Reproduced here by kind permission of the poet, is the extraordinary poem, ‘Wordslast’. Have a good look at it and don’t worry if you don’t immediately ‘get’ it. The joy of this poem is that it creeps up on you, opening doors in your mind until it becomes part of your own experience:
This poem plays with words, using wonderfully thrifty language (not a hint of a hint of pretentiousness or verbosity).
The title is clever and suggests a technique for coming up with your own poems. Notice when you hear or use a phrase to describe a situation and think about the relationship between the situation and the phrase, then try playing around with the words. I’ve listed some examples below. Here we have ‘wordslast’, which brings to mind the saying, “famous last words” , which implies impending doom. It also brings to mind the idea of a person’s last words; more impending doom. We are further unsettled because the words are the wrong way around (should be “last words”) and they’re stuck together, with no space between the words, which is even more unsettling.
Just one word and we are already worried! How’s that for economy? Pretty cool, huh? Onward…
So, start following through the poem and its story. In the first stanza a woman is shouting to shut the window and the narrator is compliant. The second stanza, we have more orders, but this time ‘screamed’ and with a door. In the third stanza, it’s a gate. The window/door/gate are shut/opened/locked to and fro’ as the word order moves to and fro’. Clever, innit?
Bear with me here because at this point I realised I had ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd playing in my head. In the Pink Floyd song, you are bombarded with a continuous rhythm of opening and shutting tills, suggesting that the influence of money is never ending. In this poem, it’s doors/windows/gates that feel never ending, and the sense that there is something still continuing – even today – in the poets’ mind.
By the fourth stanza, you are beginning to want to put your hands in front of your eyes. The word “incorrectly” sticks out of the rhythm and blasts like a car horn. It’s not going to end well. The fifth stanza is so painful, with “wideeyes/Eyeswide” and “struggled”.
The final stanza breaks your heart. At first, I thought it was about holding someone’s hand as s/he/they said their last words, but it doesn’t have to be that – as the reader, it can be about whatever you want it to be!
This poem seems to be about a particular event, which carries a heavy weight of shame on the poet’s shoulders. It also seems to be about a continuous practise of people, maybe children, being shouted at and screamed at. There is a plaintive desperation in the repetition, “I said…I said”, “she pleaded… she pleaded”. The poet’s shame shudders in your mind.
You can ponder over this as much or as little as you wish, of course, but I take three things from it:
- I really must always explain things to people/children, rather than shouting at them.
- I really must recommend Stephen Daniels’ pamphlet to everyone I meet, and
- I really must listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ again.
Here’s a list of examples of throwaway phrases/words that might trigger a poem in you and which you might be able to use with the words mixed up:
Chip off the old block
Insult to injury
Afraid of his own shadow
Against all odds
Fun and games
All in a day’s work
All’s well that ends well
Axe to grind
As the crow flies
At my wits’ end
Better safe than sorry
Bark worse than bite
Bewteen a rock and a hard place
Bites the dust
Bite the hand that feeds
Blessing in disguise
Blow your own trumpet
Busy as a bee
By hook or by crook
Cross that bridge when you come to it
Bright as a button
Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched
Down and out
Down in the dumps
Down to earth
Easy as pie
Fan the flames
Free as a bird
Stephen Daniels edits Amaryllis and Strange Poetry, both online poetry magazines featuring poetry that has something to say. Stephen is one of the fastest editors to respond to submissions – sometimes responding within 24 hours – so is a great choice if you happen to be impatient. I am very impatient. Stephen will always hold a special place in my poetry heart, as he was the first editor to publish one of my poems. Not only did he publish it, but he suggested I send another of my submissions to Three Drops From a Cauldron (https://threedropspoetry.co.uk/), demonstrating his generosity towards new poets, towards other magazines and towards the world of poetry generally. I mean, what a total dude!
If you’re not already aware of them, do have a look:
I knew I was going to enjoy Stephen’s own poetry and pre-ordered his pamphlet ‘Tell Mistakes I Love Them’ from V. Press. You can buy it from the link below:
Door picture from the free website, Pixabay