Two Days till Valentines Day: The Perfect Time for Poetr[a]y

Yeah, okay, it doesn’t quite rhyme but whatever…

Image taken from: loewe.com
Image taken from: loewe.com

Do you know what day it is today? It’s the 12th of February, a Tuesday (Yay! Pancake Day!), which means you only have two days to buy your loved one some chocolates, flowers, a card or book yourselves into a fine restaurant. If you’re single, then you can always do the chocolates, flowers, and card as a surprise for someone you have feelings for – just don’t book the restaurant, if things turn sour, you totally don’t want to be left in a restaurant with a load of snogging couples.

Actually, come to think of it, aren’t chocolates, flowers, a card and a meal getting a bit tame now? Boring? Uninteresting? Perhaps you found them boring to begin with. So why not do something else…

Poetry, perhaps?

And I don’t mean the ‘roses are read, violets are blue’ kind of poetry. How about you use it as an opportunity to write something yourself? Something original, heartfelt…

‘Bu… buh buht but Hayden, I don’t write poetry… I wouldn’t know where to start…’

Pah! Just write. Poetry, like art, is a form of expression. There’s no real ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of doing it, you just have to feel it. So sit down somewhere quite with your pen, pencil, paper, or laptop and I’ll take you through a few things. Maybe it’ll help, maybe it won’t. Either way, at least you can say you tried – and hopefully what you’ll have in front of you is an honest example of your feelings – so you’ve achieved something.

So like I said, sit down somewhere quiet (or put on some non-invasive music, instrumental stuff, classical maybe) and look at the page you’re going to be writing on, try to think about how you feel and pick out some words. I’m not going to take you through the first few lines because we all write in different ways, with different instruments, in different situations so I’ll start a little later.

I spent some time struggling with a poem just the other day. It’s easy to get stuck at certain points. I think of them like knots in shoelaces; sometimes you just need to get your nails in there and pick them apart but other times you have to pull the whole of your laces out and dis-entangle them that way.

Here’s an example:

And how you shine,
your night
a yellow skein of light
that passes
as day does
as a web might glitter

The first thing to pick out would be as day does which would be better as as does day, we can take this further and say that the use of the sounds as does day. Perhaps too strong? But I can’t think about it right now. Let’s leave it for a bit and move on.

We follow this line with as a web might glitter which means that two of our lines in very close proximity begin with as. This isn’t always problematic, but before we even read the words after the second as we should be thinking, ‘why am I describing something again when I’ve already described it already?’ I’ve already said how you shine, / your night / a yellow skein of light / that passes / as does day and whilst we could argue that as a web might glitter follows as an accompaniment to a yellow skein of light why don’t we either compress or extract it rather than rambling on?

I see you shine
at night,
a yellow skein
of light that dapples
into darkness
[with the darkness]

Oh, where did as does day go? It just went. It was winding me up – and I found a better line anyway that dapples / into darkness. It ‘tastes’ right. It ‘feels’ right, and it’s almost as if the line itself is dappling into the next – the darkness finds itself dappled.

This is where we require a little aside on word use, which unfortunately requires a little bit on context. This poem is a bit of an odd one: I read something online the other day about setting up a small colony on Mars and tried to imagine what it would feel like to be up there, standing on the red soil, looking out towards the Earth. You would be only a tiny tiny fraction of the population on Earth, and yet, when you look up and out towards that ball of blue doesn’t it look fragile? Doesn’t it look just like any planet. A marble, maybe? And how far away it is now, not just the planet, but that it provides – the supermarkets, trees, forests, and all those people in the streets jostling against one another. You used to hate that, maybe. You used to hate the amount of people on the Tube, the fact that the parks in London were so full, it was like you couldn’t find peace. So you came here, but now it’s too much the opposite.

It’s the Earth’s other: mass population to minor, organic to synthetic, the end to the beginning.

So let’s apply that to the words we’ve seen (and this is only one stanza by the way, there are a few more that I probably won’t share here yet):

I see you shine
at night,
a yellow skein
of light that dapples
into darkness

I [on Mars] see you [Earth] shine / at night, / a yellow [streetlights & lights in general] skein [road networks, passages, but also growth; organic, like skin, growing as the day turns into night] / of light that dapples [cities as ‘pools’ of light, patchy, but also indicative of dappling; the on/off act of lights, small dots appearing and disappearing] / into darkness [dark, black, night, but also of space; absence, depths, wells: the time we see the stars is when we can see past the atmosphere].

Each word has its place within it’s context. So that dapples / into darkness serves a purpose to the meaning of the stanza than just sounding ‘alright’. So why did as day does or as does day have to go? We’ve already mentioned night, so to say that you shine at night like a yellow skein of light / that passes / as does day is a little disorientating. ‘It passes as does day? But it’s night? Whhaaaaa…’ and if we look at day as a word separate from the poem it exudes light. Day: daylight, light, sun, awake, wake, movement, energy, energetic, and yet we are trying to talk about the night of a planet – whilst it’s true that the night of Earth is bright due to light (rhyyyyyme) we don’t want it to have those connotations that come with day, I don’t want energy, excitement, sunlight –  besides, I’ve already written about waking in a previous stanza; I sense / your canyons, / dream your depths / like a morning meadow / in winter wakes / with birds.

So you choose as you see fit. I’ll put up one other example:

[…] Nursing it by the window,
holding it up to your lips
and kissing its raw edges
as if, by love alone
its wilted form could blossom
back into life,

Keats, anyone? But seriously, isn’t there something uneasy about it? Something oozing, eerie, maybe even slightly wrong. Something that blossoms back into life from a wilted form? Sexual, perhaps? Well, that was the idea – whether it rubs off or not is down to the reader – the other stanzas are less sexual in tone, but the idea is to have these undertones to bring out another dimension of the poem: raw, lips, nursing,love, wilted, blossom, life.

Anyway… so where do we go from into darkness? We could just leave it… the image is pretty complete after all, but I don’t really want to end the stanza on darkness:

I see you shine
at night,
a yellow skein
of light that dapples
into darkness
[with the darkness]
[out of darkness]
[the darkness with / a bokeh]

Here’s a map of potential movements (the bits in []’s), and you can see that I’m keen to get rid of the into for words like with and out, the reason being that to move into something makes me think of a finality, or an absolute. When we move into a room we find ourselves confined by the room in which we stand. We could describe that room, or perform an action in that room, but once you’re in it you pretty much have to do something before you come out of it. I don’t want to delve into darkness because I want to move into something a little prettier, hence we have the movements out or with. With is helpful in that it counters the loneliness often associated with darkness (i.e. absence), so we can blend into warmer imagery. The a bokeh is just added as a thoughtful aside; something we can move into:

I see you shine
at night,
a yellow skein
of light that dapples
out of darkness
as a web might glitter
with spring dew.

TAA DAAH! This is where I am so far. I’ve moved from darkness back into lighter areas as suggested by spring dew and glitter. You could even argue that I’ve brought back that as does day within that line – a web glittering with dew suggests morning.

I’m still not sure if I’m happy with that, but I’ll continue to work on it…

So today, tomorrow, or even this Valentines Day give it a try. Sit down somewhere quiet and try to find yourself; write yourself, write in others, and have a good time doing so.

And if someone throws your poem back in your face then their probably not worth knowing.

Fuck ’em.

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