Tag Archives: Hearth

The Notion of ‘After’ on poems: An attempt to define

There has been a lot of discussion recently on how poems which rely heavily on others should be attributed in work that follows it. There are people who say they work from a starting point of someone else’s poem and change words until they make it their own. I do not see that as creating, but learning how to write, and not to write something that could be submitted for publication. Poet means ‘maker’, not ‘alterer’.
Those who aspire to write poetry must read it and aim to learn from poets who have spent time learning their craft. Expertise cannot be gained overnight: it comes from years of practice and reading, experimentation and critique. Those who have immersed themselves in poetry absorb much. They don’t sit and write with other people’s poems to paste in or alter, unless they are doing cut ups and collages – and in that case they do make things anew, and they credit their sources.
When I write ‘After’ under the title of a poem of mine, I am acknowledging a starting point that has come out of poems I internalised long ago. Philip Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ is about a train journey across England in which he observes many newly married couples getting on to the train at various stations. My own poem, ‘Spring Lines’, which I share below, nods towards this poem, as I am expecting the reader to make a link between the Larkin piece, one of the most well known poems of the last century, because I too am meditating on something observed from a train I am travelling on. I do not borrow a single image or phrase from Larkin; my train journey, like his, was real. So embedded is his poem in our collective consciousness, that I doubt I am alone in being reminded of ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ anytime I take a train across country in spring. I write ‘After’ both to acknowledge that poem as a reference and to make the reader think of it as a kind of response. I do not take Larkin’s verse and change ‘bride’ to ‘washing’ or any such reductive method of composition. My structure, verse form and rhythm are my own, my ideas are my own, my imagery is mine. I did not have Larkin’s piece in front of me at any point; I had it in my mind as an echo, a fellow-feeling.

This poem was recently published in Hearth (Mother’s Milk Books), a poetry duet in which Sarah James and I respond to each other and interleave our poems.
I share my example because I can do so without infringing copyright. There are many thousands of poems which use ‘after’ to acknowledge what has gone before. That is its proper usage, NOT as an apology for misusing someone else’s sweated-over words.
Judge for yourselves:
Spring Lines

after Larkin

An early morning train to London and Canary Wharf
from Crewe, the first warm day of the year. Regular
as local stations, lines of laundry start to appear.

Backyards and suburban gardens, balconies of flats:
strings of washing hang half the length of England.
Freed-up linens, tugged by spring’s fingers, on parade.

Even the pegs are little miracles, brought forth
from ingenious bags, to clutch underwear,
spread sheets and dangle white lace handkerchiefs.

Small acts of love, pinned up with such hope of drying,
kissing an April Saturday from North to South,
a fanfare of frills, bunting-dressed to welcome spring.

SJ & AT Hearth front cover scaled

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Hearth

A week today, the poetry pamphlet Sarah James and I have collaborated on will be launched in a special reading at Cheltenham Poetry Festival. It is the first in a new series of Poetry Duets, to be published by Mother’s MIlk Books. Hearth is themed around the idea of using objects to write about family life, memory and how these affect the way we see the world.

Apart from the opening and closing poems, which are wholly collaborative, the rest of the poems are paired. Either I wrote a new poem to go with one Sarah sent me, or she wrote one in response to mine. It was uncanny how close we were at times in the objects which had significance, although we are from different regions and of different ages.

The collaboration culminated in a very enjoyable visit from Sarah. We worked for two days to go through all our poems, select the strongest for the book, and give each other much more intensive feedback than we had been able to do by email in the previous months. The poems are all new ones for both of us.

We were delighted to discover that ‘Crow LInes’, one of the joint poems, was highly commended in Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s Compound Poem competition, a fantastic idea which has encouraged poets all over the country to collaborate with one another. I am excited to hear the winning poems at an event the poetry festival is planning.

Please do consider attending the launch, which is on 26th April at The Playhouse in Cheltenham at 11 am. Our reading is followed by David Morley and Adam Horowitz, both of whom I admire, so if you are going to that, do think about coming a bit eariler and hearing the poems from Hearth get their first ever outing. .

Here is the stunning cover:

SJ & AT Hearth front cover scaled

And here is a taster poem.

What became of the Black Piano
The piano is huge against the wall,
black and steadfast, polished shiny.
The lid is shut, heavy, sound.
Pedals are silenced tongues
put out for holy communion.

One day the piano left the room,
dragged outside for the burning,
sentenced to death for its unsharp sharps,
its dumb keys and broken ivory.
They had to take an axe to it first.
Angela Topping

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