How does it feel?

A friend asked me where my poems come from. It was easy make a list for her. They come from memories, from past or recent experience, from reading, from news stories, radio, media, real life (whatever that is,) dreams etc. They come from the walking into the shallows that before you know it become depths. I’ve got a feeling there are going to be lots of metaphors in this piece..

I thought about what it feels like to be writing a poem. Some poems come about very deliberately. There is planning involved. There is research. An idea or image appeals, and like the director of a film, I’ll steer the poem forwards, shaping it so that it resembles the idea or vision. There are often many lines edited out of the final version.

The poems that I have most enjoyed writing, (and perhaps these are also my best poems) have been written on what felt like the very edge of control; like riding rapids in a canoe, or leaning a bike into a fast downhill turn. I’m talking about the first few drafts here, not the meticulous process of polishing that happens later. It is an exhilarating place (if you can call a state of mind ‘a place’) to be passing through, a place between knowing and unknowing, or rather knowing in the moment it is happening  that the poem is happening, but not knowing  where it will turn next.

There is more going on here than a balancing act, although this is part of it.  It is also a state at the intersection of conscious and unconscious, of written language and mental image, of the sound and the appearance of words, between literal and associated meaning. Once in a while a poem will feel like it being discovered and that I am the one lucky enough to be uncovering it, blowing a layer of dust off words that were already there.

And this is what I sometimes forget; I can’t make discoveries without exploring. And exploring is reading and writing and sometimes just looking out of the window. I can’t discover anything unless I literally and metaphorically let myself explore;  wandering into a derelict house, time traveling to be with Elvis or Leonardo or Amy Winehouse (or becoming them,) looking under stones, finding a truth and not letting it go, climbing down fire-escapes, rummaging in the dressing up box and swimming to the bottom of the river, going to the dodgy nightclub with the sticky floor and dining in an expensive restaurant (that one is definitely imaginary) listening to the wind rolling cans in the alley and bending the trees in the wood; becoming a child who is brought gifts by crows, smelling the diesel and candyfloss blowing through the screams and generators of the fairground and also the perfume of the pines; feeling breeze on my skin, borrowing telescope and microscope and taking turns to look though each.



  1. I’ll argue passionately that everything comes from memory. What you do here is to remind me that you can’t have memories without things to remember, that you have to be out there, with all your senses working. And then finding the words, the images, without which they stay inchoate and unusable. great post, as ever, Roy. Thank you.


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