Friday, 11 April 2014


I was moving boxes about in the loft the other day and I found what I thought was simply my old poem folder that I used at readings. I pulled it out of a box thinking that I would look through it to be on the safe side before composting all the old paper.

I discovered a number of poems that I had forgotten writing, and as distance grants perspective I was able to see why they didn't work clearly. Take this poem for example:

getting drunk with Robert Lowell

you notice the crease in his trousers reflected the razor of his mind
the glittering scalpel of his intellect cutting ideas adrift
shaping new connections
the martini glasses chime and empty again
its the medication I think at first that has him so high
not the alcohol or the please to see you elegant manners
but it's not it's him
later I cannot recall all the connections he spun or when sober if they stand scrutiny
the next day he will fall into that pit

OK, I wrote this about sixteen years ago or so, it is going to be different to how I write today. But two things jumped off the page- one was the layout was awful and the second was the jarring last line. I am introducing something that makes sense only if you know about Robert Lowell's mental health. You cannot bring something in from left field in the last line of this type of poem. It will work as a device at times but not in this context.

Plus lines 1 & 2 say the same thing, and are a little clich├ęd, and if I have the word elegant to describe his manners do I need the please to see you as well?

I suspect that this poem may have been shown at a workshop but was left as an interesting idea.

Here is my revised version:

Getting Drunk with Robert Lowell

We sit in canvas directors chairs,
opposite sides of the pit
-his alternate universe of suffering.
He does not invite me to look into that infinity,
he rips up concepts; martini glasses chime,
he pours a refill, right angles ideas.

Later I cannot recall all those connections he spun,
or if sober they would stand scrutiny.
I know by the vacant chair he is in the pit.

It feels like this like a poem that can stand by itself now. I'd be interested in what you think.

Here is another one that made me laugh when I read it:

as my prostrate has enlarged, grown smug like a contented animal, I increasingly find myself in public urinals like the other old men, urine trickling like trepidation, and call such visits parade duty with the prostrate brigade, there is no eye contact or comment on strength of stream

This was an exaggeration of course and I have had to change it about make it work but the germ of a poem was there. And here:

at some other point on the continuum, were we do not exist, it is raining, water mingles with rust, dry pools of oxide no longer, the sun is setting, the planet turns

I think this was a contender for Burning Music, my first collection, not sure if it made it. Again the layout was centred in the middle of the page and looked wrong.

I am leaving you this week with the latest video by Liz Green, whose new album is out on the 14th April. She's touring and if you get the chance to see her take it, she is a one off. There is no one quite like Liz.


  1. Hey, Paul. I follow you on Twitter (@DavidHenson84).

    I enjoyed this blog post.

    Personally, I keep everything I have written. As much as I cringe at my older poetry, I do enjoy looking at old drafts with the eye of a critic and a student of language.

    The poet Rodney Jones once told me that "Meaning and clarity in a poem are as important as they need to be". I think that was his way of saying that a poem writes itself in the first draft, and the poet writes it in the second. The poets job, and this is my opinion,is not to create meaning, but an event, that sense of experience, a ritual if you will, which gives a participant, such as Joseph Campbell spoke of, a sense of life.

    Please yourself, and if you do it with enough passion and sagacity people will enjoy it.

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi David, thanks for your insightful comment.
      I like the idea that the first draft writes itself and the poet's task is to shape it in the second draft. I'd not thought of it like that before but it makes sense and is a very attractive idea.
      I think it is really important to keep old notebooks and never to discard work. Illumination can be gained by simply reading an old notebook.
      You are right when you say please yourself. We have to be true to our ideas and visions, otherwise inauthenticity speaks on the page.
      Thanks for following me on twitter.