Number 364 has 364 lines. In it I've shoved a lot of my thoughts on this whole 365 poem project. Still, I can't really recommend that anyone read it, so to sum up: 365 is a lot of poems and there are some that are pretty good, and quite a few that are mediocre. Anyway, take it away after the cut.
I had a pretty stupid idea:
Three hundred sixty five poem year.
As a new year resolution it sucks.
I can complete it with a little luck
But will I be better for doing it?
Smarter, wiser, kinder, perhaps more fit?
No, just a huge pile of words on screen
That a handful of people may have seen.
As I near the end of the project
The quantity at least has an effect.
Great enthusiasm as I begin
But I fall behind barely one month in.
Catch up fits and starts lead to many short
And swiftly written pieces to import.
They suffer. Thoughts come, are forced into rhyme
And metre, then forgotten for all time;
Three lines, four lines, six, scribbled down. They are
Barely developed, or pushed at all, far
Less extended, made into something new,
Something beautiful and clever and true.
My bright hope for exquisite poetry,
Words and images allowed to fly free
Replaced by my expectation, words dragged
Into place to fill gaps that would be gagged.
Still. There’s some good stuff amongst the nonsense;
Superheroes and villains, some pretence
To writing on issues brought from real
Life. Charming moments with wide appeal.
Pantuns, sixteen lines (although only eight
Unique) come easily, without much wait.
The weather (conversational backup
That it is, filling time over a cup
Of tea or coffee) turns up again
And again, when I say something on rain
Or sun, heat or cold, light or darkness.
Yes, some pieces worth saving from the mess.
There’s a few on children, celebrating
The horde of babies that were arriving
On a monthly basis through the year
It improved my more serious ideas.
(Comedy still works when you force a rhyme
But one needs natural finish to lines
When writing straight-faced congratulations
Or you make fun of the situation)
I hadn’t got at all far through
When I became uncle to a little nephew
Easier, better natured than I’d’ve bet.
So I’m told. I haven’t gone to see yet.
In the city where the Amstel meets the Ij
Is the place he lives. Everytime I
Make a half plan to go for a visit
The grandparents have leapt in and booked it.
Can’t blame them. Thirty eight years and I’m still
Descendentless. I think it’s just as well.
Thirty Eight. I share my birthday with a
Girl thirty seven years younger who can say
“Bye bye” and stomps up and down the carpet.
She’s about as cute as anyone gets.
Since her, there has been an almost endless
Stream of them popping out. I must confess
I will miss a few as I go on. I
apologise if I pass your kid by.
I never really got it, baby love
Kids old enough to argue or to shove
Back (metaphorically) when you talk to
Them, challenging everything you do:
I like them. Now I get a small glimmer
Of why infants, although they’re much dimmer
Inspire devotion. Still don’t want one
Of my own. Visit then take them home.
My love life quiet (silent?) as it is
Gives certain pieces some much needed fizz.
Raw emotion filtered through the metre
Bypass logic, produce tears by the litre.
Well that’s the theory. It turns out praxis
Is experimental, more hit and miss.
Still I hope I express states of the heart
Pain of ending, exhilaration start.
For when prose exists for writing exact
Poetry must do more than recite facts.
There’s some big, round, clever, silly rhymes
When a young lady investigates crimes.
Perhaps when I match the word ‘constable’
To the market town that’s named ‘Dunstable’
I went too far. But the audience
Approved with some claps and applause.
I took the chance to criticise crime shows
How detectives often are hurt or know
About evil from experience in
Their personal lives; they have their own sins;
Drink , divorce, adultery, revenge and
Ambition. There are examples to hand
Everywhere. Nothing wrong with gritty dark
Cop shows but I decided to remark
That lighter, cosy mysteries have their
Place. It doesn’t have to be all despair.
Hand waves it’s fingers, fingers become fist;
A word image coalesces from out of mist.
Composition effortless; a moment
Later stare with bemusement, amusement
Inspiration dries. The words will not come
Somehow it seems my muse has struck me dumb.
Immortality haunts me; the undead
Take up a whole lot of space in my head.
But this summer I wrote about the fey.
Ten elf poems put down in just one day.
One narrator for millennial span
A love story, then a war story, and
The end of the world, nicely mirroring
The creationborn elders, still living
From the time before sun or moon appear
In the sky; older even than fear?
