This blog is to keep a record of poetry that I’ve enjoyed and that’s inspired me to write my own poems, in the hope that you’ll enjoy them and be inspired, too.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Susan Castillo Street’s voice retains a little of that Southern drawl, even after living in Europe since her twenties. I’ve just realized that when she speaks, a memory of Scarlett O’Hara emerges, not of the doe-eyed Scarlett, simpering at Rhett Butler, but the survivor, who made a gown out of the curtains to try and fool Rhett, and vowed she’d never go hungry again. Susan is no fool. There’s very little worth knowing about American history that she doesn’t know. She’s appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking about the Salem Witch Trials and Pocahontas. She’s Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London. I know that – not because she likes to swank about it – but because she offered me a “pompous academic reference” (her words) for a university application. She’s kind, she’s helpful. She’s a wonderful storyteller. And she’s a gun-runner’s daughter.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m currently thinking a lot about “voice” in poetry. Although the idea can conjure eye-rolls at the whole pretentiousness of it, I’m learning that the more I throw caution to the wind and write whatever I want, the more I am discovering my own voice, in the sense that I’m writing poetry that sounds like me talking – something I would say in conversation. When you read Susan Castillo Street’s Gun-Runner’s Daughter it is just like sitting on the sofa in her house in front of a crackling fire and listening to her telling stories.
The Gun-Runners’ Daughter is divided into three sections. The first is about Susan’s own life, the second about historical characters, and the third, words of wisdom and observations on life itself. It’s not simple, but it’s beautifully easy to read. It’s published by Aldrich Press. You can buy it from this link:
To the poem!
At a certain age, one starts to think
about the way we’d like
to leave this Vale of Tears.
No slow drip of poison to our veins.
No exploding planes.
It would be far more fun
to go in burst of glory,
frolicking with a lover
heart to heart, skin to skin,
or topple over dancing
under the glitterball, lights flashing,
drums pounding in our ears.
Or fade to gentle night when sitting on a beach
flowing in out, in out,
I’m terrified of dying. Not the way in which I’ll die, but that I will have missed out – wasted time with unsuitable partners, not paid enough attention to my children, argued too long with idiots, followed the wrong paths, and – yes, mucked about too long on Facebook instead of writing.
At first glance this poem is about the actual moment of dying, but then you realize it’s about how to live our lives. It’s not sickly-sweet. Life is described as a “Vale of Tears” and the horrors of “poison” and “exploding planes” are mentioned, although this is followed immediately with the importance of “fun”!
How romantic, that description of making love “heart to heart”, so it’s not just a stanza about having sex. In the following stanza, I can’t explain why I enjoy the word “topple” so much, but I do. This stanza is surely about living life to the full, with “glitterball, lights flashing, drums pounding”. And aren’t the different meanings of the title all making sense?
The ending, though! The “fade to gentle night” is cinematic. You hear waves flowing “in out, in out”, and that stanza break and single last word/stanza “out” is breathtaking.
So, for our own poems, try writing about how you would like to die. As ‘Way Out’ shows us, this need not be miserable or depressing.
Failing that, try simply being yourself and telling a story. Maybe from your childhood, or of someone you know or knew, or a story from history. See what comes out!
Just a mention that if you write a poem inspired by my blog, I would love you to let me know! You don’t have to post the poem. You can use the “contacts” tab if you like.