Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Under One's Nose

After much ferrying, I have come to a rest, mind still buzzing... This morning I've been reading Charles Causley's poems and thought I would post something he wrote about finding a subject and about inspiration:

As a small boy, entranced by the written word, I never had the slightest desire to drive a locomotive, pilot an aircraft, captain a ship. The supreme achievement seemed to me to be that of one who had written a book: any kind of book. All through my teenage years I struggled with the short story, the novel, the play, the poem. I was like the man in the story who leapt on his horse and tried to ride off in all directions. Another difficulty lay in finding something to write about. I looked at the circumstance of my small-town rural life and decided, with supreme snobbishness, that it didn't match up to my literary ambitions. Unfailingly, I wrote about worlds I had never known. Poetry--and poetry was becoming my principal interest--was away and somewhere else. Nobody told me that the raw material of poetry, like the raw material of all art, resides quite simply under one's nose. Certainly, this didn't become plain to me until my experience of the Second World War.

Poets are often asked, in a dauntingly high-flown phrase, how and when they are "inspired." For myself, too often at such moments a deeply superstitious Celt, this is a word best avoided. If you ask me why I write, I would say that I write because I must. It's a compulsion, and--with luck--a means of resolving inner conflict. Poetry, for me, has been a particular form of autobiography. The general theme of one's work becomes self-evident, I think, in its early written stages, but the subjects may be many and various. And there's a certain danger in a too-active search for a subject. In my experience, a subject consciously sought is rarely found. It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who warned us, wisely, that the writer's greatest danger is impatience. "We must be right by nature, says Coleridge, "so that good thoughts may come before us like free children of God and say, Here we are."

--from "What Gift?," an acceptance speech to the 1990 T. S. Eliot Award of The Ingersoll Foundation. The late Charles Causley, a marvelous writer of ballads and lyrics, was the author of more than thirty books of poetry and prose.

Here's a small poem by Charles Causley to accompany that quote invoking his first understanding that subject was near, an idea that came to him as a sailor in WW II:


Draw the blanket of ocean
Over the frozen face.
He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish,
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass
At the Northern Lights.

He is now a child in the land of Christmas:
Watching, amazed, the white tumbling bears
And the diving seal.
The iron wind clangs round the ice-caps,
The five-pointed Dog-star
Burns over the silent sea,

And the three ships
Come sailing in.

* * *

In those stray moments--mowing the lawn, folding the fresh laundry--perhaps we can do a little dreaming about the places and subjects that are near.

See you soon!



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