It would seem that this is the season to write Nativity Poems. Now, for such a highly tuned poet as your correspondent it is of course the work of a moment to imbue myself with the essential concerns, contrasts and contradictions of every-day existence, even in these strange times, such that I can capture a decent summation of the zeitgeist and churn out a piece on an almost daily basis. However, request me to write on a theme as such and I am all at sea. Even a theme such as ‘The Sea’ requires a degree of limbering up and mental stretching before the words start to spill out across the page with the familiar well-oiled lucidity.
It is for this reason that I have been making use of that age-old poetry prosthetic, Harold Havering’s Poet’s Little Helper Cards, Christmas Edition. I am sure you all have a set of these, and if you do not, I may pity you, for they are now worth more, pound-for-pound than Lego or Printer Ink on Ebay. I found my Christmas Edition in a little shop on Charing Cross Road a few years back, and it was touch and go as to whether I would get it as Ted Hughes was in the same shop at the same and had his eye on it. I slipped the set I am looking at now between a copy of La Morte D’Arthur with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and the Hillman Imp (1963-76) Haynes Manual, managing to spirit it to the somnambulant assistant at the till without Ted noticing. By the way, of those two concealing volumes, I’m not at all sure which is the better read. As you know, each card contains a word or phrase perfectly coined to get the creative juices flowing. The idea is simple; if find yourself staring at the blank page for too long, you cut the deck and flip a card, whereupon the contents are sure to jump-start the muse.
The Christmas Edition contains such gems as camel, snow, tavern, magi, myrrh, star, taxed, lintel, manger, asleep, milky, winter, sore-footed and room. This is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce of course, each one of Havering’s Little Helper sets containing many hundreds of cards and associated fine ideas and it’s been an open secret among poets for many years that some of the most famous poems are in fact based on this technique. In fact, my own copy of Poet’s Little Helper Cards, Christmas Edition is inscribed ‘Dear TS, Merry Christmas, your friend EP, 1926’. Could that TS be Thomas Stearns, and is that EP possibly Ezra Pound? If you have a strong opinion on this, and it is different to mine, then perhaps you should keep it to yourself.
I know someone who will have a strong opinion and that is Ms Felicity Chaliss. Now that once again, the fates, Boris Johnson and good old virology have conspired to add another twist to the soap-opera which is the year 2020, I am not sure whether I will be bubbling along with the good Archavist for Christmas. On the other hand, she has mentioned mince pies and is sure to put on a good spread. So long as we don’t overdo it and are all in our respective beds by eight o’clock then I’m sure no harm can come of it.
We are all aware that we are in the dog days of 2020 and our close coven of Zoom poets are feeling restless, wondering when we will wind up proceedings. It does look as if we will meet every Tuesday, this being how the days will shake out, but let’s see. Last Tuesday John Hurley got us started with a return to his sadistic old school with a sadistic old master. Caroline Am Bergris brought a most disturbing memory from her recent tranche of fine work and although she called it The Kiss, this is much less Klimt or Rodin than Munch and a scream. Nick Barth is calling into question the very notion of hope, as in ‘I hope it’s a nice day’, or ‘I hope we don’t all die in a plane crash’ and pointing out how damaging it can be. Martin Choules brought one of his Christmas Poems, and I’m not sure he doesn’t have a set of the Poet’s Little Helper Cards, Christmas Edition going by this fine work. Let me see, what if I pick a card now, will it work its magic? What inspiration will it reveal? Mistletoe! Must dash, time to get scribbling. If you have been, thank you for reading, and Merry Christmas!