Matsuo Basho

How Do You Know When A Poem Is Finished?

Is a poem ever finished blog

I really enjoyed last weeks conversations about How Do You Read a Poem? and was interested to learn all the different ways and methods a poem can be read; especially the thoughts around how poems can appear different when they are written to being spoken. The conversation sparked this week’s Thursday Thought and got me thinking, how do you know when a poem is finished? Are the poems we read the finished article? and how do poets know when the end is reached?

Sometimes when I have written a poem on paper and completed a few drafts I let it sit, thinking the work is done. When I come back to it and read it aloud I realise there are things missing and rhythms not flowing in the words. This can happen with poems written many years ago. There always seems to be words or stanzas that don’t fit, and the poem is redrafted to suit the new moment.

The French poet and essayist, Paul Valery, claimed a poem is never finished, only abandoned, and most of the time it does seem he is right.  There have been many occasions when I have pondered and drafted a poem to such an extent that it has become a different poem and it has been left, as the excitement of a new idea or poem has taken precedent.

Maybe a poem is complete once it has left your head and hits the paper? Japanese Haiku Master, Basho, alluded to the fact the first thoughts of a poem are the purest and said, “when you are composing a verse, let there not be a hair’s breadth separating your mind from what you write. Quickly say what is in your mind; never hesitate a moment.”  Is the drafting and working of a poem  something habitual and what we are taught to do to seek perfection that can never be found?

Sir John Betjeman was ruthless in how he ended a poem, writing out the completed draft only five or six times before being contented with it. Once he finished the process he was no longer interested in the verse. Clinical although this may seem, Betjeman’s poetry is testament to the fact applying logic and process may be the only way to get a poem to the finish line.

Preparing today’s Thursday Thoughts has left me more confused than when I started, and I am thinking many of my poems have been finished out of boredom and frustration.  With some there is more to write, others – things to be taken away.

I need some help with this. How do you know when your poem is finished?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee With Basho

Coffee with Basho

When times are tough or when things start to darken your soul, do you have a favourite poem or poet you like to retreat to? The work of Japanese Haiku Master, Basho, provides a bolthole for me on such occasions, and recent events in the UK have led me to revisit his poetry.

In his sketch, The Records of a Travel- Worn Satchel, Basho advocated “all who achieve greatness in art possess one thing in common………. they are one with nature.” He spent his time travelling alone around Japan and getting closer to nature. He found the solitude (shabi) helped to block out distraction and enabled him to find lightness (karumi) and a spirit of poverty (wabi) to write his haiku.

Reading Basho takes you into the heart of nature, blocks out the distractions provided by a world seemingly hell bent on destroying itself. Sometimes the noise from current events provides a disconnect from our reason for being. Reconnecting with Basho has reconnected me with nature. I have experienced again, the feel of wet grass on bare feet, watched bees dancing amongst the lavender, listened to the blackbird announcing the dawn.

Basho’s work reminds us that the awe and simplicity of nature will always shine a light in the darkness.

What poems or poets provide an escape for you? I would love to hear about them.

Why not pop over to the Go Dog Go Café. I’ve taken Basho’s poetry over there and there’s coffee and a café haiku going on.

Poetic Motivations: 45

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Poetic Motivations:27

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Haiku in Winter

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Picture Credit: Carsten Huels

How did that happen?

It only seemed a moment ago, when I was walking through decaying leaves and pondering the poetic joys of Autumn when Winter arrives.

Here in the UK we have had a colder start to Winter than in past years. Temperatures have reached minus 9 degrees centigrade, in some areas, and snow has fallen in the North of England. It looks like a cold one and I’m happy, as I can hibernate in the poetry den for three months and get ahead with the poetry and writing.

Winter has provided the inspiration for many poets and poems and haiku is a genre of poetry where the theme of Winter is prominent. I have been reading a lot of haiku recently and there are perfect examples of haiku both, traditional and modern, inspired by the winter months.

Three of the masters of the haiku tradition Bashō, Buson and Issa all took inspiration from Winter and reading their work takes you to the heart and moment of the season. This haiku by Bashō (translated by Robert Hass) provides a perfect example.

Winter solitude-
in a world of one colour
the sound of wind.

From a more modern perspective Ruth Yarrow’s haiku captures the childhood joy that

Autumn’s Poetic Joy

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Summer is officially over in the UK.

Writing this blog and looking out of the poetry den window, the leaves and vines on the trees are beginning to lose their summer green and turn yellow. The lavender bushes are in their final bloom and bees are collecting the last remnants of pollen.

Autumn is a wonderful season, cushioning the warmth of summer into the cold of winter. It has influenced many poets and poems. Some of my favourite Autumn poems include, To Autumn by John Keats; Matsuo Basho’s Haiku – Autumn Moonlight and Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice.

In 2000 I spent three weeks in New England during The Fall. Driving through the woods and forests of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, shrouded in red, brown, yellow and gold is an experience still vivid in my memory. There is something magical about the energy in the autumn transformation that makes you want to pick up a pen and get musing.

Gold and brown leaves fall.
Shadows at dusk lengthen as
A winter sleep nears.

If you want to read more poetry about Autumn, then the site at Famous Poets and Poems has a good selection.

What inspires your poetry in the Autumn months? Do you have a favourite poem describing Autumn?

I would be pleased to read your thoughts.