The American analyzer Cleanth Brooks anticipation a acceptable composition was like a well-wrought urn. I adopt to anticipate of it as a jar of Marmite at the aback of a cupboard: article non-perishable and clearly itself; abounding with added than can be captivated in one sitting; adorable to some and abhorrent to others; acceptable to go bottomward able-bodied with a allotment of toast.
If you’re attractive for means to advance your poetry, your buffet is a acceptable abode to attending for them. There’s a allegory that a composition has to alpha with able emotions. It can, of course, but it can aloof as calmly alpha with a tin of beans. Thoughts advance to added thoughts. Begin with that tin, and you ability end about unexpected. If you abruptness yourself, you’re added acceptable to abruptness your readers, too.
Art acceptance and accomplished painters akin apperceive authoritative still-lifes can acuminate their abilities of observation. The aftereffect of the exercise ability alike about-face out to be a accomplished artwork in its own right. At its best, a absolute still-life can be a adjustment to immortality: the affair itself is afflicted by the artwork. Every sunflower is now an advert for Van Gogh.
The aforementioned is accurate for poets. Show a clairvoyant a particular, accustomed affair in a way they can’t forget, and that affair will always be a admonition of your poem. It doesn’t accept to be a capital-P Poetic thing. In fact, it helps if it isn’t. Address about a nightingale, and you accept annealed competition. Choose a spork, and your acreage of rivals narrows.
For years, I haven’t been able to aces up a jar of honey after canonizing the aperture of Jacob Polley’s “A Jar of Honey”: “You authority it like a lit bulb,/ a batter of light,/ and hinge the abashed glow/ about the fat bottle sides.” What fabricated it stick? Not the imagery, but the rhythm, the way Polley thickens and slows the ends of his curve by putting one fatigued monosyllable abutting to another: “lit bulb”, “stunned glow”, “fat bottle sides”. A game: booty article abroad you ability acquisition in a jar. Address two curve that accomplish it assume weightless, again two that accomplish it assume heavy. Try to do this through the complete of the words, not their meaning. That jam you’re making: is it “thickening with pectin” or “coagulating through the use of bake-apple starch”?
Sticking with adhesive things in jars, Seamus Heaney pulled off a agnate accomplishment of transformation in “Sloe Gin”, in which the bottle barge holds “The bright acclimate of juniper/ blurred into winter.” In his book Station Island, “Sloe Gin” comes a few pages afore “Shelf Life”, a arrangement of small, near-perfect anapestic still-lifes about, yes, the knick-knacks on Heaney’s shelves, declared in agreement as absolute as they are unexpected. His old pewter bowl is “sullied and temperate”, “doleful and placid”.
Another bold to try: booty an article that affairs to you, alluringly one which to anyone abroad would attending like a bit of old junk. Address a account of 20 adjectives anecdotic it. Now address bristles curve about it, with three adjectives that you feel are a accurate description of it in anniversary – but after application any from your list. By the fifth line, you ability acquisition a chat that sticks.
If you’ve beat your aliment and your shelves, you could do worse than attending out the window. But, please, not at the dusk (see: the botheration with nightingales, above). Booty article else. Your laundry, perhaps. “Millions adulation and die cutting them. A couple/ of edgeless pairs circle on the rotary airer appropriate now.” That’s how Heather Phillipson begins her composition “Take Spanking White Pants”.
Phillipson swerves blithely amid the bathos of the accountable and the desolation of the thoughts it inspires. Laundry is “a accepted bond average/ but cabalistic troubles”: these undies accept been given “A day off/ from disappointments in touch”. The pants arise to angle for their owners’ “world of interiors”. When the artist (or the underwear itself?) says: “Forgive me, adulation me, accomplish me new”, I can’t adjudge if it’s afflicted or asinine or both. How on apple did she get there from pants?
Here’s one aftermost game. Booty either Larkin’s “What will survive of us is love” or Rilke’s “You charge change your life”, and pretend it’s a new band that’s aloof occurred to you – not aggressive by age-old statuary, but by the atomic capital-P Anapestic article in your pantry, on your shelves, or blind from your abrasion line. Accomplish that acclaimed citation a aboveboard cessation to your composition about this object. How on apple will you get from A to B? Try it. You ability abruptness yourself.
Tristram Fane Saunders’s balladry arise in New Poetries VIII (Carcanet, £14.99)
How To Write Better Stories – How To Write Better Stories
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