It does make a difference. The sun is out, the sky is blue; and although it was frosty this morning and is still chilly outside, the clarity of the day is invigorating after all that rain and cloud. Not that I mind the rain and cloud so much, as long as the temperatures don't drop to the insane cold I knew in Pennsylvania. When I lived there full-time, winter dragged on remorselessly through February, March, and often into April, with nothing green visible; just cold and ice and unmelted heaps of grimy snow. But here the daffodils are already up and in bud, and in parks and gardens there have been flowers of some sort without interruption since autumn.
There are some long-tailed tits frisking around and chirruping busily in a tree outside my window. Although it isn't nest-making time yet, I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his anguished spring sonnet. "Birds build, but not I build..." I've been between projects for a while, and I'm uncertain of where to move next. This is scary: I am afraid full-fledged spring will arrive and I'll be echoing Hopkins, watching the creation all around and not making anything myself.
Paul Muldoon, at the Cheltenham Literary Festival last year, spoke about pattern, shape, and structure in his poetry. He said—admitting it's a truism, but it bears repeating—how the traditional patterns of form can allow for more emotional openness in a poem. Some people call poetic forms "artificial," but they are not: as he said, there are patterns everywhere in nature—in the structure of DNA, of crystals, of snowflakes.
He also spoke about putting together a collection of poems. He doesn't start out with a theme, but over the four to five years of writing it, he said, "your obsessions are of a piece; themes appear." He is interested in the sequence we read poems in, and how the experience changes accordingly. This concern with shape and structure is natural: "It's the urge to construct, to build things."
I know this urge. But sometimes it's so hard to begin. I plan to make a collection of my poetry, but far from representing Muldoon's "four to five years," it represents over two decades. (I'm a slow writer!) Where to start, and how to shape it? At the same time, I have a new prose book in mind, but my ideas, like Meg's jelly in Little Women, are reluctant to gel.
It's hard to combine patience with gentle self-prodding; to keep the playfulness of writing, while not neglecting it. Long ago, aged about fifteen, on just such a bright day as this, I wrote a short poem about branches against a blue winter sky so intense it seemed it could spark the tree into spring life. I belonged to an arts centre for young adults, run by an amazing woman, Elizabeth Webster. She encouraged self-expression, while also inspiring us to work at the craft. We read our poems for the public, and she printed some—including my midwinter spring one—in a magazine. She is dead now, but I will never forget her.
Today I'd like to recover her special balance of encouragement and inspiration; and even—is it possible?—the same fresh excitement I had at fifteen about making something, building it, giving it a shape.