Monday, 17 September 2007

Beaten to the punch

A lot of my poems take an awfully long time to write. They hang around in notebooks and computer files, half-finished, sometimes barely started, waiting for that original scrap of inspiration to be hammered into shape. Sometimes, it never happens, but more often than not something gets finished, eventually.
One such piece had been sitting on my hard drive for a good two years. It didn't work as it stood, but there was something there, I thought, that might be worth persevering with. Then, a few weeks back, I came across a poem by the Irish poet Eavan Boland, which was startlingly similar in theme and structure to my unfinished poem. Hers used Atlantis in its central metaphor, mine used Lyonnesse, but the idea was the same. We'd probably arrived at the idea from very different directions, but it's hardly the most remarkable coincidence in the world.
Anyway, now I had a problem. Unsurprisingly, her poem was (i) much better; as well as being (ii) finished; and (iii) published. Probably I should just have forgotten about it, but over the weekend I pulled my poem apart, reassembled it in various different forms, and ended up with something very different from what I started with, but which I'm actually pretty happy with. It's still not as good as Eavan Boland's, of course, but I think it's now sufficiently different to survive. I might send it out somewhere eventually.
The moral? Well, there isn't one, really, except to say that sometimes being forced to consider radically changing a poem does you a huge favour.
It was a good weekend. Yesterday, I went to one of my regular birding haunts (I won't say where, because I was reminded earlier that there are people out there for whom raptors are Public Enemy No1) looking for a reported Black-necked Grebe, and with the intention of taking my first very tentative steps into the world of digiscoping (taking pictures through a telescope, using a compact camera). As I arrived, a juvenile Peregrine was overhead, and by the time I'd parked, another (an adult, this time) was perched on the tree that they always use, with its bright yellow talons very visible through the scope. I went off walking, in search of the Grebe (with no luck), and as I returned to the car, I could see what looked like a second Peregrine on the tree. I got the scope on it, and it was. A female, judging by the size. Then, as I looked harder, I realised that a third Peregrine was there, facing away from me. I looked up to give my eyes a break, and there was a juvenile powering over the water, putting the Tufted Ducks and Black-headed Gulls to flight by his mere presence. Four Peregrines - at times I think I'm in danger of getting blase about them, so easy are they to see locally, but this was something else. I did little more than mess about with the new camera, but trial and error is all part of the process.
Finally, lots of good stuff on Stride. I saw Eleanor Rees' book in Borders on Saturday, but was a bit put off by its price, so I'm with Rupert Loydell on Salt's hardback thin volumes. I'll wait for it in paperback. I also saw Luke Kennard's collection, and would have bought it. In fact, I got as far as waiting in the queue, then realised that I'd left my wallet in my other coat. I don't suppose they'd have accepted 87p and half a tube of Polos, so I sheepishly snuck it back onto the shelf, and made my exit. I'll go back for it this week.


Rob said...

I agree with Rupert Loydell on the Salt hardbacks. They look great, but poetry books are expensive enough without having to fork out £12.99 for hardbacks.

That said, Luke Kennard's book is really enjoyable, and the more I read poems from Eleanor Rees's book in bookshops, the more I think she's got a real chance of winning Best First Collection in the Forward. It's certainly my favourite in that category from what I've been able to read (only sections from each book).

These books are well worth £12.99 and more. The problem is that I'm not all that well-off at the moment. I also looked at another Salt collection in a bookshop, Steven Waling's Travelator, the other day, and liked what i read in it - but it's a lot of money to keep shelling out. So far, I've resisted. The Salt website does have a 20 percent discount...

Matt Merritt said...

Yeah, I agree with Rupert really. I like what Salt do, and in the past they've always been great value too. But I suppose it's no problem really - it just means a bit of a wait for books to come out in paperback.
I'll certainly buy the Eleanor Rees book when it does, and like I say I'll get the Luke Kennard book this week. I've read poems of his here and there and really liked them, and I heard him read briefly a couple of years ago and he was excellent.