Monday, 19 May 2014

Poetry Interludes: Clearing the Mind Between Books - Lucy Coats

I'm in the space between novels at the moment - in the eye of the creative storm, so to speak. It's a necessary space for me, a place where I give myself the time to do ordinary things, let my mind wander - and feed my creativity by doing something completely different in the writing line. Sometimes I'll work on a picture book, but I'm more likely to write poetry - most of which goes into the big box marked 'never show this to anyone'. Usually I challenge myself to master a new form of verse - I attempted triolets last time - but quite often I'll go back to an old friend. I love the discipline of iambic pentameter, or I might dip into a sonnet, a ballad, or even a limerick.

One of my favourite forms of poetry to write is haiku. To condense so much feeling and atmosphere into so few words is an art--and a difficult one. I have never managed to write one to my own complete satisfaction (and certainly not one I'd be happy to show in public), but I'll always keep trying. It is an art worth working at.

As a student I remember marvelling over Ezra Pound's In a Station of the Metro from "Contemporania," Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 2.1 (April 1913), which I make no apology for repeating here in case there are those who do not know it:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

With a boyfriend in Paris at that time, I spent a lot of hours riding the Metro and mouthing the station names of Denfert-Rochereau, Chatelet-Les Halles, Pyramides, Arts et Metiers, Sevres-Babylone (a poem in themselves, and so much more romantic than Marylebone, Ealing, Euston or Lewisham). I understood Pound's words exactly from my own experience, and even now they conjure up the frantic, crowded platform jostling, the harsh braying note of the closing doors and the slightly sweet smell of sewers and smoke from a million damp Gauloise cigarette butts which would say 'Paris' to my senses even if I were blindfolded.

Years after Paris, I made a trip to Japan, the true home of haiku. Riding the Tokyo Metro was a different experience entirely, and yet just as evocative in its way. Coming in from Narita airport I remember eating sea-fresh sushi from my first bento box and marvelling at brown-grey jagged hills covered in pine trees and moss, exactly like a Hokusai print--and that was before I'd even seen Mount Fuji.

In Japan I felt tall for the first time--but also alien, standing out like a sore thumb above the massed commuters on the platform, trying to read signs in a language I had no hope of understanding. Somehow, though, I trusted myself to one of the seemingly familiar coloured lines on the map and arrived where I was meant to be--a place where a friend had told me I would find a taste of the 'real' Tokyo, far from the blazing multi-coloured neon signs of Shibuya and the clicking cameras whirring outside the Imperial Palace. In Shinjuku I got lost deliberately--the best way to discover unexpected wonders. 

There was the tiny shop with a window full of wooden shoes, which I entered down three rickety steps to find a tiny grey-haired woman bowing to me. I bowed back politely, and suddenly the lack of language was no longer a barrier. With mime and hand gesture and more bowing, we communicated perfectly, and I left with three exquisite pairs of shoes, destined for the (then) small feet of Lovely Daughter, her brother and my god-daughter, all wrapped in patterned paper with a little string to carry them by. I wandered deserted shrines with small offerings of food and flowers before them, and then found myself in a busy market where I was, once again, alien--the alien window shopper amongst a sea of hurrying, haggling housewives buying live chickens, leafy vegetable, roots large and small and rice from great hoppers as tall as the eaves.

There were many more metro trips along the coloured lines of Chiyoda, Marounouchi, Yurakucho, Asakusa and Oedo, but the final one took me to the peaceful woods of the Emperor Meiji's garden--tribute to his beloved Empress wife. Here's what I wrote about it. Not a haiku, but I like to think it has some of the idiophones which characterise other Japanese poetry. 

In Emperor Meiji's garden
black bright carp
their slow drumbeat
on waterlily ripples.
The Empress Shoken sleeps
and nesting crows
requiems of flight
above the weeping trees.

copyright © Lucy Coats 1998

For me, it's a word picture which conjures up how I felt in that particular time and place, better than any photograph could. That's why I'll keep on writing poetry in the in-between times - whether I show it to anyone or not. 

Lucy's new picture book, Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party is now out from Nosy Crow!
"A rollicking story and a quite gloriously disgusting book that children (especially boys) will adore!" Parents In Touch magazine
"A splendidly riotous romp…Miss the Captain’s party at your peril." Jill Bennett
"An early candidate for piratey book of the year!" ReadItDaddy blog
"A star of a book." Child-Led Chaos blog
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Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd


adele said...

Like your poem! Good on you!

Penny Dolan said...

Beautiful post and poem, and a sense of travel. Sometimes I feel that the poetry mind" and the "fiction mind" don't work in the same way.

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely! It sounds like a marvellous trip to Japan.

JO said...

Japan - lucky you. And what a great trip.

And I know exactly what you mean about looking to other forms between big projects. I've written some of my best poetry and flash fiction while bigger pieces were flying on their way.

Linda Strachan said...

conjuring some wonderful images, Lucy.

Ann Turnbull said...

By coincidence, I was trying to write haiku myself this morning - something I hadn't done for years.

I love your poem!

Nicola Morgan said...

Gorgeous. And I'd love to go to Japan. :) Enjoy your space.

Maeve said...

Fantastic post conjuring up evocative images of Paris and Tokyo. I envy you those wooden shoes not to mention the shoe shop itself.