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

Wednesday, 4 May 2016




The poem came back today.

"Why won't you write me?"
it asked.

"What use am I in your head?

"They won't start to like you
even if you hide me, besides,
I'll glare out of your eyes
at them.

"And what'll you do then?

"I will be born.
One way or another.
And you will love me."


Finally I gave in
and wrote the poem too soon
and it lay on the page
twisted and malformed.

"Dad – help me," it cried
and I went to tear it up.

But I couldn't do it.


"What sex am I?"
the poem asked.

"You are a boy."

"Then there is life in me.
I shall go and sleep
with a virgin mind."


My poem came home today.

"Dad – nobody understands me.
I don't think they even like me."

"Don't worry, son –
they don't understand me either."

30 March 1989

Most people like me once they get to know me. I remember a guy called Stephen or Steven (hell, it might’ve been Bert for all I can remember) approaching F. to see if she could introduce us which I’d no problems with but when I asked her why he hadn’t just come up to me she said, “You intimidate him.” He was not the first. But once we sat down and talked we got on like a house on fire and he couldn’t imagine why he’d hesitated. In 1989 I had a lot of friends and with a few I’d take a risk and bring out the poems. The response was almost always the same. I’d give them a wee collection which they’d take away and the subject would never raise its ugly head again. Which genuinely puzzled me because the last thing I’d call my poetry would be intimidating but what can you do? Online you’d think it’d be different but not as much as you’d expect and that has disappointed me but I suspect the problem there’s me. What do you expect people to say when they’ve read a poem? The poem, if it’s any good, should’ve said it all and left little room for anything else. I suppose the best I could hope for with the above piece is, “I know where you’re coming from” but it would be nice if they could then add, “In fact let me tell you about the time…”


Ken Armstrong said...

I reckon I *do* know where you're coming from.

I think we have to find our own peace with what we write and, and we say over here, we'd be 'kilt waitin' for somebody else to give it to us.

Poems such as this one will have touched people and evoked feelings in them but they will have been reluctant to say these feelings back to you. (I know that you know all this, I'm just saying... :) )

One small reason is a fear of getting it wrong. That the feelings evoked by the play are somehow the wrong feelings that were intended to be evoked. Poetry is *so* personal, *so* close to the bone, that people are wary of what they might reveal about themselves if they ever honestly reveal how they reacted to the poem.

Also, of course, there are some people who don't read 'em... what can we do? :)

Jim Murdoch said...

You make a good point, Ken. Just because we’re willing to open up doesn’t mean we should expect our readers to, at least not publicly; that was never a part of the contract. I suppose it’s like saying to your spouse, “Was it good for you too?” It’s a loaded question. It could suggest that we’re concerned about our partner’s pleasure. It could just as easily reflect our concern about our technique. Before Carrie there came a point when I stopped showing certain people what I’d written because I didn’t get the sort of feedback I expected. Carrie doesn’t give me the feedback I’d like either. I’m not sure anyone ever could. I suppose the closest I ever got was watching a grown man tear up as he read one of my poems—I think it was ‘Making Do’ about my mother—but I suspect that had more to do with his relationship with his mother and less to do with my ability as a poet. Of course I don’t write poems for people; I write them to get them out of my head. Sharing is something else. Like reading a poem aloud. I never think of my poems as things to be recited but of course there’s no reason why they couldn’t be read aloud but when they are they’re changed. You must feel that with every line you’ve ever written but that’s part of the contract you have with your audience; they realise when they sit there they’re only even going to see a version of your play. I guess that’s why people keep watching Shakespeare’s plays over and over again, waiting on someone getting it right.

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