In 2014, poet, Sarah St George asked fellow writer and friend, Bart Wolffe questions about writing poetry. Bart died around this time last year.
WHY DO I WRITE POETRY?
Desperation, mostly, feeling each day that if I can’t escape the straitjacket of meaninglessness, I will not have had purpose and time which steals away my life will once again have had the victory.
I am haunted by my need to do something that reflects what I am, unseen, unknown, that breaks the barriers and casts a spell that suggests there is something more to language than rote and gossip.
Poetry somehow compensates for the failure of my existence.
WHAT INSPIRES ME TO WRITE?
The barest naked glimpses, moments, a personal thought that strikes me almost accidentally and often when I am not looking directly at the object or subject in question. It is a sort of lateral shift that often occurs in the most fragile of instances.
There is a trigger mechanism, I believe, which is switched to GO by something often almost incidental. Just a feeling that requires a metaphor for expression, an image to represent what is sensed and felt in transit.
HOW DID I BECOME INTERESTED IN POETRY AND AT WHAT AGE DID I START WRITING?
Words and language have always, throughout my life, been the means by which I reach out to end my separation. When, at boarding school, I was ostracized and unpopular, I took refuge in Nature and that had a great early influence on my writing. The early childhood rejection also reflected in much of my work on the subject of alienation, minorities, exile.
It was during my University days that I first became hungry to write poetry. To express myself and hope to be hear and understood by someone. Also, naturally, as a way of talking to myself.
WHAT DO I CONSIDER TO BE GOOD WRITING?
I am somewhat intolerant of doggerel and cliches, of language that has no authenticity to me but sounds more like a church chorus.
When words bind well together, they become a personal revelation of truth and not merely an effect. A poem or poet speaks to me often by weight and measure. Personally, I find it difficult to express anything worthwhile and I do not believe myself to be a great talker. So words are not easy. Anything easy displeases.
I do not feel anyone and everyone can be a poet. It is a calling to live and die by. It is inescapable and not a hobby for me. Poetry compensates the lack of human interaction, the absence of intimacy and relationship and becomes a virtual touching and giving, a mind making love to another, even a stranger.
I must find my own reflection in a poem that moves me to accept its value. Or at least see my humanity within it. I need to believe the poet’s voice.
Therefore, what I am saying is that words are never cheap and easy but individually crafted and set together in an original design if they want to be valued and believed and read.
They are spells cast by an ageless magician. They are conjurations that replace tired bibles. They are born from within even when they speak of the world without and beyond.
ARE THERE ANY FAMOUS/WELL KNOWN POETS THAT HAVE INFLUENCED MY WORK? IF SO, WHO?
Without the evocations of language and ideas that came to me very early in life from reading not poetry, but prose and fiction as an avid young bookworm, then being given a diet of Shakespeare even in my early schooling, I realised that oracles are spoken as is much poetry.
Naturally, I read Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, ee cummings, Elliot, Walcott, Neruda, Lorca, Cavafe, Seferis, Elitis, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Plat, Hughes, etcetera… plus many contemporaries.
All of them seeped into my soul to some extent and leaked out in my own tongue long afterwards.
WHAT ROLE DO I THINK POETRY SERVES IN SOCIETY TODAY?
Poetry is a repository of treasures, a chest to be opened and its jeweled contents discovered. When any person discovers a love of language, poetry becomes the jewel in the crown. Often, some folk only find that appetite later in life. For many, the chance and opportunity passes them by because of lack of education or coming from a lower social strata. Therefore it could even be considered elitist politically. Because of the scarcity and rarity of great poetry, the value is often seen as commercially non-viable. Perhaps poetry belongs to a secret society, an enclave of those who know and keep to themselves.. Poetry is a love affair and those who enjoy poetry fall deeply into it, falling in love literally.
Inside the heart of a poem lies all of human truth and value, the highest thoughts, the deepest feelings. It serves the soul.
(Just some initial personal responses and reactions too your questions, Sarah. Hope they suffice.)