Guest poem sent in by Michelle Chapman
(Poem #1399) Critics Nightwatch
Once more he tried, before he slept, to rule his ranks of words. They broke from his planned choir, lolled, slouched and kept their tone, their pitch, their meaning crude; huddled in cliches; when pursued turned with mock elegance to croak his rival's tunes. They would not sing. The scene that nagged his sleep away flashed clear again: the local king of verse, loose-collared and loose-lipped. read from a sodden manuscript, drinking with anyone who'd pay, drunk, in the critic's favourite bar. "Hear the voice of the bard!" he bellowed, "Poets are lovers. Critics are mean, solitary masturbators. Come here, and join the warm creators." The critic, whom no drink had mellowed, turned on his heel. Rough laughter scoured his reddening neck. The poet roared "Run home, and take that face that soured your mother's lovely milk from spite. Piddle on what you cannot write." At home alone the critic poured gall on the poet's work in polished careful prose. He tore apart meaning and metaphor, demolished diction, syntax, metre, rhyme; called his entire works a crime against the integrity of art, and lay down grinning, quick, he thought, with a great poem that would make plain his power to all. Once more he fought with words. Sleep came. He dreamed he turned to a light vapour, seeped and burned in wordless cracks where grain on grain of matter grated; reassumed his human shape, and called by name each grain to sing, conducting, plumed in lightning, their obedient choir. Dressed as a bride for his desire towards him, now meek, the poet came. Light sneaked beside his bed. The birds began their insistent questioning of silence, and the poet's words prompted by daylight rasped his raw nerves, and the waking world he saw was flat with prose and would not sing.
For me this poem captures the ineffable magic of poetry - that no matter how desperately you try, it will not be forced. It may fool others but the writer will always be aware of the gap between the object and the ideal. We see the critic dissecting the poet's work with clinical precision yet failing to pin down the spark of life. This inspires him - he is certain he can do better - and in his dreams he does. The illusion is fleeting. He wakes to find his mundane self unchanged, unmagical. His prose is polished and careful. He cannot share in the carefree drunken flights of poesy and yet he yearns to do so... I believe anyone who appreciates poetry has moments like this - where the absolute delight of a poem's song in your heart cannot quite shoulder aside your jealousy - why can't I write like that??? There are several ways to read the poem - was Gwen reacting to criticism of her own poems by mocking the critic... was she sympathising with those of us who can never quite seem to pin down that spark (those who can, write, those who can't, criticise).... or was she exploring two different aspects of her own personality as a writer??? Schelle PS. Here are some biographies of Gwen Harwood: [broken link] http://dargo.vicnet.net.au/ozlit/writers.cfm?id=346 http://tarnish.net/gwen.html Unfortunately her poems are under-represented on the Internet.