In times of trouble or despair, people – and not just regular writers – often turn to poetry as a means of expressing their emotions. Also, in times of sublime happiness. Many people probably read or received a Valentine’s poem this year in some shape or form – in a card or otherwise.
So, while I am now attempting to discipline myself and write one short story a month – not simply for competitions, which sometimes ask for certain themes, but on whatever notion hits me that month – I am also still trying to exercise the poetry part of my writing as well, as it offers a different kind of artistic expression which I think can be more potent, at times, than other writing forms. The Poem for the Day book is part of this ‘exercise’, and in the week past, I also joined a writing for peace project in Derry (last year’s City of Culture).
The full name of the three-week course is Reading and Writing for Peace: A Celebration of the Peace Palace Centenary, and it is a project from Queen’s University in Belfast and the Community Relations Council, this part of it taking place at the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry.
Having discussed a few poems penned by Irish writers last week, we will, this week and the next, focus on composing our own poetry in a similar vein. It is a wide topic to reflect on, but obviously each individual will have their own idea of what peace is (or isn’t) to them; their experiences of it; their hopes for it; or their views on the concept. There are many options to explore and hopefully, the end result for me will be a poem I am happy to present!
That aside, however, the three sessions are just a great way to discuss poetry with other people and see what we all make of it. I will admit that a fair few of the daily poems I have read from the Poem for The Day book have flummoxed me and some I have re-read to try to figure them out, others I have left – simply because I didn’t connect with the writing style or subject matter, and sometimes just couldn’t get enough out of them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good poems – we like what we like.
Discussing poems with others throws up myriad interpretations and, as our facilitator, Catherine McGrotty said – ‘the thing about poetry isn’t necessarily about trying to work out what the writer means, but what you think it means’.
I like that. Some people will always want to know the ‘real’ meaning behind a poem, but I like the ‘open to interpretation’ element. I have written poems myself that, on reflection, I would be hard pushed to explain, but at the time, the words just made sense.
One poet I sometimes struggle with interpreting is Medbh McGuckian, but in fact, it is one of her poems in our booklet which I connected with the most this time (see below). Poetry doesn’t always ‘make sense’ immediately – sometimes it grows meaning, and sometimes it just flutters over our heads.
It’s fun finding out which poem will do what…
Credenza – by Medbh McGuckian
A white melancholy sits in the lesser chair
at the front edge of time. In her moments
of cut radiance, colour runs all through her
like a hand-coloured paper Annunciation
in a gold-leaf frame. Then she has the sky-hook air
of here and there.
and every day and every day has
begun, the wet shoulders of his
breathing ending, the open
rafters of his inner nature little by
little never meeting again.
Her fingers explore the white keys only,
her fiery dress of tricolor ribbons
asks nothing from the low lights of the house,
where piles of captured cannon
that had raised two pyramids
are being taken away.
Suddenly the all-black room sees everything
far down the street; war-talk sentences
act as if they had never been shot at;
a for-keeps winter inches wide
the voice of a wine the grapes
never belonged to.