Today, I came across this incredible poem by American, ‘Objectivist’ poet George Oppen, and wanted to share it with you. Now, more than ever, it feels so relevant.

It’s interesting to note, that Oppen’s books are  more or less out  of print. You can only really buy his books via Amazon, for a fine price.  Though worth every penny.

Leviathan  

Truth also is the pursuit of it
Like happiness, and it will not stand

Even the verse begins to eat away
In the acid. Pursuit, pursuit;

A wind moves a little,
Moving in a circle, very cold.

How shall we say?
In ordinary discourse—

We must talk now. I am no longer sure of the words,
The clockwork of the world. What is inexplicable

Is the ‘preponderance of objects.’ The sky lights
Daily with that predominance

And we have become the present.

We must talk now. Fear
Is fear. But we abandon one another.

George Oppen, “Leviathan” from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1965 by George Oppen.

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“The Nationwide adverts, along with collateral backlash, have been sparking debates among poets on social media for several weeks now. I put a call out for pieces open to discussing the topic from an interesting perspective. First up is poet Sophie McKeand. – Claire Trévien, Sabotage Reviews.

While I enjoyed the article from Sophie McKeand, and actually agreed with a lot of what she  had to say – I felt it missed the point.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a job you would rather not do, to make money. There’s everything right  with it in fact, and every hard-working artist knows that you need the stability and comfort of money to continue developing your own projects and continue to write. I’m not from a privileged background, and I’m the first person to go splashing my face on this and that to keep the family home ticking. But I have very mixed feelings about the Nationwide (on your side? – really?) poem project.

The first time I watched one of these videos, I felt manipulated. Rather than enjoying the poem (or pleasant delivery) I was distracted by the fact that I was being fed the same old big money-making corporate idea, gift-wrapped in poetry. We all know, coming from a bank (building society if you wish, but bank really) what this idea is. And we all also know that this idea is bullshit.

“Give me your money so I can gamble it and I will make you happy”. This is the idea,  in case you were feeling in the dark.  Inadvertently (and unfortunately) the poets  got the raw end of the deal, and the questions such as ‘why?’ or ‘how could  you?’ and so on, went directly to them. But I don’t think this ‘backlash’ came from ignorance to this, or a misunderstanding. This is all to do with a wider, and deeper problem.

Asking the question

When our friend pops up on the screen with a nice poem telling us that Nationwide is our friend too, and we can all be happy poets together in their arms, is the consensus now that we forget everything else and congratulate them?

No. I don’t understand why  (in today’s society especially) we constantly feel the need to congratulate one another  – excessively and often, sometimes with emptiness.  Whatever this campaign means to you – to me it’s yet another clever spin from another bank trying to make money out of people so they can make more for themselves.  If the poets involved did this because they felt they were somehow doing a good thing, and contributing  to the broader world  in a beautiful and positive way – then this is fine. But just because I admire your work, or know you well, doesn’t necessarily mean  I have to endorse this particular stage of your career. I can’t. It isn’t extreme intolerance (as some have suggested). It’s simply questioning the bullshit.

Kindness as a currency

If I’d taken on this job (and I’m not saying I wouldn’t) I would have expected these negative reactions – more so, hoped for them. Yes, intolerance can be depressing. But I don’t think this ‘intolerance’  is really being  directed at the poets themselves. It’s at the project, and the false ideals it encourages the poets (and indeed their poetry) to endorse. ‘Currency of kindness’ really stuck with me, and made me think. I asked questions, I discussed it among friends and openly on social media. It’s a beautiful phrase, but a dreadful idea. Can kindness be a currency? Should it be? A statement like this implies that kindness is something we can buy, we can sell, we can withdraw, withhold, we can spend out on. It can be bought and bartered for, secreted, given in abundance, or not at all.  Banks withhold, sell, and spend dry. Human qualities, such as kindness, are meant rise above all this.

I get it’s just a poem – but its a poem and a project that unsettles me. Not least because it can be seen as one of the many (many) contributing factors that perpetuates and feeds the larger problems of the world. YES. Those things that ‘really matter’ in society – such as poverty and inequality. This is the bigger picture here – this is (I think) why people reacted so badly. And I think they can be forgiven it – even if they did target the wrong people, even if their  choice of  language was poor.

