One of the great and abiding delights of ‘small’ poems is the discovery that we and a poet are making similar stumbling pathways through similarly problematic little worlds. I am using the idea of a ‘small’ poem in the sense of unambitious in the scope of its chosen subject. Small is absolutely not pejorative, nor are there many real constraints on what a ‘small’ poem can achieve. Small poetry is an art charged with companionship and sympathy, and a great blessing to those who have discovered that a book of well crafted ‘small’ poems is a far better investment than a middling bottle of supermarket wine.
Much of daily life is fairly dull and some of it is fairly disappointing. Sadly, though, the mere mirroring of these truths is not going to be sufficient to carry off the prizes in Torbay. Today I am working on fifty of the final one hundred and seventy poems left in the cut. Of these fifty, twenty six, sadly, are going down, many of them either to dullness – their twenty four competitors were simply more interesting – or because they made the judge feel too dispirited to want to read any of them any more times than she already had.
The melancholy textures of waning marriages. The careful performance of familiar domestic tasks. Weather events, unspectacular. Everyday personal possessions (including clothes) and the memories they evoke. The passing of the seasons. Delicate flurries of sentiment. Small poignancies. Poems which merely record these familiar truths generate very proper affection and solicitude among good friends. Among the many big hitters on my desk, however, too many of them are like ducklings on a motorway. They are not going to survive.
I have set aside several school children poems today. Also poems where the poet looks at nature. Poems about different kinds of water features. Quite a few poems looking back at a vanished past. But every single one I set aside this afternoon MIGHT have made the shortlist – if their poets had taken on their subjects ‘slant’ perhaps, or had known better how to find its undoubtable inner light.
As this one does….