I'm pleased to start off the New Year with the publication of two poems in Eclectica.
The two poems, 'The Answer' and 'The Other Side of the Poem II' date back to 2004. At the time I was feeling particularly negative about the capacity of poetry to communicate effectively. The process of writing poetry and the function of the resultant poetry (its significance to its writer and its readers) is something that has preoccupied me for a long time and still fascinates me.
I've never been able to stop writing any more than I can stop going to the bathroom. There are lots of times I've wished the writing would go away and there are times it has… and then I've found myself missing it. I imagine I'd feel the same about my glasses if ever I got my eyesight fixed; I'd miss them. What I wanted was to not write, not need to write, not want to write, not be able to write and have nothing happening that needed to be written about. I wanted to be, and I use the term loosely, normal. But it never happened. The poems kept coming. The question was, were these products of my mind anything other than excretia, a waste product, something that should be discarded not treated as art?
I don't know about you but I find toilets always inspire me. I even wrote a poem about one many years ago in which I liked a w.c. to a confessional:
After entering the cubicle
the door is bolted.
Unbuckling my jeans
I lower them past my knees.
There was no curtain or grill –
somehow I thought there might be.
In silence I sit
doling out dispensations and penances
to the shaky biro on the wall.
24 July 1979
I think it must be the quiet, somewhere to gather ones thoughts. I never read on the loo though. I've never tried but I really can't see me doing it.
The thing is, people insist in seeing art in the most peculiar things. Chris Ofili's 1998 painting No Woman No Cry stands on two dried, varnished lumps of elephant dung. A third is used as the pendant of the necklace. Piero Manzoni went one step further back in 1961 with his "edition" of 90 tins of merda d'artista; that would be artist's excrement to you and I. One man's shit is another man's art. Literally. The Tate Gallery has paid £22,300 for one of them. It also owns works by Ofili.
'The Answer' addresses what to my mind is the first and most important function of poetry, to clear the poet's mind. Poetry is so often regarded as a beautiful medium and so much poetry is beautiful (daffodils, brooks, yada, yada) but to my mind poems are bi-products at best and waste products at worst of a mind in flux. I've never understood what goes on when I write anything. There's just this constipation, for want of a better word, in my head and I need to clear my mind; writing poetry helps and there's nothing like a good dose of logorrhoea to give your psyche a good clearing out.
I don't read a lot of my own poetry. I don't need to. It's not that I remember them all because there are just far too many – 'The Answer', for example, is my 939th poem – it's more that I'm done with them, the writing of the poems was what I needed to do. I felt better once I had got them out of my system. Much. A poem is something that gets discarded in the process.
I don't know about you but my father had a habit of providing updates as to the state of his bowels. That said, unlike the Australian writer, Gerald Murnane, he didn’t feel the need to commit these to paper. It's probably an age thing and, thank God, I'm not quite there yet.
Personally I've never been known to jobbie. People in showbiz and royalty never do jobbies. - Billy Connolly (The Jobbie Wheecha)
The second poem. 'The Other Side of the Poem II', also has a scatological subtext. In this poem I liken a poet to a door through which poetry passes and then the door is closed. Once again the point I am making is that a poem is no longer connected to the poet who produced it. Indeed, in this poem, I anthropomorphise them (South Park beat me there) and talk about them having a life on their own.
In the first poem the poet is referred to as a "poor sod"; in the second the body of poems are quantified as "a shitload". I'm not the first of course to use scatological references in poetry (Catullus, Swift and T S Eliot all got there before me) and, although I can't think of a poetical use off the top of my head, Beckett used scatological names and references in many of his prose works, Krapp being the most obvious example.
There is a positive side to the second poem in that I wish that rather than being a door, I was really a window not so that my readers can see the real me but so that I can reveal truths about the world. I've never been able to write poetry to order. It's probably why I keep straining away at the same old topics because I never quite manage to say what I want and so I have to keep going back again and again till I get it right, till I distil some truth down to the perfect couple of lines.
It's like an artist who wants to paint beautiful things but all his brush produces are corpses. I write what needs to be written not what I want to write and a lot of it was crap.
I'll leave you with one further poem from this run, the most in-your-face, a downright aggressive piece. In this I liken writing poetry to what some toddlers feel compelled to do. Nuff said.
I don't like reading
I don't much
care for writing them either
but then what's a man
to do with
all the shit inside of him?
I can't say why I
lie in it
or even play with the stuff.
It just feels good to.
are you all
You can't really believe this is art.