It has been a long time since I blogged, but that’s not because I’ve been putting my feet up – quite the opposite. Finally I can catch up on some news, especially Hampshire Poet news.
So: since I last wrote, my first commission as Hampshire Poet – a poem about Lymington, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of Lymington Library – has been started, sweated over, finished, and printed on thousands of postcards. On a cold but bright day at the end of January I took myself down to the historic sea-side town, wandered around for a few hours, and made a very large number of notes. That was easy to do: Lymington is famously picturesque, and an advantage of doing this in January was that the summer crowds were missing, so I could observe the town closely. I’m no expert in architecture, but I’ve long loved the modest regularity of Georgian design, and there’s plenty of that; plus almost every one of the older buildings seems to have some small adornment that’s well worth stopping to look for. I also called in at the St . Barbe Museum, where I got enthusiastic help with the sights and history of the town, for which I’m very grateful.
After the groundwork, the first draft came pretty easily. One benefit of writing 20 poems in 20 days in October is an increased confidence in moving quickly from notes and jottings to a useful first draft. In about an hour and a half I had something I was happy with: strong images that I thought should be accessible to a wide readership, and a decent movement and structure.
Then it got harder. The second draft wasn’t too bad: I trimmed the poem down to the required postcard size, taking away weaker images and condensing others; and regularised the rhythm. So far so good, and I put the poem away for a few days, expecting to finish it easily at the next sitting.
It took a month. All I wanted to do was to work in some slant rhyme, but it was murder. I felt like a complete beginner, a first-time driver accidentally going the wrong way down a motorway and trying to dodge disaster. There was a lot of ‘woe is me’-ing: think Byron, Shelley and Coleridge stretched over tables in poses of exquisite suffering in Blackadder The Third, shouting, ‘Can’t you see we’re suffering!?’ The support of Angela, the Hampshire Literature Officer, and of my wife, was invaluable in assuring me that my tinkering was actually getting somewhere. And finally it was done, sent off, and over – before deadline too.
Yesterday a pile of the printed postcards arrived, and they look great. Job done!
Why was it so hard? Well, while I was drafting there was a little thought going around in the back of my mind: This poem is going to be read by lots and lots of people – MAKE IT GOOD MAKE IT GOOD MAKE IT GOOD. That’s more pressure than I usually write under, and I couldn’t quite shut the voice up. Maybe doing it once will make the next one easier. I’ll find out soon.