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by Hilary Custance 

Posted: 17 April 2003
Word Count: 69
Summary: I am posting this raw first draft of a poem as a testimony to the power of encouragement (thank you James). Any suggested alterations very welcome, including a better title.

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Today the sun surprised us,
midsummer in April.
Londoners stood on pavements,
discarding clothes,

from figures on my screen
by the soft blunderings of a bee
assaulting my window,
I went home.

by the benign heat,
I moved around the garden,
waiting for you.
My spirits, like butter, melting, separating,

protected by the latest in blinds and
perfect air conditioning,
worked late.
Laden with weariness and failed trains,
you return
after dark.

Between us
lies only the distance of
a sunny afternoon.

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Comments by other Members

roger at 11:13 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
Hilary,no alterations necessary, and the title works. It actually made me smile, I got a feeling of 'na, na, na, na, na' - if you know what I mean. Who had most sense you or him? You, of course, but we still all trundle on with the mundane, ignoring what really matters, don't we. I loved it, especially the 'soft blundering' line - that's exactly what bees do, isn't it. Lovely.

Hilary Custance at 12:46 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
Thanks Roger, it still feels along way off to me. As I've begun to learn from people reading the novel, everybody reads a different story. I had intended no triumph but rather compassion in the poem. The distance between our two experiences of the same day seemed so unkind of the fates. Somehow I should make it clear that he had no choice. On the other hand it is good that different people take from it what works for them. Cheers, Hilary

roger at 13:00 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
No Hilary, that was just me being shallow (sorry). your point was clear. It's just that I don't go along with fate & luck - you've put yourself in a position where you can 'knock off and enjoy the sun' whereas 'he' hasn't, or if he has, he's to bogged-down to realise it; and that's not fate - 'the harder I work, the luckier I get' comes to mind. And I think that triumph and compassion can run side by side - I picked up on the triumph side (hence the nasty na, na, na, na, na), but the compassion was certainly there. If you think it needs work, then it does - because it's your poem - but it worked for me.

Jibunnessa at 14:01 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
I didn't get a sence of triumphalism. But instead a sence of alienation. You in the real world of heat, insects and people. He, in his cocooned, sheltered, sterile seperation ...entombed in his tired, mechanistic lifestyle. You free, with impulsive possibilities. He, in his cyclical, repetitive existence. I also got the sence of lost moments. Lost time together that could have been experienced, enjoyed, savoured ...but were instead wasted in seperation.

Subtle flavours of regret perhaps?

Whether it needs more work really depends on whether you want to say more. But, I quite like it as it is too.

Agnieszka Ryk at 15:15 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
I thought it had a huge sense of melancholy and was really very touching. It must be an experience thousands of people across the country can relate to. And how lovely to have a poem that captures the moment, hot off the press!

Anna Reynolds at 16:39 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
It's beautiful to read a poem that tells a whole story in such an economical way. That's probably the prose writer in you as well. And the rhythym works very well. I know what you mean about the title though; maybe something a little more obscure, or subtle...

Hilary Custance at 21:13 on 18 April 2003  Report this post
Wow! I am pleasantly amazed by the reactions.And yes,although it was personal,I was reaching for the universal - so many people would be in similar situations on that particular unexpected afternoon. I was lucky to be in a position to choose go home,so many others were not(pace Roger,each to their own set of priorities).Anyway, thank you all for the encouragement, I will up the production rate (currently 2 in the 10 years).Cheers, Hilary

poemsgalore at 12:46 on 20 April 2003  Report this post
What a wonderful, thoughtful piece of work, the joy and light in the beginning contrasting with the darkness and regret of the end.