Perhaps. Still lots of riffs off of Tolkien
And some of my disagreements (quite mean
To argue on imaginary elves
With a dead man. Like debating myself)
The thing unmentioned in Lord of the Rings
Is the changes to the world since birthing
Galadriel. She lived through the sun and
Moon’s arrival (Two trees lit up the land
Before) and the rounding of the flat earth.
No wonder she is so strange on her turf.
The knowledge of the depths of history
Has me asking why it is not her story.
Penultimate poem with three hundred
Sixty four lines (it’s the one being read)
I was asked ‘why not three hundred sixty
Five?’ Apart from being in some pretty
Couplets, leaving a line spare, surely I
Should match line numbers to numerically
Harmonise inner and outer structure?
I think only they and I care for sure.
Having something epically long to end
Would drive some readers right around the bend.
Food is not as prominent a topic
As I might have thought. One recipe sticks
Out – for a cocktail – but on the whole
It’s hard to fulfil both poetic goals
And cooking ones at once. Still, taste is there,
Cakes, soups and a bunch of kitchen work to spare.
Some double meanings and codes you can break
Or intertextuality to make
It seem like I really know what I’ve done.
I’m perhaps too fond of using for fun.
I like a bit of symbolism but
The plain reading must make the first cut.
High functioning undead back up plan – by
Which I mean lich or vampire – if I
Turn into one, holy water, stakes and
Mallets are in the place near to hand.
Low functioning, zombie or similar
Cliched unpleasant monsters that they are
If I should become one, just deal as
You see fit. I’ll just be a shambling mass
(Please, before you dispatch me quickly check
I’m really dead, not just sleep deprived wreck)
It seemed a clever idea then, to
Write a novel and all these poems too.
After all I caught up from one hundred
Or more behind so I feared not to tread
The path of double tasking. It was not
A success. The novel was pretty hot;
Seventy five thousand words of sci-fi
Horror taking a month (and a week). Sly
Dog that I am, I included opera
So lyrics could double as poems. Hah!
Fragmented, context sensitive, they sit
Waiting for me to get round to edit.
So no, the poetry fell far behind
(Though not as much as previously mind)
Until I had mental space cleared out
From computers, killer robots. Without
Beserker zombies I can rhyme better.
Characters run, keep my mind in fetters.
Interviews for jobs, my odd voluntary
Work, I hint at it a bit quietly.
Unprofessional for too detailed
And too boring for much story to yield.
I took minutes at a quick short meeting.
By interview’s end I was repeating
Myself and sounding like a gormless twit.
Rather not write when I’m tired of it.
Acrostic reviews. They work out okay!
Capital letters, the titles they say.
Really no need or use for a metre
(Of course, there’s a beat, I’m not a cheater)
Sometimes very short, others oh so long
TV, film, games, I’ve not yet done a song.
It’s a break, a freshening up and a
Challenge. Initial title: Game to play.
You look up, shadows lifting from your face
I’m distracted, words falling into place.
I’m writing. I’m a little obsessive.
It’s okay. You’re not very possessive.
Day turns to dusk as I finish the piece.
You laugh when I read. That’s something at least.
You are distracting, not really my muse.
Experiment over, Again I choose
Not to repeat for a while. We eat
Your favourite foods as repayment treat.
I went to a wedding and young Millie
Took a sausage roll from my plate. Silly
As it was it inspires a poem.
Indeed the event had several of them.
(I didn’t rhyme how Dean’s nephew, on first
Meeting me (he’s months old) gave forth a burst
Of sick. My legendary child skills
Again given a chance to be fulfilled.
But no! The Mums got together and had
It swiftly under control. Oh so sad.)
The creative writing class, adult ed
Has some poems directly suggested.
More often I’ve used the outline of tasks
To write on subjects I would never ask
Or write about. One of the great virtues,
To compose things alone I would not choose.
The other, an audience to answer
The question – does it work and do they care?
The lesson. Comedy comes too easy.
To stay serious look suspiciously
At each line, word, syllable and after
How they interact. Will it make laughter?
Throw it away. Rewrite obsessively.
Pare it down to basics. That is a key.
I stole some ideas from the writing
Group. Nothing big, just occasional things
To spark some couplets to stitch together
Scribbled down. Some good, some bad, whatever
Everywhere I went I added to my
List. It fills up with words, phrases, to try
And give me things to think to write about
When my brain power completely runs out.
Mispellings, mistypings, my own, others
A source of ideas to discover
Like making jam, the windfallen fruit
I provide sugar and the pot to boot.
That’s the whole thing with the idea list
Boil up for long enough anything missed
And it can give an image or word.
