I’ve come late to the love of poetry, so I don’t know some of the things I should perhaps.
I had a grammar school education which I tried to ignore as best I could. Even at the wise age of 13 I suspected that poetry should be felt and not analysed, but didn’t have the inclination to argue the point, merely cause trouble to those trying to teach me – that curséd child, The Clever Creative.
I used to write really rude rhymes though and leave them in public places around school, and inside the exercise books of other children, written under a pseudonym, with my left hand, and insulting the peccadilloes and disfigurements of my poor teachers. But I didn’t learn the language of poetry, I spurned the Iambic pentameter! I just wrote it.
And then I didn’t.
Forty years later, I sit in my studio, surrounded by my textiles and my songs, tied together by the deliciousness of words.
Since completing my masters, I have read NO fiction. At all. I get half a chapter into recommended reads, and stop. Can’t be arsed. I’m not sure why.
Poetry hasn’t gone though… I recently bought Angela Topping’s collection of poems entitled “Letting Go” and it has been waiting for me…
I knew I would want to savour it, so I held onto it, spine un-cracked, until I found the right place and time. So here I sit, in my new studio, window open listening to the rain, and the coo of pigeons in the roof and I turn to the first poem: “Sitting With Dad” hmmm… a few feet to my right are two chairs… prompting me to re-engage with the work I had started about chairs. This work strikes me. Hard. The smell of Dad’s chair, him inhabiting it, and me small. Then him not inhabiting it, and me bigger… The constant thread in my work from one person to another, a parent to a child who in turn becomes parent… affect on each other… memory… how the absence of chair can reduce us. How the absence of the person confuses the child. When my father-in-law died, we explained it very carefully to our very young son, who seemed to take it in, until he saw the empty chair…”Where’s Grandad?”
The chair. More work to be done.
A couple of pages on, I encounter “Dandelions for Mothers’ Day”
Oh dear, I am lost.
My childhood, my work, my mother, everyone’s mothers… passing, drifting, passing on the DNA and rooting somewhere else, a symbol already used in my own work.
What it is, I am coming to see, is the economy of words, just the right words and no more. These eight lines take me to places a 400 page book could not. It makes connections between me and the rest of the world that break my heart and the tear rolls down my cheek.
I write songs now. When occasionally someone else sees that connection, makes a personal link with a series of words I have chosen, it is like a miracle of communication, and it is what drives me to make more… what drives me to express it more succinctly. How few lines, how few words? The rhythm of them, the feel of them in my mouth as I sing them or speak them.
I make things, using objects that have been chosen because of the shorthand and symbolism they bring. A familiar looking chair, a garment over-worn… a piece of household textile… a tea-towel that instantly takes you back to drying up the crocks listening to The Archers with your Grandma? These are the tales I work with. A picture conjured, and experience shared. Words that can instantly take us back to childhood, or a piece of cloth that conjures up a long lost relative. This is why I not only allow people to touch my work, I actively encourage it… the smell and feel… beam me up… beam me back to where I once was. Beam me back to a place that helps me understand what the hell is going on now… there must be something that helps?
Art Helps. Really. Art and music connect people. People who are connected and see the humanity in each other are less likely to wear a special hat and go out to kill people that wear a different sort of hat.
Art is the most important job. The most sublimely human activity.
So I sit back again, with Angela’s words, carefully chosen to take me somewhere I haven’t been for a while…
Thank you Angela, your book is a joy!