James Graham at 15:24 on 21 April 2003  Report this post
Hello again, Hilary. I like this poem too. I notice especially how well you use the free verse line, combining often very telling longer lines with one-word or two-word lines. Maybe the best example is 'My spirits, like butter, melting, separating,/clarifying', where the separation of 'clarifying' is very effective - it becomes the key word and the previous line is like a searching for the key word. And the word itself has that quality a good image always has - it has a concrete (quite simple) meaning, referring to butter, and at the same time a much more open, abstract, spiritual meaning. Your longer and shorter lines work well right through the poem, the short lines conveying the more prosaic realities such as 'I went home' and 'you return/after dark'. One or two other lines I must mention: 'the soft blunderings of a bee' is a fine image; 'Laden with weariness and failed trains' is a very good line, concise, making every word count, and having a strong assonance in its vowel sounds.

I'm not quite sure of the punctuation between the first and second sections. Are the Londoners amazed, or you, or both? If only the Londoners, no capital A. Actually I think it would be a really subtle transition over the two sections if you had 'amazed' and 'distracted' with lower-case letters. That way, there would be a delicate transition from the people in the street to yourself.

discarding clothes,

from figures on my screen

This may not be what you would want to do with these lines, but I do think there's a slight problem here. (I noticed one in 'A Small Matter' too! See that page.) Well! You wait years for a poem and then several come along at once. I think these have real merit - in the free verse lines, the images, and in something a bit harder to pin down, the conviction they carry.


Hilary Custance at 18:16 on 22 April 2003  Report this post
Thank you James and everyone for your comments.You are all amazingly perceptive. I have worked over the poem and have a cleaner more structured version entitled Discrepancies, but I think I have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, the Londoners and I are a bit confused (I even had 'amazed pavements' at one point), but I think your solution is better, James. I spent ages trying to reach the word clarifying, all I could see in my head was butter,only it didn't occur to me to use it. Funny stuff, poetry. Cheers, Hilary

Agnieszka Ryk at 18:53 on 22 April 2003  Report this post
Hilary - any chance we could see the Discrepancies version - that would be fascinating, even if you aren't as happy with it - if not as an extra work, even just here in the comments section??

Hilary Custance at 13:17 on 23 April 2003  Report this post
Agnieszka, here is the most recent one (a combination of the clean rather empty version with some things put back after I had read James' comments). I think it has lost the conversational quality. It seems to be called Differences now. It helps a lot knowing what does and does not work for people. Thanks for being interested. Cheers, Hilary


by midsummer in April,
Londoners stood on pavements,
discarding clothes,

from figures on my screen
by the soft blunderings of a bee
assaulting my window,
I went home.

Waiting for you
in the benign heat,
I moved around the garden,
my spirits, likebutter, melting, separating,

isolated by blinds
and air conditioning
and burdened with duties,
worked late.

with weariness
and failed trains,
you returned
after dark.

Between us lay
a history
of choices
and the distance of
a sunny afternoon.

Jibunnessa at 13:25 on 23 April 2003  Report this post
I prefered the original Hilary. This revision in some ways gives you more information, but, in the most important way, loses some. The emotional content, the loss, and alienation I feel has been diluted. This, I feel is a more straightforward poem now than what you'd written earlier.

...of course, others may disagree.

Hilary Custance at 14:39 on 23 April 2003  Report this post
Yup, I agree. Trying to say it all is fatal. I also get seduced by the visual structure of a poem, a foolish desire symmetry which does nothing for meaning. ('since feeling comes first, who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you' - scrambled e.e.cummings)

roger at 17:48 on 23 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Hilary...I don't know much about poetry, so my opinion is probably not very valid, but like Jib, I liked the original better (and I really did like it). Is it something to do with immediacy, perhaps that thinking about it and playing around with it removes some of the original spark...the subconcious creative stuff? Or is that a load of b..? If it is, sorry to have intruded.

Hilary Custance at 09:47 on 24 April 2003  Report this post
Roger, this is a really interesting question; the difference between immediate work and laboured work. When I was a sculptor, the first rough model often had something that got lost when I worked over it, but I learned to work through this and often, (but not always) reached something far more interesting in the end. Poetry may, of course, be altogether different. The other explanation of preference is a psychological one. I gave the new version to my husband yesterday. Last night I gave him the original one, but he preferred the one he had first seen (the second version). I find myself in a state of complete uncertainty - nothing new there.

