I very rarely write poetry, not really feeling I have a propensity for it. Every once in a while, however, a novel requires that one of my characters does so and I find myself stepping into their skin and doing the job for them. It’s always a fascinating experience — another way of understanding a character.
And sometimes — just occasionally — I find myself wondering if, perhaps, I should write verse more often. I enjoy the discipline, but whether that’s because it’s always something of a novelty, I don’t know. I’m not even sure how effective the pieces themselves are.
With this in mind, I thought I’d share something I wrote — quite quickly — for the novel I’ll soon be starting, As Morning Shows the Day. It’s a short piece entitled Forbidden and it’s written from the perspective of a girl in her late teens. I won’t tell you anything more about it (it gives away something pretty vital to the novel.)
Let me know what you think of it if you have time.
They touch me in unknown places,
caressing and ashamed.
Secret dreams and longing —
forever driven, forever bereft.
counting the times that never can be.
His eyes upon me
all I can ever know.
A favourite poem for this time of year…
Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours,
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze,
And cups o’erflow with wine;
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love,
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.
This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.
This wonderfully cheerful and uplifting poem is brought to you courtesy of Stephen Fry, who recommended it on his Twitter feed yesterday. It’s by a gentleman called Thomas Hood and, appropriately, it’s called November.
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
There, now, doesn’t that make you feel better?
Whilst reading this article in which Poet Laureate Andrew Motion says that writing verse for the Royal Family is a “thankless” task, I found myself wondering how I would deal with such a bizarre appointment (not that I expect to be offered anything of the kind any time soon!)
I’m not nor have I ever really been a poet. Granted, I can knock one out when I have to, but it isn’t something that I especially enjoy or feel that I have to do. Prose is and I suspect will always be my form choice. But it certainly isn’t difficult for me, by substituting prose for verse, to imagine what it must be like — and how difficult I would find it.
The very notion of being “commissioned” to write a piece in this way, it strikes me, is bound to cause difficulties — especially when the family you are writing for is as anal and, well, as odd as the Royal Family! I mean, can you imagine what it must be like to have to write something for the Duke of Edinburgh?
“The bloody thing doesn’t rhyme! You call that a poem?”
He might not say it (the Queen doesn’t offer an opinion; I’m not sure about Prince Philip), but you just know he’ll be thinking it.
Some no doubt consider it the greatest honour. “Oh, the Queen wants me to write a poem for her! Isn’t that wonderful?” Anyone who values his or her literary ability, however, would be well advised in my opinion to politely tell them to stuff it. Mr Motion now no doubt wishes he had.
A poet laureate called motion,
Sat by the edge of the ocean,
Writing a sonnet
About the Queen’s bonnet;
He gave up and rubbed on more lotion.
Okay, I’ll stick to prose. Preferably not by royal appointment.
I’ve never really been all that much of a poetry fan. It seemed superfluous when, in my teens, I had the latest Marc and the Mambas L.P. to listen to (“What you earn / Heaven knows / It goes straight up your nose…”). Prose was my thing, and I just didn’t see the necessity for it.
One poem, at least, did get through, though — and I was reminded of it today when, the novel taking a (very slight) detour, I had to grab a name for a very beautiful Welsh girl out of thin air. Myfanwy, I thought, and the John Betjeman poem came flooding back…
Kind o’er the kinderbank leans my Myfanwy,
White o’er the playpen the sheen of her dress,
Fresh from the bathroom and soft in the nursery
Soap scented fingers I long to caress.
Were you a prefect and head of your dormit’ry?
Were you a hockey girl, tennis or gym?
Who was your favourite? Who had a crush on you?
Which were the baths where they taught you to swim?
Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle,
Black-stockinged legs under navy blue serge,
Home and Colonial, Star, International,
Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.
Trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle,
Out of the shopping and into the dark,
Back down the avenue, back to the pottingshed,
Back to the house on the fringe of the park.
Golden the light on the locks of Myfanwy,
Golden the light on the book on her knee,
Finger marked pages of Rackham’s Hans Anderson,
Time for the children to come down to tea.
Oh! Fullers angel-cake, Robertson’s marmalade,
Liberty lampshade, come shine on us all,
My! what a spread for the friends of Myfanwy,
Some in the alcove and some in the hall.
Then what sardines in half-lighted passages!
Locking of fingers in long hide-and-seek.
You will protect me, my silken Myfanwy,
Ring leader, tom-boy, and chum to the weak.