Wednesday, January 09, 2008

In Search of a Centre that can Hold

In Search of a Poem

It has been too long since I last wrote a poem - or more properly made one – because these days the words refuse to take any poem-like shape. It has become so much easier a task to write a prose piece like the present one. Making a poem requires too much re-writing and too much effort. When I do manage, once in a very long while, to make one that I am satisfied with it gives me great pleasure indeed. Unfortunately, such satisfaction happens too infrequently.

I still do, of course, feel the urge to write, to create shapes, forms and meanings with words, what the late great Anthony Burgess called the effort to “make words behave.” However, I have to satisfy myself with this prosaic substitute. Small things occupy strange places in my mind these days – like the picture on my late uncle Ted’s wall of my great grandfather and mother staring into what would seem to have been an unfriendly camera (they are not smiling) way back in 1880s or maybe some time before that; the coldness of Ted’s hands as he lay placid in his coffin as I touched them according to custom; stray memories of my conversations with him over thirty years ago; memories of my friendship with my cousins; the funereal talk at the wake; the sandwiches, the tea, the coffee, the whiskey and the cake; the laughs; the renewal of old friendships; the meeting and the parting of friends. All these things are in my mind as I type these thoughts, but all of them are refusing to be shaped into a poem.

Sometimes as I sit and write I often wonder whether I think these thoughts or whether these thoughts are really thinking me. Or, then again, maybe both actions are going on at one and the same time. Then thoughts of other things hi-jack my mind like the sheer loneliness of the young twenty-three year old man, whom I taught some years back, who took his life on the 3rd of January 2008. What a sad, miserable and horrific start to 2008 for his mother and father, for other family members, friends and colleagues. It is chilling to contemplate at how low an ebb that poor boy must have been; in what dark corners of his mind he was imprisoned; what horrific thoughts had hi-jacked his mind before he ended the torture; what was the last lonely though in his troubled mind. Did he think of his girlfriend and their little baby boy – not too long born? Who knows?

And still the words do not want to behave, though I type to attempt to make some sense of everything that occupies my mind – those strange pieces of intellectual furniture. How do I put this jigsaw together? How do I shape the play dough or putty or plaster in my hands? I am no Auguste Rodin.

Too much thinking can sometimes be a bad thing, especially if the thinker is prone to a mental illness like depression. Then, there is what can be termed “too much thinking about thinking” which is the hallmark of an obsessive-compulsive personality – not to mention the cognitive and meta-cognitive dimensions of the same in contemporary thinking - Cognitive Behaviour Therapy - about the same. How words and jargon can muddy the water or cloud the sky or confuse everyone including the very writer of these words. It is, after all, very easy to trip oneself up.

And so all these words are here, perhaps not worthless or meaningless, all because I failed to make a poem. T.S. Eliot once referred to the forging of connections between seemingly disparate experiences or things as being part of the poetic experience. (I have here paraphrased very roughly indeed Eliot’s actual words, which I cannot recall verbatim after a gap of almost 30 years since I was at college.)

Above I have uploaded a picture I took of the "stilly water" (as Kavanagh so well put it about the Grand Canal) of The Garravogue river, Co. Sligo. Fittingly, I walked its beautiful banks while attending a poetry convention at the Model Arts and Niland Gallery in September 2006. I also penned a poem as the result of my sauntering alongside its watery presence.

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