This week I have the pleasure of inviting Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig, poet, flash fiction writer, reviewer and essayist to drop in to reflect on a poem from her chapbook, kinscapes.
As John Glenday writes in his endorsement, my pamphlet kinscapes (Dreich, 2022): ‘investigates the issue of what it means to belong […] in other words, the true meaning of the simple, strange word: home.’
A crucial part of this investigation are moments of encounter. Moments that help the speaker of the poems to better understand not only themselves but also the places, people, as well as – in the ekphrastic pieces included – the works of art they meet.
Encountering Edina – Palingenesis’ the poem with which the collection opens, exemplifies such a moment, and shows it to comprise a mixture of recognition, comprehension, and change:
The idea for this text first emerged during a visit to Edinburgh and later matured on walks in my more immediate neighbourhood which offers some grandiose views of the Firth of Forth, the bridges across it, the Pentlands, and, on a good day, Arthur’s seat.
Some explanation might be required regarding the poem’s title: ‘palingenesis’, among other things, means ‘rebirth’ and ‘re-creation’; ‘Edina’ is a reference to Robert Burns’s celebratory Address to Edinburgh of 1786.
Like the poem, its title was the result of a long process of writing, editing, rewriting, and editing some more. For quite a while, I was toying with the idea of calling the text Home at First Sight. Because that is the impression I had when I first saw – through the window of a plane – Edinburgh and the area surrounding it laid out before me. You know that rare feeling: when you set foot in a place you have never been to before and it seems as familiar as if you had spent a considerable part of your life there.
As the poem developed, however, the motif of an instinctive love affair with Scotland’s capital mingled with other, more general considerations: first, the relationship between city and nature – specifically the estuary, the animals living in this landscape, its weather; and second, the role of an empathetic onlooker who not only wants to explore the world from the point of view of the Other: the river, the bird, the fog, but who is, in fact, willing to be transformed by that experience.
The broadening of the poem’s focus together with the wish to maintain a certain level of intimacy between speaker and city led, in the end, to the title as it stands now.
As indicated, except for a few phrases, such as ‘every stone … hugs my steps’, Encountering Edina emerged very gradually, both in terms of content as well as form. It started out life in three stanzas that focused on the speaker’s relationship with and description of Edinburgh. This then merged with notes towards what I had originally thought would become a separate poem (on the scenery around the Firth of Forth); these notes introduced the self-changing interest in nature already mentioned.
As the boundaries between the body of the speaker and the elements of the landscape – which the former initially observes and then moves through while changing form – became increasingly blurred, I realized the poem needed to flow differently: in prose interspersed with dashes that set phrases apart while also keeping them connected and supporting the fluidity of the text.
The shape of the poem on the page – with its first and last two words set apart from the rest (a justified block text) emerged towards the end of the creative process; it puts emphasis on the parallels between ‘a stranger’ and ‘a kin’ and indicates the latter to be an understanding of the self which results from the distinct processes described in the remainder of the poem.
Of all the different challenges I faced when creating this piece and despite choosing the format myself, the latter remains the feature of this poem that still puzzles me a little when I think about it. It felt right at the time of writing, and still does, but I cannot fully explain why.
Maybe that is the beauty of creating poetry, of writing anything, really: that even as authors there is a limit to what we can and cannot control when it comes to composing and arranging language into art. An additional element of mystery occurs as soon as a poem starts out on a life of its own. When it begins to drift away from me, to close some of its doors, it’s ready for the world. Ready for its encounter with the reader – with you.
Next week read my review of this beautifully crafted chapbook, kinscapes.
AVAILABLE NOW ‘UNMUTED‘ by Nigel Kent!
Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.
“Kent’s poetry is succint, never bloated and always delivered with a poignant and very human point of view.” Priss Bliss, Dreich Broad No. 3
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