Signpost Three: ‘We Think We See Richness, Said Dougal’, Mark Waldron

(If you haven’t already, please see the ‘About’ section of this blog, which explains  the scope of my posts.)

I get very, very excited about this poem. The rhythm is perfect. The ideas are fascinating.  It is a thing of deep beauty. I should mention the word “surrealism”, really; surrealism.

I was lucky enough to see/hear Mark Waldron read this poem at a Poetry Society Stanza* evening. He said it works differently depending on whether or not you’re familiar with Dougal and Florence from The Magic Roundabout. I am – I grew up in the 60s/70s – so I see Florence’s eyes as the dark, oval, painted-on eyes she had: they looked like openings in to her spherical head. I see Dougal’s  “putty-coloured piece of brain” as a 3D children’s TV model brain, maybe made of Plasticine.

I love this poem so much that I have learned it by heart. I was therefore fascinated to learn that Mark Waldron learns his own poems by heart, so performs them from memory. This is a very handy hint for those of us who are learning to write poetry:If possible, learn what you have written by heart. If the rhythm is wrong, it will jar. If it’s boring, the chances are the reader will find it boring, too. If it’s just not worth the effort, then…

Right, here is a link to the poem, published in Magma Poetry:

and another to a recording of the poet reading it, on YouTube:

Ok, so I now need to explain why this is one of my ‘signpost’ poems. I can’t just say “it’s brilliant”, can I? No. Sigh…. This is going to be difficult, but bear with me and I’ll do my best.

Remember, a poem does not have to be understood to be felt. Ok, having said that:

As you can see, the title is also the first line Make a mental note that this is a thing and you can do it, if you like. In this instance, it means the poem has started before you’re ready. I’ll just leave that thought hovering.

I’d be a complete twit to say what this poem means. It means whatever it means to you. What I will do, (as an ex-therapist), is ask questions and the questions might help.  So, to start; why do we only “think” we see richness and what does “richness” mean to you? Are Dougal and Florence captive puppets  in a pretend world ( a bit like the film, The Truman Show) ?  Why does Dougal have difficulty finding a word for how “thin” their reality is and why does Florence helpfully come up with “paper”?  Meanwhile, her legs are “crossing and winding”: Is that suggestive of a woman who’s simultaneously available and not available as a sexual partner? Is Dougal frustrated? Or is that just a mannerism she has?

The next stanza has Dougal fantasizing about being lost (“wholly unfound”) in Florence’s eyes. Why does he want to be lost? What or who does he want to escape? More, though; there are whole packs of dogs wanting to be lost, except that they also want to be “owned again” (I’m thinking abandoned dogs, orphaned children, addicts,  people who’ve lost a person they love….). I find this so very sad. The loss and the powerlessness and the need to “foam” and “rise” and “swarm” …but then they do so as “her” happiness, not with their own. The final stanza breaks my heart. And that’s it.

So – look – we don’t know what it’s about, do we? If the poet wanted us to know, he would tell us. I think it speaks of powerlessness and that – whatever your circumstances, be it an existential crisis, traumatic memories, addiction, a break up of a relationship, or just being human – it ‘speaks’ to you through your emotions. The point is, though, that if we want the meaning, we have to

“…make it all up [so that] it forms in front of us as we go.” See?

Meanwhile, rhythm. It makes me feel as if my heart is dancing. You’re going to have to read it out loud, I’m afraid. I say “I’m afraid”  but that’s probably only a problem if you’re British. Anyway, go on…

This poem soars.  (I was given that concept by Ira Lightman and I’ll talk to you about him in another post). The rhythm builds and builds, then ends thin and stark. It rocks you, at first, a little like a lullaby, then builds as if you were waltzing, or dancing a ballet. And – of course – this building is matched by the language with the foaming happiness rising and swarming. (God, I love this!)

I love this poem and this is what it means to me. It means there is no meaning. It is excruciating and beautiful at the same time.

What can we learners learn from today’s blog?

  • You can use the first line as the heading;
  •  you don’t have to spell out your meaning to the reader;
  • your rhythm should build;
  •  your meaning should build;
  • you should try learning your own poem by heart, as an editing device;
  • It’s worth joining The Poetry Society

Mark Waldron is one of the Next Generation Poets which is a Very Big Deal in the poetry world. (You can Google it to find out more and see who the others are.) He also looks very good in jeans.  I’ve just bought his most recent collection, Meanwhile Trees. I get excited about this collection, too and I’m very glad I bought it:

*It’s a good idea to join The Poetry Society. You get access to workshops with people who tend to know what they’re talking about, as well as readings by poets worth listening to. Also competitions, the Poetry Review magazine and other good stuff:


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