Nesbit Likes: Visiting Hour by Stewart Conn

When problems arise, we do our best to solve them. In some cases, it’s something we’ve seen before, and we can apply a lesson to the matter learnt from a previous experience, revealing a solution. Other times, unfortunately, there’s not an answer, and while you can reflect on past events for aid and assistance, there’s nothing to draw from and nothing to help your current situation. Visiting Hour by Stewart Conn portrays this helplessness to its full capacity.

In the first stanza, there’s a simple problem and solution presented. The fish, ‘five orange stains’, are trapped in the pond ‘under inches of ice’. To solve this, ‘[they] broke the ice with a hammer’ and from underneath ‘the goldfish appear[ed]’. A hard, blunt object against a fragile thing is almost a primitive solution, so simple yet so effective. The imagery is well juxtaposed, too. ‘Orange stains’ become ‘blunt-nosed’ fish ‘delicately clear.’

The second stanza is in another time, where ‘so much has taken place to distance [then’ from what [they] were’. The subject is now bedridden, perhaps with injury or illness, and the narrator cannot find a solution. They can only ‘wish it were simply a matter / of smashing the ice and giving [them] air.’  The situation has become far more complicated, and the poet wishes things were easier.

One subtlety I love in this is how rhyme is used. The first stanza ends in a rhyming couplet, ‘appear’ / ‘clear’, as if a question has been given a response, an echo. But despite the same stanza length (both at eight lines) the rhyme is gone at the end of the second stanza, representing a call that has not been answered, signifying the unsolvable problems the poet is left with.

Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it explores the human condition, ours illnesses, and problems that appear to us. If things were simple, life would be easy, and in many cases it is. Otherwise, like the poet, we can only dream of magical solutions to ease the suffering of loved ones. In one way or another, I feel as if everyone will experience this sort of contradiction, where drawing from previous experiences isn’t enough to fix the current problem. Conn describes the terrible burden of helplessness and does so with, ironically, a simple analogy that really, really works.

I do not own the rights to publish this poem but if you’re looking for somewhere to read it, here’s a quick Google search for you!

Looking for more poetry analysis?

Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Nesbit Likes: When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be by John Keats
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year Old by Fleur Adcock
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.

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That Red Balloon Smile

That Red Balloon Smile

Twenty minutes to cover his face
With a brush and dirty mirror
And fifteen minutes more to carefully
Paint on
That red balloon smile.

He travels to the fort
The doorbell rings, calling all soldiers
To the porch.
Immediately bombarded by children who
Pull on his hair, squeeze his nose
and blow kazoos into his pudgy, white face,
The bread to the pigeons
The flesh to the vultures
The seal to the sharks.
He treads softly on the laminate flooring,

His eighteen inch shoes fold as he
Knocks the skirting board.
With the kids on his lap,

Squirming, impatient and eager,
He moulds the balloons
Into long, bendy giraffes,
Into sleek, slender cats,
Into round, stout pigs.

The animals that were given life and shape
Don’t live long.
They are swept up by a dustpan and brush.

His colourful trunk is invaded and the thieves,
Extract his shield and armour,
Wielding them.
They throw the deck of magic cards,
They javelin the extending stick,
They frisbee his magic hat.

It’s 4 o’ clock, the mother shouts
And the children run to the garden.
She hands an envelope to our clown.

He wanders across the hall
Retrieving his loot from the battle
That ensued.
The ball for his nose
The fuzz for his hair
The batteries for his spinning bow-tie.

“Will you be back?” one child asks,
as he retreats to the door.
“Perhaps,” he replies; the clown exits.

He retreats to his single bedroom flat,
Kicks off his shoes and
Pulls out a brush, wiping off
The icing from the cake,
The confetti from the popper,
The wrapping from the presents.

It could have been this or it could have been
Dodging bulls, blowing whistles
Probably with fewer casualties.

Twenty seconds to wipe his face
With a tissue and warm water
And fifteen seconds more
To remove
That red balloon smile. 

The Poem That’s Carried My Writing

Nesbit –

There’s a brilliant poem by the 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi, and I’ve found when writing drama, it’s been a go-to point for reminding me how to create an interesting element to a story. I first heard this poem at a gig a few years ago. It was a young man playing his guitar and before his final piece, he recited this poem. Being somewhat intoxicated, I rarely remember phrases let alone poems (and unfortunately cannot remember the artist – he was very good though!) but somehow, in my flooded brain of stout and cider, I was able to keep the poem buoyant and remembered word for word.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about. 
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

This poem has always been a starting ground for conflict in my writing. It’s those first two lines that epitomise how drama can be created, how conflict can erupt out of a piece to make it interesting. That ‘field’ Rumi speaks of is the grey area where our actions, our thoughts, our feelings are hard, if not impossible, to be categorised into good or bad. It’s beyond our ‘ideas,’ our laws, of wrongdoing and rightdoing, beyond what we label good and bad. An example:

Robbing a bank is obviously bad. But stealing only enough for a loaf of bread to feed your poor, cold, starving family? That’s when it gets grey – how do we feel about that?

Lying is generally considered wrong but to lie to someone to protect their feelings? Or from harm? That’s when it gets grey – is that the right thing to do?

Brilliant writing has evolved from a character acting or saying something and then ultimately, it becoming a grey area on whether or not they should have done or said it. The television series Breaking Bad springs to mind where you’re not sure how to feel about White’s actions. You’re conflicted, you’re on the fence about how you feel yet you can completely understand both sides; the like and hate groups for the protagonist (or antagonist!) appear to both make complete sense. It’s how you feel about the character. That’s great drama and it’s great storytelling.

It’s help me overcome a lot of problems in my writing and whenever I’ve been stuck or diagnosed with the classic block, I’ll remind myself of this piece. Where is that field? Who’s in it? What do you need to do to get into the field?

Understanding Poetry – Why You Don’t Have To

I have a friend whom I regularly meet at the pub. We catch up, share stories and reminisce about the days of our youth. One night, we spoke about books. He told me he didn’t like to read, the pacing of it wasn’t for him. As much as I tried to convince him to sit down and give a book a go, he refused. Poor lad hasn’t read a single book in his life – well, I’ll add, actually, he did say “The last book I read was Facebook.”

Oh dear.

I suggested a few poems for him to have a look at. They’re shorter than a novel, easier to digest and because of the meter he might find it easier to read. He told me he doesn’t like to read poetry because he doesn’t understand it.

Now, I found this confusing. I understand there’s a few poems out there you read and afterwards you are thinking to yourself “What was that about?” There’s metaphors and phrases that go right over my head. And I understand that it can be somewhat frustrating to leave without a meaning from the poem, instead left with a jumble of words in your head.

But, for me, that’s okay. I love poetry and for many reasons. Sometimes, I don’t return with anything about the poem I just read but I can still enjoy the piece. Why? Because of the sound. The meter. The phrases. The lexical choice, the syntactical length, the pauses, the stops, the rhymes, the alliteration, the assonance, the plosive and fricative words, the liquid movement, the ebb and flow. Half of poetry is to enjoy the sound, even if the rest doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand what makes an orchestra come together but I still enjoy the sound. I don’t understand what a lot of art means but I still enjoy the sight. And I definitely don’t understand what Old Tom puts in his all day breakfast sandwich but I love the taste.

I couldn’t tell you the number of poems I’ve read where my mind has been left in the middle of the sea without a map or a compass but still given a melodic wind to keep me going. If it sounds good,  I’ll like it and it’ll stick with me.

Anyway, my friend still had none of that. He bought me a three shots of tequila, a martini, a glass of house red and then told me that badgers don’t exist.