Guest Post ~ J.S. Watts on Mary Oliver’s ‘Autumn Songs’

Hello again, and welcome to the first guest post on Green Fire Poetry. I hope you enjoy J.S. Watts’s musings on Mary Oliver and the role of nature in inspiring her own work. She has generously supplied some wonderful photographs too.

Autumn Songs

I’m taking Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, Song for Autumn, as the leaping off point for this post and will then see where my pen takes me (and, yes, I do always write the first draft of anything, be it fiction, blog post or poem, longhand.)

 

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For me, Song For Autumn, is about resting down your burden: the leaves dream of the comfort of falling to the ground, the trees look forward to birds sleeping inside them, the goldenrod whispers goodbye and the fox is hurrying towards dusk. The poem ends on thoughts of the traditional domestic comfort of a log fire, something to come home to, although for the logs anticipating it, it means certain oblivion. I find the poem a lyrical, accepting and contemplative valetudinary piece.

 

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A review of my own back catalogue of poetry reminds me that I have written a goodly number of autumnal poems over the years. A quick count confirms there are seven alone in Cats and Other Myths (my first collection), although my other collections and pamphlets are less overtly autumn heavy. To be fair, landscapes and natural images in all seasons feature throughout my work. The pleasure of rural life is that you get to see, experience and travel through nature’s seasonal settings more directly, I think, than writers who live an urban life. Or put it another way, nature and its seasonal cycle are constantly in your face.

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As an enthusiastic (if perhaps too occasional) walker and amateur photographer, I get to experience and record, close up and personal, the constant natural changes that surround me. Not surprisingly, they and the landscapes they inhabit feature directly in my work, as well as subconsciously influence it. If a season colours a particular poem, it tends to be the one I am living through when first drafting the piece. My experience of the seasons also colours how I read others’ work. I especially responded to Oliver’s lines, “the white field over which/ the fox runs so quickly brings out/ its long blue shadows” because during the bitter cold of last winter I sat snuggly in my study and happily watched a fox in exactly that setting in a field adjacent to my house.

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Shared landscapes, however, don’t necessarily mean identical responses. Whilst I admire the gentle acceptance of the dying of this life’s cycle that I see in Oliver’s poem, my own autumnal pieces, more often than not, dwell on the visual conflagration inherent in autumn:

“One last hope flares in the trees,

embarrassing them with unexpected emotion

to their reddening tips.

A conflagration of the senses.”

(from Autumn at Kneesworth)

or

“she blazes forth, igniting trees in her wake

to leave them burning like the feral fires of cross quarter day”

(from Autumn)

Log fires are temporary “bittersweet sanctuary” from the killing cold that comes next and, of course, autumn cradles the ancient festival of Samhain (or All Hallows Eve, if you adhere to a more modern calendar), the time of year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest and we remember the dead (or they remember us, depending on your point of view). Most often it is the bonfires of Samhain and Firework Night that I see reflected in autumn leaves. It seems my words frequently echo with a burning unwillingness to let go or move on, or with a sense of defiance that, if one’s got to go, it’s better to go out with a roar and a bang than a whimper. For me, autumn is a defiant burning up, not a gentle farewell and a laying down of burdens. But aren’t such divergent views one of the pleasures of writing about the natural world? We see the same things, but are able to experience and write about them from different places. Our own personal, internal landscapes are so varied that we can enjoy the same, initially glorious, colours and stages of autumn and make of them such different creations.

 

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J.S.Watts

J.S.Watts is a British poet and novelist. Born in London, she now lives in the countryside outside Cambridge. Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain and internationally and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Magazine and Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales.

J.S.’s poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, are published by Lapwing Publications, as is her multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue. Her latest poetry pamphlet, The Submerged Sea, came out in Spring 2018 and is published by Dempsey & Windle. Her novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fiction and Witchlight – a paranormal fantasy, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press.

For further details see her website: www.jswatts.co.uk

 

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Ursula Le Guin

I have long been a fan of Ursula Le Guin’s fiction, which blends science and fantasy. I have enjoyed her challenges to the established conventions of genre, giving us characters who redefine understanding of gender and race, as well as often having clear political subtexts. I had not realised until recently that she was a poet too.

