When I was born I had no words. Thrust away into silence, out of the world, I had no voice to make a cry. I lay in an abyss without body; without life, colour, taste, smell. No language, broken beyond repair.
Coming later into life, words flowered. Each one separate, a globe of colour that blew open into meaning and shot out its power. As the world created itself, so did I.
After that words joined in garlands, in strings, in ropes, in chains; in a net that held me and the world in place. I wore a suit of words that I had not made and as I grew, it stiffened. Words held me in a carapace while they danced and entranced within my mind. Outside they were debased coin, poor food with no more taste than dry bread. I touched them, clutched them, ran them through my fingers, patched them into shapes that were not my own. They were my hand-me-down shield, my second-hand armour, my protection and my prison. I piled them high like miser’s gold; I counted them, hated them, tooled them, schooled them, gloated over them, could not let them run free.
I want words that flow from my body like the blood in my veins. Words that scorch and dazzle as they spew out of my mouth like dragon’s breath. I want words that rustle round my limbs like silk, that glow and grow and shimmer in the light, that clothe my body softly as if spun from its pores, that knit themselves into a garment while I sneak through the holes.
Give me language that weighs down branches with clusters of dark fruit, language that piles dishes high with succulent mouth-treats, language that roars like a waterfall and sings like a siren, language whose torrent rides splashing over rocks, language that laps gentle and quiet round the rims of my toes. I want to melt down all I have into the coin of words, to peel pictures from my mind and use my words to stamp them on the paper.
Out of my closed mouth live words will force themselves into a new birth. A black cry, so loud I cannot hear it, will explode from the abyss, cracking the walls of rock, bursting the shell of my body till there is only the sound and I am a single language where words have lost their edges. I will be a poem that at last will speak itself.
And then there will be silence.
I wrote this piece a long time ago and called it My Language. I’m not sure if it’s good writing. It’s the sort of thing Adelina* might consider a bit ‘un-toward’, though it might perhaps work as a performance piece. However, it does show how much I long to write more freely and extravagantly than I do. And more lyrically and poetically, though I always have difficulty thinking of myself as a poet.
People sometimes say about my writing that it’s ‘neat’ or ‘precise’. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – better than loose and sloppy, as far as I’m concerned – but it does imply a certain carefulness, a tendency to pick up each word with tweezers, as I once said. Perhaps too a certain absence of panache and daring, as though I might not risk the unsettling phrase, the arresting image, the fractured but emotive syntax. To some extent that’s true. I’d like to think not wholly so, but when I write poems I often find myself ending up with a regular form rather than free verse, and my poems tend to be small and contained. I find it difficult to allow myself the informal simplicity and apparent spontaneity that I see in many of the poems I admire, and mine rarely reach into the depths of imagination that I appreciate in those others.
Not long ago I started a poetry correspondence course with Devon poet and prose writer Roselle Angwin. Although I’m working on a novel I’ve been feeling a need for poetry, both as a writer and as a human being (not that the two are mutually exclusive). As well as bringing me up against my hesitations and limitations as a poet, I’m hoping the course will enable me to write in a more supple and less constricted way. Whether it will remains to be seen, but even if it doesn’t I will have learnt more about the craft of poetry and perhaps become more sure of the place in myself where poetry resides. I may even have produced some poems, which would be very pleasing. I’ve just had a poem published in a new Exeter poetry magazine and was enormously chuffed that it was there alongside poems by real poets. It’s almost made me brave enough to send my work to some other poetry magazines, but perhaps I’d better get the verdict on my course assignments first…
To be fair (why not be fair to oneself as well?), sometimes when I’ve read through things I’ve written – even poems – I’ve been pleasantly surprised by passages or even whole pieces that seem to show the qualities I so want to emulate. In an MA module rather unfortunately entitled ‘Writing with a Poet’s Eye’ (or ‘Writing with the Eye of a Poet’) I produced some pieces in response to Virginia Woolf’s short stories that I like to think have caught something of the richness and musicality of her style. And in my file of offcuts from my novel, perhaps even in the novel as it stands, are passages that seem to have a more poetic feel. Maybe it is there somewhere, hiding behind the prosaic bits – and few people can write a novel entirely without prosaic bits. Sometimes ‘He got into the car and drove off’ is what it needs.
Whether or not I ever manage to become a poet – a published one, that is – and whether or not I get any of my fiction published, I still long to do this writing thing as well as I can, with as much passion and imagination as I can summon as well as care and skill. For some reason it matters; for some reason nothing else I do can be a substitute for this whole wonderful torturous business of putting experience into words, and doing it with all my heart. It feels alive, and I’d like its life to stream through me without my getting in its way. Perhaps then I could dare to become a poem that would speak itself.
*I was delighted to discover that the Swedish spelling of ‘blog’ is ‘blogg’ and there is actually an Adelina who bloggs.