It’s an interesting thing — where a poem comes from. It’s a thing only the writer knows. And sometimes the poems that attract the most attention have unexpected beginnings because you can write about just about anything! One of my poems this week in Writing in a Woman’s Voice, is called
That is when It was written — more or less. I was deep in the final stages of the Autumn issue of The Linnet’s Wings: The Sorrow, steeped as it were in death. Our usual walks are getting a bit dead this time of year, which I always find sad but I was looking forward to our break in Copenhagen and to Hallowe’en. I was at my local writing group which is sometimes just tea and a chat and sometimes — writing. Anyway we had a list of words to work with that day: dark house, silver, sunflowers, plums, xylophone, the latter being a bit of a joke in the group because you can’t really put xylophone sensibly into anything! I don’t think anyone else actually wrote it down!
Anyhow this is what happened next:
As you can see, in the first draft I just worked my way through the words and xylophone became ‘wood notes’. Draft 2 is on pg 3 and draft 3 on pg 2. You can see how I picked out my first line with that encircled 1.
Interesting that my book has Hallowe’en colours. I wonder whether anyone has done a study on how the choice of stationery affects writing?
The final draft was done on the computer later on. This is where I mostly final-draft because you can cut and paste and generally mess about with line lengths and breaks. So this turned into 3 line stanzas really because it had taken on a Hallowe’en feel and 3 is a magic number. It is sometimes useful to experiment with structures. Also it gives a more considered pace to the poem, gives the reader time to pause and hear and see the poem gradually turn from those low, mellow brown notes, to sunset, through purple, to dark; and then the chill (a much softer word than cold — cold is way too stark) and silver of frost, the dead, the silhouettes and silence. It’s a quiet poem that gets quieter and colder — like Autumn to Winter, insidious changes hardly noticed but cumulative. It is a soft poem that speaks of the harsh reality and inevitability of death.
This house, long dead is punctuated for a pause. There are only 2 out of 15 lines in the poem punctuated in the middle, and they are punctuated to pivot on the weight of their sadness. The words in the list have taken on metaphorical meaning.
The house has become not just dark but ‘long dead’ in true Hallow’s Eve style and it has worked its way to the end of the poem so that it can represent, as it does in dreaming, the corporeal.
The plums which are indeed ‘soft and sweet’ have become the tender bruises of a dying summer echoed in the sadness of all those ‘S’s.
scaling down toward sleep
lengthen in sunset mist
it’s time for plums,
the soft, sweet bruises
across the lawn neglected
sunflower heads droop
and silver birch leaves
overturned curl up
against the chill
this house, long-dead
celebrates past silhouettes
I think if you didn’t know the title of this poem, you would still get the season right, don’t you? I have some more pieces coming up in Writing in a Woman’s Voice which you can follow online or on FB — one I think on Christmas Eve. Thanks to Beate Siddrigdaughter for publishing this and other of my work.