The order makes a big difference.
I take my blog title from Coleridge, of course. Male poets are especially good at coming up with definitions of poetry, and it’s convenient that this should be so, because definitions are useful for brandishing.
The full quotation—recollected online—is this: “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order .”
I woke rehearsing Coleridge’s maxim in my head. Why? Because in my current price list—the one that went out to subscribers last week—I got one of the titles in preparation in the wrong order. Not for the first time, either, I might add. Sometimes these things get scrambled in my head: a sort of title dyslexia.
The pamphlet I got wrong was Hannah, Are You Listening?, by Mariscat publisher and Shore poet Hamish Whyte. I called it Are You Listening, Hannah? The order of the words makes a difference. The second (the wrong one) seems to me a weaker question, vaguer, more casual—even wistful and slightly distrait. The first (the right one) is crisper. It projects. It carries right out into what Julian Treasure calls ‘the listening’. Or so it seems to me, the person who got it wrong.
Hannah, Are You Listening? is a lovely little pamphlet. The poet’s voice is quiet but resonant, serious but playful—even impish, at times. There’s lots of white space. I sometimes talk about how poetic ‘technique’ can get in the way, like the specks and grains on the glass that stop you seeing through. These poems are transparent. Pure delight.
Anyway, Hannah, Are You Listening? is nearly done. Two other new pamphlets are also in preparation. More of those later.
I’m also working on Tom Duddy’s second book (it will be called The Years). Tom died, as many of you will know, before he intended to. With the help of his wife Sheila and daughter Clare, I’ve been sorting through his unpublished work, in particular those poems he suggested for a second volume. He and I were able to correspond about some of them before all smiles stopped together.
The process of putting together Tom’s book is humbling. It is reading a life, not just a set of assorted texts. Again, he wrote with astonishing clarity. Sometimes his poems, at first glance, seem slight. Nothing much is happening here, you think. Then you realize everything is happening.
Already I am fumbling in words of inferior order to praise what Duddy did better. So I will close with a little example, appropriate because the title—the correct title—is ‘Window on the World, Sunday Morning’. You see right through the window. Not one speck on the glass.
Window on the World, Sunday Morning
A mother and a daughter (herself a mother)
walking very slowly, arm in arm, past
the closed gates, judging gardens as they go;
just behind them, catching up, soon to pass,
a man in a tight black coat, eyes downcast,
grey head bowed as if into a strong wind.
Two girls running sideways down the green mound
between the church and the soaking playing field.
Above them all, jackdaws cher-cherking
in the bright aftermath of gales and rain.