Autumn seems to resonate with many writers, and poets in particular. I have always found it easier to find words when the leaves begin to turn and the temperature drops. I try to read seasonally, and this poem of Le Guin’s really struck a chord with me.

What happens to our identity as time passes? When the leaves turn, are we still the same person we were when the first budded out in spring? What can the firey fall tell us, what questions can it pose.

Here’s a link to the poem Leaves by Ursula Le Guin

Also, here’s a little autumn haiku of my own, written from a prompt by the wonderful poet Wendy Pratt, whose online poetry courses are brilliant, for more information on those, look here Wendy Pratt Poetry

Turning

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Reading Rilke

Hello, today, I have been reading Rilke, loving the words and wondering what I miss in translation. I keep coming back to this poem, so thought I’d share it here:

Days in Autumn by Rainer Maria Rilke

There’s a poetry film here, with a slightly different translation

Rilke Poetry Film

This seasonal poem is one I have known and loved for some time.  The first seven lines celebrate the fullness of the time, in rural elegy, descending to the more stripped, brusque absence of a more urban landscape in absence and separation are more real than ever before.

The notion of God disappears in this poem, somewhere after the first seven lines. The profuse growing time, leads to the desolate pavements and a lyric flowering of loss.  The fruits ripen late and dry before separating from their stems, before the more ominous tone of the poem and season carry us through to its conclusion.

Maybe this is what turning to the dark half of the year is, the gathering in, the hurry to harvest, the bravery to let things go or leave them as they are. Maybe we all read the world differently and take different meanings from symbols and signs, depending on how are shaped by, and how we shape language.

My own thoughts on autumn are below.

Acorn

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To begin at the beginning

Hello, and welcome to my new blog, Green Fire Poetry.

Why Green Fire? You may be wondering about the title. When thinking about poetry and where it comes from for me, and the ingredients that poetry I like has, there seems to be a common factor. I am moved by poems that use the natural world, in writing a sense of connection to place, and allowing the poem to be a space which is not simply autobiographical. Poems that root in the natural world can seem to allow echoes of culture, history and memories to manifest between narrative disruptions and challenges to the lyric ‘I’, challenging straightforward binary interpretation.

I am interested in poems that works through layers, poems that tread the borders, and poems that bear witness and revision connections between nature and humanity. I would like to start by looking at Kathleen Jamie’s poem, Meadowsweet which looks at acts of creation, and the Gaelic tradition of burying women poets face down in the earth.

Meadowsweet

Jean Johstone reads Kathleen Jamie’s Meadowsweet from her beautiful handmade book of the text.

In this poem, the poet is in her grave, supposedly dead, while summer seeds twine in her hair and grow towards the light, showing her the way out of her grave. At the end of the poem, enhanced by the natural world, the woman returns more vibrant than she was before, young again her mouth “full of dirt, and spit, and poetry”.  An entangling nature with the poetic, seems to enable a new way of being, humanity and nature being interconnected. In contrast with the “drab psalm” intoned at the poet’s funeral, which leaves her lifeless, the act of nature growing from her body gives her new life and restores her voice.

Maybe our inability to accept the blurring and connections of both humanity and the natural world have led to human dilemmas surrounding nature and a historically dualistic model of nature poetry and false construction of the world around us into spaces that are wilderness, and historically, must be tamed. In this blog I will be looking at our connections with the natural world, and how these might be expressed, through writing. Though I will mainly be looking at poetry, there will be discussion of other responses too, including prose, travel writing, visual arts and music.

This is the beginning of an evolving project, and my own poetic thoughts on it are below,

 

Seeds

Given time,
rain and sunlight,
slowy,

we unwind ourselves,
amongst the old things
rotting down to nothing,

and reach up to feel the air.
You cannot see us moving
beneath your feet, waiting

to emerge. Assertive shoots
persuade old roots to make room,
to step aside and part the way.

We can force through tarmac,
and concrete is no barrier
to many of us – so many of us.

Blind, we push up through
and beyond, knowing only
the pull of the sky.  We

hibernate in winter, burrowing in,
shadow sleepers, dreaming wheels
and spring rising, equipoise.

Not weeds, but ancestors,
hearts and hands, clawing through.
We cannot help our resurrection,

knowing only that we must rise again,
to inherit the loam, and exhale green
into the spaces that hold our place.

 

 

 

 

 

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