If the Monty Python team were to attempt a love poem, it might turn out something like this. Though this poem might be more of a portrait than an actual love poem. It provides a quirky snapshot into a relationship, twisting the tropes of love poetry to comic effect. Instead of comparing the subject’s hair to something grand, we get diarrhoea. He doesn’t devote his time to valiant deeds, but rather “wanks with divine precision”.
The tone is clearly playful. Maybe the author also meant it to be satirical, taking the piss both of the subject (her lover, it seems) and of the clichés that riddle love poetry. It functions as an in-joke that the average reader can feel privy to, using extreme exaggeration to keep the reader hooked.
Portrait poems are often slow, contemplative things. This poem, however, is full of colour. Though no dramatic event occurs, it feels like a dynamic piece of writing. We’re wondering what image will come next. What this comic hero will do to entertain us. How the poet will end the poem. That basic element of surprise is perhaps the foundation of almost all good writing. And you don’t need drama when you have that essential skill to hand.
It’s All Relative
His hair is diarrhoea from the arse of a gull
That he blow dries into corn doll drills
In his hamster cheeks he stores cake
Dolly mixtures swimming in soft poached egg
He has the look of Abe, a whiff of Dave, the feel
Of Hades. He wanks with divine precision
In an obsequious manner
He wears Ralph Lauren in bed, Paul Smith in the kitchen
His aniseed eye reeks a lofty derision
“Of what rhyme you now?” he sits back with a sigh
“Of you, my dear,” I say in reply.
I am a poet and short story writer and have published both in a range of literary and online journals (Crannog, Skylight 47, Honest Ulsterman, Anomaly, Burning Bush 2, Ropes, The International Lakeview Journal, Boyne Berries, North West Words, etc.). My first collection of poetry, At The Edge, was published in 2015. I have lived in Ireland for 25 years and currently run poetry and writing workshops in County Cavan, and organise At The Edge, Cavan, a literary reading evening, funded by the Cavan Arts Office.
Before doing an MA in Writing at NUI Galway in 2012, I worked in local government and the community sector for thirty years, supporting local groups to engage in local projects and initiatives. My blog can be found at kateennals.com.
What was your aim with this poem? Was it simply to create a surreal, unusual portrait of a person? (For some reason, it reminds me of a Cubist portrait.)
Yes, it does have a surrealist feel to it, doesn’t it? I didn’t have an aim, exactly. I wanted to play with metaphor which I don’t often do and so I chose someone whom I know well to describe and this is what emerged. I haven’t shown him the poem!
Can I ask how the title relates to the poem? Does it suggest that perception is paramount? Are you perhaps even suggesting that this could be a love poem, that the features are worthy of a love poem when you look at it from a certain perspective?
I’m not sure about a love poem though I think the poem does demonstrate a close relationship. I wondered what the poem’s title might be and it kind of spluttered its way on to the page. The person is related to me, so the title seemed to work. We all see things differently, and our own views or perspective will often change from one instant to another, at least mine do. Indeed, I have written a different, adoring poem about the same person. I think one of the joys of writing poetry is the discovery or exposure of a perspective that maybe you have not consciously thought about and as a reader in finding an experience or an emotion that you have felt expressed in a poem. Poetry makes you realise that you are not alone!
Irreverence and playfulness are great traits in a poem. Much better than the kind of pomposity that some associate with poetry. (Not that the figure in the poem is necessarily a reverent figure, but the fact that he’s the subject of a poem gives him some kind of importance.) As an art form, do you think poetry is more suited to the serious or the playful and humorous?
That’s another joy of poetry…it can be serious, irreverent, beautiful, humorous, even menacing but, if it captures its truth, its essence, a poem is always a joy to read and to write. Poems take people on journeys. They are the perfect vehicle for expression and, to continue the metaphor, can take the form of any transport: a train, a bus, a speed boat, a pair of roller skates or even shanks pony! There is no right or wrong in poetry. It can go anywhere by any means.
There’s no rhyme throughout, but your poem finishes with a rhyming couplet. Was there any particular reason for this change? And what qualities do you think the combination of rhyme and free verse can give to a poem?
I like the sound of words and many of my poems use alliteration, assonance (the rhyming of the vowel sounds) and consonance (the rhyming of the consonant sounds). In fact, I think there is a fair amount of rhyme in the poem, but its internal rhyme and half rhyme. Gull and drill, cake and egg, Abe, Dave, Hades. The rhyming couplet at the end moves the poem out of perception into the here and now and the speech mirrors and concludes the assessment. The rhyme makes it more emphatic.
While I like rhyme, assonance, and consonance, when I write, I do not bear structural issues in mind. It would impede my poem. Often my use of rhyme is unintended but I do think sound is important. While a poem doesn’t need to rhyme (and most of mine don’t have the traditional verse and rhyme that you would find in a typical Shakespearean sonnet), it is a pleasure when it does. But most important is the journey the poem takes you on and its rhythm.
Why do you write?
Because I love it. Writing enables me to clarify what I think. It takes a tangled confusion and creates order. It allows me to think and reflect. In his poem, Advice to Writers, Billy Collins reflects on the writing process. He ends with ‘tiny sentences like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods.’ It’s a fabulous poem. My words are my army of industrious ants bringing order and meaning to my life.
If you had one piece of advice for a writer, what would it be?
Write every day and read widely. Writing creates its own rhythm which only gets stronger with practice. Reading provides you with a wealth of new material, stimulates the mind, strengthens the language, and galvanises the brain. And turn off the TV.