These are such strange times. It’s difficult to know how to approach blog writing, and social media engagement. I’m about to start a YouTube channel too, which will be aimed at helping writers who might have come to working in the arts from backgrounds in which it’s difficult to get a leg up – working class folk, people living in rural areas, people who didn’t go to university, or people who have come late to their writing careers, that sort of thing. It all feels strange though, to be carrying on with life, to be aiming for goals and aspiring to move career and business forward. It feels wrong, but I’m not sure what is the right thing to do, what is the right approach to take. So many people are facing such intense emotional and physical pain and danger, it feels selfish to be living a relatively normal life. But what else can one do? We must all do what we can do, help where we can, do what we can and, I guess, not lose sight of the end, the other side, the place at which we are going to emerge.
And so I come back to the blog. While I have been working out a plan for the YouTube channel I decided to rejig the blog and make a plan for that. I want it to reflect the research that I am doing now, the poetry and prose that I am coming across and I want to use it as a platform to explore the rural writing experience and the validation of writing about the countryside, which includes landscape, nature and the lived experiences of people who exist within a rural setting.
I am a rural writer, working class. My work, even the poetry and prose that is very personal, is informed by the place that I live, the world that I live in. I want to explore that further in terms of roots, ancestry, pyschogeography, art, writing, writers and poetry, of course poetry.
There is a tendency for the rural experience to be seen as either pastoral or primitive, or both. The experience of rural living is often devalued because it is not metropolitan and the arts, and funding for the arts, is often centred around cities and bigger towns. This in turn leads to the idea that art based around or informed by rural life, landscape and or nature, is often (not always) seen as ‘less than’ rather than ‘different but equal to’ writing based on the personal or the urban. I want to challenge that in my own writing and my work. It’s important to me that the rural experience is recognised and validated and I want to use my blog to talk about and explore this further. This will be a regular blog, on a Friday. There will be occasional blogs that are more personal in nature too, and maybe the occasional ‘how to’ blogs, but the backbone, I hope, will now be about the work and the research I am doing.
And so, to my first ‘show cased’ poem, Coalend Hill Farm, 1962 by Pippa Little. You might remember a review I wrote of Pippa’s collection Twist, which I wrote for Northern Soul a while ago. Here it is, in case you want to revisit it: Twist Review
Coalend Hill Farm, 1962
I don’t remember the Beanley orra-man,
his boots down the lonnen black as a wet day, his caravan
under a butchered elm’s imaginary wingspan,
rusted, cantankerous: ‘all that can’s been done’,
my mother said, then, low, ‘he’s God’s own one’.
I can’t recall his singing of the Kingdom come,
or whispering from underneath his hands
‘if my soul the Lord should take’, or how he crept away
like Billy Blin, awake long hours before the blackbirds, eager to begin
carving off a dead lamb’s skin to roll one barely-living in
under a dazed ewe, force tongue to tit, tit to tongue :
mole-blind he’d move, from east to western sun, more whole
in his Gomorrah than the doucest thing, but slow,
immortal, helpless as his beasts to conjure up tomorrow.
What do I like about the poem? Well, firstly, it’s a sonnet. And I like to see writers using structure to enhance the power of the poem. Structured forms are challenging, they’re fascinating in their own right, like trying to solve a puzzle, but at the end of the day, the structured form is a tool to enhance the content of the poem. So what’s that sonnet structure doing here? It’s keeping the content contained, it is ensuring that nothing is wasted, the limitations of the form are condensing the imagery. And it’s a kind of love poem, not quite nostalgia, but something closer to appreciation. I feel that the structure is containing the poem in a metaphorical sense too. It’s mirroring the character, the orra-man who is also a contained person, contained within his own personality, his solitary caravan, his religion. The turn at around line eight or nine is deftly done too, it see-saws the poem, turning it so we are looking up at this man, rather than down at him. Clever stuff.
There’s also an unapologetic use of dialect. That first line opens up so purposefully with ‘orra-man’. There were three words in total in this poem that I had to google. That’s on of them. And I am richer for it. Too often colloquialisms, dialect and non english language are seen as barriers to accessibility, but I don’t think this is the case. We have the world at our finger tips. We are enriched by the experiences and language of others. Not everything should be a walk in the park, some things should be a joyful climb into another world. I love how this poem does this, it makes it stand out, it defines itself, places itself in a region, a geographical locality and it doesn’t say ‘I hope you understand what I’m saying’ it ‘says: ‘This is my experience, this is my language, this what is how I say it.’
What else do I like? I like that perhaps I haven’t seen everything, or understand everything that the poet has put in here. The narrator begins with ‘I don’t remember the ‘Beanley orra-man’ before going on to describe him in depth. How can the description be so full if the memory isn’t there? I don’t think I want to know. Part of why this strangely dark and unnerving poem works is because we don’t know. Again, we, the readers are given space to decide, to imagine. We’ll interpret it differently, we’ll be part of the conversation, the exploration that good poetry ensures.
There are other things I love about this poem. I love good imagery and wow, this has some fantastic images. The line that includes : under a butchered elm’s imaginary wingspan,
is perhaps my favourite. It is an incredible, earthy, grounded image. ‘Butchered’ used in this description is setting something up too, isn’t it. Something real and bloody, a signpost to what is coming. The structure too helps lead us through the poem, like stepping down stairs into a cellar in which there is real vulnerability amidst the care of a new born lamb. My dad’s cousin used to farm sheep. The skinning of a dead lamb and jacketing a new born is something that happens, it is an age old custom and very effective. This is what we ask of farmers. This life and death is a fact of farming. Incidentally, if you want to follow a real life farmer on twitter, someone who is passionate, and compassionate about his livestock and his land, I recommend @herdyshepherd1
And then that last line, wow. It feels like the narrator is dusting their hands off, job done, tools set down.
I would love to know your thoughts on it, and any recommendations you have for poets, creative non fiction writers and fiction writers that you think I should know about!
Until next time.