Agniezska, I have just been to see your beautiful poem The Quiet Secret. I had read it before when browsing the site and it is one of the things that drew me in. I will continue on your page.

Cheers, Hilary

roger at 10:36 on 24 April 2003  Report this post
Hello, Hilary. I suppose that's the problem, we all have different views and can only express the ones we have. At the end of the day, the poem's yours, so it's your view that matters most! They're both good, so what the hell!

Agnieszka Ryk at 10:52 on 24 April 2003  Report this post
Hilary, many thanks for your kind words on my poem. I think the sculpture comparison is very telling and has given me the courage to keep chipping away at my poem till it looks right!

Do you know the sculptor Giacommetti? I think somewhere I read that was his explanation of why all his figures were so terribly slight - that he started with huge blocks of material and was never happy with them until they were down to matchsticks! Perhaps I'll work away at my poem until it's just a single line or something.

You mention altering my poem - why not - I think it would be very interesting, especially, as you say, we seem to have a very similar style in some respects. Shall we have a go at mutually revising each other - could be an educational experience if nothing else!

Hilary Custance at 13:46 on 24 April 2003  Report this post
Feel free, but be warned I have become more like Giacometti (I wish) with age. I tend to minimise rather than elaborate

dagozi at 15:12 on 25 April 2003  Report this post
I like the sense of unshared experience that leave you with a feeling of soft regret, because it would seem too trivial to explain later on. They would miss the point. What happened in the afternoon, in the garden ...? the sun ...Shone!

I like it.

Hilary Custance at 15:38 on 25 April 2003  Report this post
Yes. Exactly. Thank you Dagozi.

James Graham at 20:08 on 25 April 2003  Report this post
What's this, Agnieszka, 'chipping away at a poem until it looks right? Until it makes a nice pattern if you half-close your eyes? I know what you mean, actually. I get that syndrome myself - a need to see a nice contour down the right-hand side, no long lines sticking out. But you can be going against the natural working of free verse, in which ideas don't have to be 'sculpted' (or rather, fitted into a prefabricated framework of metred lines, stanza form and rhyme) but which has other advantages, e.g. the use of an extended line to convey a certain mood, or to do a build-up as in Hilary's splendid 'my spirits, like butter, melting, separating,/clarifying'. In free verse you can also start a new section ('miss a line') wherever it suits the poem to do so, and those flexible line breaks and 'stanza' breaks can be used for real artistic effect. The freedom of free verse allows new techniques which have their own disciplines attached, but I think it can be a bad idea to write free verse and then try to make it look more formal.

Of course, nothing wrong with chipping, for example to get rid of a superfluous word or line, where the rest of the poem already carries the idea and you can avoid spelling something out too much.

Hilary, I think your original is much better. One or two specific points in the revision. 'Waiting for you' - that section is now a single, grammatically tight sentence, with everything subordinated. Not so appropriate to the feelings and atmosphere of that afternoon. '...burdened with duties' is rather vague and abstract, and adds nothing to the original. 'Laden with weariness and failed trains' is better as one line, otherwise it loses something of its rhythm and assonance. Your use of past tense at the end, instead of present as in the original, doesn't work so well. The present tense locates the feeling of the poem at the end of the day, makes the sadness of it more immediate; and more than that - if the poem is seen as recording a memory, the part in the present tense becomes the most vivid part of the memory. And finally...'a history/of choices'? I'd chip that away if I were you - implications like that can be supplied by an imaginative reader.

None of this is to say that reworking a poem and trying to put it into different forms, or changing tense or whatever, is a bad idea. More often than not (I find) you end up with something better. But with this revision I don't think you have. Re-reading the original, I think everything about it works and it's a satisfying poem. Just change to 'amazed.' at the end of the first section, small letter, full stop; and leave out '(the latest in) blinds' and '(perfect) air conditioning'.

