from the NWP weekend at Bungay in Suffolk – on the theme 'What I really want to say':
What I really want to say is that I very much appreciate the open space of writing and reflection in which I am not expected to emulate a model or reach a standard. It is strangely empowering and freeing, this space of open writing where I can let my fingers move over the keyboard, pressing keys where they will, without knowing more than three or four words ahead what is going to emerge. For example, I have just inserted a full stop and started again. Who knows who I will be in the morning, after the experience of formless non-egoistic embryonic emergence of words and ideas?
Writing in the Dark
One of my favourite poems has always been 'Traveling through the Dark', by the American poet William Stafford. I read it first in one of the Touchstones school anthologies.
Traveling through the Dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River Road.
It is usually best to throw them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason -
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking-lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could feel the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all – my only swerving -
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
I wrote this poem out without looking it up as it has been with me for years, a 'touchstone' in my mind, to use a term invoked more than a century ago by Matthew Arnold and later by Michael and Peter Benton in their anthologies. Only recently, through a chance listening to a radio programme, have I learned about Stafford's writing process. In an essay entitled A Way of Writing, he explains that he usually begins writing in the morning, before anyone else in the house is up, and that he relies entirely on an inner process:
"I get pen and paper, take a glance out of the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long, for there is always a nibble – and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me. Something always occurs, of course, to any of us. We can't keep from thinking. Maybe I have to settle for an immediate impression: it's cold, or hot, or dark, or bright, or in between! Or well, the possibilities are endless. If I put down something, that thing will help the next thing come, and I'm off. If I let the process go on, things will occur to me that were not at all in my mind when I started. These things, odd or trivial as they may be, are somehow connected. And if I let them string out, surprising things will happen."
Stafford's view that the creative process will allow the emergence of things that are somehow connected is, I think, supported by a poem I wrote recently and without conscious memory of or reference to Stafford's 'Traveling in the Dark'.
A putrescent smell
led my daughter into the garden
where her four year-old plays.
A dead fox:
couched and crouching,
head on a tussock of grass
as if looking ahead.
No visible injury;
The jaw was eaten
and maggots festooned the tail.
Hackney council will take and dispose in an hour.
But she dug a garden grave
laid the fox as a foetus
beneath a blanket of earth
with stones above
to prevent further violation.
John's website: https://johnhodgson.org/
John's blog: https://research1english.wordpress.com/