poemstuck//life roundup

What with all the stress of the last few months, I haven’t had the time or inclination to work on much new material. I’m happy to say that I’m mostly settled now, living in a nice house with a kind friend and working a job that I enjoy.

This morning I tried to work on a few drafts I have stored in my iPhone notes (the unromantic holding area for pretty much every poem I write) and found that my brain is completely dry. I can’t get into a rhythm, can’t find a way in to any of the images I’ve previously thought of… I have tons of rogue stanzas and no idea how to develop them into something larger.

Hopefully I just need a bit more time – I’ve only really been safe from homelessness about two weeks (I’m still legally homeless but to all realistic ends I live in a house) and being sort of neutral-to-happy is still something of a surprise. I keep feeling sad for no reason, possibly because I’m just used to it – left to my own devices, I settle into my bad mood before I remember that there’s no real reason for one at the minute.

I’m working on eating better – more protein, more veg – so that I don’t get sick constantly anymore. I’m trying to get enough sleep and commit to fewer weekday events. I’m on a waiting list for more comprehensive mental health care. I’m basically viewing the next few months as a time for intensive recovery, because the months that preceeded them have been genuinely some of the hardest of my life, and I’m still having lingering issues from them (inexplicable mood shifts etc) that I’d like to get beyond.

So for inspiration, I thought I’d revisit some of my favourite poems – the things that make me excited about poetry and eager to get back on the horse with regards to creating my own.

Rita Dove – Parsley a poem about a horrific historical event in the Dominican Republic executed with pathos and delicacy. I learned an awful lot from this poem about form and structure – such as numbering sections within a piece.

“we lie down screaming as rain punches through/ and we come up green.”

Sheryl Luna – Lowering Your Standards for Food Stamps: I actually prefer the abridged version read on the Poetry podcast, but this is a great piece about extremely humdrum things, which always impresses me. I think the sense of place is really strong here.

“Cola spilled on hands, so sticky fingered,/ I’m far from poems.”

Amy Newman – Howl: My favourite discovery of 2015. This feminist reworking of Howl looks at the girls who couldn’t be as free as the beat poet boys, and how different their voices would be. Rehabilitated the word ‘Howl’ for me, as a Ginsberg hater who runs a poetry evening by that name.

“with blooming, ridiculous with blooming, arriving and opening in endless profusion /forever.”

Philip Larkin – Aubade: The first poet I ever loved (and radically different to the others on this list!). I struggled to choose a poem because I genuinely love everything he created, but this is a perfect distillation on the everyday melancholy frustration, set down in careful craftsmanship, that I love in Larkin.

“An only life can take so long to climb/ Clear of its wrong beginnings”

Sylvia Plath – Lady Lazarus: Despite its obvious problems (Jewish Holocaust imagery really isn’t appropriate to illustrate the personal struggles of a gentile), Plath has influenced me so deeply in the way she talks about particularly female madness that it’d be silly not to include this piece.

“I am only thirty/ And like the cat I have nine times to die”

Ted Hughes – A Childish Prank: My relationship with Ted Hughes is difficult. I don’t like the way the estate handled a lot of things with Plath, and I don’t like the aggressively macho seam of misogynistic male poets that runs through the history of our craft. Having said that, the work in Crow came to me at a formative period in my life and is really very strong, and this alternative creation myth (hetero/cisnomative though it is) really does it for me.

“Man awoke being dragged across the grass/ Woman awoke to see him coming.”

Margaret Atwood – Orpheus and Eurydice Cycle: This revisioning of a classic myth has everything for me – focus on the female characters, pathos, elements of horror.

“I was your hallucination, listening/ and floral, and you were singing me”

There are almost definitely a load of pieces I’ve missed – Sharon Olds, Tiffany Atkinson and Franny Choi should be on here but I can’t think of specific pieces to choose. There is so much excellent poetry out there in the world – I decided not to include people I know on this list, but maybe that’s one for another time. I’m looking forward to HOWL on Thursday, where the standard is currently really high, for some more inspiration.

Author: eve

poet / phd student / activist / feminist / rat mother / owner of a bad brain

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