Hilary, would you mind if I were to read these two poems of yours at the next meeting of a poetry club I belong to? If you do mind, of course I won't. But I'm sure they would both go down very well.


Agnieszka Ryk at 20:34 on 25 April 2003  Report this post
James - I think you misunderstood me, I certainly wasn't talking about the physical appearance of the poem on the page - I just meant as you later suggest, the chipping away, altering, ammending, fiddling with words phrase, tenses etc. Thanks for your (again) wonderfully informative and rich post.

Hilary Custance at 12:59 on 26 April 2003  Report this post
Agnieszka, I too was worried about you chipping away. I was afraid my little play with you poem was making you doubt things that work very well already. It's a big conundrum - to go with the 'first fine careless rapture' or to refine and distil the essence from all the packaging that arrived with the idea in the first place.
I guess this is what this website is all about.

James, than you again for such insighful comments and yes I'd be thrilled if you wanted to read my poems. I helped to run poetry clubs at school and University and never once had the courage to read my own. If you do please use the early version with precisely the changes you suggested (a small a for amazed (that was a typo) no 'the latest in' or 'perfect'. Title? Mismatch or Difference. Cheers, Hilary

James Graham at 14:58 on 26 April 2003  Report this post
O.k. Hilary, I'll read them at the next meeting, Monday week, and let you know how it went.


fevvers at 18:27 on 28 April 2003  Report this post
Hello. I'm new to this site and I think it's very good and interesting.

I liked this poem, I think it has a wonderfully strong first verse and a lovely first line - it reminds me of contemporary american poetry.

I've read though the comments and again I've really enjoyed doing that. I was saddened that cummings thought there was no passion in syntax, (from your quote Hilary). It always seems to me some of the most passionate poems (or at least poems that wholly kiss you) are carried on their exciting syntax. I think your syntax in the first verse is a good example of this (which is lost in your re-drafting by the way).

Have you thought about looking at what the last verse is really doing? I think it's a verse for you rather than your readers - we know the distance is there and we know from the semi-surreal quality of the first verse that the distance is huge and that the reader is traversing physical, emotional and intellectual landscapes, but the last verse is you as a writer (not even as a narrator) saying "make sure you understands this is how it is".

This poem's story and tone are in some ways leaving us stranded so why not let the poem and the form do that too? Try entering into the poem and asking it what it wants to be - it doesn't have to be a big question but it might go some way to helping you with the slight feeling of dissatisfaction with the poem I'm reading from your comments.

I also enjoyed what James said about free-verse but he seemed to imply that free-verse was more liberating for a writer, which I'm not sure I'd agree with. But anyhow, I'm glad I came and read your very lovely poem.

Hilary Custance at 19:44 on 29 April 2003  Report this post
Thank you Fevvers, as I have only written two poems in the last ten years (this one I wrote as a consequence of joining the website).This explains why I feel somewhat tentative about it. I am slightly overwhelmed by the effect of posting this effort. I think I do write poetry for me, in the sense that I could only write a poem if something struck me personally in a hefty way, but it needs to have a universal element.

The consequences of joining this site can be far reaching. My husband got home before me the other day (very rare) and was mowing in the rain. He claimed to have come home early to write a poem about me missing the rain!! Cheers, Hilary

Lisa at 22:54 on 11 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Hilary.

This is the first time I've seen any of your work and I loved this.

I do think your original version is the best version - I lose myself in it more because it feels more spontaneous and captures a feeling.

I think
"the soft blunderings of a bee"
is wonderful as are the ideas conjured up by the word "clarifying" which is a clever way of extending the buttery imagery!

In my humble opinion, the last verse (those three lines) aren't needed. They're very perceptive but I like the way as the reader, you are left thinking if the poem ends at "return after dark". Just my opinion.

Great piece of writing.
I'll check out some more of yours.



Hilary Custance at 12:33 on 14 July 2003  Report this post
Mmmm, thanks Lisa, I hadn't looked at this in a while, I think you and Fevvers are right, it doesn't need the last lines. Thanks, Hilary

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