Saturday, 16 April 2011

Guest Blog: Bill Kirton

Ok, it’s back to the poetry-fest.

For your delectation and delight I have a guest spot to offer you today from talented writer and all-round good-guy, Bill Kirton.

In case you don’t know Bill he blogs HERE.

Bill is arguably the cleverest man I know (apart from him, her, him, oh and quite possibly him). Anywho, he is well-endowed (steady Thea, Marley) with the gray matter. He writes short stories, crime novels, historical-thriller-romance novels, children’s books, educational texts and even a number of pieces of drama have flown fully formed from his brain-space. (Apologies if I’ve missed anything, Bill.)

His latest work is a giggle-fest comic crime caper set in Aberdeen called The Sparrow Conundrum. It truly is hilariously entertaining. Click HERE  for more details.

He argues that he knows nothing about poetry and therefore, I thought, what better way to prove him wrong than to ask him to write a blog post for May Contain Nuts.

Over to BK…

Even though I’m not myself a poet, it’s the literary genre I most associate with many phases of my life. As an adolescent I poured the stuff out, imagining that comparing a girl-friend’s hair to ‘an autumn fall’ (yes, I was that bad) opened up chasms of love into which she couldn’t resist diving with me. (She resisted.) But since then, the words of others have caught my emotions and sensations in ways I could never dream of – Yeats with his ‘He wishes for the cloths of heaven’, Byron’s ‘Oh that the desert were my dwelling place, with one fair spirit for my minister’, and, as I staggered towards what I took to be sophistication, Marvell’s ‘Had we but world enough, and time …’ and Ted Hughes’ visceral, feral stuff. And many, many others.

But it’s not just the predictable love poetry (predictable in the sense that ‘love’ and ‘poetry’ belong together), it’s all those other wonderful word combinations and rhythms that say more things than their literal meanings seem to restrict them to. Before I retired, I was lucky enough to have a job which involved holding tutorials on French literature with young, intelligent, interested people. There were some who thought analyzing novels and poems ‘spoiled’ them, and I could appreciate why they said that. If you’re carried away by a story or by rhythms, you don’t want some boring old academic pointing out the thematic correspondences under the surface. On the other hand, realizing that these lines weren’t just pretty, one-dimensional facets of an idea but deliberately tangled truths that gave new, unsuspected life and sense to experience gave them resonances which made the initial response even more intense.

There’s a poem by Gerard de Nerval simply called ‘Je suis le ténébreux’, which has the same haunting effect on me every time it comes into my head that it had when I first read it as a student. It’s a classic example of how poetry tears through the normal fabric of perception to imply, even to touch, heights and depths of being and sensation which go unsuspected in our day to day living. The first line ‘Je suis le ténébreux, le Veuf, l’inconsolé’ sets the tone. It’s untranslatable but literally it says ‘I am the dark one, the widower, the one for whom there is no consolation’. I’m sorry, the English words don’t have the concision of the original, which then goes on to include medieval and mystical references – all musical and redolent of centuries of human passions, disappointments, regrets, extremes and mysteries which echo in the universe each of us carries.

I’d need this to be a few thousand words long to even try to do justice to the importance of poetry, but Michael’s no doubt already tapping his virtual watch and making wind-up gestures, so I’ll end with a little example which, coincidentally, was presented to me this weekend. I was visiting my daughter. Her husband’s an actor and had just come back from a tour to Japan. He’s curious about everything and, though he speaks no Japanese, he learned several phrases. He also learned this (which I’m spelling phonetically, so I hope Japanese speakers will forgive the crudity):

Ta bi bi to to
Wagana Yo ba re n
Hatszu shi guri

It means:
I am a wanderer
So let that be my name
The first winter rains.

I have no idea what it means or signifies culturally, but those 14 words open huge perspectives, internal and external, and say as much as an entire 2000-word story. For me, more than anything else, poetry shows the commonality between me and others distant in time and/or space. François Villon wrote ‘Où sont les neiges d’antan’ (‘Where are the snows of yesteryear’) in the 15th century and it couldn’t be more modern.

Vive la poésie.


  1. sounds like a lovely man, and a nice piece of writing and I love that cover :)

  2. Wonderful post, Bill. Is that French poem, Je suis le ténébreux, available online to read in its entirety. I may have to look up a few words but sounds like it would be worth it. You really know how to put words together to create perfection. Yet another post that will go into my Bill file.

    Thanks for being lazy, Michael. Why don't you have a Bill day? lol

  3. Must add some of Bill's work to my TBR pile.

  4. I hesitate to heap more adoration on your head, Bill, but that was a meaningful post. I absolutely agree with your sentiments about poetry. Sometimes it is the only way to express deep emotion or profound truths.

  5. Bill, you are a poet. I've said it before and I'm saying it again! What a great blog. I love the poetry quotes, especially the one from the Japanese poet. I don't understand it either...well, I have an emotional, a visceral understanding, not a rational understanding. When I read those lines, I felt ...I felt what its like to be a perpetual wanderer. Beautiful lines. Thank you! Sheila xx

  6. Michael, I meant to say. i too am reading Being Human. I've just posted a sort of slavering, wittering thing on Neil Astley's Wall in Facebook, words tripping over themselves trying to say how much I like it. Utterly brilliant. I find myself carrying the book around with me like a case I have 5 mins free I can read another poem. I'm besotted. and isn't the cover brilliant? Just that pic of Lord Taylor, the ex MP and Being Human underneath his face? Sheila xx

  7. Thanks Linda and Dezmond – not sure about ‘lovely’, though.

    Martie, I forgot that it does have a title 'El Desdichado', which tamely translates as ‘The unfortunate one’. Anyway, I looked for it online and everywhere it’s accompanied by either dreadful translations or dense commentary, so I’ll send it to you.

    Ricky, wise man.

    Rosemary, yes, the only way.

    Anonymous Sheila, I’m flattered that you – a real poet, like our man Michael – should say so. Thank you. I’m a huge fan of Being Alive and people tell me Being Human may even be better – impossible. But they’re both essential reading.

  8. Sheila, I agree with everything you said. (Even the bit about Bill.)