I Know a Good Man When I See One

Yesterday I felt like writing some poetry. I want that experience I’ve sometimes felt when writing, probably on fewer than ten occasions in total, when a satisfying line pops into existence out of nowhere- it seems to be not of your own volition yet there’s no question that it’s exactly what you were after. It hits the spot. Anytime that’s happened it’s been at least an hour or so into writing. It doesn’t happen walking down the street. My thought was that poetry might be a shortcut to that. Or that that’s maybe the essence of poetry? Which is why I was in the mood to try it yesterday.

Sitting there, my first thought was that I’d write a Haiku because I thought there’d be good bang for my buck that way. But I looked Haiku up on wikipedia and became discouraged. You need a cutting word at the end of one line, separating two distinct moods, and it usually incorporates some ideas about the seasons. I didn’t want to have to do that kind of work. My hope was that I would hit on something I felt deeply about and then the poem would arrange itself naturally into a meaningful or attractive form.

So I started to mull over what I could write about. Immediately my walk the other day came to mind. I was walking up the residential backstreets off the main road on the return leg of my journey and I stopped to change what I had playing on my earphones. As I was stood there on the pavement a diminutive old guy, who looked a bit down on his luck, passed me and said ‘There’s a good man, I know a good man when I see one’.

I’m not sure why I’m inclined to get poetic about this rather than say my dinner of boiled potatoes with tinned meatballs. Probably because it was a novel experience and because there’s an unusual interaction between two strangers in it which gives it some charge. A poet shouldn’t need to rely on drama or novelty though, that’s what drama and …novels are for. But regardless, I dashed out my first poem in yonks in 30 seconds. It’s awful of course, being a completely thoughtless effort. What I did learn was that I like the notion of using plain language in a non-banal way and I also enjoy rhythm, so finding a form where rhythm is key would be good. In retrospect, disappointingly, I saw that I had just surrounded the main incident with second-hand ‘writing a poem now!’ ideas. So trying to think outside the box when I start to get moony-eyed is going to be necessary. Finally I got a little mopey right at the end, with a change of direction in the last two lines, in the mistaken belief that doing that would make the poem ‘big’, rather than wank. That’s another hazard to avoid.

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