More or Less?

Posted on August 8, 2014 by Categories: Poetry

Last blog we featured J’s poem/lyric about the Arlingham Ferry, and, as suggested, J didn’t know if he had finished it. This (I find) is an eternal question regarding any written work, but poetry can be especially tantalising. It’s a given that all first drafts are, as Hemmingway observed, shit, so re-drafting or re-editing is an important component of the writing process. At our last writing session J was keen to flesh out his first attempt and, in what seemed no time at all, he came up with this reworking. His aim is to let his poem/lyric tell a more rounded story.

The Arlingham Rope Ferry Blues

A Gypsy woman took my hand and said

I’ve been reading your lines

you know you get up every morning you’ve got

to rise and shine.

Cross my palm with silver I think you’ll agree

but when you cross the water then you will see

that the Arlingham rope ferry was just holding on

The sky was full of gulls screaming, the

milk vans on its way

old Joe was rolling up the shutters at the

dawn of a brand new day

sitting on a park bench to reflect for awhile

shoes full of holes and a little out of style

and the Arlingham rope ferry was just holding on

Then the city got so crowded I thought I’d

take a stroll

To the estuary to watch the old river roll

the tide is a healer it’s a hunter too

High water slack water back waters too

and the Arlingham rope ferry was just holding on

I walked all day my mouth was dry oh my

aching bones

Man I was feeling like a fraction of headstones

over cobblestones

The foxes in the meadow, the cows in the corn

Autumn leaves curling in the fires of dusk and dawn

and the Arlingham rope ferry was just holding on

Note: J wrote this quickly and as I was transcribing it from his hand written copy I was tempted to add a few punctuation marks to help frame the sense, but I resisted. It would be presumptuous of me to add what J has left out. It may have been intended or an oversight due to the speed at which he wrote it down. The tenses are deliberately out of synch, as J likes the tension it produces.

J is keen to have feedback about the two versions of his ‘blues’. Which one works best as a blues? Does one satisfy the reader or listener more than the other? We are often drawn to a poem or piece of writing because it makes a connection with us for all sorts of reasons and at different levels.

I can understand J’s wanting to expand on his first draft so that it tells a story, as blues songs do, but I prefer the spare, more opaque-seeming first draft. It has poetic qualities—playing with ideas, the compression of language through the use of simile and metaphor (the whole lyric being an extended metaphor) that the second has less of; in opening out the story it seems to lose its immediacy and freshness. What do you think?

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