Once a month I travel this wide brown be-girted land and beyond, seeking answers to the seductively simple question, “Why do you write poetry?” Fresh answers are brought hence from the minds and mouths of actual real poets for the edification of Going Down Swinging’s fervid readers.
Sydney poet joanne burns, whose most recent collection of poems is amphora (Giramondo Publishing 2011), responded thusly:
[or why do you write poetry?]
In the last couple of years I have from time to time succumbed to ‘poetry fatigue’ [not to be confused with writer’s block]. After nearly five decades it seemed time to stop writing. This has not been an intense feeling, more a weariness that comes from skeptical boredom. Doesn’t one seem to write the same poem over and over – too much familiar rhetoric, too many personal poetic tics – as if one is writing a DIY cliché handbook? Poems pile up like old receipts. You can’t remember the titles of your poems, or if you’ve used that title before.
This condition would come upon me like a creeping breeze, a lassitude. It was as if I were hovering in a long corridor wondering ‘will I won’t I’ – like a Mary Mary, quite contrary. To be truthful I have been writing poems during the last couple of years, but it didn’t feel as if I had. I have a number of poems stacked in a drawer, some typed into the computer, some still in barely legible, handwritten form in an ungainly sort of sleep. For months at a time I didn’t submit any poems for publication.
At present (March 2013) the poems I like to write are ones that entertain and surprise me. The making of a poem, its poesis, can be a quietly thrilling experience, a glint of tinsel somewhere between the ears. These may be poems that riff, or springboard, from dream fragments; from word play, word particles, phrases that flash inside my head; from the trope-like language of the financial pages of newspapers. Right now I think of poetry writing as playing in the sandpit, rearranging the toys of language (not the deckchairs of the Titanic).
This process I see as more Janus, than Jungian. I do have a prose poem waiting to be written. Little notes have been jotted down about a dream; about two words and their genealogies/connotations; and the image of a pumpkin seed seems to have fallen onto the scrap of paper. I have been super-busy with some other literary business – reading hundreds and hundreds of other poets’ poems. But this prose poem’s notes wait patiently on the desk in their plastic sleeve. I haven’t had to dust it yet!
Adam Ford was co-editor of Going Down Swinging issues #18–#22 and is author of poetry collections The Third Fruit is a Bird, Not Quite the Man for the Job, the novel Man Bites Dog and Heroes and Civilians (short stories).