Exercises from On Poetry

It’s been quite a few years since I last spent time on poetry. For whatever reason I seem to go through cycles where I read and write none of it, and then it comes back like some kind of need. So, I’m re-reading Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry and doing some of the exercises this time. The exercises for the first chapter involve taking a number of blank pages and pretending certain things about them. What follows are my just-spit-it-out first draft attempts. Just getting the juices flowing again.

The page is physically hurt by your every word

This very thing. Being.

A razor’s edge. Slicing.

Biting. Tearing into you.

Words thrusting into flesh,

Your blood catching flame,

Burning, till hope gutters out.

Every mark makes you remember more

The memory that something had gone before

Something with meaning, subtle importance

Hides at the back of me, lost,

A mosquito bite, itching into memory.

And so, I pick up paper and pen

And scratch, writing to remember:

At first gently, wanting to ignore,

To cause no pain, to avoid it all.

But then the itching turns to burning,

And no subtle demand for release,

Every word ignites a flame

Of recollection, fear, and hope.

Every mark makes you remember less, like dementia

Every thought put down

Is a memory spent

And lost forever.

And what if this were true?

That we write to forget,

That every word on a page

Is a purging of something violent,

Painful. Claiming freedom

From our ghosts, our selves.

Returning us to empty naiveté,

Brimming full of possibility.

That God can only hear you if you’re writing

Can you hear me now as I revert to word?

Why is it only in the intentionality of words

Made explicit, visible, naked in their black and whiteness,

When all shades of hope are rendered in striking contrast

When doubt is pared away with commas and end stops,

When all the pallid, wobbling fat of honest uncertainty

Is cut off, and the muscle sharpened like a blade of contemptuous

Certainty and conviction, all artificial in its exactness and precision,

Why is it only then that you can hear me?

That only touching the page are you hidden from God

The belly of the whale:

A hiding place where silence

Is empty and nothing

Is just nothing and not some

Tolling bell

Calling all to worship.

And yet now

I find myself bending

Knee and head

To this—ghastly, stinking—floor

Unable to not

Worship you in the abyss.