“Its function is to house something / worth saying”
– From ‘Home for a Poem’ by Christine De Luca
The above quote encapsulates much of the wisdom Christine De Luca imparts at the CCA in our first July event. She discusses her process, her background, and individual inspirations for poems with frankness and charm. All in all De Luca’s talk completely lacks pretention: her ideas about poetry and the poet’s role all relate back to being able to communicate ideas that are worth something.
De Luca has held the post of the fourth Edinburgh Makar for two years now and discusses how writing a poem “from cold” differs from writing personal poetry with all the emotional push that precedes it, emphasising the fact that poems to order, like all poetry, must be “fit for purpose”.
The audience become curious as soon as De Luca introduces her Shetlandic work into the mix. She describes the background of the language and culture, blending Scots dialect and Norse, and the way she interchanges between languages in her writing depending on elusive factors such as personal relevance and subject matter. De Luca performs everything she reads in her, bringing poems to life with her melodic intonation and actions. Often she reads the Shetlandic version of a poem while projecting the English version onto the screen for the audience to read, so our ears become accustomed to the differences in pronunciation and dialect.
Her poems range in subject matter: from rugged island landscapes, a key inspiration to her as a former geography teacher; to conversations with the men made into statues on the Royal Mile, such as the poet Robert Ferguson and the philosopher David Hume; to the memory of escaping a storm on a croft as a child, recalled after seeing ‘The Scream’ by Edward Munsch.
To conclude, here are some condensed lessons in the art of poetry to take away from De Luca’s talk:
- Make a poem look easy despite the blood sweat and tears that have gone into it.
- Feedback from trusted friends and other writers is the most useful thing of all.
- Identify something which anchors the poem and something which lifts it off.
- Trust your intuition in creative decisions.
- Form and shape can be added as a second layer to a poem after the first draft is written.
- When you feel a poem is as good as you can make it, is it because it is perfect and ready for the world, or not good enough, a “so what” poem?
- Finally, ask: is it worth saying? If the answer is unclear, return to it after a month’s break.
Read Christine’s poetry here
Words by Ellen MacAskill.