THE PERSONAL AND THE UNIVERSAL IN POETRY.
By Gary Bills.
Some readers of poetry believe that every poem is personal, which is to say, every poem derives from a personal experience. This is not really the case. I'll concede that the majority of poems derive from personal ideas, or emotions experienced by the individual, or both: but that is something rather different.
A personal poem, of course, is indeed rooted in personal experience, and that includes the majority of love poems. I had cause to reflect on the nature of personal poetry a short while ago, when my wife Heather started an outstanding and inspired animation of my short poem, Bonfires.
This is a personal poem: even an eerily prophetic poem, in some ways, and it is deeply rooted in personal experience. I give the poem here:
Are we amazed – who thought our skins would last
The bright months through, that we are getting older?
And now, despite the rain-sheen on our street,
The breeze at dusk is always bonfire-scented.
But we knew less than any tree, because
We were much further from the sun – and you,
Who walked beneath an inferno, down long lanes
And called it shade – the miles have burnt your feet.
Oh the trees always knew – they knew the air was fire,
That leaves explode from buds to be consumed.
They drift as ashes down to end our summer,
From the crown-light and the martyrdoms of heat.
Now, Heather's animation is going pretty well; but that's no thanks to me, because I had a big gripe that the figures shown in her animation are not representations of Heather and myself. Heather calls the shapes she uses for animation her "manikins", and in this case her manikins were based on her mother and father, on their wedding day, back in the 1940s. I felt hurt, because Bonfires is about us.
The lanes that hurt Heather's feet were the long lanes of Herefordshire, which we walked so often when we were living on a farm, as bohemians rather than farm hands (!), both full of hope. British folks will know how rural lanes in England are narrow, and often in the shade of overhanging trees. How we loved those winding lanes near our home - the first place we settled as a married couple, as a matter of fact.
Well, eventually circumstances drove us from that farm, into a town where, due to typical English weather, there always seemed to be a rain-sheen on the street. As for the miles hurting Heather's feet, a line which was written quite a while ago now: well, only recently she has been struggling with a complaint which, on the bad days, makes it difficult for her to get about. That is why I say, from a personal perspective, the words seem eerily prophetic. Hopefully now, she's on the mend at last.
Yes, all this is very personal. But I was wrong to object to Heather's choice of her mother and father as manikins, because most couples reach a point where they reflect on how they are getting older. That's part of life, and it’s universal - and Heather in her animation is responding to that universality.
I wish I could tell you more about the great animation she's doing for Bonfires, but that would be a huge spoiler. Needless to say, it will be appearing on this site shortly, and her work is well worth a look.