Poem introduction

The more poetry I write the more I come to the conclusion that I'm really an 'anti-poet' and I'm not trying to be clever when I say that, I'm not trying to pretend that I'm bringing some new attitude towards poetry, nor trying to set myself up as an original. I'm saying merely that for me, writing my own poetry, words are a curse, sometimes even a bore. The kind of poetry I dislike is a kind of accomplished verbosity - I dislike it as I dislike garrulous people who talk to me merely as an excuse to hear their own voices. The kind of poetry that excites me is that which comes closest to direct communication, the kind of communication that one can sometimes feel without words in a look or a gesture but words are what we make poetry with, we're stuck with them, we have to take them into account. What then? I can only answer for myself and perhaps I'm the only one who feels this particular dilemma and perhaps I cheat myself but rightly or wrongly I've decided that what I'm looking for is a tone of voice. I tell myself that the tone of voice is my own, that it's the kind of voice I'd use if I were in a pub trying to communicate this kind of experience to a sympathetic listener. That's where I actually cheat myself because the kind of experience I try to communicate really begins where words leave off. Now again I'm not trying to be clever - we do things, things are done to us which at some later date point to an insight which is just beyond verbal communication, then one can only kick the words out of the way and try to give a refined account of the experience hoping that the reader will go on reading when the poem ends.

Song of the Battery Hen

Every now and then one writes a poem which seems in some way significant to one's own development as a poet. 'Song of the Battery Hen' is, for me, such a poem. It seems to combine the taut, claustrophobic atmosphere of my domestic poems, with a wider, more social comment. It was written last year when I was staying on a farm in Worcestershire. The farmer showed me his battery house with some pride and when I made the usual clichéd comment about the poor bloody hens he said "Do you know we had an experiment one day, we left the flaps of all the cages up to see what the hens would do. Well they looked, then they walked to the edge of the cages then they looked around and walked straight back in." At that point I said to myself, "Christ, he's just written my autobiography" and that afternoon I wrote 'Song of the Battery Hen'.

Song of the Battery Hen

We can't grumble about accommodation:
We have a new concrete floor that's
Always dry, four walls that are
Painted white, and a sheet-iron roof
The rain drums on. A fan blows warm air
Beneath our feet to disperse the smell
Of chickenshit and, on dull days,
Fluorescent lighting sees us.

You can tell me: if you come by
The North door, I am in the twelfth pen
On the left-hand side of the third row
From the floor; and in that pen
I am usually the middle one of three.
But even without directions, you'd
Discover me. I have the same orange-
Red comb, yellow beak and auburn
Feathers, but as the door opens and you
Hear above the electric fan a kind of
One-word wail, I am the one
Who sounds loudest in my head.

from Five Ways to Kill a Man: New and Selected Poems (Enitharmon, 1997), by permission of the publisher. Recording used by permission of the BBC.

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