If it were me, I’d be more depressed if people didn’t take the time to question this project. To point out the flaws or contradictions. This doesn’t mean by default, the poets shouldn’t have done it. But this also doesn’t mean that another person shouldn’t have asked them why. Watching these Nationwide advertisements, reminds me of first time I watched the Lloyds Bank advert with the horse (do you remember it?) –  it crippled me until the final moment when I realised “oh it’s banking” – followed by anger and a sort of grim admiration for the brilliance of the idea.

And by the way, do you really think the clever minds behind the Nationwide project didn’t predict all this? All news is good news. Money is talk.

I’m not saying that Sophie McKnead is wrong. She’s absolutely right and I urge you to give her article a read. I’m just offering my response. This is why people did what they did. On a deep, integral level they felt undermined and manipulated. To take a spin on Voltaire, I defend to the death your right to say what you say – to do what  you do. But that doesn’t mean I should agree with the fact that you’ve done it.

What does this phrase mean to you? 

This is the title of my current project: my second publication (first full-length). Yes, it’s taken this long to get moving….

All big subjects need a lot of time. This particular collection is finally, finally, feeling complete. After going through a number of changes; metamorphosing from Siren, to Sirens, to The Deeper Strata, and back to Sirens again – I discovered that all this was simply a way of distracting myself, or trying to underpin, some other irrelevant focus. When really all I needed to say, was the simple fact.

‘Unable Mother’ directly explores my experience of first-time motherhood. That’s all I want to say for now. I know a great many of you are mothers, so I’d be interested to know; what does this phrase mean to you? 

Obviously, being a poet, the title encompasses an array of meanings and possibilities. Imagery is a good starting point if you’re looking to extend this into a writing exercise – think of one image that you associate with motherhood, birth, your child, the pregnancy – describe it as deftly, and in as a focused and concentrated way as you can. Time yourself. See what happens.

New Poems

Two poems from this working collection ‘Teeth’ and ‘Anvil’ will feature in Ofi Press next month, a broadly distributed Mexican magazine. Check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/ofipress.mexico/

‘Melon Picker’, also from the collection, will appear in Helen Ivory’s infamous Ink Sweat and Tears in April 2017.

In February I’ll be performing  a special selection of poems from Unable Mother at Verve, a new festival of poetry and spoken word in Sunny Birmingham – and on a podium no less! You can book your tickets here: http://vervepoetryfestival.com/http://vervepoetryfestival.com/

Please tweet your thoughts on first-time motherhood – email me (thank you all so much for your Sex and Death emails; there are many to get through!) or post a comment here. I always love to hear your thoughts…

 

As some of you may (or may not) know, I’m currently lecturing at Loughborough Uni, working primarily with third year students. Part of the job is to get the students writing – not to a set formula, but to the natural development of their own voices.

This week we did ‘The Mythic Self’ – using metaphor and the Jung’s ‘symbolism’ to initiate a third ground, where the inner poet’s shivered selves, can realign and co-exist – not happily ever after mind you. Just in the same inspired space. The best poetry often comes from writing ‘the wound’ (Lorca’s mana) and I’m happy to say, a lot of the young writers present that day were well on their way to tapping into their ‘dark interiors’.

bid eye.jpg

It got me thinking about rough writing exercises. I’ve done a lot of them in my time, but since most of my resources were thrown away (we won’t go there) I’ve been a bit stuck for inspiration. Luckily for me, Kerry Featherstone was on hand to give a bit of advice.

I love the sound of this exercise, and I want you to try it at home. Sex and Death – two opposing ideas, right? Absolutely, and like the Poetry Engine, full of  opposing forces that encourage friction, energy, and drama in language.

Sex and Death exercise challenge: how to do it:

Can be done in alone, in pairs, or in two groups.

  1. Write as many words, phrases, sentences as you can think of to describe sex. Be descriptive, real, pared back. Time yourself (4 minutes.)

2. Either your partner, or the other group (or your other self!) does the same for death. Timed (4 minutes.)

3. Take the sex page. Shape, and craft a rough poem about death using these words.

4. Take the death page. Shape, and a craft a poem poem about sex using these words.

What happens next?

I’ve done this at home, with brilliant results, and I’ll  be sharing at the end of next week. If you fancy taking up the Death/Sex challenge, and what to be part of the sharing, send your poems to me and I’ll tweet some extracts. Or tag me in the extracts you tweet: @HelenCalcutt.

Let’s see how crazy/beautiful we can be….and how many others we can get involved!