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How do you write about the death of your father? I couldn’t have told you before I wrote Lyric and I can’t say with any certainty now, just as I can’t say how to deal with the death itself, or any death, or any love. There are things words can’t capture, which can only be ‘spoken’ within our bodies. So if your aim is perfection, to get it right in words, then it’s not worth the bother. Art fails. Poems lie.
But if approximation will do, if it is enough to come near a feeling and through that feeling approach an understanding (in other words, if you are reasonable), then a poem is a good option. And a formal poem, wrapped up in constraints, is better still. Constraints can move a poem to new places, new feelings, new understandings: they can bully a poem down alleyways (dark, mysterious, terrifying, thrilling) it never would have entered of its own accord. Or, more accurately, they can bully the poet, and the reader.
The glosa form is quite good at this. It skips the soft tactic of metre and only occasionally concerns itself with rhyme. Its main weapon is words, whole pre-ordained lines, that it slips in your mouth and orders you to speak. And if the words don’t seem to have a sense, you had better make one for them, quick. It’s a cruel procedure, thank goodness: how better to write on death, that greatest of constraints, that stark, steady hand nudging us through life? How better honour life than to mirror it, to bind a poem in burdens and watch it thrive because of them?
I loved my father until I was twelve, then began loving his memory. I love my mother still. Now, I love my wife, fiercely. Did death force me into all of this? Did the lines of Purdy’s late, untitled poem coerce me into writing Lyric? I don’t know, but I am fine with uncertainty and approximation: words attempting feelings attempting truths, occasionally emerging as poems. Thank goodness.
Published as an afterword to "Lyric", a ten-stanza glosa based on a ten-line quote from Al Purdy's "Untitled". You can read "Lyric" here.
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