Michael Loveday*

MEET UPS : February, April, May, July, September

PROJECT : A pamphlet of autobiographical / biographical material, to include two sequences: (1) documenting my father’s life and / or my relationship to him. This will mine a series of eight dictaphone conversations I conducted with him in 2015 / 2016 (to which he was a somewhat reluctant or guarded contributor), talking through his life and our family history. (2) Poems exploring Rickmansworth landscapes (the Hertfordshire town where I lived for ten years, until August 2016), potentially also Bath / Somerset landscapes, and the transition I’ve made with my partner between the two locations. 

QUOTE: So often, below the word spoken, is the thing known and unspoken. (Harold Pinter)

3rd PROGRESS REPORT (May 2017)

Have been doing some non-fiction research to explore themes of the pamphlet sequence. One book in particular I’ve been meaning to read for some time: ‘Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness’ (Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, 2011). A beautifully written book (unsurprising, perhaps, from these two) about landscapes where urban and rural elements combine and clash, most often located on the outskirts of our towns and cities. This is relevant for the landscape element of my pamphlet-in-progress, because my former home Rickmansworth is on the border of London and Hertfordshire – a strange in-between commuter territory in which to live, neither city nor countryside – and a location I feel very ambivalent about. After ten years of living there I’ve been very glad to move to Bath, but Rickmansworth is deeply imprinted on my mind and somewhere I love to write about. Landscapes that combine urban and rural features are all around us, once we start to pay attention to them, and I think they provide rich and fascinating backdrops for describing ambivalent feelings in poems, or transitional experiences. Once I’ve researched this field (sorry for the pun) a bit more I’d love to bring some material to a future workshop for discussion.

PS I’m very pleased to add that I found out yesterday afternoon that two of my Rickmansworth poems (‘Deflated’ & ‘The Gloom-Bird’s Hated Screech’) will be appearing in the Autumn issue of South Bank Poetry – a magazine that welcomes poems relating to urban landscapes.

2nd PROGRESS REPORT (April 2017)

During my February half-term I spent a few days down in Timberscombe, on the edge of Exmoor, holed up in a cottage with my partner and trying to put a bit of time into writing.

My aim was to trawl the older, discarded drafts I’d accumulated since I began writing in 2001, hunting for material that might have some magic in it. Although I realised in February that the vast majority of these old drafts had been abandoned for very good reason, it was heartening to discover that there were a number of abandoned poems – about 20 – that I’d written between 2005 and 2011 that might be usable if resurrected. (I still haven’t had time to go through material from 2001-2005 – I suspect slimmer pickings). Best of all, 6 of these discarded drafts might fit in my “Father” sequence, with a bit of editing. And 3 of them might fit in my Hertfordshire landscapes sequence. It was like a small lottery win.

In a way it’s disconcerting to think that my judgement was so poor as to completely abandon 20 poems that I look at now and think have potential. But I think at that time (2005-2011) I was falling into that familiar trap of WRITING TOO MANY POEMS and never finishing many that I’d started. So the sheer volume of material inhibited me from paying proper attention. These days I prefer to write fewer new drafts, and MAKE SURE I KEEP GOING with the better ones. Two lessons, for me – (1) a welcome reminder to ALWAYS KEEP YOUR DRAFTS – who knows what you might discover when trawling through, even if it’s only one good line, or an image, or a title (2) my initial judgement when I draft a poem is evidently off-kilter – I’m in no position to make a decision to abandon or persevere with a poem after I’ve just drafted it.

So, now – 20 poems for the Father sequence, and 10 for the Hertfordshire landscapes sequence. Quality very variable, but a decent quantity. (“Universe look after the quality, I’ll look after the quantity” – Julia Cameron)

Another thing I’ve been thinking about, when reading the developing sequence, is that the high-wire walk to completion has to balance “understatement” at one end of the pole and “substance” at the other, and it’s a devil of a job trying to get the balance right. Some times I’ve been over-writing, from an urge to say something significant in each poem, and other times I’ve been falling short and the poems are a little “So what?” (a question my old poetry tutor Todd Swift used to ask of poems in our workshops, and one which fellow Project 2017 poet Robin Thomas and I have referred to several times since as a kind of guiding criterion by which to measure a poem). The balancing of this takes time, I suppose.

By way of finishing on a different note, here are some blog posts by the poet, translator and critic Martyn Crucefix, in which he discusses “Ekphrastic Poetry”, which is a topic many Project 2017 poets are tackling, and I hope some of you would find interesting:

https://martyncrucefix.com/tag/ekphrastic-poetry/

Martyn identifies 14 types of ekphrastic poem in these articles. It would be interesting to find out (from those of you who are writing ekphrastic poems) which of the 14 types you tend to write, and why; and also whether you feel there are types of ekphrastic poem that you feel he has ignored….

 

1st PROGRESS REPORT (February 2017):

I’ve now accumulated 14 poems / poem drafts about my father, many of them several years old, but others written in the last year. The process of writing and gathering them has raised doubts about the viability of the project. I don’t want to write a kind of hagiography, but anything negative or critical of my father (who is still alive) would be upsetting for him and my family. And yet – tension and conflict is the stuff of writing, and the writer in me does not have the same agenda as the son. Can I produce a rounded portrait without risking offence? How does one write interesting biography about living relatives? It’s an ongoing question but I wonder if this half of my two-part project isn’t fully workable at the moment.

