It’s odd to think of poems as made things in the way we might make a cake, a cup of tea, a flower bed, a brick wall, a home… but the metaphor stands; a poem is a construction.
Imagine this: we have in front of us half a dozen trugs or buckets, and in each of those trugs we have something that will help us to build a wall; we have cement, sand, water, bricks, a trowel, a spirit level, a plumb line. And so we bring these elements together and build our wall, and after we’ve built it we build another one, only this one might also include plaster and breeze blocks and paint. We learn how to keep the wall straight, how to make it arch, how to smooth it down or jag it up just to see what tension, what wonder, might come from a jagged wall. Eventually we build a house, which might in some way be called a home.
So, substitute the bricks and mortar, the spirit level and plumb line for imagery, voice, sound, metre, rhythm, verse break, line break, metaphor, allegory… and the wall that we make is a line or two of poetry, and the line becomes a poem and the poem becomes another poem until eventually you have a collection, a house of poems, a home for all your hard work. It’s no coincidence that another word for ‘verse’ in a poem is ‘stanza’, which, as well as meaning a ‘standing place’, is also another word for ‘room’. But without our building blocks, our first elements, we might have a wall that struggles to stand on its own, to protect both the things it’s made from and anything – such as love, terror, companionship, a laugh, a memory – that we choose to keep inside it, and the rooms we make with it.
Our poems, then, are built things, made things; an architecture for our vocabularies, for how we feel, for how we share those feelings: we build a wall, we build a room, a home. We invite people in. And they come. And we welcome them.
By Jacqueline Gabbitas
A version of this article was first published in our 2015/16 programme.
Jacqueline Gabbitas is a tutor for the Writing School in Leicester. Her pamphlet are Mid Lands (Hearing Eye), Earthworks and Small Grass (Stonewood Press). She is an award-winning poet, published in Poetry Review and The Forward Book of Poetry (Faber) and has appeared on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. She is co-editor of the literary magazine Brittle Star.
Jacqueline’s course for 2016/17 is Making Poems.