Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 3 November 2008

Naked souls

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.


Ani Smith said...

Oh, you liked Isabelle! I'm so glad. I may have been the one that directed you over to her when I gushed about her recently. ;) I love the images she paints in my mind.

As for writing about sex, well, I like writing about it when I'm in the mood, as it were. I don't agree that it's not cerebral, though I've heard that men are more visual so maybe there's something to that.

Jim Murdoch said...

You know, Ani, I think Isabelle dropped me an e-mail and she seemed to lack confidence which puzzled the hell out of me because she has something and I was keen to point my readers to her site. Maybe having someone tell other people about her will make her feel a bit better about herself. I liked what I read anyway and I'm happy to pass that on.

As for sex, I've not read enough by women writers to provide an informed response and I'm not sure I want to have to read enough to make an informed response. The big problem with the subject is that most of are pretty well versed in it ourselves. I tend to think it is more in visual and tactile terms. Words have never been a big thing as far as sex goes. Love is a different matter strangely enough and I may have another couple of love poems left in me before I die. Sex is now in its proper place in my life. I couldn't be bothered going back to my teens again. The strange thing is that even then when it seeming occupied my every thought the poems were never about it. Odd that.

Rachel Fox said...

Lots of things...

That 'Fuzzy Logic' by Isabelle is good, very good.

On that business of poets naming their best works (back in early October though it seems ages ago!) was really fascinating to see how different people approached it in different ways. As you say elsewhere sometimes it's asking the question that matters and I never said any of us would find the answer and find our best was just a good exercise, a good way to look at our work.

On the questions and answers thing though I have read a quote before about how poetry should ask questions not giving answers (was it Don Paterson? Possibly. Anyone got it to hand?) but I can't say I feel the need to choose either way. It seems a bit limiting to only ask questions to me. Sometimes a poet can try and answer a question...they might not manage it but they can try.

And as for sex...weren't we just talking about that too? I think I got the most comments ever on that one! I like your 'Reading Into Things' poem...especially the climax, as it were.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Rachel, I was quite impressed by Isabelle's work hence the desire to give her a plug. Do check out the rest of her poems.

As for the quote about questions and lies, why can't it do both? I think most of mine tread a fine line between the two but let's not get ourselves in a knot about the limitations of poetry as it's a slithery thing and it tends not to like being caged.

And, actually I wrote all of this before your blog, not that matters, but it is interesting. Actually the punch line to 'Reading into Things' makes me squirm a little and I like that in a good punch line.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hey, I picked another good day to get my face on your blog. :)

I'm chuffed with this post 'cos I suggested more sex in a comments yesterday (was that a 'glitch-in-the-matrix or what?).

Then I thought that your poem 'Reader Please Supply Meaning' was one my favorites before I read down and found that you kinda liked it too.

What I actually said to myself was "I could put that up on my wall and read it every day."

Maybe I will...

... do you charge much for that?

annie said...

And see, if I was going to draw a metaphorical line between sex and poetry, I would talk about opening myself up to it and listening for the words to resonate in the unique acoustics of my soul. (And consider the difference in exploring poetry read and poetry heard.)

Hellbent on drawing sex and poetry together, one might also compromise and mix the two viewpoints (as both are valid) and cite a greater intermingling with mutual openness and exploration. "The best experience involves both give and take, activity and passiveness on both sides." (Nobody actually said that, but I'm not arguing that position today.)

Actually, if reading a poem is compared to heterosexual intercourse, I'm much more comfortable taking the female role, because the poem will be the same poem when we part ways. I, on the other hand, may have been changed by the interaction and impregnated with a new thought or idea.

A metaphor... broken and imperfect like any other. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Kenneth, don't knock that poem, that poem hooked me a wife. But that's another story. And, on the sex thing, as I pointed out to Rachel, I wrote this first, I just take a while to post sometimes; I've got ten lined up at the moment for example.

Nice comment, Annie, by the way. If you stripped that down a bit I think you might have a half-decent poem in the making there.

S. A. Hart said...

Here's something for Aug and Shuggie to talk about! Your blog has received award recognition. Check out my blog, The Artist's Muse at http://sharonahart.blogspot,com for full details. Congratulations!

Jim Murdoch said...

Sharon, thank you very much. That was sweet of you. It's really nice when people pat you on the back like this. I'm not a big one for awards per se as I wrote recently but I do think that whatever we can do to support those in the blogging community is a good thing, so just reading your comment this morning lifted my spirits. I'm being read and enjoyed – what more can any writer ask for? Pay I suppose but let's just pretend we're all idealists, eh?

Kit Courteney said...

I really do find something so very 'there' with your poetry. An immediacy, I think, although I'm not entirely sure if that's the right word.

Jim Murdoch said...

That's very nice of you, Kit. I've never really thought of myself as a 'there' kind of person. Like most poets I'm a bit 'elsewhere'. I understand what you mean when you talk about 'immediacy' though. I expect a poem to deliver there and then on a first read, not everything though, please not everything. The best poems will also have that something that you can't quite digest there and then, that sticks with you. I find the best poems leave me with a feeling that I can't express. I understand what the poet is on about but I couldn't explain it back at you; the poem contains that thought/feeling/idea/whatever perfectly.

Dave King said...

Is sex cerebral? It is at my age - or it's nothing!
Fascinating post, though. Who was it said: "it doesn't mean anything, but it has meaning"? I think it was Harold Pinter - or he was quoting someone.

Jim Murdoch said...

It's not a quote that jumps out at me, Dave, but I like it. I have a whole post written about meaning which I think you'll enjoy but it may be a bit before I can post it. I have a stockpile at the moment.

And I'm not even going to get started on the sex thing.

Kit Courteney said...

No, certainly not everything at once. I would think that a poem had been a little too transparent if it all fell out at once.

It's a bit like meeting a person (in my opinion).

You meet someone - and if you are lucky - you 'click'. There is something about them that appeals. Common interest/ friendship/ sex/ whatever it might be - it doesn't matter - but just SOMETHING.

If they told you everything about themselves then and there, it would rather ruin things. It's nice to go deeper over time.

I feel the same about poetry.

I want it to knock my socks off initially - for there to be that 'there'ness (whether or not the poet feels 'there' is another matter!) but I want to be able to go back and explore it again and again. Perhaps after some time in order to see how my own feelings/experiences alter what I take from it.

That 'there' quality fills me with fizzy sparkles.

Sorry for going on - but as you know I have not had an easy relationship with poetry and finding poems that do that to me is just so cool!

Jim Murdoch said...

No, Kit, you go on all you like. I think it's good to see someone enthuse about poetry and if I've helped a bit in that regard then I'm very pleased. Your illustration is a good one. What gets me is when I come across fine, upstanding, decent poems and I don't like them; I feel guilty and every now and then I go back and see if I've changed any. I have a similar relationship with opera.

Emerging Writer said...

Hi Jim, We call it Ireland or (for soccer) Republic of Ireland. Never Eire. Only on the stamps. Thought you should know

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that Emerging Writer. I knew about the stamps - I collected them as a kid and the coins too - but I didn't know it had fallen pretty much into disuse. So, you learn something new every day.

isabelle said...

hello Jim, thank you for your link. ( I always imagine big stepping stones across a swollen river somehow ).
For me , at least, sex is underneath it all, not so much in the graphic sense, but in the earthy life death sense.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that Isabelle. Did you see what Rachel had to say about your poem? I hope you pick up a few readers from this.

As for sex being 'underneath it all' - that feels like a very Freudian answer to me. Then again, without sex there isn't any life or death, is there?

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