( A Poem for Yuyu at Poetry Parnassus, London Olympics, 2012)
Here is a fragment from the poem to appear in Eternal Snow along with “Letter from London” she sent to Yuyu after finishing her long poem. The editorial team worked on about two dozen drafts of the Letter and finally with Yuyu’s suggestion agreed to publish her first draft in First Person to give our readers a feel of Maria’s passionate commitment to the Muse…( Eds.)
The next afternoon,
a jacket of daffodil yellow,
as before a tie, water-marked silk on pressed
cotton white. I think I shuffled some of my poems over
the wood between us for I recall - next -
me quiet as a chrysalis, arms folded across chest,
head bowed, waiting...perhaps
biting a lip...You then, a mirror to thought,
the missing wing.
After a while, consuming cake -
that seemed not to be cake, but a froth-light substance for winged
creatures of a kind, though actually it was lemon cake and no miracle manna -
it was you who made it unearthly, my shaman calling a genie out
of the waves, I had after all shared cake before at that same place
(the cafe by the book stands under the bridge) with other friends,
but never had it been so mysterious -
at some stage we smiled, then laughed... and I felt at that point
a tremor like a fine fissure in a fortress wall, a tear
in a pupa membrane...
A Letter from London
By Maria Heath
17th March 2014
Good to hear that the readings around New York are going well and your recent collections of poems are well received.
Over the winter since we were in contact by letter, I found myself rather preoccupied with trying to write a prose autobiographical work mainly inspired by trips and revisits that cohere around a theme, which I haven’t spoken about with you, but wish to explore in a literary form. It seems likely this project will take up a few more weeks, at the very least. I would like to see if I can convert the material into a play, but I’m more than happy to take some time out to contact you about my poem, Parnassus to New York, submitted for, Eternal Snow. The connections with you and the editors of the anthology are all very welcome as a way to counteract the solitude that can accompany creativity, and also because of the inspiration to be found in reading the other poets’ works.
You recently expressed an interest in a hearing more about the emergence of the poem Parnassus to New York. Here then is a rough outline of how it evolved and some of the inspiration behind the piece.
At first I had no thought in mind whatsoever about writing poetry connected with the Parnassus Festival that summer, the place that we me, - You as the poet from Nepal, whilst I attended readings, lectures and a poetry workshop with Mimi Khalvati. I think that we had both been at the lecture by Jo Shapcott on Marianne Moore prior to our initial encounter outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I had spoken to her briefly after the lecture and then, as I walked towards the river, quite suddenly you were there and we began talking as though we already knew each other (although we had never before met).
The immediacy to our meeting that summer’s day, and the intensity of our exchanges the next afternoon, seemed almost elusive to transcription into words, and following such unprecedented or quite startling situations, I find quite often that I start use imagistic type writing to describe them as I feel freed then from more quotidian conceptual constraints. Our early experience of each other included, I feel, a rather extraordinary sense of something unexpected yet somehow inevitable.. The afternoon subsequent to our initial encounter, I felt quite apprehensive about reading and exchanging my poems, but as though a surrender of a kind was inevitable, as though in a sense, I had quite literally no choice but to cede to some kind of a rescue, as though retrieved from the riverbank like something that had been found. Later, I came up with the word ‘feral’ to connote a range of connected meanings, and also a hint to some kind of damage or neglect at some stage of my life that I’ve been writing about quite recently, in connection with certain trips and revisits to places evoking a memory trace of that time.
The sense of surrender, I recall that I passed through that day resonated with religious experience to a degree. Yet was far more unique and individual and all the more valuable to me – a transcendence we created for ourselves instead of set up in advance by a shared culture of formal liturgical expression. I wonder at times if there was in fact a shamanic aspect to this encounter, although I cannot be sure. I would like to ask you more about Shamanism in your culture and how it connects up with poetry. Imagery connected with mountain landscape later emerged in the poem partly to convey an exulted sense of imaginative height.
