Friday, February 23, 2018

Pictures, a poem from 1997

I've been rearranging my personal archives (an activity I enjoy very much). In my "Pre-Millennial Poems" folder, I came across this poem, which I think is not bad and which (some) readers might enjoy.

This poem attemps to capture in poetry the flavour of a photo-montage, and the theme itself is photography (and imagery in general).

I've always found photographs to be intensely poetic. (They can be intensely sinister, as well-- horror stories about cameras, photographs, and footage tend to be particularly creepy.) One of my longstanding fantasies is to have a collection of poetry paired with photographs.

When I wrote this poem, I was particularly intrigued by the first surviving photograph ever taken with a camera, as shown below. I liked the way it seemed to mimic the dawning of consciousness-- something new coming into the world, gradually. That is the opening metaphor of the poem.

Other than that, it's not a poem to be over-analysed, more a sequence of ideas. "Aeon" means eternity,

The poems I wrote in my late teens were generally better than the poems I wrote in my twenties. I really laboured over my poems when I was a teenager. In my twenties, I decided to aim for fluency rather than painstaking craft, and it was a terrible decision. Anyway, I hope you like this poem.

It does not begin with a bang, or a snap, or a flash;
It begins with a delicate delineation of light
And darkness, a coming of something unseen to the sight.
The world filters onto the film of the mind by degrees
When the embryo eye, just a shutter of lid and of lash
Unfolds on eternity's face, which need never say "cheese".

The world does not say why it poses for pictures, or how.
It keeps us all snapping away with sensations it saves
To keep up our wonder-- as when a boy strolling through caves
Should come upon daubings of ancient men's wishes and fears;
The mystical mirror of nature, forged first in Lascaux,
Holed up unrevealed in the darkness for thousands of years.

And those aeons ago, what awe must have welcome their birth!
Men must have stood speechless, transfixed by this singular stunt--
Transposed on the stone, but still in the torchlight, the hunt
In all of its splendour and terror-- life's flesh and life's blood
Refashioned by firelight with fingers smeared, God-like, with earth.
And so feel we still when we stand where those hunters had stood;

When we stand in their place, be it there in that cellar or not,
For the reel of the centuries cuts to unending new scenes.
New wonders await in the wings; as to what it all means
The audience whispers below, one eye fixed on the play.
In the darkroom of reason the artist develops each shot
To make sense of the tangle and catch it in black, white and grey.

The chatter of morning commuters, a photo-montage
Of a thousand perspectives and angles. A massive archive
Of footage is kept within every and each man alive;
And though of recordings unhappy and dark we would cleanse
Our files, they escape us. A copy if ever at large,
The SENSATION! EXCLUSIVE! of somebody's mischievous lens.

Paparazzi swarm round every figure that takes centre stage
Unheeding rhubarbing extras that wait at the back.
But leave that show be, and zoom in to the great chasing pack;
There is more to be seen in that unphotogenic mish-mash.
And a word or a song or a dream can develop an age;
It does not begin with a bang of a snap or a flash.

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