On the Shingle Street residency we talked a great deal about how to get into the mode of writing a poem – how to get into the right feeling. Amy said that one way she writes poetry is to place objects or images around her which give her particular feelings and she tries to bring a little of that feeling into a poem or let that feeling start a poem. We also discussed the work of other poets who tend to write very successfully by accessing a strong current ‘feeling’ such as Fran Lock.
When I was thinking about poetry feelings I happened to come across this passage in a novel I was reading – Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (translated by Alison Entrekin) from the chapter ‘Joana’s Joys’. This novel I was actually reading to help me get to sleep, but the following passage struck me as similar to trying to inhabit a feeling whilst writing. I have to admit that despite the staggering beautiful prose, it is a pretty taxing read! The following sentence could be interpreted in a number of ways:
‘The state she slipped into when she murmured: eternity. The thought itself took on a quality of eternity. It would magically deepen and broaden, without any actual content or form but also without dimensions. The impression that if she could remain in the feeling for a few more instants she’d have a revelation – easily, like seeing the rest of the world just by leaning from the earth towards space.’
On the one hand there’s something recognisable here – a dizzying thought of something very large can do this to you. (If we’re lucky we get Brian Cox on TV to help make it happen!) On the other hand I felt, there is something somewhat OTT here – do people, even extraordinary people like the character of Joanna, really have these HUGE feelings? (Perhaps it would be more believable if the rest of this remarkable but very introverted novel didn’t contain a multitude of these vertiginous abstract feelings). But the great potential of a feeling – a memory maybe, an emotional state or idea – the possibility that if you stay in a particularly awesome feeling something huge will happen did strike me as similar to the brink of revelation that the most exciting poem writing offers. Perhaps this is one of the addictive sensations of writing poetry.
So with these thoughts I wrote the following draft in a stream of consciousness which I think gestures feebly to some of Joanna’s wonderful philosophical depth and tries also to undercut it with casualness on the other side. It also is somehow mocking of Joanna’s tone too – because even if I have a dizzyingly deep thought one second, I’m quite quick to wonder what’s for tea in the next. I’m not sure what direction this poem will go in next, but I have a concern that like Joanna, it is in danger of being overly self-absorbed!
A feeling is in a feeling isn’t it,
I mean whichever way you take your
day you are trying to chivvy yourself
into one feeling or another.
The weather is not available today,
according to my useful kind of phone,
my feelings are not available today
I tell myself; even the feeling of a
cranking of a draw bridge or hot-spy tactics.
Is it possible to spy on myself?
I think, probably not, unless I
divided myself healthily handed on the one side
and a pest to my own careening on the other.
I wonder what the children were planning
to accomplish with that pole on the beach
and whether jet streams can die mid sentence,
what Amy might cook me next. A feeling
is whatever I kept writing into, hoping
I might get on soon to the feeling of
‘illegitimate instruments’ or ways of corralling science
to do what I want it to do. ‘It’s faith music’,
Brian Eno said. And I tried to believe him readily
as if I was stupid, which I sometimes undoubtably am,
but even if I was as stupid as I sometimes feel
all of the time I probably couldn’t bring myself
to believe in experiences like Nation, Myself, God.
My belief today is not available, anyway perhaps one
day it might be I could just tap an app on
my useful and distracting phone
and god would flow into me and stroke
my lungs, let me breathe better and even sing
pensively inside me, unblock little pieces of grave[l],
clean away the stain of chili sauce on my top, perhaps
he might even prevent further misses of food-to-mouth.
Once I got told off by a feminist Christian,
even an atheist feminist such as myself should not call god a he.
OK, I thought, even in the hypothetical
I must remain vigilant to a hypothetical patriarchy.
That feeling is not available today either.
One feeling is why am I talking to you
when you could spread over me like gulls disturbed
and that’s the feeling i’m trying
to inhabit now to write this poem.
Nia Davies was born in Sheffield and studied English at the University of Sussex. Then Spree – her first pamphlet of poems – came out from Salt in 2012. As well as her work with Literature Across Frontiers and Wales Literature Exchange, her current projects include collaborations with other poets and artists and co-editing the online journal Poems in Which and Solidarity Park Poetry – poems for #ResisTurkey. In 2014 she will take over the editorship of the quarterly magazine Poetry Wales.