This poem is from Kim Moore’s prize-winning collection, ‘The Art of Falling’. Published by Seren Books, you can buy it here:
I love this book because, not only is it a wonderful read, it has given me several ideas for my own poems. It was difficult to choose one for this blog, but here’s the poem I decided on, reproduced with the kind permission of the poet:
When Someone is Singing
When someone is singing the old carols –
the earth hard as iron, snow on snow,
when cold brings the world to silence,
when the name of the city we lived in is spoken,
when lorries are parked in lines at service stations,
when making a decision, when another year ends,
when a coach ticks to itself in the heat,
when I see a couple arguing in public,
when I hear someone shouting or swearing,
when I see boats or think of the sea,
when I remember I know how someone can break,
if somebody spits on the pavement, if somebody spits,
when I stand at a bus stop, when I visit the doctors,
when I get in a car with someone else driving,
when I see bouncers in nightclub doorways,
with the taking and giving of pain, when I’m afraid,
it’s only then I think of him, or remember his name.
This is one of those poems that initially looks straightforward, almost pedestrian, but turns out to be so much more. In fact, this poem is more evocative than, erm… a Very Evocative Thing. It carries you from the poignant carol, through cold winter weather, to a city, lorries, service stations: these we feel, or see, but then the list becomes internal, with decisions to be made, and more abstract, with the ending year.
Then sounds: a ticking coach, and suddenly heat, and another sound; this time an arguing couple, augmented to shouting and swearing, then we’re off to boats and the sea, then again, the more abstract and painful line, “when I remember I know how someone can break”.
(I just need to say here that I hate “explaining” poems like this, as it’s like explaining a joke and, in doing so, ruining it, but this poem is so clever I can’t help myself. Anyway, onward….)
The structure of lines beginning with “when” is broken, with the line, “if somebody spits…” and this, I think, displays one of the most brilliant features of Kim Moore’s poetry: she manages to get the raw internal world of thought out onto the page for us. This break in structure reminds me of when you’re trying to explain something important to someone, and suddenly a thought comes tumbling out that you haven’t yet fully acknowledged, or even understood, but it’s important, and you say it a second time, qualifying it with the repetition (in this case, the spitting doesn’t need to be on a pavement, it can just be spitting in general).
The poem moves on in its story with the mention of the bus stop, the doctors, the “car with someone else driving”, all of which I feel are telling me something terrible has happened, then the bouncers, then we’re slammed with,
“the taking and giving of pain, when I’m afraid,
it’s only then I think of him, or remember his name.”
We’re left devastated, and almost overwhelmed with the enormity of being shown what has been felt by the poet, as if we’ve been taken on a tour of the inside of the poet’s mind.
I’m just going to calm us down a little, by telling you that Kim Moore is a superb poetry teacher, and you can learn more about her, including opportunities to be taught by her and to buy more of her work, from her blog:
For our own poems, try thinking of smells, sounds, images, places, that remind you of a particular person or incident. Remember to use all the senses, and add some abstract images, thought processes or ideas.
N.B. For those of you who are new to poetry and who maybe don’t already know this, you must beware of plagiarism. If you were to decide to write a poem with the majority of lines beginning “when”, like When Someone is Singing, you must acknowledge the poet who created this structure by writing “After Kim Moore” below your title. If you do not do this, you will be despised and ridiculed.
Not wanting to end on a negative, I’m always thrilled to hear from people telling me they’ve written a poem as a result of reading this blog, so feel free to tell me in the comments. You can even post your poem there, if you like!