As I make changes in my life to make more room for writing I have been reflecting on the process of writing itself, and particularly on what is happening when I write poetry. I want to resist the popular image of the writer as a lonely isolated ‘creative’ somehow making it all up and achieving it by themselves. It seems to me we all receive an inheritance of language, insights, images and ideas, which we in our turn, take and shape and pass on, that all writing is part of a collaboration, a collective human effort to articulate, explore and celebrate the miracle and mystery of our being here. This is especially true of language itself: every word we use has been used, enriched and nuanced by someone else before us. I take great comfort from the fact that all the words I use are older and wiser than I am, and I sometimes think it’s my task not so much to impose myself on the words that come to me as I start writing, as to welcome them, make them comfortable, listen to what they have to say, and ask them if there are other words,friends of theirs, who might like to join the party. My task as a poet, thinking of form and arranging lines and rhymes, is not so much that of a general imposing order as that of a genial host, arranging the places at a dinner party with a view to eliciting the best conversation from his guests. As usual I found that these thoughts and the words that went with them began to arrange themselves in the form of a poem, which I have called Hospitality. As this is a season in which many of us will be extending hospitality to friends and family, I thought it might be a good time to post it.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button
I turn a certain key within its wards,
Unlock my doors and set them open wide
To entertain a company of words.
Whilst some come early and with eager stride
Others must be enticed and coaxed a little,
The shy and rare, unused to company,
Who’ll need some time to feel at home and settle.
I bid them welcome all, I make them free
Of all that’s mine, and they are good to me,
I set them in the order they like best
And listen for their wisdom, try to learn
As each unfolds the other’s mystery.
And though we know each word is my free guest,
They sometimes leave a poem in return.