Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A Dialogue between Past and Present?

The title is a quote from DH Carr's What is History (my question mark) and I'm considering it a lot while working on all things maritime. I have thought for a while that historical poems have a responsibility beyond being historically accurate or emotionally true. Or at least that's I want to do more than that in my work. I think the Bedrock sequence did that on the level of historcal sweep.

So what am I driving for now? How can I bring to bear the same perspective in a different way? Obviously there is a massive unconscious element at work whenever something is written, but I am also interested in a more conscious approach to contemporary/historical writing. It was what I loved so much about Wolf Hall - what got me through the book, really - how Hilary Mantel's reframed a historical personality.

Take, say, the buddhist perspective of the past being present. Perhaps there is nowhere more evident of that than the sea. Despite the growth of windfarms, it is an unchanged scape, unike much landscape. The tides work to a monthly cycle, but that month then repeats itself ad infinitum (unless there is major land shifts). I constantly find that incredible.

One way of approaching this dialogue is through the inevitability of social structures. I am a result of the present society/ethic/politic, my written language reflects that compression of time - using contemporary patterns in writing oute past, my selection of images recolour the past. I love Paul Farley's redrawing of rural subjects through urban imagery. His skill is deftness. And confidence. Awkwardly handled, this could easily pull a reader out of the intense experience of the past. Which is also a delight of strong historical poems - to reconjure a time/place, focusing on a detail, an angle otherwise overlooked.

It comes back to purpose and intention. What is the point of historical fiction/poetry? Beyond remembering the past. What can poetry bring back to life that a good history book can't?

I'd love to read some new (to me) poems by poets who play with reframing historical narratives, who are incessant in that conversation between now and then. Any suggestions? Any other views?

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