Words and alleyways

Thursday November 25, 2004

There must be as many ways of conceiving and writing poems as there are poets and, for an individual poet, as many as an individual imagination can conjure.

Me, I have three main methods. First, there’s the way of hard, determined and carefully applied craft. That’s when you sit down day after day at your desk with pad and pencil, notes, working away at an idea you may have had long before until it’s all done. There’s a satisfaction in this method, tasting of bookdust and singing of the delights of quiet study.

Then, there’s the blank page. I like to do it this way, particularly when travelling on public transport or when sitting alone in a coffee shop. I open my notebook to an empty page, unscrew my pen, apply the point to the paper, and wait for the first word, and the second, and the third. Applied work has to follow, perhaps over days and days, version after version, but it’s uniquely satisfying to see the pen nib spark into motion as though life were one of its attributes.

And then, not finally, but I seldom count above three in these situations, there’s the poem that pops straight into your head as you turn a corner, or between two steps along a path, or in the space between two words in a book. Sometimes I like to write these ones down straight away, sometimes I like to keep them buzzing in my head until each line break, each join, every weighted word is in position ready to commit to paper. This is my absolute joy, the one that brings a loud ‘Hah!’ as the final dot is applied to the page. Yeah, this is the way I like to write poems most these days:


At first light I paused by the gate,
caught my breath from carrying trash,
and saw a satchelled schoolgirl
     indistinct in the mist
walking toward me along the lane.
Coatless, I shivered,
and removed myself from her future.
John Bailey
November 2004, Lincolnshire


So, having done my ‘Hah!’, I packed up today’s eBay packets and drove down to Boston to the Post Office and then on to the supermarket for provisions. A somewhat chill day. I fastened my coat well up around my throat and regretted my decision to leave hat, gloves and scarf at home. I think it’d be wise from now until the Spring to bring warm clothing with me even if it turns out I don’t need or want to wear it.

Boston is a funny little old town. I haven’t quite come to grips with it yet. There’s much to explore, ancient, narrow lanes and streets that time has changed to unkempt alleyways, some of them blocked off and leading nowhere. I was disappointed to see Threadneedle Street reduced to a few yards only, terminated by an ugly brick wall. I feel that, with a name like that, it should take me to finer things…


Boston, Nov,'04
Nowhere street
pencam photo



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