For perhaps a decade and a half of my life, I thought of myself primarily as a poet. I wrote poetry every evening, pretty much. I look back in wonder at how much dedication I put into it, for so little reward. It wasn't just free association on paper. I really sweated over every line.
I was going through my files today-- paper files, not virtual files-- and came across some of my poems from 2005. Some of them aren't bad, I think. At least, not that bad. Here are a few.
This is what deserted beaches are for--
Mysterious figures like me who stand alone on the shore
Standing and brooding and watching the white breakers roll
The universally recognized shorthand for having a soul.
The Comedy Club
Every face wears a slowly-spreading grin--
Awaiting the deeper meaning smuggled in,
The point. Did you hear the one about the bloke?
You hear it every day. Life is a joke.
A long shaggy dog story, seemingly absurd--
It might make some sense when it's all been heard.
Hope is the rumble of the cabaret drum--
Life is a joke, but will the punch-line come?
I saw it for a moment there--
A flickering of doubt.
I run my fingers through your hair
And wonder why it feels so fair
To tease your young trust out.
We tell you more fantastic tales
Until the point sinks in--
The Sandman, Santa and Jack Frost
Make sure your innocence is lost
Before life can begin.
See, this is just what people do--
They tell each other lies.
You're armed for what you're growing to
When first you guess my tales aren't true
And faith melts from your eyes.
(I used something of a gimmick or a 'trick' in this poem. See if you can spot it.)
From lips of shop-worn women giving change
From loud art-gluttons who are sounding off
From girls when puberty streaks through their veins
From men in pubs who've had more than enough
The monosyllable drops easily.
And once I was a fool enough to scoff
Believing they committed blasphemy
In bandying what should be whispered of.
I thought too little of the highest power--
It blossoms in the daily push-and-shove
As well as in the lonely solemn hour.
It grows unlooked for, unattended, tough--
It glints from boredom, jealousy and greed.
Nothing's too vile for it to be above--
Common as muck, and needful as the air we breathe.
(I was always writing poems from the point of view of fictional narrators, leaving it to the reader to work out who was speaking and what about. This one is written from the point of view of a woman who had some kind of mental trouble in her teens and never had the wild party life that she imagines other girls had. I didn't have mental problems in my own teens, but I was very shy and did certainly feel a sense of missing out on all the parties, just like the girl in the poem. I often used female narrators to give myself a distance from a subject. I think this poem has a nice Larkin-esque couplet at the end.)
Boyfriends and clothes, and clubs and clothes, and clothes--
I wish I'd been like them at twenty-three.
No, I have stories full of therapy
And counselling. They own this crowded street.
I own an old back-alley no-one knows.
I want to walk a path-way worn by feet.
I wish I'd had those teenage holidays--
Six to a room, and parties every night.
You say that's all moronic, and you're right--
You say I'm better off to skip that stuff.
But when you talk about your rock-chick phase
The soft light in your eyes has said enough.
I felt the magic that I didn't share--
The worst thing is the way these girls will laugh
Seeing themselves in some old photograph
Ten years from now. Their cast-off yesterday
Won't mean a thing. The hardest thing to bear
Is not to have what others throw away.
Off the Map
Why is it language covers all the bases
For other people, serving words on cue
But all I want to say is like the places
The map preserves a silence of deep blue?
On a Shop Assistant's Name-Tag
Somehow it would seem just like a curse--
Using the name on her tag. She's hardly here.
The soul is buried deep in those blue eyes.
Has she outgrown the dream of a career?
Two syllable that leave me no more wise--
She might be from another universe.
No doubt it's meant to soften things a bit--
The rows of tins, the hard unblinking light--
No doubt they think it lends humanity.
But something is improper in the sight--
Laid bare for all indifferent eyes to see
With every drop of meaning drained from it.