A Poetry of Looking

“Of course you wouldn’t start from here”

First line of ‘Itiner-y of a Pilgrimage’, the first poem in Pomes Flixus.

So where should we start? Where do we expect to start? From the beginning? The beginning of what? From whose point of view?

Disorientation is a key feature of many of the poems that interest me. Writing that only perhaps tries to find its focus, but always recognises that focus is temporal and subjective. Who is pointing the camera? With whose vocabulary is the thing in question to be described?

To start with certainty is problematic for many writers. Certainty comes from privilege, status, class… and all the rest. We know what we’re talking of here. Let’s look.

How do we see? We approach, we look, we ask questions but don’t always get answers, or get the answers some might have hoped for. Then we move on beyond the ‘thing’, whether by a surefooted sense of progress, or by an inevitable disturbance, and the ‘thing’ recedes into the past, from where we reflect upon it subjectively.

Temporal subjectivity is all there is. The rest is a construction through which power and individual agency are asserted. All of us know very little.

As we pass, to see that we can’t see
a view, periodically, so consummately here
with all the notebooks being undone

From ‘Itiner-y of a Pilgrimage’

The first section of Pomes Flixus is titled Encounters. In it are poems about landscape and nature but in all of them thoughts about landscape and nature are subverted in some way. And they’re probably not really about landscape and nature either, because I stopped writing straightforwardly about those things some time ago. Just look at the bookshops. There’s sooo much writing about hills, forests, rivers, meadows, moths, trees. It’s a land-grab. I’m sure many have there merit, but many only seek to describe ‘accurately’ (ACCURATELY!!) the thing at the centre of the gaze. I’m not sure my writing ever achieves that, or would want to.

A question about the nature of nature that doesn’t want to hold
us creatures that avoid certain climates or social circles,
the nervous movements that lead to creative disappearances

From ‘A Lime Hawk-Moth, Briefly Considered’

My poem ‘A Lime Hawk-Moth, Briefly Considered’ came into being after I saw a lime hawk-moth at the back of our tiny garden. But the poem is not about a moth, obviously, surely.

What are these encounters with, then? They are an encounter between the self and the world. What happens in these moments is that we look, we try to see. But how do we look? What are we trying to see?

The other sections of Pomes Flixus are titled Voices, Names and Propositions. Because they aren’t set in the language of geographic ‘territory’, it might seem that the theme of ‘looking’ has been discarded. I don’t think so. Really, they consider the language of looking, vocabularies of looking, the voice of looking, and alternate means/processes of looking.

The easiest part of the problem to correct
is the vowels. Such hard sounds get lost on audiences

From ‘The Division Bells’

Is that David? It looks like David.
How many years is it?

From ‘David, Out of Nowhere’

The comparative roles
of canons and averages
that simplify the field.
The quiet transformations
and assumptions made
without explicit debate.

From ‘The Other Humanities’

There are collage and aleatory poems here, and found (but mediated) poems that are formed from below-the-line (BTL) comments on internet sites, YouTube, etc. ‘You Can Edit Your Responses After Submitting’ is a collocation of news and press release headlines that gives us

the gatekeepers still on payroll, but
now citing foxes, the young, refugees,
a new bottom line for start-up talent,
clickbait death spiral, save and close.

The poems flick between points of uncertain view – they remain in flux. And one of the ideas was to make them ‘democratic’. By that, I mean that an ‘authorial voice’ is only one available voice, and this would always be foregrounded. Using found words in BTL comments isn’t a clever device or a comment on our contemporary ‘always on’ digital experience of the world. Rather, it’s just one way we talk about the things we talk about. So the poems vary in the choice and styles of language, but they’re all on a level. No voice can be the right voice, or wrong one, better one, more untrustworthy one. They’re all just THERE. HERE.

Language is how we explain the world we experience. Your language is not better than mine. This knowledge is the basis of everything. What does it mean when someone says, “they use language well”? Who’s judging? Who has the right to say that? Of course language can be put to good use, or succeed in conveying something, but there is no ‘right’ way to do it – as if it’s some kind of level that we all need to attain. Because that’s just some power trip that reinstates historic inequalities.

But hang on, weren’t we talking about looking? Of course. But we’re talking about poetry, about writing. And language betrays the way the writer is looking, how they look, and what they want to see. And when language is fixed, certain, non-various, standard English, traditional etc etc, it approaches its subject as fixed, certain, non-various, standard English, traditional etc etc. This means what is sought comes from the viewpoint/standpoint of a culture that is regarded as fixed, certain, non-various, standard English, traditional etc etc. Who could hold such a view?

There are some writers who, when they decide to describe ‘a tree’, seem only to want to assert their own knowledge of the tree, and to establish their relation to it. To me this seems to be a position of privilege. To hold steady that view of the world, and know that your place in the picture is unquestioned and secure.

For writers like me who are from working class (and other marginalised, subjugated, oppressed, sidelined, hitherto-unlistened-to, thought-of-as-lesser, ‘non-standard’, other-than-hetero-normative, ‘foreign’ etc etc etc) cultures, such an unquestioned and secure viewpoint is unavailable.

When we look and write about things, we are making a political point. To think that we are not, demonstrates privilege. Nothing more.

Published by MW Bewick

Writer of poetry and place; editor and journalist. Co-founder of Dunlin Press. Books including Pomes Flixus, The Orphaned Spaces and Scarecrow are available from http://dunlinpress.bigcartel.com

%d bloggers like this: