WordPress News informs me that April is NaPoWriMo or National Poetry Writing Month. I haven’t written poetry in a very long time and, to be quite honest, the more I read the less likely I am to put pen to paper in that way again. So while I’m not going to stun you with a poem I’ve written, let me share with you one of the many many poems I wish I’d written.
I can remember exactly where I was when I first read a poem by Al Purdy. I was studying for summer undergraduate exams; putting in 12-hour days in the library and trying to avoid any sight of the fickle Irish sunshine which was likely to have retired for the season by the time my exams would be over. As important as it was, French political history could only hold my attention for so long and every two hours I’d allow myself to wander through the English stacks, pulling out anything that took my fancy and allowing myself a short break. I still have a folder full of poems I discovered during those times, all diligently copied out by hand from anthologies which I didn’t have the money to buy but which I picked up on almost every library visit for the next two years. Even now, after having purchased many of those same collections, there are some poems which just look wrong in anything other than my juvenile handwriting.
Poem by Al Purdy was one I came back to time and again in those years. When I read it now, I can still remember what my teenage self thought ‘the meaning’ of the poem was, a meaning that’s been layered over with the changing critical interpretations that years, experience and loss have since offered up. But it was wholly romantic to an 18-year-old Em, and, if I’m fully honest, it’s still shaping my view of love now.
You are ill and so I lead you away
and put you to bed in the dark room
–you lie breathing softly and I hold your hand
feeling the fingertips relax as sleep comes
You will not sleep more than a few hours
and the illness is less serious than my anger or cruelty
and the dark bedroom is like a foretaste of other darknesses
to come later which all of us must endure alone
but here I am permitted to be with you
After a while in sleep your fingers clutch tightly
and I know that whatever may be happening
the fear coiled in dreams or the bright trespass of pain
there is nothing at all I can do except hold your hand
and not go away
And some words from Mr Purdy himself on what it means to be a poet:
To all the many thousands of poets who have been, who are now (and those who will be), poets bad, good, or indifferent – I’m grateful. The same bug that bit those others also took a chunk out of me, infecting all of us with this habit, craft, art, or whatever it is. As a result, I’ve experienced tremendous feelings of euphoria when writing what I’ve thought was a good poem. Even at the worst of times, writing poems has been joyous and rewarding
As a writer, I’ve always felt like an eternal amateur. Even after writing poems all my life, I’m never entirely confident that the next poem will find its way into being. And then I find myself writing one, without knowing exactly how I got there.