There has been some movement in my head. One way to describe this might be to say that, for months, I’ve been a bit like someone trying to take a stroll through a deep jungle, as if it were my local High Street. Which is, of course, impossible and ridiculous.
I’ve been hacking away at tangled ideas, attempting to make some kind of pathway to move myself through. Slow, messy work.
But I’ve had a ‘moment’ – the chaos has suddenly thinned out and I’ve unexpectedly tripped and fallen into a kind of thought clearing.
Let me elucidate. My head has been thick with contradictory ideas about what poetry is. Questions like: What should poetry be about? What should poetry do? What is it for? Pretty basic stuff but also pretty foundational. I’ve been continually interrogating my own writing impulse and its results. Perhaps no bad thing?
And the thought that’s opened up for me is this: I need to feel empowered to write what is true. So many philosophers/scientists/artists/thinkers have wrestled with the notion of ‘truth’, I’m not going to regurgitate any of their arguments in this blog, and I wouldn’t pretend to understand half of them! But in terms of poetry, I’ve come to think of ‘true writing’ as poems that are real, or become real while writing, to me at least. Poems that emerge out of a genuine moment/thought/event. I’m beginning to understand that, if the initial impetus is real, then the work has potential to initiate a change in someone, or something, somewhere, beyond myself.
Emile Zola, nineteenth century French writer and activist, believed that truth was potentially unstoppable:
“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”
Emile Zola, attributed, ‘Dreyfus: His Life and Letters’
I’ve realised that it’s not only right and responsible, but do-able to grapple with meaty social issues in poetry, ideas that ripple out into the world outside myself. (Easier said than done to write like this, of course – this will forever be a work in progress!) However, at the same time I’ve also been welcoming the notion that if it’s true, if it’s real, if it feels like me, then it’s worthy of writing, and it can also have the potential power to change things.
I’d also go so far to say that it’s worthy of editing and publishing.
I’m delighted to have a couple of poems with political edge in the current issue of ‘Dream Catcher’ magazine (ed John Gilham, @literaryartsmag) and they sit alongside other work which doesn’t shy away from contemporary global debates. In issue 35 you’ll find honest, ‘true’ responses to Brexit, to Trump, to life. It’s a great read.
Finally, for my mantra, I’m going to borrow some words from the celebratory and momentous American poet Walt Whitman, quoting from his poem ‘All is Truth’:
“And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.”