On not being a poet

Norman Nicholson saw dandelion clocks 'held like small balloons of light above the ground.'

MacNeice's tulips have heads like chessmen, bishop or queen.

Eilean Ni Chiulleanain pictured Mary Magdalene looking out across the marshes at Marseilles to where the water-weeds 'wait for the right time, then flip all together their thousands of sepia feet.'

Alice Oswald tracked the river Dart from it source to the sea and saw, at its beginning, 'eels in the glints, and in each eel a finger-width of sea.'

Near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, the poet M.R. Peacocke's poems celebrating a year in the life of Cumbrian hill  farmers are carved on stones along the Eden valley; 'Snowlight peers at the byre door,' a heron sails, 'drawing behind him a long wake of solitude.'

I could go on and on, quoting these words-made-music, these sights, sounds, ideas, captured in enthralling new ways. They make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in an excess of joy. Why can't I do it?

I write poetry, of course I do. That doesn't make me a poet any more than tootling on a recorder makes me a musician. I understand trochees and iambs and can construct a sonnet, toss off doggerel by the yard, write funny song lyrics and verses for children for BBC Active history programmes, but that very special and amazing gift, the precise and economical placement of words to delight, to make think, to create a new experience - it eludes me. It's something I'd give my eye teeth for.

Have any of you a favourite few magical words that make you ache to be blessed by that magic? 


Nick Green said…
I do think poets are a breed apart. Although one can learn the rudimentary skills of poetry, that 'quality of seeing' and of capturing and articulating new shapes of meaning, is something that you either have or you don't, I think. Some have it to a greater or lesser extent, of course. At its most extreme I think it's almost like a positive sort of mental 'flaw', an instability in the brain that allows a person to see the world in a unique light. (Which could be deeply inconvenient, of course, in any job other than poet).

Some small children seem to have it innately at a young age, before losing it. My elder son once asked if we could go into the baker's shop, or the 'Biscuit Carpenter' as he put it.
Sandra Horn said…
Sorry about the brevity of this; I ran out of time. Thank you for the lovely dandelion clocks, whoever it was. Note to self: GET TO GRIPS WITH THIS BLOGGING BUSINESS! I didn't write the final sentence.
Chris Longmuir said…
I'm with you all the way here. I've never been a poet, and poetic writing escapes me. I can write something that will send shivers up your spine, but beautiful writing - damned if I can do it.
Dan Holloway said…
Pretty much every single line of Prufrock is perfect but
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" and
"I have heard the mermaids singing each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me"
and of course the patient etherized upon a table stand out.

Howl is another that has many perfect lines

The lines I look back on most and feel as if I've captured the thing I wanted to capture are almost with exception when I feel absolutely rooted in the thing I'm writing about rather than looking in from the outside. Usually, that means writing about loneliness in the sad, garish surrounds of modern cities
Kathleen Jones said…
Sylvia Plath: 'The moon has nothing to be sad about/Staring from her hood of bone'....
Even when I'm writing poetry I ache with envy at those lines and images that are so exact you can't get any closer. There's a constant feeling of inadequacy - trying to create an image that will allow the reader to see and feel what you see and feel seems impossible!!! It is definitely the hardest form.
Anonymous said…
I wrote my first poem at 6 or thereabouts.
I do think this may be inborn, for despite doing a degree in English and Latin, I am incapable of remembering any of the rules and lingo, but yet somehow manage to turn out the odd poem that bites.
Bill Kirton said…
Add me to the list of 'If-only-I-could-write-like-thats'. So often, the power comes from something that seems so artless. Like you, I could go on for hours, but let me just give an obvious example:
And I shall pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.
I've no idea what it means but I love it.
Lydia Bennet said…
so much wonderful poetry throughout the ages. but prose too has its beautiful or intriguing images.
julia jones said…
But this is a lovely little piece in its own right

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