The other half of my 2017 goal – to write about landscape (Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, and my new home in Bath) is slowly developing – I now have 8 poems / poem drafts. These poems all use Rickmansworth or my old flat as a setting.  I haven’t really had enough time and space to explore and reflect upon my new life in Somerset yet. Perhaps it’s all too new.

I think I might be able to work up to about 12-15 poems about Rickmansworth. If I start to write about Bath / Somerset as well I might produce an integrated pamphlet sequence entirely relating to landscape; but that feels like a long road, and if I want to produce “a pamphlet’s worth” of material by the end of the year  I may be better off combining the Rickmansworth poems with some miscellaneous ones accumulated over the last 10-15 years.

In summary, the project feels in flux while it develops, which is no surprise!

 

 

 

 

13 comments on “Michael Loveday*

  1. I loved the poems you shared about your father in the workshop Michael so I hope you find a way to continue to explore his life and your relationship with him through the poems. I can appreciate the difficulty though of writing completely truthfully while he is alive. I did not write about my mother until she died. With my father I felt freer as he had Alzheimer’s at the end of his life and so did not realise I was writing about him.

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  2. Michael Loveday says:

    Thanks Sue. It’s certainly an interesting conundrum to wrestle with.

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  3. Thanks Sue. It’s certainly an interesting conundrum to wrestle with. I’m looking forward to our next meeting. I thought your poems were wonderful – concision, surprising language and interesting form all working together very effectively.

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  4. janetmcclean says:

    I found your comments on balancing understatement with substance helpful and thought provoking, thanks,

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  5. Thanks Janet. I’d be interested to hear how you tackle this subject. I’ve noticed in recent years that people commenting on my poems often say “you should cut the last stanza / couplet / two stanzas etc”. (Conversely people commenting on my short stories often say “it ends too early, you need to keep the story going” – which amuses me!!!) It’s true it’s often in the endings that I try to add the extra substance, and yet sometimes evidently less is more. And the poet Martyn Crucefix said something interesting to me about how the complex thinking, or big idea (=substance?) of a poem needs to appear “in Act Four”, i.e. if the poem were a drama, don’t put the big idea at the beginning, which is another place we might be tempted to put it in a poem, apart from at the end. He says if you do have an idea with some substance, you can begin simply and then build up to it. And then end quite quietly. I’m still mulling over all these ideas in the context of the sequence. To a great extent, I’m not adopting a general policy, and each poem is posing its own question and demanding its own answer.

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  6. veronabass says:

    After our April workshop day I’m reading your comments with more focused attention. The temptation to over-write is one I grapple with, so I’m taking on board the advice about ‘less is more’. I want to explore the notion that the Main Idea should be reserved for later in a piece, as I feel as if I’ve been taught otherwise in the past.

    Your advice about searching earlier drafts for ‘germs’ of ideas and even single phrases is a good one. I do believe that an original impetus is very strong and one should try to rediscover that urgency after editing may have diluted it.

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    • Dear Verona, for me, this problem of ‘less is more’ gets to the very heart of what makes a good poem – it’s something I always find myself grappling with too – getting the balance right is so difficult. I’m interested in what you say about the ‘Main Idea’ coming later. I can’t remember if we discussed this last time but Martyn Crucefix once said something interesting about this – that a poet should think like a dramatist and put the really meaty, complex idea ‘in Act IV not in Act I’ (the latter being perhaps where you might wrongly think you need to put it, in order to grab people’s attention, but it’s better to let people orient themselves to the drama slowly and then give them something big later, before resolving in Act V). And yes I agree it’s possible to over-edit. Sometimes I find myself working backwards!

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  7. jay Arr says:

    Have recently written two ekphrastic poems and would like to take the opportunity to review the most recent them (the source of hope) in the light of Martyn Crucifix notes if we have time on Saturday.

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  8. Ruth Sharman says:

    What a great idea to have conducted those dictaphone conversations with your father, Michael. It’s so sad when you realise you have left it too late to ask the important questions – and you feel you know so little about your father’s life.

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    • Dear Ruth, Thanks. I wish I’d done more. I’m sorry if you mean that you didn’t get the chance with your own father. I have been very conscious of not knowing much about my grandparents, having not been curious enough a youngster when they were still alive. And also my memory is often poor – so I often forget the family stories I’m told by my relatives. So this is my way of making amends. I’ve also just done a session with two aunts on my mother’s side, going back through our family history to our Irish roots. (My mother refuses to sit down for even one session with me, which saddens me). I feel as though doing these interviews helps connect my role as a writer to my family, and make it relevant to them. Some relatives – even cousins (who I’d like to get to next) – remember much more, and have information I haven’t been told by my parents. Going through archives and documents though would be another interesting way to do this, I think, when interviews aren’t possible.

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      • Ruth – great to meet you yesterday. Really enjoyed your reading, and I very much look forward to “Scarlet Tiger” – perhaps especially the poems about your father. I wonder – were there precedents you turned to in writing these – poems or sequences by other poets about their fathers? I’d love to hear of any leads you followed…

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