To humans I’m sarcastic
Piss-taker of the town
But when the dog comes biting
I will also put him down.
I have two confessions to make – 1. I am crap at writing poetry, and 2. I don’t give a damn.
The reason I don’t give a damn is this. Many years ago when I was a five-year-old, scrawny, snotty-nosed kid in short pants I decided I wanted to be a writer. I found a pen in a drawer and on a scrap piece of paper I set to work. Two minutes later I had my first ever piece of writing, a four-lined poem called “Sitting in the Moonlight.” I sat back to mark my words and decided yes, this is easy and this is what I’ll do to earn a living when I’m older. I had no idea what kind of poem it was (that knowledge would come many years later) all I knew was that I’d managed to get it to rhyme. I know now of course that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, but at the time to me it was the only criterion, the only rule apart from that if at all possible try to make it good. Well to me it was good, and when I read it to my mother she said it was good too. I remember feeling buoyed about that, but what I also remember is that she said it was about loneliness. I hadn’t really thought of that, but she was right.
It was a revelation, that I’d written what I thought was a simple verse about a boy sitting in the moonlight but whose meaning was not at first apparent from the words I’d crudely slanted across the page. The five-year-old, scrawny, snotty-nosed kid in short pants was exploring something deeper in his mind than he’d even realised, and that it was conveying his feelings about having nobody to play with.
I say all this because what I also realise is that now, fifty years on, I am still doing it, writing poorly-constructed verse that somehow conveys what I’m feeling deep down in my subconsciousness, about loneliness, depression, poverty or whatever. The doggerel I write now doesn’t always appear on this blog (many of you will be glad about that) much of it remains buried in my notebook. But it’s true that when I’m feeling depressed and lonely, as I did that day when I scribbled my first poem, it’s to poetry that I turn and in writing it I pay no attention to the literary laws of the medium because what matters is that I’m getting something down. In thirty years as a professional writer, most of them in television, I know there are always people circling to criticise what you do, tell you what is wrong, tell you they are right, purists, pedants and sometimes philistines who think they know better. But they don’t always; how can they know better than you what’s really in your mind? But anyway I no longer give a damn, because what really matters, what really is important, is that I’ve exorcised ghosts, cut open my heart and poured out its emotions like blood onto the page.
And that is why tomorrow when it’s National Poetry Day, the quality of verse won’t matter so much to me as the will to write it or speak it.
I still have the poem I wrote when I was a five-year-old, scrawny, snotty-nosed kid in short pants; it’s in the box of things I carry with me everywhere that’s called my imagination. “Sitting in the Moonlight.” I could recite it to you now but will spare you till I’m minded to share it, should anyone be interested. If not, then again I don’t really care because it’s mine and I’m happy to be alone in its audience. But actually, when I come to think of it, with words I’m not alone. Because words are funny; when I’m lonely they speak to me. When I’m penniless like now they somehow enrich me. And when I’m down they somehow help me beat the dog.