- Well, I’m always happy to see some good-natured controversy erupt over my blog, so I hope I don’t put a dampener on it all now. First, a few thoughts:
- I don’t think that all poems that close with shining moments are bad. In fact, some are very good.
- I don’t think that writing about domestic life is bad either. Often these poems have a bearing on human relationships or on some way a person relates to the world. They may seem like small, unimportant subjects, but I agree with Julie that poetry is capable of revealing something captivating in what appears at first only mundane.
- Also, poems that take domestic scenes as their cue often have more complex issues at their core.
- What Peter Porter was meaning about David Harsent’s war poetry was that Harsent didn’t resort to using shining moments to end his poems. Nor did he simply focus on a detail and blow its significance out of proportion – to provide a shining moment in the face of unspeakable cruelty, grief and violence. Instead he grappled with the complexities necessary for writing on the subject of ordinary people with ordinary lives, caught up in horrific civil conflict. One of the complex juxtapositions was the fusion of domestic activities with the awfulness all around. Shining moments wouldn’t have been an adequate solution.
- In a hundred years time, I doubt many of today’s “shining moments” poems will be read by anyone. A few no doubt will, but if you think of poems of past generations that still resonate with us today and are held up as “classics”, they tend to be poems that grapple with the complexities of human life, conflict, belief and endurance. And funny poems of course, as we always need a laugh.
- Not that we need worry about this too much, as we won’t be around.
I found a few examples of ineffective “shining moment” poems in magazines, but I don’t want to use them in case their authors (who I don’t know) stumble across this blog and get mad at me. Instead, I thought I’d choose a poem of my own. I wrote it this morning for NaPoWriMo and posted it to my PFFA thread. Later, I realised that, besides a bit in the middle being wholly illogical (the newborns, not the medic, need warned), the ending was a tagged-on shining moment. Now, OK, I wrote it in 40 minutes, but I suspect with a some nipping and tucking, I could get it published in a magazine, with the existing ending. However, I have now changed the ending and the bit in the middle, and edited my PFFA thread. It’s getting less shiny. But here is the original first-draft 40-minute version.
The future buries itself in green lawns
or blows like ash down universal corridors.
Either way, it’s best not to get
too familiar, because the future
will let you down. The psychics
who claim they know it well
are bankrupt with gambling debts.
One told me I’d be dead tomorrow
but forgot to warn the little girl
who stepped into a park
livid with bushes and shadows,
or the medic who smothered newborns
while mothers slept. This psychic
was up in court for fraud, but failed
to predict his own defeat. I kiss
my girl goodbye, tell her I’ll be back
at 5. I talk as if the future
is a friendly ghost
who’ll walk through walls for me
unconcerned that I can’t return the favour.
But the future is ground in stone
even if, now and again, it believes
in something beyond itself.
That ending (the last two lines) is awful. It’s a shining slither of hope slid under a crack in the door. Basically, I’d run out of time and had to end the poem, but I’ve written similar poems to this in which I have deliberately contrived such an ending (I’m ashamed to say). The ending doesn’t really tackle the issues and questions posed by the poem. It just tags on a little hope, a little illumination, but that hope doesn’t emerge from the rest of the poem. If there is hope (and I believe there is), the poem should struggle to it and not allow itself to be seduced by the easy solution.