I've read somewhere that poetry is the art of saying a lot with a few words. That seems quite a modern view and probably isn’t something that Homer, the unknown writer of Beowulf or even Keats would have necessarily agreed with but there’s something to be said for it none the less. Often a book will try to open a door to a particular experience or feeling using sheer weight of words. And sometimes a poem will fit easily into an unseen keyhole and open it with the slightest twist.
Scots poet Norman MacCaig used to say in reply to the question "How long does it take to write a poem" that usually it was "about a cigarette" or "two cigarettes for a long poem". I’m rather skeptical about this as I find his work sparse, spare but beautifully crafted and I can’t believe that he resisted the urge to go back later and to tidy up. I think in many ways it’s harder to find a single word that works than it write a sentence or paragraph. When you have the freedom to write you can chase the meaning around the page before eventually pinning it down in submission. A single word is hard.
I’ve tried to be economical and ruthless with the writing and editing of these two poems. Flowers was originally twelve lines long and now it’s down to five. I thought I’d better post them while I still have something.
‘Flowers’ is about a month old, ‘Bookcase’ a little longer.
I wished I could have curled the sunlight
around the plain stem of my words,
twisted strips of bright sky into blooms,
and wrapped them in the blue morning.
When I realised it was you that I had met today.
The bookcase looms
Five gaping mouths,
crammed with teeth.
One of us will eat the other
And I’m the hungrier.
23rd November 2011