So, this week, one of the things I did was to meet my dear friend Watson in the British Library caff for coffee, cake and writerly chat. She’s hard at work on her memoir at the moment; I’m mired in the last 5 poems I need to finish before I can send an m.s. off on its rounds of the poetry publishers (erk!).
We started talking about sound and it astonished me (though it shouldn’t have *) that she reads her drafts out loud before editing them – that sound is the prime means by which she re-writes and cuts down. And then she said that prose should have elements of poetry in it, which astonished me more (and of course, I know, it shouldn’t have **).
It made me realise how tunnel-vision I am. I have never before stopped to think about what prose needs. I don’t think I even care. But poetry, now…. I agonise endlessly about it; what it should be, where it’s going, whether I should be writing it, how I should be writing it….
Anyway, sound. The minutest difference between drafts can make such a difference over all. Here’s the penultimate line of a poem I wrote for the St. George’s Day poetry event in April, called Londinia:
Enumerate now each strand of lacework at her hem
For ages, it sounded awkward, and I couldn’t work out why. But look, the last two words both start with h. And having to make two such sounds in such proximity to each other forces the reader to do something weird with her breath. So I’ve changed it:
Enumerate now each strand of lacework at the hem
This in turn has messed with the connotations in the poem; the directs the reader back to considering Londinia as a city, whereas her keeps grip on Londinia as a woman. IMHO.
Jeez, and it’s JUST ONE WORD! This is what I find simultaneously exasperating and fascinating about writing poems. And I suppose that’s why I’m still doing it – and not writing prose.
* It shouldn’t have astonished me because (a) she used to work in radio, (b) she is an accomplished speaker of French and (c) she likes loud, drum-heavy music.
** As Watson pointed out, while politely refraining from going Der!; prose also uses sound, i.e. rhythm, pace, cadence, assonance, etc. through which to create meaning.