Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Old Poet

The Old Poet

The aging poet – milk teeth cut on the romantics,
the second lot grew while he studied those whose
whole world edged towards the inescapable combat –
reads a modern anthology with regret but
without envy at their poise & certitude.
He turns as is his custom to the introduction
last & slams it down in dispute with the author.
Accepting he’s getting to the stage of being
beyond new tricks he toys with a letter.
‘while it might be contemporary to avoid
the moral tone it would also help if we who
use it are not attacked so hurtfully & heedlessly.’
He doesn’t write it. The world can not
comprehend that once in dreams of goddesses
& justice, to him paradise appeared quite possible

Harvey McQueen

This poem carries an interesting history. When it appeared in my last poetry collection, Recessional, The Dominion Post selected it for its weekly Wednesday poem. A fellow poet asked me what was the anthology I was writing about. It was an imaginary one. This poem is interesting for I normally move from the personal to the more objective. The process of writing this one was the reverse.

I’d read a letter, bristling with indignation, in the Spectator I think, from an elderly curmudgeonly guy complaining about modern writers’ lack of moral values. The mood struck a spark. I began a poem about an old retired bull brooding in a paddock about the foolishness of his successors. The artificiality of that metaphor quickly became obvious and I discarded it.

What emerged was this rather succinct biographical piece. But I stress, the character that is created is a personae rather than the actual me. It is true that my first poetic love was Keats and his fellow romantics and the second more mature was Eliot and Auden. But the picture of that naive young writer, chivalrous and idealistic, buffeted by and misunderstood down the years is not the full story.

It is a poem. It is not Harvey McQueen but something he has created. There is a difference.

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