Michael Tolkien

All that philosophising and grumbling in 1995! Though some of the fundamental principles still hold good. I suppose when you are insecure and uncertain about which direction to take you go in for posturing. Now after all the hard work and ups and downs of putting oneself about, the relief of having shaped and formed so much that needed to be said, there seems to be nothing more important than just getting on with it as and when you can.

Play the dogged game of learning through trial and error, and somehow stifle each and every excuse you make for not writing. And just as a poem is never finished but allowed to slip away in its imperfect state, so also there's no hint of work coming to an end: the illusion of much more to come has to be entertained and taken seriously.


But I can't throw off the inner tug of war expressed in


               Opus What?

Radio's blurred hours at the screen,

tapping in and out one lot of words

after another, chasing some voice

that won't be heard, cobbling chunks

to look like stanzas, all for shadows

already breathing down my neck

with how they're lost or what to cut.


Finish Edit. Power Off. Catch

the first, slow bars of some quartet.

Draw breath with the violins before

they go vivace. Prance about sketching

phrases in the air, absurdly alive

(Outstripping Gravity, p.68)  


Ostensibly about anticipated workshop sharing, to which I am indebted and in which I am a firm believer, provided its lessons are followed up. But it's really about a conflict: the jubilant freedom and release of making while 'out there' the inevitable listening shadows lie in wait. But then aren't you lucky to have a readership at all!

And years of reading reviews and reviewing books of verse  that are not always interesting or congenial has taught me how 'relative' and mercurial response and judgment can be. Most critics like most poets are performers.

I used to envy those who do what I would call 'real' work:-


Caravanning at Ael-y-Bryn, the brow

of the hill, I rock to the wind.

Wet or shine quarrymen turned roofers

are hunched on ladders from 8 till 5.


They strain arms and bruise fingers

stripping the roof. Tapping and chatter

dwindle to a syllable or two before

a wrench that sets my teeth on edge.


Slates that will do again are stacked

with a kind of awe: the last from Blaenau.

Good reason then to let the rogues fly

and shatter in straggling heaps.


Locking in half a dozen rows below

the ridge, they look at what they've

made to measure, beating the weather

back with something of themselves.


To think they might envy me screwing up

pages of invented snags while they

do their quota, knowing whatever's

hammered home will see them out.      

                         (TECHNIQUES: Exposures, p.69 )


This began life in 1987 and distils a lifetime's respect for physical endurance and craftsmanship; but I'm now convinced that writing is important work, a job that is required to be done, and if not done will somehow make you and others the poorer.


Fifteen Years On (2010)