I have two poems in the autumn edition of The Linnet's Wings, an International Art and Literary ezine originating from Drumod, Co Leitrim in the Irish Republic. I think this is the first time I've been published in Éire. They've separated the two poems and I'm rather glad they did because they're quite different. One is a personal poem and one is not and yet they're connected. Let me tell you a bit about them.
Reading into Things
I don't often write about sex. I don't find it an inspiring subject. I like cerebral things and sex isn't very cerebral, not if you do it right. Thinking about sex of course is cerebral. And the reason I don't do it so much these days is I think I wore that part of my brain out by about nineteen. When I do write about sex it's generally as a metaphor. Sex is, I find, an excellent metaphor and I've always had a very clear distinction in my head between making love, having sex and just doing it. I'd include 'fucking' in the list if I knew where to slip it in. It's not a word I use.
In my poem I compare sexual intercourse with reading a poem only rather than looking at a poem and asking in what ways it's like sex, I look at sex and wonder in what ways it's like a poem. Sex is intimate. Poetry is too. It's just you and the words. A poem is something you want to get inside, to penetrate, to explore.
The thing about sex is that is can be a false intimacy. I wrote once – it might have been in a poem but I can't think off the top of my head – that it's easy enough to take off your clothes in front of someone but it's a whole different ball game being asked to bare ones soul. So you can have sex with someone over and over again and never really know that person.
It's probably exaggerating to suggest that when I write a poem I'm laying bare my soul and yet I see that kind of expression used far too often. The fact is I never expose any more than I'm comfortable with. There are always veils. You may get a suggestion of soul but it's all moving too fast – you might have been mistaken. A lot of people have commented on my honesty in this blog but remember what the title of the blog is. I'm maybe not as honest as you think I am. There are things I don't talk about and won't talk about because it's no ones business but mine.
If I put something out there in a story or a poem or in this blog I'm opening it up for a certain amount of scrutiny, speculation at the very least. It's like the picture I used for months, a painting that only gave a suggestion of what I looked like and now I have posted a recent photo, see there's nothing that special about me. Far from it.
As for the poem, is there any truth to the poem? Yes, of course there is. I'm just not letting on what kind of truth.
A Matter of Fact II
The first thing to note about this poem is that this is the second poem I've written with that title. The first poem was about a woman called Gina.
A Matter of Fact
Gina hugs me every day –
not exactly every day –
just every day that matters.
It doesn't matter that she
doesn't hug me every day.
It matters that she hugs me.
It's not the hugs that matter
but they do and that's a fact
which is why I hug back and
try not to hold on for dear life.
Now, it is exceptionally rare for me to start off with a shape before I write a poem. In this case because I needed the one poem to mirror the other I had to. It doesn't matter who Gina and Kathryn are and since neither poem is dated it's impossible to determine when I wrote these but even if you could I could still be writing about something from my distant past.
The fact is that Gina hugged me and Kathryn talked to me. What I don't mention is that Kathryn also hugged me and Gina talked to me too. I suggest that Kathryn talked but didn't listen and yet that was also true of Gina but to a lesser extent; our conversations were generally deeper too. Gina offered hugs whereas although Kathryn was happy to receive hugs she wasn't as forthcoming with the giving.
The simple fact is that my relationships with these two women are far too personal to cram into two poems and what you have here are gross simplifications which I've used to construct my poems. Both are about communication and just what gets passed between two people. Neither the words nor the hugs matter here. What is communicated – and what fails to be communicated – is separate from the talking and the hugging.
Communication is the issue in all three of the poems we have here in fact. All my life I've been frustrated by my inability to accurately communicate what is in my head to another person. It is the writer's dilemma. You'll all have to decide who Kathryn and Gina really are or might be. The bottom line is that neither of the 'Matter of Fact' poems will mean the same to you as to me. Have I failed to communicate? No, because I never tried to communicate it all. Just a fraction, a shade of a fraction. It'll have to do.
I have mentioned my poem 'Reader, Please Supply Meaning' before but for those who don't remember it, here it is again:
Reader Please Supply Meaning
Writers are all liars. We all are.
But at least they are honest liars.
They write down those necessary lies,
the kind that move men to leaps of faith
or excuse us when we fail to jump.
In the end it doesn't matter that
they let us down in the cruellest ways.
August 18, 1996
Rachel Fox asked recently on her blog for poets to name what they thought were their best works. I didn't mention this one but the fact is it probably is one of my best poems. What is so good about it is that it says exactly what I intended it to say. Even twelve years on I wouldn't change a word and yet I'm not sure that my readers would consider this my best poem. It depends what you're looking for in a poem. The fact is there is a lot in this piece which is vague: 'honest liars' – a rare oxymoron – 'necessary lies' – why are any lies necessary? – and just what are those 'cruellest ways'? I'm not telling. If I could have expressed my thoughts in any clearer way then I would have written an essay and not a poem. So, am I suggesting that this poem is only half thought through? No. What I am stating is that poetry is a better place to ask questions rather than make statements. It doesn't matter that there's no question mark in this poem, it is still asking the reader to answer them. The same goes for the other three.
And, isn't that what all communication is about? What did he mean when he said that? Ah, he said that but did he mean this? Okay, so he's lying to me, but is there some underlying truth hidden in there? Everything we know is based on assumptions. I don't ever recall any lessons at school teaching me how to assume. I wonder why not? I guess the teachers assumed that I would just know how to assume things.
This brings us right back to our first poem. No one just reads a poem. They read into a poem. It’s not that daft. Okay, no one would say it that way, but they might say: "I can't get into that poem" emphasising the fact that a poem is something that we enter. This is the point I tried to make in my poem 'A Poem is Not an Empty Room' because as soon as someone goes into that room it is no longer empty. What that person does when they're in the room is another thing completely. Some people simply stand there and go, "But, it's an empty room." And that's fine. Others will dance around and enjoy the space. Still others will pick a wall and draw a mural. There is no right thing to do in an empty room.
Let me leave you with one final poem of the subject of communication. It's not one of mine. It's by a young poet called Isabelle I recently ran across (or maybe she ran across me – it's so hard to get it right) and the poem is called 'Fuzzy Logic'. I loved the notion of fuzzy logic when I first heard about it and I know this is an oversimplification but I think the closest any of us gets to understanding anything is: 2-ish + 2-ish = 4-ish. Makes sense to me.