Ian Seed: A Process of Abandonment
I have little self-confidence when it comes to writing long pieces, and usually will only do so under extreme pressure, for example having to submit my PhD thesis in 2012. Without this pressure I can quickly lose faith in the whole writing process. Yet this loss of faith can on occasion lead to a long poem. ‘Split’, my last publication in Long Poem Magazine (25, Spring 2021), came about because after writing 7000 words or so of prose about my early childhood I felt suddenly as if I couldn’t go any further. Any author of life writing is faced with a number of questions: what are you going to choose to write about? – naturally, you may not discover the answer to this until you start writing; what is your story? – just writing that this happened, then that happened will bore you as much as it will the reader; and why on earth should anyone be interested in hearing about your life anyway? I didn’t have any answers except that I thought it might be helpful to seek to convey some of my story not in prose but in poetic form. My model in ‘Split’ was Wordsworth’s The Prelude – albeit in a kind of anti-Romantic subversion of this model and with a deep sense of inadequacy. Here are the opening lines:
We rented a farmhouse in a tiny village
near York. My dad was a social worker.
He drove to his office in a 1930s
black car with running boards he’d inherited
from his dad, who’d worked his way up
from the bottom to become a businessman
with depression. My granddad committed
suicide before I was born.
When I submitted ‘Split’ to LPM, I thought it only had a slim chance of being accepted, and I still have doubts about the poem. This does happen to me sometimes after publication, and I do not think I am unique in this. Publishing poetry is of course very satisfying, but one is exposing one’s vulnerabilities, and on occasion there is that feeling of imposter syndrome. Perhaps at some point I will have the faith and courage to return to the poem, take it further, or even return to the original prose version.
The origin of ‘Absences’, the first poem I published in LPM (13, Spring 2015), also lay in an old draft of a story, this time one I had abandoned in 2006, along with some cutups from the same period of other texts, including Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. The texts chosen for cutups were chosen at random. I don’t remember why I abandoned them – perhaps I felt I wasn’t doing much new – and unfortunately I did not keep a record of what came from where. I used quite a lot of Sunday newspapers – I remember that much. I initially turned to cutups in 2006, partly because I felt stuck with my own writing, and partly because I was fascinated by the effects that could be achieved by poets such as Kurt Schwitters, John Ashbery, Mark Ford, Catherine Hales, Jeremy Over, Patricia Farrell, Rupert M Loydell, Laynie Brown, Keith Waldrop and, above all, Rosmarie Waldrop. However, I do not see cutups as a main part of my writing – other authors use these techniques far better than I ever could. But they are something I go back to on occasion.
In June 2014, with no particular intention in mind, I began to put all these abandoned bits together, only to cut them up again because I wasn’t happy with the result. I continued to work on them until something like a fragmented dreamlike semi-autobiography emerged in the form of a sequence of thirteen sections made up of four three-line stanzas. To give a flavour of the overall sequence, here is section nine:
Because of the umbrella, I couldn’t see
her face. We crossed the square
to the station. ‘Find a job and place
to live – I’ll join you.’ An unreal
world achieves its own consistency.
You look out of the window
at the train on the next platform
and for a moment you think
you’re moving. A breath of wind
passes and never returns. Often
in the midst of things, I close my
eyes and dream I’m falling.
Truth be told, I am much happier working with tiny fragments of my own text, for a little time each day, or night, and just seeing how they will come together. I love playing with bits of language and seeing what kind of effect can be brought about my juxtaposing them in different ways. This is often the case with my prose poems, the form I perhaps feel most at home with. I say more about the writing process involved with these in my introduction to ‘Distances’, a sequence published in LPM 19.The themes, the strands that hold my prose poems together tend to emerge of their own accord. It is only by looking back that I am able to spot them.
To conclude, I am grateful to LPM for giving me the opportunity not only to read some wonderful contemporary long poems but also for the knowledge that if I do manage, albeit by accident or a process of abandonment, to write a long poem myself, then there may be a home for it.
You can read ‘Distances’ here.