Sometimes it’s great, other times it’s a turd.
There’s a problem. The best, the cleverest,
The concepts that I have the most interest
I write about and cross off. The very
Worst I dispose of and never worry.
I am left with increasing numbers of
Mediocre thoughts to chew on and off.
They need work, take up mental space until
I drag them to the ending they fulfil
Then I’m left dishearteningly with a
List that only gets longer and duller.
The weird thing is, there are poems I
Wrote in the year but are not in my
Collection. Three really good ones come to
Mind. For class a dedication; an ode to
Someone. Too personal. Too powerful.
Too embarrassing. Stay private until
Time has passed. Another is a gift for
Felix, so he has it to keep in store.
Last, not least, one gone for competition.
But for that to stay in true contention
It cannot be published even on my
Blog, until results are opened to eyes
The writers’ circle, who meet around a
Table that is mostly rectangular
Suggest topics for our monthly meets
(You don’t need to write, just to claim a seat)
Deadly sins, avarice, envy, lust, pride
Gluttony, sloth, wrath. I wrote seven sides
But I only have one thing to say on
Sin: Too much of a good thing will go wrong
(And mindfulness, compassion, empathy,
Make us better people, both you and me)
I write this stuff in perhaps two voices
A formal register that rejoices
In pedantry and an idiolect
Close to the regular speech you expect
Me to use in every day life. Many
Likes, and somes, and whats; all my silly
Verbal exclamations, my tics and quirks
Lightly filtered so the metre will work.
Some mannered, over designed lines are first
Drafts, while simple casual bits were cursed
Difficult, requiring work for what
Seemed like hours. Which was which? I forget.
After all this time and writing I tell
You, I can’t remember details well.
So what have I written on? What is my
Theme, my topic, what is it that I try
To say things about? Perhaps death and love.
What else have I got, when push comes to shove.
They are old but eternal, something we all
Know about. Our hearts break and hearts call.
Prose struggles. Poetry cuts, sharp as knives
Flaying off the skin of everyday lives.
Screaming in pain, in joy and in fear,
Words and feelings never been so near.
Meh. It’s doggerel. About a dozen worth, at best,
The photons on the screen. As for the rest,
Better forgotten. For that matter, will
Anyone but me go so far to drill
Three hundred lines to find this? Win a prize!
Ask me for a poem. Unless – surprise –
I am overwhelmed, I’ll write one for you.
The choice of what, that you will have to do.
To claim, just quote “Three Hundred (not comic
Or film)” Response will be subatomic
I expect. I can barely summon the
Will to read this, and it’s my agenda.
Take X, add Y, random combination
A style of silly conversation.
Not a bad story construction method
A little addition renews old wood.
Use it for jokes: sub-type incongruous
Or to spice up something more serious.
Romans marched here and they built a fort
Vortigern, Hengist, Horsa are all thought
To have been in East Kent and come ashore;
Canute would draw up on the stand, and more.
My small town, once a great medieval
Port until the riverbed silted full
While ships got bigger with deeper drafts.
Now it’s mostly used by pleasure craft.
None of this heritage and history
Has ended up in any poetry
I wrote, despite constant research and talks
Seeing old stuff everywhere I have walked.
A missed opportunity or maybe
Topics for some future wordsmithery.
Exhaustion sets in as always happens
So I write about the failure of pens.
Many of these began life on paper.
For composition it doesn’t compare
Badly to twenty-first century means
With advantages to keys and screen.
Crossing out leaves a ghost for redrafting
Alternative ends and beginnings.
The clean professional finality
Of black letters stark on white screen can be
Intimidating as often as it
Inspires to shoot until target hit.
There is no argument or real strife
In my totally non-fictional life
No conflict. Strong language is overheard
I never need hear or use those words.
Honestly, I don’t know where I’m going
With this. Now, at long last I am closing
On an ending I never expected
To see. Am I just completely emptied
Of thought? What do I mean no bad language?
This fuck is, at the least, a third usage.
I’ve scribbled down and typed up all my thoughts
That I came up with or otherwise caught
My attention now I am reviewing
This year long poetry writing thing.
All in one stupidly large rhyming piece
With a metre that scatters without cease.
This is the penultimate poem, on
December thirtieth it will become
The capstone, leaving room for epilogue
To obscure everything with wordy fog.
Does this sum it up? Or does it decline.
I do not know. You’ll have to read the lines.
Count them up, three hundred sixty four.
I don’t feel like doing any more.