You’ve seen the poetry of Marie Marshall here before. She’s a poet whose work I admire, in part because she pushes boundaries and experiments with it in ways that other writers might shy away from. Perhaps she isn’t afraid to ignore her comfort zone? Perhaps she’s just too filled with creativity to worry about it. Either way, her work challenges as well as fulfills. I highly recommend you check out her blog and her books. (More on those below.)
The poem she’s sharing with us this time stretches us in part by its visual form. There are six stanzas here in a contiguous poem, but they are meant to be seen discretely. On paper, each stanza would appear on a different page, but since I can’t easily do this on the blog, I’ve included blank space between the stanzas. Imagine, please, that you’re turning a page, and remember that the post isn’t finished until you get to the bio at the end.
To better explain what you’re about to read here, I’ll let Marie, who is “currently very manic and creative, and monkeying about with [her] poetics,” tell you about it in her own words:
- I have tried to move away from being “the great poet whose innermost thoughts and feelings the readership will hear expressed.” I am moving to an idea first mooted in the 1970s by poets like Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten, that the prime creative force in poetry is the power of the reader rather than of the writer. I am trying to open up to the co-creative, co-initiative reader. So it’s not really a new idea, but I’m just poking it into life again.
- I’m influenced by poets like Hejinian, Susan Howe, and Lisa Jarnot, but I’m doing my own thing.
- I use a lot of repetition, letting words and images circulate and re-form. Again this isn’t new. Jarnot did it in her famous poem ‘Ye White Antarctic Birds’, and I did it a lot in my 2010 ‘Lithopoesis’ experiment. Lyn Hejinian says that repetition forces re-assessment and the application of new meaning.
- I don’t give my poems in this current cycle any title in words, because I think that a title is the first point at which a poet forces a meaning on what’s going to come after. I have been numbering my poems lately, and this poem is ‘62’. Although a number is not without its own semiotics, as a simple numerical or mathematical expression it has less of the chameleon quality of a word or a phrase.
- I have lately written several poems in six regular stanzas of six lines each. This breaks up what is basically a free-form poem, creates a tension between regularity and irregularity. I have tended to allocate a separate page for each stanza. This is to add tension – what came before / what comes now / what will come later. It does, however, leave the reader free to consider a stanza alone, a stand-alone poem if you will, even to the extent of uplifting it from the whole. Once given out, I make no insistence about my poems!
- I also sometimes (as in this case) appear to begin in medias res and end without a resolution. This suggests (but does not insist) that on reaching the end of the poem the reader may begin again, or even that there is no set beginning/ending point. I would like readers to read it over and over again, as this would facilitate their association of new ideas and meanings, newer each time as each reading is a new phenomenon, but of course I do not insist.
a torn down sign on a bent pole points
at a cloud; your lover has called, her
voice betraying blind joy, you estimate
she is somewhere with half-an-hour of
air left and this becomes a puzzle; from
carr to carse, alder to grass, there’s a
population of paper animals paired seeming
to feed on buds, shoots, and blades; a
plane’s shadow passing overall; from
above the animals make geometry; the sign
of a downed C L O U D whose shadow
dwarfs the alder and willow, whose downdraft
unsteadies the animals, whose air breathes
in your lover, whose voice is a sign, whose
pole is a constant, whose joy is a puzzle,
whose alders are torn down, whose hour is
halved, whose B E T R A Y A L is blind,
whose blade is pointed, who is budding
who is estimating, who is shooting, who
is S H A D O W I N G, who is feeding,
who is grass, who is love, who is torn,
who is passing, bending, blind, plane,
somewhere, bent, betrayed, clouded,
becoming puzzled overall geometry
paper animal above S I G N down from
make the sign of a downed cloud half
an hour and estimate a blade, carr, carse,
willow, alder, call, voice; thus your lover’s
joy , to which the torn down sign as though
at a cloud in the sky, a passing plane, a
G E O M E T R Y in the grass, whose
population is paper animals, paired,
feeding on that grass, your lover is blind,
your joy, half an hour of air, carse to sky,
hoc signo aenigma est, bud to your lover
I shall be sixty this year, and I was already middle-aged when I first started writing stories, poems, and novels. My primary mode is poet, and I think that feeds into my other writing. I’m what Angélique calls a ‘page poet’ — let’s face it, as a virtual recluse I could hardly be a performance poet! Since the invention of printing — writing even — the first physical manifestation of any poem, even one intended for performance, is on paper. Thus it is the medium most familiar to people, and I believe that even YouTube won’t damage its primacy. I started writing free verse and graduated from there to writing sonnets. I was glad of the discipline that gave me. After having written shedloads, I stopped, and looked to start experimenting again; I’ve tried lots of ways of handling language, and I like to keep pushing.
I was born in England, where my life was unremarkable. I moved to Scotland, where my family originated and where my life was equally unremarkable. I have an unremarkable university degree and an unremarkable job. I’m happily gay, but am in a long-term opposite-gender relationship which has proved comfortable and supportive, the reasons for which and the details of which would be too tedious to explain, so I’ll keep them private. I live near Dundee on the East coast of Scotland. I like people to get to know me by what I write.
I have published three novels, Lupa, The Everywhen Angels, and From My Cold Undead Hand. I didn’t set out to be a writer for older children and young adults, but that’s what the second and third novels show me to be, I guess. The Everywhen Angels was written because people told me to shut up criticising JKR unless I could write a fantasy set in a school. From My Cold Undead Hand was written because my publisher asked if I could write a teen-vampire novel, and so I dashed one off in the space of a month. It’s rather good, although I say so myself. I have written the sequel, KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, but a tragedy struck the publishers and it might not see the light of day. I have other novels in a work-in-progess file, but I am in the midst of a long sabbatical from novel-writing at the moment. I have had two collections of poetry published, Naked in the Sea and I am not a fish. The latter was nominated for the 2013 T.S. Eliot Prize. My books are on Amazon except for I am not a fish, which is available direct from Oversteps Books. Some of my individual poems have won prizes, but I generally don’t put them in for competitions.
I have also served as associate editor on a handful of magazines and anthology projects, and am currently the editor of the zen space, an online showcase for haiku and in-the-moment short poetry.
The poem I have given to Angélique for you is fairly typical of what I am doing at present. It’s 100% me, but I’ll acknowledge the influence of writers such as Lisa Jarnot and Susan Howe and the ‘Language Poets’. I want to step down from my plinth as The Poet and give (though it isn’t actually in my gift) the authority to assign meaning, over and over again, to whomever reads and re-reads my poetry, to allow you to be co-creators. Originally each of the stanzas of this poem were presented on a separate page, to encourage fresh creativity each time one was encountered. But it’s an interesting experiment to see them all together.
Here are some more Marie-related links you might find interesting:
her poetry blog
a walk in space — poetry she created for New Orleans Mardi Gras ‘parade throws’
Lady Wot Writes — an occasional blog for humour and semi-serious political satire and point-scoring