As someone whose poetry writing in adult life has been limited almost exclusively to some written during a couple of residential writing workshops, writing a poetic manifesto did not really seem appropriate. Of course one could just say “Ah, sure feck it! i’m making up for lost time” but I haven’t done that.
Anyway here goes.
Wordsworth was all for “emotion reflected in tranquillity”. This may produce better poetry but sometimes one needs to rant and rail against the darkening of the day. And poetry is a good tool for this. In reading it we can see a reflection of what we feel and sense and an articulation of what is, for much of life, incoherent or incomprehensible. Reading poetry can give us a safe space to explore experiences and emotions and become more whole. “A book (especially poetry) must be the axe which smashes the frozen sea within us”. (Kafka)
Poetry gives us a lens in which experience can be magnified, distilled, encapsulated and reflected. Sometimes when reading a good piece of lyric, I am transfixed, trying to decide whether to re-read what I have just read, re-experience its delights or move forward to see what else it can produce. An intensification of experience is a quality I would like poetry I write to have.
Poems don’t have to have great and lofty themes or settings to be great. Kavanagh suggested how Homer created the Iliad our of a local quarrel. Niedecker, a new and delightful discovery for me, reflects both the universal and particular in her Paean to Place. Heaney shows us how truth can be captured in the small moments. Rilke suggests that it is a case of looking properly -“for a long time nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes.” I would like pieces I write to draw out the insignificant, yet beautiful and give them a moment of visibility:
Dewdrops on an onionskin,
in a compost bin.
Eyes on a world
too small to see.
Poetry can have the function of bearing witness – (a huge debate in itself, and not for today), a vessel for truth. In this it has a social function, enlightening rather than didactic. here Brecht has something to say, in Motto from Bückower Elegien (1953)
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
about the dark times.”
In bearing witness, one is looking for truth, for personal authenticity and honest writing. This is a stumbling point for me – facing what is difficult and using it honestly…………….
To misquote Grace Nichols:
I have crossed an ocean,
I have lost my tongue
From the roots of the old one
A new one may spring ” (NIchols…has sprung)