Why would you do that?

February 22, 2013

Sometimes you forget why you started writing in the first place. You get so caught up in minutiae: rewriting an article for the fifth time, or compiling endless lists of addresses to which you need to send something, or writing careful emails to other poets so you don’t inadvertently hurt their feelings…which is about as possible as teaching a walrus to tap-dance.

Rodrigo will tango, not tap

Rodrigo will tango, not tap

And then you come across a poem that reminds you why it is all worthwhile. These things often happen through serendipity. I was lucky enough to be short-listed in a Canadian literary competition a while back, and have been receiving the journal CV2 (Contemporary Verse 2) from Canada for a year. It is most excellent, and the Summer 2012 issue (which translates in Winter 2012, for Southern Hemisphere dwellers!) contains some truly beautiful work by John Steffler. I can’t reprint the poems here, as I don’t have the rights. But there are poems about rock art and trees and people living in snow and, yes, moose, that stole my muscles for a moment or two.

Mr Steffler is on the cover of the journal, wearing a black beanie. (I get the impression that everyone in Canada wears a beanie all the time…) He is, to put it euphemistically, no spring chicken, even an autumnal chicken, and the backs of his hands are deeply mottled, as if they have poems bubbling away, just waiting to filter into the fingertips and onto paper.

A lot of poetry comes about from the sort of chance meeting that led me to this journal. (And please note I am talking about my own poems and methods here, not those of the far more experienced John Steffler.) You see an orange-tinted cloud that reminds you of the flavour of ice-cream. You don’t know why exactly, and then you remember an orange dress that you were wearing where you smelt the first drops of rain while eating an icecream and how they drew you outside into the sudden cold. You notice the particular curve of certain words; yes, obviously, the word curvy (not in this angular font, though) but also cove. Does the word cove change its meaning when written in the longhand of say, James Cook, to when it is dashed off on the spur of the moment blog entry on a computer? These thought can lead to a poem. It’s the quirk of things; the infinite jest of language itself; grinning from its deep grammar into the everyday exchange of inanities.

And that’s why you say yes to poetry, even when you have a cold. Even when you just wish you were a tad more ‘normal’ and didn’t get excited about words in a way most people don’t, and wish you didn’t see a misplaced apostrophe as a knife stuck into a sentence’s bowels.

You feel even better when you can indulge in a little schadenfreude: Clarise Foster’s editorial to CV2 for Summer 2012 mentions that there are only a few months of the year in Canada where you can get out ‘without ubiquitous winter gear’.

Makes the first signs of Autumn seem bearable. (Autumn translates to Spring, Canadians! And our Autumn, even here in Canberra, is probably a lot warmer than Canada’s Spring, I suspect.) Sometimes we even go out without beanies!