':

     Remember the value of the words I generate
     and all I contribute to the cultural economy.

He warns that poets may be forced to move abroad and 

      London will lose its place
     as the poetry hub of the Western world.

He ends:

     Go on, admit it.  We're bloody well worth our bonuses.
     Every stanza.  Every line break.  Every half-rhyme.

The last word has of course its half-rhyme (with 'cream').

My favourite poem about writing a poem is Naomi Shihab Nye's 'How do I know when a poem is finished?'  She uses the analogy of furnishings in a room - you could keep on altering the words but sometimes, like the blue chair with the red pillow, it just looks best that way

     so you might as well
     leave it that way.

(But I might change it in the future ... )

Now read on:

Edwin Morgan's 'Making a poem' is at:

My blog post Is It Nearly Ready? (28 May 2015) explores Naomi Shihab Nye's poem further.

Edwin Morgan's New Centenary Poems (edited Hamish Whyte) has just been published by Carcanet.

'The Unemployable Poem' is in Dilys Rose's new pamphlet Stone the
Crows published by Mariscat Press.

Blake Morrison's sequence 'This Poem ...' was originally published as a smith/doorstop pamphlet in 2013, and a selection of the poems were included in his Shingle Street (Chatto and Windus 2015).

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