Sunday, 6 February 2011

What Were They Like? - Denise Levertov

I was at the January writing day held by the Poetry Business and one of the writing exercises was to produce a poem in the style of the following.

What Were They Like? - Denise Levertov

1) Did the people of Viet Nam
use lanterns of stone?
2) Did they hold ceremonies
to reverence the opening of buds?
3) Were they inclined to quiet laughter?
4) Did they use bone and ivory,
jade and silver, for ornament?
5) Had they an epic poem?
6) Did they distinguish between speech and singing?

1) Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.
2) It is not remembered whether in gardens
stone gardens illumined pleasant ways.
Perhaps they gathered once to delight in blossom,
but after their children were killed
there were no more buds.
3) Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.
4) A dream ago, perhaps. Ornament is for joy.
All the bones were charred.
5) it is not remembered. Remember,
most were peasants; their life
was in rice and bamboo.
When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies
and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces,
maybe fathers told their sons old tales.
When bombs smashed those mirrors
there was time only to scream.
6) There is an echo yet
of their speech which was like a song.
It was reported their singing resembled
the flight of moths in moonlight.
Who can say? It is silent now.

This is an utterly brilliant anti-war piece, especially as it does not specifically mention the war, who the aggressors are or the cause for it. It creates a brilliant dialogue in your head between the poet telling you what has been done to the Vietnamese and your own thoughts and understanding of the war. This flicking from one to another mirrors exactly what you do on the page as you match question to response.

What really shines though is the sheer sorrow that something beautiful has been taken from the world; the poem forces you to embrace the loss. Especially with such ugly lines as 'Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.'

So the piece I produced from this writing exercise is below, inspired by the fact that a few music venues in Sheffield seem to have closed recently. It pales in comparison but if one does not practice they cannot improve. There was a silence after I read this and I'm not sure if its because I hit the spot or everyone was unimpressed.

The Quiet Death of Live Music - Martin Collins

1) What happened to the musicians?
2) What happened to the concerts?
3) What happened to the venues?

1) Everyone loved them for their sound.
Peoples dreams rose on their notes
but no one would pay them.
so they were forced into day jobs
and played outros to the crescent moon.
2) There were always those who would not pay.
There were always who would not go out.
but then there was a new breed,
wanting to see the world only throuh a screen,
so the concerts grew empty.
3) The venues went to extremes.
They put on bands for free even though it cost.
hoping people would buy drinks which they would not.
They gambled on expensive bands, charging high door prices
and hoping the expenditure would pay off.
Either way, eventually they died.

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