I’ve never been to a mart, but now, I want to go to one. As with fiction, poetry has the power to transport the reader to another world. Here, Lynda Tavakoli takes us to the mart. It’s the level of detail she provides that really seals it – the gavel, the concrete, the “meringue-crisp manure”.
Such detail is also very specific to the language used at a mart. The one quote which appears in the poem conveys both technical terms (at least to a non-farming lad like me) and the rhythm of the man MCing the events, delivered like a rapper desperate to finish s song before a very necessary toilet break.
I suppose what’s also interesting is the fact that most of us have regular experience with a certain element of the whole mart process – the meat that is on these animals. We all know where it is destined to go, and anyone eating at a plate knows where his/her meat came from, but he/she rarely even considers the butcher’s blade even as he/she slices with a knife. That’s another thing poetry does – it often makes us stop and think.
Dropped Calves, Sucklers, Weanlings and Steers
Their lowing drenches
these redundant pens
and seeps through concrete floors
like blottered ink,
while in a shed
the gavel sleeps
its gunshot condemnation
silent only after the bidding.
“Dropped calves, sucklers,
the wet-nosed breath of them
its droplets dripping fear
on crusted pats
of meringue-crisp manure.
No sentiment soils
this soulless place,
only the cold stare
of hard men born to it,
their business done
with spit and shake
to seal the deal.
And under a gavel’s silence
hums the lament
of those condemned,
carted to slaughter
and a butcher’s slab.
Over the years I’ve tried my hand at most writing genre. Journalistic pieces have sometimes landed me in hot water while short stories have revealed to me a macabre side of my personality I didn’t know I had but it is poetry that allows me to connect most with ordinary people. More and more I’m drawn to writing poems with subject matter that is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to confront but as I get older it’s important to me to be honest about my own life experiences. The reader, after all, will usually recognise an imposter. So my poetry is that old thing – the eclectic mix, and if any of it manages to have a resonance with someone else then I have achieved something that I’m proud of. My poems have seen success in The Irish Times/Hennessy Poetry of the Month, Listowel and various anthologies but I am presently working hard to put my own collection together. Several months spent writing in the Middle East recently has given me a new focus which I hope will be reflected in my latest poetry.
Farming appears to be an ideal/popular subject for poetry. Why do you think this is?
Farming, animal rights, what we’re doing to the planet – yes, popular and controversial subjects that are fundamental to our lives and what better way to confront them than through verse? I teach in an inner-city school where many of the children have little or no experience of the countryside, so poetry can often prove to be a fun way of establishing that important connection. “Duck’s Ditty” by Kenneth Grahame, for example, was the first poem I ever learned by rote (along with a lot of tittering) yet several decades later it still lingers in some small corner of my brain. Essentially, I think that any poetry that allows us to connect with nature and the environment or encourages respect for the countryside is all to the good.
This is a very atmospheric poem. How important is conveying an atmosphere to poetry, or to certain types of poetry?
Aesthetic or emotional meaning is an important element in all of my poems and to me this constitutes atmosphere. The attempt to transfer a mood or feeling to someone else is so very difficult to achieve but wonderful when it is found, and it is something I continually search for. Regardless of the form of a poem (which of course can create atmosphere in itself), it is how people relate to the words that really matter in my opinion. I view poetry in the same way that I view visual art in that I want to understand what is in front of me and be touched by it in some way.
Were you aware of any particular influences on your writing here or in your poetry in general?
Oh yes. My childhood was a fusion of polar opposite experiences – weekdays living in a large town and weekends on an island on Lough Erne with no electricity or modern amenities. The latter (although time-wise the lesser of the two), has had a profound effect on me and colours my thinking even now. Most of what I write, whether poetry or prose, has in many ways been moulded by what was gifted to me back then by my parents – simplicity, kindness and the freedom to be myself. The poetry collection that I’m working on at the moment contains more than a few poems connected with those formative years.
Did this poem take you long to write, and did it require much research, or was it written purely from personal experience/memory?
It took as long as the editing process allowed it to take; whittled down to the bare bones and me finally saying, “Enough”. But something strange happened with this poem – it has transmuted into something else. What was initially penned as an observation regarding the cold reality of an animal’s demise has, for me, become an unintentional metaphor for the recent refugee crisis. On the day that I came upon that mart and those sad signs differentiating the various types of livestock, I little thought of relating their suffering to human beings. But poems often have lives of their own and this one has marched into a new political meaning that I did not foresee. The fear of the unfamiliar, the hopelessness and impending sense of doom that resonated from those empty pens are redolent of what we can be as a society and I hope that perhaps one day I will be able to re-write the ending.
Why do you write?
I’m not altogether sure why I write. Because I enjoy it? Because I don’t? (And often I don’t.) It depends on what I’m writing at the time. My poetry is always honest writing, mostly from personal experience, whereas my short stories allow me to explore the human condition in a much more experimental and perverse way. If I’m really being truthful I actually write for myself, leaving the reader to make of it what they will and if they see something differently then that is alright too.
If you had one piece of advice for a writer, what would it be?
Try not to take rejection too personally!