This is the way the pamphlet ends …
These are the last two poems in my Dressing Up pamphlet. Thank you for reading these annotated editions, and double thanks if you’ve bought a copy of the pamphlet over the last six years, and triple thanks if you’ve seen me reading from the pamphlet in various locations across Wales and England 🙂
As I suggested at the beginning of this annotated run-through of my pamphlet poems, I am focused on my novel-in-progress at the moment, and I intend to begin blogging about that from now on. That does not, however, mean I’m turning my back on poetry. I am still thinking about what to do with the poems that went into the dissertation for my MA in Creative Writing. But, for now, this is how the pamphlet ends … not with a bang but a wimp…
Little Faces We Still See
T-shirt on a line
wriggling in the rain
shivering in the snow
mitten marked ‘L’
lost its string
baking in the sun
missing its bro
sock the colour of sunburn
hole in the toe
those that were not home
when the house burned down,
trying to pass on the stories
to those who do not know.
Dressing up is usually a fun thing to do, and there have been humorous poems in the pamphlet. But clothing can also be a cover-up of sorts — a disguise that conceals a darker story. I wanted a poem to show how clothes could reflect a sad story in an understated way. Once the idea for the poem formed in my mind, it took me longer to come up with the title for this poem than it did to write the actual poem. It isn’t just a poem about lives that have been lost in house fires, it also, in my mind, metaphorically represents friendships that have died, or connections with friends that have become disconnected over time and geography.
Ordinary Lives and Painful
How special is special?
What treasures would bloom
if every reflection came back
with stories fit to hold a room in raptures?
This would simply be another,
would only be a fact
and fancy would never flatter
ordinary lives, and painful
imperfections in the loves that matter
would never make them real or better;
and every town
and every road
would never form a path tomorrow.
All is possible only when
fragile leaves a tattered
edge, like snowflakes falling after
mishap clouds have talked out pleasure,
and therein lies strength and character —
so much coming from apparent failure.
I’ve always been fond of the expression, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I wanted to write a poem drawing on that idea and this poem is the result. I’ve also always been fond of artistic line breaks — kicking a word down onto the next line, rather than keeping it where it logically would sit.
This poem’s title starts in that manner; it omits saying what is painful, like some amputated limb. In my sighted days I had a very cluttered Windows desktop. Sometimes I would intentionally position an icon so that it overlapped and obscured one of the other icons. One of the mandatory icons was a shortcut to the Training and Development folder. An icon interfered with this, resulting in raining and velopme. I had exotic dreams about a pair of star-crossed lovers from ancient Greek mythology called Raining and Velopme! Maybe it’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold … the repair enhancing the beauty.
The opening asks us to consider what if everything was beautiful? Can something only be considered beautiful if we have something that is not beautiful to compare it with? What if the broken then repaired item is more beautiful than the unbroken item? Maybe the average person is more beautiful than the supermodel simply because the scars of life have created a resilience and beauty beneath the surface.
Continuing down the poem, the reflections in the mirror aren’t pictures, they are stories. There is so much more beneath the initial image. We continue with a resolution to the title, the painful imperfections in the loves that matter would never make them real or better.
And every road and every town would never form a path tomorrow. This is kind-of like Robert Frost’s two paths diverging in a wood. It is the choices we make, the paths we follow that shape our lives. There’s only been one place that I’ve lived where I wasn’t happy, and that was when I lived in Luton. I loved my house and I loved my job, and I loved the commute into London for my job. But I felt very isolated there — in a poem of mine that made the shortlist of ten for the 2016 Live Canon poem competition, I summed up the experience of living in Luton as being on the edge of everything (in London) but with little time to dive in. There were frequent reports of knife crime in Luton, and I got attacked in the street while walking back from the post office where I’d collected a Christmas present for a work colleague. But the experience of living in Luton and the experience of being a little ruffed-up didn’t kill me, and it gave me a measure against which to evaluate the nicer towns and cities I’ve lived in.
Tattered edges are the texture that creates a person’s true character, the vulnerable side that makes us realise we are not invulnerable. I haven’t the foggiest idea where the simile about the tattered edge being like mishap clouds talking out pleasure came from, but the first time anybody saw the poem, the feedback was positive, so the line stayed. I guess I was thinking of the random angles and shapes of snowflakes as they head to earth from the clouds, and the gentle quietness that results when the ground is covered by snow, and the giddiness of children and adults that emerges.
Which brings us to the last lines. Some of our greatest achievements come from what we thought were our failures.
Next week I shall talk a little about the background to the novel I am in the early stages of writing 🙂