Durham Miners' Gala today. My (soon-to-be-ex-) wife was up there all day with the NASUWT mob, then visiting a friend in the evening, so, after work, I had a good few hours free. Normally I would choose to pass those hours down the local, having a pint and a burger and laughing at the dessert menu on which summer fruit meringue is followed by eton mess. Tonight, I decided to do things differently. I cooked some pasta for tea, washed down with a wine glass full of diet coke, followed up by a strong coffee. I then sat down, stuck the music player on the new laptop to shuffle and commenced to write.
Writing poetry is an interesting thing. When you start, it's formless. When I write most of these blogs, I have a sort of vague idea of where I want to go, and sort of amble towards it over a few paragraphs. When I write a more organised article, I structure it in more detail. When I write a short story, I plot it out very carefully indeed, character; motivation; obstacle, outcome, obstacle, outcome, obstacle...(this is perhaps why I don't write many short stories: I always tend to follow the same structure. I ought to have the balls to try some Donald Barthelme -type experiments.) But writing poetry is different, for me. It doesn't start with a structure. Often it doesn't even begin with an idea. It starts by going within.
What happens, for me, is that I stop, I look at the page, I check up on whatever obsessions are running in the background of my emotional hard drive and then - gradually, and with a lot of deleting, retyping and deleting again - try and find a form to set them in, an action or a scene to illustrate them, and a structure in which these things can be revealed. Often one piece, when achieved, will spark off connections to another obsession, or another facet of the original, and so the process begins again.
Writers, they say, are people who find it harder to write than other people. And that's true: getting round to actually writing any poetry involves, for me, a near-endless round of displacement activity, blogging, brewing cups of coffee, washing dishes, reading, cleaning benches, going for walks or to the pub (or both), deciding that I will write something but only after watching Love is the Devil or Robinson in Space again, before eventually feeling sufficiently up to it to write something. But when it is working, when it's flowing, when you're dealing with the weird little things that live in the back of your brain and pinning them down on paper or screen, when the music is playing and your fingers are dancing over the keys - it isn't like the best feeling on earth, exactly. It isn't that it makes me feel good. It makes me feel right. Few things in this world do.
More nights like this are, I think, the way to get through this.