STARTING WITH THE EVERYDAY

starting a poem 4Introduction

Advocates of open-form insist that the poems grow from everyday observations, that they be rooted in real situations and real life, which may well deny us that insistent phrase or tune that gets things going. How do we turn the prosaic into something better?

Starting

An everyday situation, realistic comments on that situation, a conventional diction and syntax: let's start with something so trivial as to be hardly worth commenting on: commercial hotels.

If I get held up in a new town and have to stay over there, it is the commercial hotels I go for: often run-down, or stuck away behind car-parks or railway stations, under bridges even, with just two or three rooms to their name. And I've got to know them, which is not difficult, since they're all the same, with the furnishings out of date and shabby, the linoleum on the floor polished to nothing, the curtains tatty and sad. Loathsome places, that you'd hate to die in, as anyone would, you'd think. Yet they have incredible rules. No reputation to maintain, but you can't put a fictitious name in the register, or be anything less than immensely respectful to the fly-blown crone who keeps the desk or presides over the two-stool bar. You have to make time for her, listen to the stories, commiserate, play play dominoes. Even then you'll have to make up stories to get a decent room, the more outrageous the better, some funeral you are attending, or aunt who is ill.

Prose, of course, but such as shaped and tightened might serve as the opening of a novel or short story. Why doesn't the rep choose a better hotel? Why the interest in their occupants? Why ever think of dying there?

Presumably because the speaker feels some kinship with these women: the hotel rooms serve as an extended metaphor for city life. Suppose we want something more effective but not obviously poetry, something we could send to a trendier magazine?

If I have to stay over, it is the run-down hotels I go for, stuck away behind car-parks or railway stations, under bridges even, with two or three rooms only to weigh in with. They are the same: the cheap linoleum polished to nothing, the curtains with a wry pucker in their welcome — in short, loathsome places that people would not want to die in, you'd think, if they took them at all. Hours are tight, observed, remarked on. You cannot put a 'Mr. and Mrs. R.U. Smith, one night' in the book here. The shoe is on the other foot all right, with a vengeance, and you must learn to make yourself acceptable to the flyblown haddock who keeps the desk or one-time bar. Stake out time with her, play dominoes, or tie crepe on your arm for an outrageous aunt whose funeral has brought you, you say, and very sad it is the elderly are done down so, and can't you please have the room the others had?

Still prose? In a way, but the rhythm is now a stress metre not far from the iambic, and an internal rhyme has been added:

If I have to stay over, it is the run-
down hotels I go for, stuck away
behind car-parks or railway stations, un
der bridges even, with two or three rooms only to weigh

in with. They are the same: the cheap lino
leum polished to nothing, the curtains with a wry
pucker in their welcome — in short, loath
some places that people would not want to die

In, you'd think, if they took them at all. Hours are tight,
observed, remarked on. You cannot put
a 'Mr. and Mrs. RU Smith, one night'
in the book here. The shoe is on the other foot

all right, with a vengeance, and you must learn to make
yourself acceptable to the fly-
blown haddock who keeps the desk or one-time bar. Stake
out time with her, play dominoes, or tie

crepe on your arm for an outrageous aunt
whose funeral has brought you, you say, and very sad
it is the elderly are done down so, and can't
you please have the room the others had?

Commercial Hotels

Perhaps its exact nature doesn't matter, or its regularity — line 4 has six stresses and line 14 has four — but it does help to sense some structure to the piece. It's more pleasing that way, and allows us to round off the theme properly:

If I have to stay over, it is the run-down hotels I go for, stuck away behind car-parks or railway stations, under bridges even, with two or three rooms only to weigh

In with. They are the same: antiquely furnished, the linoleum polished to nothing, the curtains with a wry pucker in their welcome — in short, loathsome places that people would not want to die

In, you'd think, if they took them at all. Hours are tight, observed, remarked on. You cannot put a 'Mr. and Mrs. RU Smith, one night' in the book here. The shoe is on the other foot

All right, with a vengeance, and you must learn to make yourself acceptable to the flyblown haddock who keeps the desk or one-time bar. Stake out time with her, play dominoes, or tie

Crepe on your arm for an outrageous aunt whose funeral has brought you, you say, and very sad it is the elderly are done down so, and can't you please have the room the others had?

But I like them, as I would perhaps with so much time on my hands, before dinner — provided or not — in the evening anyway, when climb around the room like a clematis the soft, hot

Hours of someone else's life: when you lean on the small, grilled balcony and look at what former incumbents have looked at, a scene pregnant with endings, not depressing, at least not

To one of a bookish temperament, for whom days are diversions — trees in the square, under the streetlight or neon entanglements, where come the men who walk later the air

Our of their lungs as you do, or would if you stayed here a while — months, years, lived here of course, or anywhere really, since what we intrude we cannot evade or dispense with, it seems, so that when the

Whole purpose of moving around, of being here and there present but paying, with no one to thank or fit in with, or blame, or even be near, it's best, if you're asked, to leave the Comments page blank.

 

We might want to close the gaps and turn the piece into ostensible prose, though the 'white spaces' let the words breathe more.

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