Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Looking back with badly prescribed specs

Everyone should visit the poetic relay race between Plutarch and Lucy. Having read Lucy’s latest contribution (Click here) I left some comments and she responded: I can't really seem to get away from nature imagery… it's just too integral to myself and my experience to lose it.

I am a townie so why not an urban version of Lucy’s piece? Alas this isn’t it. It’s defective (ugly in fact) and I worked on it so long I entered the metrical graveyard of diminishing returns. I think I know why it fails and rectification would require redrafting. If it were prose I would do just that but verse is the lesser aspiration. I publish it as I might add a new wreck to a marine chart.

The two pictures show the Bradford post office in front of the cathedral and Swan Arcade, scene of the city fathers’ greatest act of vandalism.
Bradford. The fifties
The post office is going, Gran, they need,
To clear the view to the cathedral tower.
But that can’t be, she shook her stubborn head,
I saw it built, for me it’s just pre-war.

Which war? Then dainty Swan Arcade went too,
And textiles started failing to the east.
They scrubbed the city’s face as if to woo
All those who look on blackness with distaste.

This later irony was lost on me,
I’d turned my back on urban soot-stained stone,
On mills like keeps, on old formality,
On pride in status lost, mere pride alone.

And now only a word or phrase survives:
Brown Muff, a store - how times were innocent!
Lumb Lane - an ancient memo that revives
Dislike for ugly names and sentiment.

Grotesquerie? Let’s go to Buttershaw,
Or Wyke, or Shelf, or Clough, or Heckmondwike,
This wearying pig-headed northern flaw:
“Why dream up titles you’re inclined to like?”

But honesty compels and I must try,
To re-examine that unfavoured place
In callow youth I tended not to sigh
Nor look for subtleties in time and space

St George’s Hall, at first a cinema,
Then concert hall, a new enlightenment,
And Woods for records heard in camera,
In booths we looked for mutual assent.

From steep-tracked Darley Street a door gave way
To dust on dust, the central library:
Brass steps on shelves to reach the higher prey,
The books new-bound to add longevity

Now honesty has grabbed me by the wrist
And dragged me to the place of my rebirth,
In dull Hall Ings my schooldays were dismissed
And I at last unearthed a crumb of worth


20th Century Woman said...

I am pretty hopeless at commenting on poetry. I try because I like so many poet bloggers, but what I say is said by someone who doesn't know what she's talking about. I think your poem has wonderful meter and rhyme, and I like many of the stanzas. You are very brave to publish it. I sometimes write poems, mostly short ones, but I hardly ever have the nerve to publish them.

marja-leena said...

I'm hopeless at writing poetry and even commenting on it, but I do like the sounds and the images that you have created. I think you are too modest, BB. Think of it this way, you don't always understand my art but you do recognize the skill and inspiration behind it, as I do of your efforts. And it takes courage to post one's efforts out there for all the world to see.

Happy New Year, BB and Mrs BB!

Sir Hugh said...

Because of our relationship I appreciate every nuance, metaphor and simile. A noble effort for establishing the atmosphere of the locale and your personal perceptions - I am not qualified to comment on technicalities. You and I know it could have been much longer, but I think the length was suitably judged. I look back on that scene with a heavy heart knowing how a city of ugly, but immensely strong character has been totally trashed, but a heavy heart also for memories of a less than happy childhood.

Barrett Bonden said...

20CW: Perhaps foolhardy might be an even better word. The only justification I can offer is verse (I prefer this less ambitious label) doesn't really become verse until someone else has read it. I appreciate your comment and accept that parts of this may be tolerable. But as with most amateurs who attempt this sort of thing I am left with an overriding feeling of how much better it could have been.

As to publishing your own stuff why not, before your fingers touch the keyboard, say to yourself "This one I will post". With that menacing obligation sitting on your shoulder you may, out of pure self-defence, raise the bar.

M-L: In my own case I would question the words inspiration and skill. Inspiration is far too high-flown; rather, I get an idea. As to skill, I wouldn't use that in connection with doing a jigsaw and, since what I do is rather similar, I would prefer "a capacity for fiddling about". Very occasionally, as I fiddle about, an unforeseen combination of words occurs as the outcome of mathematical probability, and I seize on this gratefully.

As to courage see "foolhardy" above.

Sir Hugh: Since we are talking about shared experience I am pleased you have picked up resonances. Ironically in saying that the thing could be longer you have identified one of its several weaknesses. The transition between the penultimate and final verse (I believe there are other words such as stanza but I can never hold the definitions in my head. Even worse: anapaest.) is far too abrupt. But by then I'd lost the will for further augmentation.

Plutarch said...

While I have only once been to Bradford and that for a very short time, I can only respond to this poem (I hadn't read it at the time of our tetephone conversation, with warm appreciation. If I just pick out the stanza with the place names, Buttershaw, Wyke, Shelf, Clough, Heckmondwike, it is because they represent for the poem as a whole, a feeling for place and past, and above all the music of the words associated with both. Place names, especially when linked like that have a wonderful music. Betcheman new about it and so did an |American poet called Stepen St Vincent Benet, but you have intrtoduced your own voice to the practice. Gran, addressed in line one, adds a haunting dimension.

Plutarch said...

Sorry about the spelling mistakes. I forgot to my comment. But the gist is there.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: The names were chosen to illustrate their ugliness; if they have music this is very much an unexpected benefit.

The reason I find this verse defective is because it may be schematic (I have just verified that word and there is a 50/50 chance I've got it right). It required me to include certain things and to identify/describe them which is something I have tended to avoid in the past. This turned out to a much harder discipline than I imagined and in a sense I was back to square one again. However the sentiment is a real one and the use of my grandmother's reaction, contained in the first verse, is what set it all in motion. Ironically (and I always seem to feel compelled to add judgements that start this way) the most imaginative part of the whole project occurs in the prose - the idea of adding a wreck to a marine chart. But then I would expect to be slightly better at prose than at verse.

Lucy said...

I think I like it quite as much as anything you've done. The density and formalism is perfect for a crowded, motley cityscape, and crowded, motley memories, and the tension and ambivalence about what you experienced as unlovely and difficult, but which is, ironically, in danger of becoming picturesque even to yourself, makes for an impressive, memorable, poem (and yes, you can call it a poem, IMHO, though verse is a very good word which deserves some rehabilitation).

I can't help liking those chunky Viking names, Heckmondwike is particularly to be relished - as well as the funny ones like Brown Muff. Yes they're rough in the mouth and clunking and don't taste a bit like a beakerful of the warm South, and yes I'm a patronising southerner and ignorant tourist, and I know full well I'm less at home up there even than in Wales, but it still please me to know that it really is another country there.

So thanks for this, as well as for the mention and link.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Your comments very much appreciated. I think you've put your finger on the key issue: ambivalence. I resent the fact that I was brought up in a place whose standards I later repudiated (The male thing, the anti-la-di-dah, the spade as a spade, the accent that somehow betokens the spirit) but whose physical reality - then, not now - I find I almost love. This is quite a complex matter for a beginner like me and it is not surprising that the end-product is uneven at least.

I do not engage in self-criticism as a means of inviting reassurance, rather an announcement that I regard this one as WIP even though it is finished as far as I'm concerned. Thus all comment is helpful. Whereas the claim that you are a patronising southerner is such an outrageous bit of coat-trailing that I cannot usefully respond. In any case it's time for me to play in the First Division since I see Plutarch has added another link to the Lucy-Plutarch daisychain.