I've spent a lot of time lately looking at blogs of quilters, embroiderers, dyers, weavers and all sorts of other people who craft with fabric and thread. I used to embroider myself at one time (and knit, and make clothes, too for that matter) and at times I get the delusion that I still could, if I set my mind to it, if I wasn't so busy etc, etc.
In fact, last weekend, I succumbed to the temptation and made some cushions for the story chair in my study. (Why story chair? because they used to sit beside the children's beds so I could read them stories. There are two of them which were passed on from my great-grandmother). Here they are.
But it was enough to convince me I should stick to the poetry.
But here's the point. Looking at the crafters' blogs is more than an exercise in nostalgia and fantasy. It is inspiring on many different levels.
First of all, they are often very beautiful. Mousenotebook and Nature's Whispers come to mind here. Mousenotebook goes in for a very disciplined simplicity, neatness accuracy and restraint, whereas Natures' Whispers is all about the colour - rich, riotous and intense.
As well as inspiring me in the ordinary way - there's a poem about dyeing brewing in my notebook just now - thinking about the values they express in their different media helps me to think about the values I want for my poetry.
Some blogs do more than this. Spirit Cloth shows and discusses work in progress, and this is enormously interesting. Images and materials are assembled, laid out, put together, unravelled. Experiments are made with colour and form and stitching and texture. Ideas develop; understanding deepens. To me it feels a bit like watching a flower unfurl on film.
Poetry isn't often like that for me. I tend to come up with an idea like an untidy tangle of thread. If I pull at the right bit, a good image, an interesting line or two it unfolds into a poem and I look at it with a certain degree of astonishment, almost as if it didn't have anything to do with me. Then it's a matter of straightening it out a little, if it's disorderly, shining up the dull or tarnished bits, occasionally separating out the two poems that somehow got mixed up together. I quite like most of the results so far.
As I go on, however, and write more, I realise that this is not how the best poems come about. Good poetry is much more like good craftsmanship than good ideas. Taking time with your materials, engaging with the process, is as much part of the inspiration as the flash of insight.
And I have also found some poets who feel the same. I'll talk about them next time.