3 minutes reading time (530 words)

NOT SEEING THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

Frank Wood died recently at the age of 95. HappenStance published a pamphlet of his work in 2012.    

So that's the 'Wood' in my title.   

We won't be seeing Frank again, though his voice — unapologetically plain-spoken — can still be heard in his poems. And always will be, for as long as such poems are heard.

But the 'trees' are also the poetries. Today, with dozens of poem-texts whirling round the globe every second, there are great forests of poetries, in which one could get lost for all time. Yes, I know that's a horribly mixed metaphor. Forests don't whirl round the globe, unless you think of Wordsworth's Lucy 'Whirled round in earth's diurnal course / With rocks and stones and trees' (I always felt for Lucy).

My point is that the writing trajectory of a poet like Frank might be seen as 'unimportant'. Poetry was a lifelong interest for him, but he didn't start writing it until he was well into his forties. He didn't win the National Poetry Competition. He didn't publish to popular acclaim. He had a modest circle of appreciative readers (and fellow writers).

Frank did succeed in placing poems here and there in the small press over several decades. He co-edited a small magazine for a while, played an active role in Suffolk Poetry Society, had modest wins in competitions, and there was a pamphlet: Racing the Stable Clock. He was a practising poet who kept practising.

His poetry 'career' might look like not much, as these things go. It was more than it seems.

He always sent me poems during the HappenStance reading windows, and latterly I encouraged him to send them whenever he wanted to — which was still about twice a year. It was rare to get a batch in which there wasn't at least one I thought outstanding in some way. He was a wit, with strong opinions. Often, he made me smile. But sometimes his poems opened out into sadness, and I would stare out of the window and think, and think some more.

I believe the writing of poems brought him joy. It wasn't about getting famous, or building a reputation as a 'player'. He found poems joyous things to make, worthwhile creations, like well-made chairs. They made him happy.

I won't forget him. Right to the end of his long life, he was writing self-critically and with acuity.

I'm appending one of the poems from Stable Clock below. It's short. And yet (to me) there's a whole world below the surface. The father who wrote the sermons was the same father who was gassed in the First World War, the same father who once 'killed a German face to face' and who, when it came to questions about that war, 'would never talk about it'. But his son wrote about him, a lifetime later.


Writing the Sermon


My father was known for his sermons.
He used to grade them according
to the number of pipes he smoked.

Three pipes spelt hell
for next day's congregation —
and that was only the notes.

As his neighbor, who kept hens, said,
When you go out to feed them,you don't
have to give them the whole bucketful.




FIFTEEN BOLD ASSERTIONS ABOUT POETRY
 

Comments 2

Josephine Corcoran Horsfall on Tuesday, 27 October 2020 16:25

Thank you so much for this post and the poem. I love the humour - the aside of "and that was only the notes." Yes, texture and complexity of a life, all in nine lines and a good title.

Thank you so much for this post and the poem. I love the humour - the aside of "and that was only the notes." Yes, texture and complexity of a life, all in nine lines and a good title.
Guest - Teika Marija Smits on Monday, 16 November 2020 09:43

What a moving piece of writing, Nell. I feel as though you've given us an insightful glance into the personality of a man who loved to write poetry. And I have to say that I agree with Frank and find much joy in writing poems. Surely, finding poems joyous things to make is the whole point of it all? (Yes, publication is affirming and reviews from readers heartening, but the very creation of the poem is the best bit of all.) Thank you again.

What a moving piece of writing, Nell. I feel as though you've given us an insightful glance into the personality of a man who loved to write poetry. And I have to say that I agree with Frank and find much joy in writing poems. Surely, finding poems joyous things to make is the whole point of it all? (Yes, publication is affirming and reviews from readers heartening, but the very creation of the poem is the best bit of all.) Thank you again.
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Sunday, 29 November 2020

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