What quality do you think you possess that enables you to draw consistent inspiration from your birthplace? What do you think ‘home’ means to poets? Is this an ever-changing, fluid conception?
An older poet friend once said to me a poet has to find their subject. Writing about Bermuda has made me grow enormously as a poet. I think I am aware of that and also aware that as I insist on going in deeper I find that there is more to write about. I think of myself as an anthropologist of sorts, excavating a culture in my poems. Heaney’s reference to digging is a handy concept here. At first I had to write quite extensively about slavery, because of the dire infrastructure it is regarding island history, now the poems have moved away from that, and of late out towards the undersea for instance.
Loss is a great incentive in my poems. In ‘The Sublime Void’, Bart Cassiman states: “The highly imaginative/creative nature of memory thus involves forgetfulness and loss. It is only through forgetfulness, however, that the past can appear in a manner that is not entirely sterile and thematic, or merely quotational. Such an appearance shaped to a crucial extent by absence can rightly be called the sublime void.” Hence, my memories are active not static, energetic and “not entirely sterile”, which is good fodder for poems.
Regarding the concept of home, I remember arriving in Bermuda and jumping into a cab and breaking into Bermudian dialect with the cab driver. I felt immediately as we bantered back and forth that one’s true country is the country’s language, even more than the terrain we were driving through. Likewise, when I approach the departure gate at the airport in NYC and hear Bermudians speaking in dialect I feel at home.
How do you know when a poem is finished? Do you think there is always scope for revision, addition, excision?
Valéry got it right when he said that a poem is never finished just abandoned. However, there is a place I can let a poem go. Yeats says, you can hear a click like a box shutting when a poem is done. There is a point for me when I am satisfied with the solution a poem is, although paintings have taught me that both can be opened again, and not to leave a painting or a poem too cooked. This quote from the British sculptor George Fullard captures the notion of a completed work for me:
“There is no method and no intention to speak of there is only the facts learned so far from working. A completed work is not made, it emerges as a survivor out of a phase of action, struggling through an infinity of possibilities to reach the challenge of impossibility.”