Red Boots and an exclamation mark!

John Mole - 30 January 2006

Here is a pair of poems by two of my favourite poets, Kit Wright and Charles Causley. Both have that combination of rhythm, rhyme and vivid description which makes me want to read them out loud, to hear and to feel how they go, so it's particularly interesting for me to experience the way that the poets read them themselves.

I love Kit Wright's 'Red Boots On' because it's a real high-kicker, full of colour and, above all, jazzy syncopation. As Kit says in his Archive introduction, those boots are a sort of 'filmic image of happiness' and the whole poem becomes its own soundtrack, dancing along with carefree abandon. Charles Causley's 'Timothy Winters' is full of energetic bounce and optimism in spite of his hard life. Look at that wonderful image - 'his hair is an exclamation mark'. It's almost as if Timothy has stepped out of the pages of a comic like 'The Dandy' or 'The Beano'. He's an explosive character, a 'blitz of a boy'. Society doesn't make things easy for him but every time I read his poem I hope he's going to make it! Do you have a favourite poem which celebrates a moment of happiness or which describes a colourful character? I'd like to know what it is. Perhaps you might like to write one yourself?


I like A MINUTE'S SILENCE by Paul Farley about the silence before the football match, it's not a moment of happiness but a different kind of special moment.

I very much agree with what you say about Kit Wright and Charles Causley. They're both underrated poets. Thank goodness the Poetry Archive was able to make a recording of Causley before he died - he is a terrific reader of his own work. Anyone who's interested in him should listen to Eden Rock - it's about meeting his parents, in his imagination, in a place beyond death, a place where they're young again. I think it's one of the most moving recordings on this website.

JL, I so agree with you about 'Eden Rock'. Every time I read or hear it, it passes the A.E.Housman razor test. For any site visitor who doesn't know what that is you'll find it in his marvellous essay 'The Name and Nature of Poetry' ( still one of the best accounts I know of writing and response to poetry ).It's
that moment when he's shaving, thinks of a line that moves him and his hairs stand up so that he snags the razor! Which also reminds me of Robert Graves' poem 'The Face in the Mirror'. But I digress. What for me is so clinchingly effective about 'Eden Rock' is its plainly stated, monosyllabic final line, dropped down from the closing stanza. Somehow it just gathers together all the preceding domestic detail with a heartbreaking directness. I hope everyone will listen to Charles' beautiful archive reading of the poem.

I'm grateful to Simon for directing me to Paul Farley's 'A Minute's Silence', and it prompts other thoughts about that sense of 'the moment before', the in-breath of anticipation. I'm reminded of a scene in the film version of Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch' when the young Nick is taken by his dad to his first big football match and, as he enters, the stadium the vast expanse of the pitch gradually comes into sight as he climbs to his seat. I'm not a great football fan but when I saw this I recalled my first visit to the cinema with my mother. How, as we stepped up into the balcony, I could hear the soundtrack before the screen appeared from the top down, and how all of a sudden there were gunshots and two men scambling across the carriage roofs of a moving train. Those were the days when you often arrived halfway through the B Feature and left at the point where the scene came round again, agreeing with your companion that 'This is where we came in.'That first experience of cinema-going was a magic moment for me - over fifty years ago now. I'd guess someone must have written a poem with that title ( 'This is Where We Came In' ) but I think I'm now tempted to have a go at it myself. Incidentally for anyone interested in cinema and poetry, I'd strongly recommend Philip French's anthology 'The Faber Book of Movie Verse'.

All good poems. Hi John, how are y doin? Am picturing you in residence among shelves of archives - even though you are probably at home. Are you? It is interesting to find out where writers work: desks, kitchen tables, in the library etc.
I am going to look up the essay you mention 'The name and Nature of Poetry'. I don't shave (well... sometimes) but I do know what Houseman means. When I read a poem I love I feel a small jolt, like when a train pulls away from the station and I am compelled to go back and re read it over and over. I also like 'The Catch' by Simon Armitage. It is another catching a moment-of-expectation poem. It slows time down the way a film can. Writing has so much power! M

Mandy,I like that description of the small jolt as the train departs, and it makes me wonder what other visitors to the site feel when they come across a poem which really touches them. I think it was Emily Dickinson who said that she felt as it the top of her head was coming off. Rather extreme! You are, by the way, right in assuming that I'm not at residence among the archive shelves. I'm at home, upstairs, in front of a laptop with a view of the backs of several neighbouring houses - which sometimes distracts and encourages me to fantasise about other people's lives. By the way, your query does give me the opportunity to say that although I shall be using this residency to engage in a conversation about reading, writing and listening to poetry, I shall also be happy to answer any questions about my own writing methods.

I'm interested to ask how long it takes you to write a poem and how many do you write in an average week? We don't really write poems at school now but when I was in the younger years we did and they only would give us an hour max. Also how do you know if your poem is good?

The length of time varies Nic, although being, I suppose, what would be called a lyrical poet I do try to complete a first draft in one sitting - to get the concentration and above all the momentum. I find I work best early in the morning ( T.S. Eliot once advised Lawrence Durrell to 'get up at first light and beat them'. By'them' he meant 'the competition! ) or quite late at night. It's the confidence that you're not going to be interrupted. When I had the stamina ( not quite so much these days ) I often wrote well into the small hours of the morning. Falling into bed feeling that you may have 'got it right' is a wonderful feeling, though sometimes you wake up a few hours beginning to wonder! I couldn't put a figure on how many poems I write a week. Certainly I doubt if I actually keep more that a couple a month ( if I'm lucky ) though they might both have been written in the same week. As to your being given an hour max to write a poem,I think there are advantages in this whatever one's age. It concentrates the mind. What you shouldn't have to do is hand it in to someone afterwards until you have had the opportunity to work on what should really have been a draft. As to knowing whether a poem I have written is good - I wish there was a foolproof test. Sometimes the better I think it is just after I've written it the quicker it seems to go dead on the page. On the other hand there are occasions when, over a period, the confidence grows that I really have written as close to the top of my game as I can manage. I don't usually recognise this immediately, though. Two touchstone quotes for me are Samuel Beckett's 'Try. Fail. Try again. fail better' and Paul Valery's 'No poem is ever finished, only abandoned'

Even though I've no new message to respond to, I can't let St. Valentine's Day go by without posting up my choice of poem from the Archive. It's 'The Pattern' by Michael Longley, a beautiful coming together of observation and reminiscence, and beautifully read It's close to my heart not least because it mirrors the circumstance ( and duration! ) of my own marriage. Does anyone out there have a love poem which speaks directly to him or her?

Surely one of the best love poems ever is the Auden poem STOP THE CLOCKS. yes i know it's about death but he says how your loved one can be so importat to you you don't want to go on living without them. Not the most cheerful poem but it rings very true for lots of people.Any chance of putting this poem on the website??

I don't know about putting 'Stop all the Clocks' ( 'Funeral Blues') in the Archive, but the powers that be - not me! - will no doubt read and note. I have a feeling that Auden did make a recording of the poem ( it appears as one of 'Twelve Songs' in his Collected Poems ) but what I'm sure of is that he recorded my own favourite among his early love poems 'As I Walked Out One Evening'. There's also a recording of Dylan
Thomas reading it. It's fascinating to compare the two versions. Auden clipped and almost matter-of-fact. Dylan Thomas so emotional that his voice wavers and breaks towards the end. But then he always was a bit of an actor. I think you would probably agree that the huge popularity of 'Stop All the Clocks' is down to John Hannah/Simon Callow and the context it's placed in so effectively in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'.Interestingly quite a number of poems have been given a ( new ) life through their appearance in films.


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