Monday, 12 March 2007

A brush with daffodils and a close call with William Carlos Williams' plums

The magnolia tree opposite my house is starting to look hopeful that it can put on its party frock soon. Spring feels as if it might want to put in an appearance. I always hesitate to mention daffodils, for a poet that comes with baggage, especially if there is the slightest hint of a breeze and bobbing is involved. This is a shame as I like daffodils, they make me feel happy. Of course, in a post modernist world, perhaps that is far too direct a statement. What does a smile indicate, happiness? How does one define that state given the ramifications of an imploding world? Happy is difficult, 'happy' demands explanations of such philosophical tortuousness that to engage in defining it would make my head hurt, achieve very little everyone could agree on and probably end up with a thousand angels balancing on the sharp end of a pin, elbowing each other for room and punching each other in the eye. Daffodils do make me smile as a spontaneous expression of delight, may be that is more precise. I see a daffodil and I smile because I am delighted. Delight, as a word, may be equally dangerous; it has been devalued or is seen as archaically Jane Austen.
“I’d be delighted to see you in a wet shirt Mr Darcy, let me show you the way to the local pond.”

I saw a large stretch of wild daffodils today on a grass verge as I drove along the fen back roads. I will not think host, I will not think host, I said to myself, neither will I think of them as dancing, not even a reined in Cha-Cha. I wrestled with the Wordsworth description but it won by two falls and a submission. I was pinned to the mat by a man who lived two hundred years ago and lived with his sister. Of course a rose by any other name is called Shakespeare but the daffodil is the brand image par excellence of English poetry not just Wordsworth. Wheelbarrows, toads, a train to Adlestrop even a summer’s day does not have the same universal power in the English speaking world to trigger the connection to poetry. I don’t even have to do a survey, cyberspace has pre-empted the need to drag in one out of every ten people off the street. Just Google daffodil and after an encyclopaedic definition of the flower and for some reason the American Daffodil Society up comes Daffodils by Wordsworth. The massive internet search engines, the definition of the computerised world’s desire for information and knowledge, thinks immediately of hosts and dancing in the breeze.
As a poet and writer, I must fight this, it is the slippery slope to copycat poems, unintentionally homage, parody and cliché. Last week I opened the fridge and there were some plums staring at me, daring me to think William Carlos Williams, I could almost feel how delicious, sweet and cold they would be in my mouth The sudden shock could have blocked me for weeks; luckily I had just read an erudite analysis of The Red Wheelbarrow by the same poet. I was pondering on the ‘exquisite use of precise painterly language, stanza breaks and assonance that turns a sentence into a masterly eight short-lined poem’. I was wondering whether I should have a go at writing about my green watering can without the aid of a passing chicken and so the full force of the plums just grazed my left temple. I managed to shut the fridge door in the nick of time. I asked an old friend, who called round for a cup of tea later, to move the plums behind the Flora when she was getting the milk out of the fridge. She never questioned me as to why, after twenty–two years, she has become accustomed to my foibles. The definition of a true friend is someone who will move your plums when asked without asking why.

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