The Importance of Tea

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‘A rose is beautiful in itself, not because it stands for something’1 – the Acmeist approach to poetry, one that focuses on the solid object, not the symbolic. Jane Kenyon, in an introduction to her collection of translations of Anna Akhmatova, describes the Russian poet Gumilev’s proposed attack on symbolism with its ‘obligatory mysticism’2 and offered Acmeism as an alternative. My poetry, in the past three years, has taken an (almost) 180 degree turn in this fashion, from the symbolic rambling and abstract clutter in poems like Phoenix, where I ask an unnamed something to ‘- watch it burn, as my prayers turn to / flame.’ to more recent poems like A Change, where I describe the importance of perception and the influence of light on a person: ‘I appreciate it, / the way is slips over the skin, / illuminates the white, marble table.’ This is, with no doubt, an important and positive shift, I am ‘a craftsman, not a priest.’3

Living bloats me. I have, until recently, been unable to distract myself from the feeling of it in order to pay homage to the details that accumulate to create these feelings: ‘The actual substance of it, the material facts of it, (that) embed themselves in us quite a long way from the world of words.’4 Words and details make experience relatable and it is not until we set off in exploration for these words that we discover we do not know what to say. The poet, whose goal is publication, should not be a selfish poet, should not write so cryptically that the reader cannot understand and relate to the poem. Our job is to tell the truth, to put into words those feelings which are so hard to name, to be exhaustive in the naming of things, to encourage living (feeling) for those that might read the poem, inspiring courage when faced with life’s difficulties, knowing that the poet has experienced it too.

In my poem A Change I record observations about light and compare them to a previous experience of it, in an attempt to highlight the effects of perception on emotion. In an early draft of the poem I comment on how the light ‘does not upset, or offend. ’: the mistake of a novice, a poet unsure in their ability to get the job done properly. In the second stanza I had revealed the ending of the poem, rendering the rest of it pointless and ineffective. My final draft of the poem (if such a thing exists) gives in to confidence and respects the strength of imagery, the use of simile and attention to detail, by taking out this line. I was left, ultimately, with a better poem. By naming the feeling so abruptly in the first draft, I failed in recreating it. Feelings are so titanic and vague; you cannot hope to inspire feeling in a reader without shedding light on the details and specifics that shape them. A well written poem does not call out an emotion - it assembles the elements of one on the page: the blueprint of a feeling, and appeals to the well-crafted tools of a capable poet to construct them.

Awareness is key to change and becoming aware of my habit of telling rather than showing helped me tackle that difficult hurdle quite early on in my poetic journey (not without bruises). The importance of detail was clear, however my ability to manage metaphor and simile was not, I became overindulgent and depended on metaphor and simile in a way that was stifling. In To the Water concrete details take their place but are swallowed up by erratic employment of metaphor: ‘Below, the river heaved / and sighed. Its breath pulsing / against a body of stone wall. // I trembled down the slope / where water toppled / over itself, nestled its / large head.’ In the space of two, short stanzas I personify a river and a stone wall, immediately leaping into a description of my narrator moving down the wall. All this while the reader is still digesting the idea of a river being able to breathe. My attraction to Sylvia Plath, therefor, came as no surprise to anyone, she, in subject matter and technique, attended to all the...
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