For this new issue of Elarti:2, now out, Amri Rohayat commissioned a few pieces of work from me, one of which is an essay on appreciating poetry. Here's an extract, in which I talked about David Harsent's poem Filofax:
by David Harsent
The entire township, heading north in cars, in trucks, on bikes, on foot,
some with next to nothing, some choosing to cart
(as it might be) armchair, armoire, samovar, black and white
TV, toaster, Filofax, Magimix, ladle, spindle, spinet,
bed and bedding, basin and basinette,
passed (each in clear sight) lynx and wolverine and bobcat,
heading south to the guns and the promise of fresh meat.
Like how Derren made his magic work with specific words placed inside his conversation, David also used a somewhat similar method. However, David’s poem is more structured. He didn’t place relevant or connected words far apart and hoped the reader is able to thread their connections by reading into rhymes or alliteration. In Filofax he clustered some items close to each other, separated by commas, or not, as in one case. This is so in-your-face, that you – or rather, I – see – read - them as individual words and also as related groupings.
Filofax is about an “entire township, heading north”, in the midst of some unnamed war, moving towards safety. With “in cars, in trucks, on bikes, on foot” and no sight of any action word – verb – progress is very, very slow indeed. The refugees are practically not moving at all, encumbered by “armchair, armoire, samovar, black and white/TV, toaster, filofax, Magimix, ladle, spindle, spinet/bed and bedding, basin and bassinette” – some hefty, heavy, and some, practically useless items, probably more sentimental in value.
The reader finally sees a verb, right in the penultimate line, in “passed”. Just as we see all these useless objects being carried, we see with “(each in clear sight)” a holy trinity – God’s will? - of death: “lynx and wolverine and bobcat”. David also wants you to see these three very, very clearly, and very slowly, by not using commas but the “and”s instead.
In the final line of the poem we see the “township” is “heading south”, as if they are moving downwards, towards Hell. Their destruction is already presaged by the three wild animals they “passed”, and also by that verb to imply a passing or an end of something, in this case, life. They are heading towards “the guns and the promise of fresh meat”. David uses the pair of “the” not as just some definite article. The “the”s sound some tom-tom or thuds, like bullets in trajectory or bombs exploding. They also sound these destructions as already known or prefigured.
Do buy a copy (or copies for friends) of Elarti:2 and read the rest of my essay.
Learn more about David Harsent from an earlier posting of mine here.