That meeting came to an end and we parted ways and did not meet again for quite a few months. Encouraged by attention to my writing, from you and other poets around this time --- both George Szrites, who I value for his time and encouraging comments, and Josephine Dickinson who proof-read my poem Parnassus to New York, I secluded myself at home in Drury Lane for much of the time whilst you were home in Nepal following the July festival, both writing and editing rather committedly and completing several new poems in quite close succession. With the sense that you modelled a way of being as a poet, not purely as a reflector of self and ideas, rather as a conduit of education and literary connection, a more selfless and outgoing creative attitude began to emerge than I feel I had experienced. By the autumn of 2012, I had written quite a few stanzas about our initial meeting, and when you arrived back in England I found that you were reading at The Poetry Café during a brief stop-over on the way to America,so naturally I attended, happy to hear you perform for the first time in my life…
The day after your reading the morning coffee and conversation in Queen’s Park was a good way to get to know each other further and to read some more of your poetry and because I found that I wanted to spend as much time with you as I could that day it seemed a good idea to travel by cab together to Heathrow in time for your afternoon flight.
After you left for your plane, I remained a while in the Heathrow airport reflecting on our initial meeting and enjoying the suspended sense of somehow being in a portal in between London and other worlds. It was then really that the second stage of writing began at which point I still had no idea that I would write a relatively long poem, just the sense that I was capturing some thoughts as they arose, like an artist may keep a sketch book perhaps as they travel around. At times I forget the images and ideas that I have I my mind if I don’t write them down. I can access them for a limited time and then they retreat back into the depths of my mind and more often than not I cannot fully retrieve them or recall very little of the imagery that may briefly have arisen in connection with specific inspiration, or the cadence and flow may have altered if I have changed my emotional state… but by writing them down I create an authentic kind of a record that later I can work with later in a fuller aesthetic way. And although there could be both development and modifications the original drafts can guide quite profoundly the voice in which the poem is to emerge. So I took a few notes in a book that I happened to have with me at the time then travelled on the tube into central London charting down thoughts, not really looking ahead in any real way, just dwelling in the present and the recent past of our meeting that day.
Not really wanting to return straight home, perhaps because I wanted to continue in that bubble of creativity for a while longer before usual routines and environments impacted upon that intellectually fertile kind of a state, I walked for a while by the Thames. Here I recalled the day of our first encounter, and also considered my trajectory as a poet and the idea of exploring and charting a series of ideas in a poem that somehow moves philosophically from one kind of insight onto another, with the travels throughout that day gradually crystallizing to embody a series of philosophical perspectives.The initial imagery of escape, imagination and projection, moved onto a sense of oneness and interconnectedness and from this I then arrived at a sense of some kind of vocation as expressed in the final stanzas of Parnassus to New York arising in part from a semi-conscious layer and defiant to a purely logical explanation at the outset, but which I decided to respect as integral to the poem.
Looking briefly at possible influences upon my poem, having read The Upanishads, as well as some Buddhist writings whilst a student of Theology and Philosophy in London, this seam of inspiration fused somehow with my previous readings of the Romantic poets as well as the surrounding urban landscapes I looked upon that day, to create the response to my surroundings which soon emerged as the later stanzas of the poem. Friendship of course was a significant motivator for the poem and the sense that by focusing my thoughts as an expression to you that I could more eloquently express them than if the reader remained vague and unidentified in my mind. Nonetheless I had a sense that it could be read by a wider audience and did have this idea in my mind to a point as it was being written down.
The final stage of writing Parnassus to New York involved drawing the elements together and evolving the structure and shape of it, out of the rougher earlier drafts, a rather organic process, the content determining the form rather as a waterfall over rock leaves a decisive trace…
As far as I remember I sent an early version of the poem to you around January 2013 and then completed it in autumn last year. There is more, far more, I could say about the poem and if I re-read it I could identify specific images and what they signify to me, butfor now, I feel that I should now refrain from offering further thoughts on the subject of my submitted poem as the work exists in its poetic form for a reason, because I cannot or do not wish to say it any other way.
Thanks to you, Kathleen Gallagher and the other editors on board, for reading and responding to the poem. Your encouragement and appreciation has helped me to overcome self-doubt which perhaps was sewn at a certain stage in my life and has been quite difficult for me to overcome. I would be happy for the work to reach a wider audience especially in the setting you envisage, a forum for poets who you have worked with or encountered in some way.
Looking forward to seeing the anthology as it emerges, knowing far less about the final outcome perhaps than the editors at this stage, I am in a state of comparative suspense and happy to be a part of this dynamic and exciting creative process.
Wishing you well for the remainder of your tour.
And have happy spring!
All the very best,
Maria Heath is a London based writer and has performed her poetry regularly around London. Her writing has appeared in Tumbleweed Hotel and The Wolf, among others. Currently, she is working on her first novel.