For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 14 July 2008

Juvenilia

I thought I'd destroyed all my embarrassing juvenile poems until I discovered a little cache of them in an old writing desk the other day. I've always written poetry - but seem to have been particularly prolific during my dreamy, romantic, angst-ridden teens and into my early twenties. At which point in my life it suddenly hit me how hard it was to write original, non-derivative poems and to 'find one's own voice'. Instead of putting in the time and effort to improve, I abandoned writing completely for many years. It's only comparatively recently that I've started writing seriously again; and strangely enough it's this blog - and also knowing a few writers plus some other influences - that has encouraged me. My output is still small, and often I find it difficult - but I hope I'm getting somewhere.

It might be fun to share 3 of these early poems I thought I'd lost. If nothing else, I think that it's an insight into the mind of an impressionable teenager - one who is a would-be poet, one who is mad on girls but too shy to approach them, one who worries equally about death and acne...

This poem is obviously very derivative, and drenched in adolescent yearning and romantic melancholy:

Autumn Thoughts

The leaves are falling through the air.
The smoke is clinging to the trees.
Your eyes are cloudy with blue smoke.
Your breath is redolent of leaves.

A man is sweeping into heaps
The leaves fresh fallen from the trees.
Your hands are stiller than my thoughts.
Your hair is yellow as the leaves.

The sun sinks low among the trees.
The heaps of leaves are now alight.
We watch the burning of the leaves.
They smoke all through the scented night.

We stand and watch the yellow dawn.
It gilds the frosted, leafless trees.
You weep into an ice-blue wind.
My thoughts revolve like falling leaves.

Leafy breath, eh? Interesting! I've obviously been reading too much Laurence Binyon or Rupert Brooke. Yet there's something about the atmosphere of this poem, with its hypnotic repetitions and faint air of mystery, that I don't find entirely displeasing even now...

This next poem makes me smile. It's set in such a specific time and place - late 60s/early 70s London - that it really is a period piece. Even the very word 'typist' is archaic.

Typist

The sixties saw her mini-skirted,
Beatle-mad and blonde. She flirted
With the multi-coloured shirted
Hip young dudes, to dope converted.

Now her breasts have lost their bouncing
Innocence. She's cool, not flouncing.
Tall and thin and trouser-suited,
Henna-haired and leather-booted.

The typist of the last decade
Was never typecast, born not made,
Her keyboard cast in greenest jade,
With jewelled keys, ribbons of braid.

But now she's full of seventies' sense,
Losing pounds and counting pence,
A house in Kent as recompense.
Is she serene or is she tense?

Or is she dreaming while she's typing,
Crashing keys with icy rage?
The noise is like a bird's wings breaking,
Beating on its gilded cage.

Mmm... It's about time those jade keyboards made a comeback! Not to mention bouncing, innocent breasts.
Finally I grow up a bit and try to write something more objectively based on actual observation. Mary was my girlfriend's aunt - a kind, frail, elderly lady, who lived near the top of a block of council flats in Benwell, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Revisiting the area a few years ago, I found it more or less unrecognisable, as most of the surrounding street terraces - which used to be popular back-to-back rental housing for Newcastle University students - had been knocked down. Mary was quite deaf and had permanent muscular tremors which I think must have been a symptom of Parkinson's disease. She never married and had been a domestic servant all her life.

Mary

Others talk past you. But you are not deaf
To kindness or the lack of it,
Though subtleties slip by. You simply smile,
With a child's wonder, with an old maid's regret.

Catching a word or glance your jellied face
Sets in a smile, which we observe. We grin
Stupidly. Then, embarrassed, shift our gaze
From you back to each other. The frozen stream
Of conversation thaws, melting our silence,
But isolating yours. Your lineaments,
Drawn tight with joy, sag and collapse again.

Your loveless life knew just one brief affair:
A cyclist, who pedalled off one bright morning,
Whistling, to the war, and not returning,
Leaving you to rub and scrub away
His image with your housemaid's brush.
But memories are not effaced this way.
They lie deeper than all the dust and grime.
And now you wait in stillness, trapped by time.

Just yesterday, in city crowds, you trembled,
Suddenly more naked, more alone.
Your clumsy fingers clutched my arm. Your fear
Shook that frail domicile of skin and bone.

Yes, I think this captures something - especially the 2nd stanza which betrays an honesty and a carefulness of observation which has rather surprised me. Though the last line of the 3rd stanza is forced and very poor.

3 comments:

Mister Roy said...

Thanks for sharing these. Some nice stuff in each of them - I guess it's a good thing to share old work. Even tentative early pieces deserve to breathe now and again...

It's interesting how blogging can unlock creativity - I guess having an audience makes a big difference.

Dominic Rivron said...

I don't know if it was these three - but I remember seeing your poetry when I was in my early teens. I can see the (typewritten?) sheets of paper now, in my mind's eye, but I didn't read them then. One looked a bit like "Mary" and that's what reminded me - big fat stanzas.

I remember thinking back then how long they looked. I think that's why I didn't read them. I was impressed though:)

Funny how as young men we saw virtue in filling the page with words instead of crossing half of them out.

Thanks for the chance to read them last. There are really good bits (I liked the end of Mary).

Autumn Thoughts reminded me of "The trees are coming into leaf" - that Larkin poem. Had it been written then (it was in High Windows - published 1974)?

The Solitary Walker said...

Thank you both for dropping by.

Yes, everyone likes an audience, even those artists who insist they are only doing it for themselves.(They are lying!) Mutuality, sharing, appreciation, critical response - all these things are much more pleasurable and interesting than mere onanism. Having an audience spurs one on to try and communicate just a little more clearly, to express oneself just a little better.

Thinking back, Dominic, I must have written that poem about Mary Binnie around the same time as that Larkin poem came out. How flattering that Larkin was so influenced by me..!!! :-)

Seriously though, Larkin is a great example of someone who found his own voice. If you've read 'The North Ship'(1954) you'll know that it's still got a foot in the past, that it's rather derivative and lyrically romantic - juvenilia, if you like. With 'The Less Deceived' (1964) he took a quantum leap forward and never looked back.