Poetry for when the wheels fall off in a transitory phase


On the rare occasions that I write poetry, it tends to be spontaneous and remorseful. It’s true, that the fewer the words, the more difficult something can be to write. I’d agree that a short story can be more challenging than a novel, simply because of the word limit in which to tell a tale. Music lyrics and poetry are probably the most difficult to write well, because like stories, the more they tell, with the fewer words, the better they’ll generally be. That’s why spontaneous poems tend to turn out better: they have immediate feeling in them.

Bukowski Genius

Now I’m in a temporary transitory phase as a writer, from horror / sci-fi, to family history (my next book), and I’m toying with other romantic prose forms, including verse. I’ve been known to write poetry (not very well) in the past, but it’s not a discipline I proliferate in. All good writing is “show, don’t tell” but verse is too minimalist to be my main output. On the rare occasions I do pen not-sonnets, they’ll most likely be freeform, because I like being a non-conformist anyway, but I especially dislike restrictions.

Generally speaking then, I don’t like poetry (I haven’t asked it for an opinion on me). I especially despise the sort of twee poetry which a UK bank has been using in a recent nauseating TV ad campaign. But I respect the form, and the artists who create it. And I can’t deny I’ve written some of my own, and hardly dare say I’m tempted to write more.

I needed some John Hegley style poems for Cyrus Song, when Simon Fry challenged himself against Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings, and I’m an adaptive writer myself, able to switch from sci-fi which is compared to Douglas Adams and the surrealists, to horror comparable to Lovecraft, Kafka, King and Poe (so say the reviews), and still be able to write an award-winning children’s story.

At the moment, my next short story is published in a couple of weeks, and another one a week after that. In the meantime, I’m switching to the family history book. Ever the restless soul, in any down time, I might look more into poetry, and maybe experiment, play, and throw away some more of my own.

I researched the work of Simon Fry, in my own book, which I wrote. There was this one, called ‘The difference between dogs and cars’:

You can’t get into a dog
and drive it
If a dog knocks you down,
you’ll probably survive it

Later, Simon writes some (slightly) deeper prose, including a lament, he thanks Paula Millstone Jennings for the inspiration, and hopes she’s still trying to get her message out there through her verse. And as I said at the start, my own forays into poetry have usually been romantic, and invariably in situations where I needed to express something quickly. And so it was with this one, when I was mixing salty tears with vodka, and mourning a lost love, and which I used in my short story, ‘Camden Town to Soho Square‘:

We met and we clicked
like Bonnie and Clyde
o similar
Jekyll and Hyde

We went out
like Mickey and Mallory
Why don’t you come on over

We done stuff
like Courtney and Kurt
Laughed then slept
Ernie and Bert

Holding throats, not hands
Over there
Sid and Nancy

And as I look back further, I realise I wrote a poem as a request for a friend, for his mum’s funeral. And it was used, so already my poetry’s out there, among the dead. I doubt I’ll ever release a collection (If I do, ‘Poetry for when the wheels fall off’ might be a good title), but a short lament I penned last night might do well in the greetings card market:

A flickering room
Painted blue
The dark flame dies
My candle gone
Lost in music
Dedicated to you

So maybe not everyone will welcome it as a sentiment, but someone might find it useful (it’s been called evocative by another writer, and “a really good example of how you can write something very short and simple that is moving”, by another). Or I’ll more likely return to sci-fi and horror, while still writing the family history book, ever mindful that surrealist slips between the two probably wouldn’t work.

Like Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings, I’ll just keep trying to get my words out there.

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