Monday, December 08, 2008

Belonging: author's notes

My poem "Belonging" has been found by a string of students undertaking an assignment on, I guess, poetry and belonging, and I thought it might be helpful to them to expalin a bit about why and how I wrote it and what it means (or what I want it to mean, which may not be the same thing). If you are writing an assignment, before reading any further, check your instructions: you may find that you are forbidden from looking at any contextual information, in which case: stop now, you're on your own.

Still here? Ok. Although I had thought a bit about the nature of belonging, it was only when it was set as a subject for a competition that it crystallised into a poem. The competition was part of an eisteddfod (an annual literary and musical competition held in Wales); one of the best things about Welsh culture is its acceptance that poetry is a normal activity for normal people, devoid of the class warfare and exclusivity common in England, where I grew up. I predicted, pretty accurately, that such a topic would inspire a good deal of maundering about hwyl a hiraeth (joy and longing), on being at home or being away. But I was in a different situation. The whole question of Welshness has become politicised and polarised, with careful distinction between those Welsh by descent (Welsh parents, born in Wales or elsewhere), Welsh by birth (born in Wales, with non-Welsh parents), and Welsh by choice (incomers who considered themselves Welsh). I fall into the latter category: I had never been able to summon much enthusiasm for the land and folk of my birth. I remained interested, or perhaps fascinated, by those for whom nationality and loyalty had required no choice or thought. I explain this at some length to suggest where my sympathies may lie in the poem; the text is understated in the weight it places on each group.

The form of the poem is driven by two constraints: the abab rhyming pattern for each stanza, and the self-imposed rule that the word order should be natural and stresses should fall naturally at the end of lines. The technical skill involved is trying to seem as if the words were those that would be chosen in any case, but just happened to rhyme. There is one weak line which I dislike: the last line of the first stanza, where 'recedes' isn't quite the right action.

In the third stanza, the last line's 'shout' was suggested by the rhyme, but I'm happy enough with the opposition of love's seductive whisper and fame's more overt and aggressive shout.

The final stanza is intended to suggest the feeling of peace and calm that greets a restless traveller once they have found what they are looking for. There remains some ambivalence in the poem about the power and positive and negative effects of the feeling of belonging, a sense in that it is viewed from the outside, for better or worse.

Some people are born where they belong,
Their home and family supply all needs:
The glow of hearthlight waxes strong
The call of the wider world recedes.

And some search long but never find
A spot where they can set up base
At last they must become resigned
To moving on from place to place

And some again, the lucky few
Are urged to leave, and to seek out
An individual rendezvous
With love's whisper or fame's shout

Belonging is a state of mind
Tranquility its foremost fruit
Sought by all, but many find
It cannot grow without a root

Belonging is published in the collection Carefully Chosen Words published by Carreg Ffylfan Press.


Anonymous said...

Hey, i was wondering what the last stanza meant, its kinds hard to understand...

Martin Locock said...

It's not intended to be obscure: the first line summarises the argument of the previous three stanzas that belonging is a subjective state, not an objective one (so that a feeling of belonging is open to all, even the restles), line 2 proposes the comfort of feeling at home as the principal benefit of belonging. In line 3 and 4 I amend this position to say that while it is theoretically open to all at all times, many people find a sense of locality as a necessary start.

Hope that helps.

James said...

hi i was just wondering if u have an analysis of your work somewhere