I've been idling on the theme of ‘Take Me Home’, the Abridged call out that just closed today, for the most of the month of March. I don’t write to a theme very often, although I have written in response to images and to other poems now and again. Now that I think about it I have written poems ‘to order’ for births, birthdays, for my brother’s wedding and to commemorate a dear friend and that’s similar I suppose. Still for those ‘public’ poems there are responsibilities and parameters inside of which I need to find a hook, an image or other access point to the theme. It’s a real challenge then to say something true to myself at the same time.
It shouldn't be that hard to write to a theme; I expect my students to do it and they do. My husband John's working to a brief all the time, managing to satisfy not just the client and planner but his own creative impulse too. Carol Ann Duffy never ceases to impress me, not least by her ability to write to themes as diverse as the Hillsborough tragedy and Richard III. If you haven’t read her poem Richard written for the re-interment of his remains at Leicester Cathedral last week and read by Benedict Cumberbatch, then do so here.
I tossed Take Me Home around a good bit, spent some of my time in Galway last week scribbling into a notebook and onto the conference notepads. Much of the scribble was rubbish but it took that to rid my head of the obvious and the cussed sentimental. I did get somewhere in the end but the poem that is germinating out of that work didn't make it into the Abridged submission I finally sent last night. I chose older poems that hadn't found a home, one of which I have never sent anywhere. They have matured a bit, I've gone back to them, I'm satisfied they are sound poems We'll see what happens to them soon enough.
Working on a themed submission had a few benefits then, I took a fresh look at a few older poems, and have the germ of a new one. I realised in a bit of stocktaking at Christmas that I hadn't sent a poem to a magazine in seven months (though I had some modest success in the Allingham and Bailieborough competitions) and more worryingly hadn't written more than a poem or two in that time either. I made the usual excuses to myself, I was working, I was busy. Really I was. But I have enough sense and enough belief that I can write, to know I need to generate new work.
Happily, I have written some new work this year, and it's ok. Themed submission calls, the eclectic mix I find in sites like Spontaneity just give me the nudge I sometimes need toward the pen or keyboard. So as NaPoWriMo starts prompting us to write a poem a day for the month of April again, let’s celebrate the sources of those nudges.
Here's Happy Ever After written for my brother Ciaron and sister-in-law Karen on their wedding almost exactly a year ago.
Happy Ever After
It is the most surprising thing in the world how ordinary love is really,
how it doesn’t come on a white horse, or on the tip of cupid’s arrow,
on a moonlit night, in Paris. How it does not smell of roses.
How it’s in the nap and weave of every day, a shimmering golden thread.
Fairytales never pass the point where the prince and the girl fall in love,
we don’t get to see how exactly it was that they lived happily ever after.
But I think there was dancing and singing.
And I’ll bet there was lovemaking, tonnes of it. All the time.
It is the second most surprising thing in the world how ordinary prayer is really,
How it isn’t accompanied by choirs of angels, how it doesn’t rhyme,
isn’t burdened with suffering and guilt. How it does not insist
but is filled with light that catches your heart at the moment you know there is love.
And didn’t I mention lovemaking? I did. I said tonnes of it. All the time.
But I don’t mean all that huffing and puffing they do in film. You couldn’t keep that up
any more than you could go around dressed like this every day.
Make love in how you iron each others’ clothes, in how you fill a lunchbox,
set a fire, take in coal. Make love in the paying of the ESB bill, in the hoovering,
in taxing the car and hanging out the washing.
And didn’t I mention dancing?
Dance when you feel like crying, when it’s not payday for a week but there are bills,
and then the car breaks down. Dance when it rains on the washing.
Dance close on cold nights and when you don’t get any sleep because the baby is sick.
And I said singing?
Sing when you are afraid, when the lights go out, when it snows for a month
and there is so much shopping to carry home, so much ice to defrost.
Sing when the oil runs out and airlocks the system, when the dishwasher packs in.
And what of prayer?
What do you think all that loving and dancing and singing is about?
Praise in every move you make, in every time you turn your hand, or lift your voice,
in the kisses from your children, in cups of tea and plates of food, and firesides.
Yeah I’m pretty sure that’s how you do it, this happy ever after. Amen.