A Blade of Grass
What is it that guides our choices as a writer? I don’t just mean regarding genre choice, I mean subject matter, theme, characterisation, dialogue, setting, the way we want our writing to feel, the tone. Do we want it to be realistic and grounded or do we want to create something abstract and surreal? Do we want it to be lyrical or prosaic or a combination of both? Do we want people to think about it, for it to have social implications? I’m talking about… the whole shabang! We, as writers, choose. All ideas are formulated in the writer’s mind and undergo a uniquely individual creative process.
Everything we write is a product of each of us, of our imagination, our experiences, our back story and of how things appear through our unique stained-glass window. But is what we choose to read an extension of this? Are we drawn to a book, poem, play, because we think, in some way, it might relate to who we are, to our own idea of self? Are our favourite books ones where we relate to the protagonist and either see something of ourselves in him/her, or they reflect the person we would like to be? Or has the writer somehow embodied a similar stained glass window to our own?
With these questions in mind, I was thinking about one of my favourite pieces of writing and why it became, and still is, one of my favourites. It’s a poem called, ‘A Blade of Grass’ by Brian Patten, which I first read while studying GCSE English Literature as a not so very mature student of 21 years. Honestly, I could amuse you for hours with some of the things I got up to at the ripe old age of 21… but I won’t. Another blog post maybe. Anyway, I digress. Of all the things I’ve read, ‘A Blade of Grass’ is the piece of writing, not written by me, that most feels like me. It sent shivers down my spine on the first read and still does, making me fill up every time. Its soul feels like my soul. Something at the heart of it beats in me. A tad self-indulgent possibly, but then isn’t that part of the magic of reading? That complete absorption in something which resonates with each of us?
There’s no better way to convey this than to offer it to you HERE where you can listen to it being read by the poet himself. (NB. I’ve had a few probs with this link, so if it doesn’t work, please Google it, or you’ll be missing a real treat!)
Amazingly, the poem was written in 1946. It could have been written today, and in a hundred years time I don’t doubt it will still feel as relevant, because the sentiments are timeless and universal. I used it for a study piece with a group of students once, and some of the students really didn’t ‘get it’. I think that really shows just how subjective literature is, and this applies to our reading of it and our writing of it. I just happen to think it is an amazing poem that says everything that needs saying about life and love and the things that really matter.
Is there a piece of writing which you feel echoes the essence of you?
Wow, that is an amazing poem. I can’t think, off the top of my head, of one particular piece of writing that feels like ‘me’, but perhaps that’s because all the writing I really enjoy speaks to me in some way. But there are definitely themes that I come back to, as a reader *and* a writer, over and over again, because I can relate to them and they reflect my experiences.
It is hard to define isn’t it, Emma? There are so many layers to a piece of writing and what we enjoy as a reader can be so diverse, appealing on so many levels. Like you, I find myself coming back to similar themes as they are ones I most relate to.
I think it changes. I read something and think, ‘yes, that’s it.’ And then I’ll read something else. I suppose at the moment, if I have to define one piece, I’d point to Jenny Joseph’s ‘When I am Old I shall Wear Purple.’
Oh my goodness, I know that poem! I love the meaning in it. It has a similar feel to ‘A Blade of Grass’ I think in it’s simplicity.
Thanks for the post Abi, but no, I don’t think I do … but it does put me in mind of the time I was on holiday in Portreath in Cornwall. I had been noticing a small white monument on the headland and one morning I decided to check it out. It turned out to be there because it marked the place where Laurence Binyon had written “For The Fallen”. I didn’t know of the writer and didn’t think I knew the poem but I recognised parts of it that is now recited every remembrance day.:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
It was something of a sacred moment to realise that I was standing on the spot overlooking a quiet sea and beautiful coast when one before me had written such things with a mind full of war and sorrow. It was a strange irony and a very poignant moment for me.
Aw, how lovely, Martin, and, as you say, how poignant. Those are lovely words and it sounds the perfect place for them too.
What a lovely poem, Abi – it certainly speaks to me. I did immediately think of a poem that seems to speak my soul – but it’s so revealing, I don’t think I want to share!
Aw, yes, I know what you mean, Jenny. I have a Leonard Cohen poem that does the same. I’m glad you liked Brian’s poem.
I love the poem that means so much to you, and I love that it does. It’s wonderful! It’s like I had already read it – instantly familiar.
It is fascinating how we use a ‘shared’ language so uniquely to ourselves. Sometimes it makes you wonder how we communicate at all 😉
It’s a poem for me too that echoed instantly deep within many years ago. It burnt itself into my memory on the first reading, and had a profound effect on how I both read and wrote thereafter. Here it is:
Define what you would do to stay alive.
Sit home and quiver like a jellied lamb
or sling six-guns around your hips and blam!
quick-draw and shoot when nosy friends arrive
for some forgotten date? Learn how to drive
with fingers clenched like badger jaws on ham.
Eat only what you cook: don’t trust a clam,
bake chicken until burnt. You may survive
to hate the fact that you’ve made enemies –
regret the donning of that Kevlar vest
you can’t take off without catching a chill.
So when you fear each stranger that you see
and Brinks alone can make you fully dressed,
be sure to get my name right in your will.
by Julie Carter.
WOW! I love that, Dean! It has so much energy and vitality. And I can see why you love it too, in a similar way I guess to how you can see why I would love ‘A Blade of Grass’. Thanks so much for that, and for your lovely words too 🙂 xx
What a great post — reading it and hearing the poem that means so much to you reminded me of a poem that I read when I was a student in a literature class — how it really spoke to me then, really moved me. Even today, all these years later, I still love it. It’s “Anyone lived in a Pretty How Town” by e.e. cummings. Have you read it? Thank you for the emotional reminder 🙂 xox
Aw, thanks Julia. I haven’t read that. Am going to google it now and have a read xo
Once more, your post has got me thinking. It’s something to ponder on, especially as writers wanting our words to have deep meaning to our readers. One thing I’ve noticed about my writing and reading tastes is that I have a strong liking for prose that’s poetic. As for the poem you’ve shared, it’s deceptively simple, which only adds to its depth. I like it!
I don’t think I’ve come across any piece of writing yet that echoes my soul. I’ve read some that resonated with me, but not to the extent of your experience. I hope that it’ll happen soon. 🙂
Aw, thanks, Nadine. I, like you, enjoy lyrical prose that pulls me in and hypnotises me. A book called ‘The Winter Tree’ by Georgina Lewis, does this. It’s one of my absolute faves! But, yes, like you, I love the simplicity of ‘A Blade of Grass’. Glad you like it too 🙂