BucketAnd you listening

(Hughes, 2004:182)

With these few words Ted Hughes has invented a way of giving us setting, sound, time, event and atmosphere in the space of a mere twenty-one syllables. Just as the evening seems to respond to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket, so the little girl responds—at the end of the poem—to the moon, pointing at it and shouting out 'Moon! Moon!'. Hughes's whole concentration is focused on a moment when sensitiveness of response-

reactions reaches maximum intensity, in the poem's own words like 'a spider's web, tense for the dew's touch'. But the poem has impact not only for that reason. Suddenly the world's enormous presence has appeared to a child who points and expresses her amazement—perhaps for the first time. In twelve lines Hughes captures the drama of consciousness finding itself alive.

The poet is mixing a sense of the world with a sense of language, and doing it so they are mixed inextricably. That world only exists in those lines, yet it seems as real or more real, more present, than the actual evening where I sit typing these words in this book. Just as what happens on stage becomes more real and occupies more of our attention than the part of the theatre where we happen to be sitting, so the world of a poem can draw us into its sphere, can in a sense remove us from ourselves. For a second we are elsewhere— by that river, in that house. To write poems involves being able to take people with you into that other space, so that they sway with the crowd in the tube, walk with Sandra Lee Scheuer in the poem by Geddes (see p. 10), feel the smallness and also the expanse of that evening where a child points at the moon and shouts 'Moon!'

Because words in poems can achieve much in a comparatively small space, our attention is sharpened, our alertness adjusts itself into a state of preparedness, and the poem therefore must aim to reward us and not let us down. Reading a new poem by a poet whose work has moved you or excited you in the past, and from whom you anticipate new events in language, can make you remember that moment when a child finishes counting, with eyes shut, then opens them wide and runs to find her hidden friends. To read a poem we choose a time when we can concentrate, give it all our attention, and exactly the same, of course, applies to the experience of writing. A first draft might not get within range of a finished poem, but it will often contain those first valuable indications that a poem is there to be discovered, that we can move forward, find ways to dramatise the sense of an encounter or conflict, a moment of illumination. The obvious way to proceed is scene first, then action. A voice might be heard, or voices. Parts of the scene might stand out as an image. The drama of the poem might depend on the sense of a turning-point, a moment of transition, a speaking voice delivering some news, some warning, a challenge, an invitation. The following poem by the American poet Anita Wilkins dramatises one such turning-point:


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