Signpost Seven, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot: Create your own Prufrock!

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This is likely to be my shortest blog post ever because pretty much everything that could be written about this wonderful poem has already been written.

There’s a wide choice of websites to read it on. I read it in the book I have as the “featured image”, which is published by Faber & Faber, London 1972.

You can read it on:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/44212

I like hearing it read by the man himself on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAO3QTU4PzY

You can also google notes on, explanations of, discussions about this poem. It’s worth reading this information, if you’re in the mood. This one’s easy to read if you can put up with the adverts:

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section1.rhtml

The point of this blog is to share poems that have inspired me to write my own poems and the gorgeous things I find inspiring about this poem are:

  • Memorable rhymes. Rhyme can be frumpy and old-fashioned. These rhymes add to the dreary, resigned feel of the poem:

“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo”

and

“Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;”

  • Imagery, for example that yellow fog
  • Gritty realism: “arms downed with light brown hair”, “do I dare to eat a peach?”
  • Repetition: “That is not what I meant at all”

So now to the point ; by which I mean the poetry-writing point . Develop as much self-awareness as you can over the following months (an incredibly useful exercise in itself), then create the poem for your own caricature; your own J.Alfred Prufrock.

The self-awareness bit will almost definitely involve asking people what they think of you, how they see you. A kind way to do this is to ask people what careers they think might suit you. You could look at photographs of yourself. Listen to a recording of your voice. Look up your name on a category list (mine is apparently very middle class). Try meditation and notice what thoughts consume your awareness (you may think your thoughts are about work, whereas they’re actually overshadowed by your passions for cheese sandwiches and Ms X in the accounts department). What have you always wanted to do and why have you never done it? What will you be like when you are old(er)?

Then write your very own J.Alfred Prufrock. It should be interesting.

P.S. I am now beginning the habit of asking someone to please add a comment when one of my blog posts has actually inspired them to write something, so, yes; that. No need to actually post your poem.

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Signpost Six: ‘Directed by Sergio Leone’, Brett Evans

This blog simply features poems that have inspired me to write poems. The idea is that – having inspired me – the poems might inspire you, too.

To explain the ‘featured image’, Copyright means I can’t just go grabbing someone else’s Sergio Leone picture from the web and stealing it for my blog, so here’s a picture of a dog with a pint of beer. I happen to know Brett Evans would approve.

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Back to the point, here’s the poem, reproduced with the kind permission of the poet:

Directed by Sergio Leone

There’s nothing but waiting around to die, so you choose
how to spend that time: swatting flies on your stubbled
throat whilst waiting for a train or riding through
this one-horse world, hell-bent on creed or trouble.
A bottle of rye, a cheroot beneath the bough
may be enough for those who’re simply chasing
a quieter life. Or you could stand or slouch
between hero, villain, gunslinger and assassin;
your idle fingers twitching whilst waiting on a script
to reveal the character to which you are assigned.
An extra in another’s movie, too late you’ve grasped
that at the bar, in bed, on the street, dying’s just dying.
Your final suspicion, that there must have been so much more;
that there must have been music, an unforgettable score.

At this point, I suggest you find yourself a Sergio Leone soundtrack and open it in another tab, then leave it playing while you come back to this tab and read the poem again.

….ok? Right then…

‘Directed by Sergio Leone’ has a pervading stillness. You soon hear Clint Eastwood speaking, his eyes squinting in the sun, lips pursed around a cheroot.

An attention-grabbing first line, but this inevitability of death is not fatalistic because “you choose how to spend that time”. I was brought up in a strict, fundamentalist and – frankly – abusive environment. Realising that there might not be a god, or a heaven, was a dreadful shock and strain to me, but then the mental progression after that, to realising that if you only have one life, it’s pretty important you get on with living it, was liberating. That’s the issue this poem presents to me and it’s reinforced with the lovely old spaghetti-western word, “creed”.

The choices move from the banal “swatting flies”, to “riding… hell-bent”,  from“slouch” to “stand”, from “assassin” to “hero” or, of course, the other way around.

However, the environment in which all these choices take place is a “one-horse world” and there’s a feeling of helplessness in having to “wait… on a script” and that you are “an extra in another’s movie”. The poignancy of this and the sadness of being “too late” in realising that “dying’s just dying” is heartbreaking.

To me that poignancy perfectly shows how I felt when I “lost my faith”, as mentioned above. The beauty of the final two lines, though, must leave us ensuring we don’t waste a second, but look for the “music” in our lives; seek out our own “unforgettable score”. This is a cautionary tale, a fable.

Remember me mentioning in a previous blog how a poem needs to “soar”? Your poem needs to go somewhere; it must have a crescendo. This poem moves from the inevitability of death, to the possibility of an unforgettable life.

‘Directed by Sergio Leone’ inspired me to write a poem set in a silent movie. You could write one set in a cartoon, or a horror film or any genre that tickles your tastebuds. It could also inspire you to go from a negative in life (or death) to a positive. Or a positive to a negative – if you must.

It comes from Brett Evans’ Indigo Dreams pamphlet, ‘The Devil’s Tattoo’, which you can buy using this link:

http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/brett-evans/4588677100

Signpost Five: ‘Addiction to an Old Mattress’, Rosemary Tonks.

It’s been a long while since I wrote my blog and the reason is that I was introduced to Rosemary Tonks. Oh my god; Rosemary Tonks! Remember, the whole point of this blog is simply to share poems that have inspired me to write poetry, in the hope that the poems will inspire you to write, too. Rosemary Tonks has been like rocket fuel.

Please read this and bear with it; it’s unlikely you’ll understand it immediately:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/31/saturday-poem-rosemary-tonks-addiction-to-an-old-mattress

Now, you can see why I wasn’t in a hurry to post this and explain why this poet has been my inspiration. It is not easy. But I’ll have a go.

The whole sound of this reminds me a little of the Fast Show character, Rowley Birkin QC, who would gabble away nonsensically, his ramblings punctuated by phrases you suddenly understood, like “poisonous monkeys!” Not that Tonks comes over as drunk, but certainly overwhelmed by the feelings she is conveying. I hear a county lady, with a posh voice, in tweeds, sounding exasperated, saying, “…and another thing….!”

“This is not my life…” suggests being stuck in a life the poet doesn’t want to be living, with dull objects, drudgery, greyness.

Think of boring things you’re fed up with, but stuck with: Potatoes!

After reading this I pretty much wrote a complete poem in one sitting and went on to get it accepted for publication! This poem showed me how to write about something I was totally fed up and exasperated with, in an entertaining way.

Have a look at “bolsters from Istanbul!” Very ‘poisonous monkeys’, isn’t it? I imagine someone at her hotel proudly announcing that the bolsters were from Istanbul and Tonks thinking this was a ridiculous thing to be proud of. Think of something that you consider ridiculous to be proud of and try sticking it in a poem.

Look at the things that give the poem movement: draughts, salt breezes, moody isobars. Can you see them, moodily huffing and puffing?

Look at the people described: haberdashers, writers of menus, dentists. Tonks clearly feels they are not her kind of people, that their lives are too dull, yet she is “obsessed” and in the last line, she writes; “And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day”. She is disgusted with herself. She wants to break out! Who hasn’t felt like that, suffocated by an illness, a dull job, a boring dinner party, a shift that’s gone on far too long on a supermarket checkout?

I’m going to take a risk now. I’m so confident that one of you darling readers will be inspired to write a poem after reading Rosemary Tonks that I’m going to ask you to please comment below this time and say  you have. You don’t have to post your poem, but please let us know that Tonks has worked for you. Go now and write that exasperated poem…