Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some notes on the Marilyn Poems

The Marilyn poems are a sequence loosely based around artifacts from the life of Marilyn Monroe.They are not poems about Marilyn Monroe, nor do they necessarily reflect the historical record. They are examples of creative writing, or perhaps can be seen as exercises of "poetic license". The poems are written to investigate certain notions - "a dripping tap" examines loneliness and sexuality, "Arthur driving his wife home" is based on a photograph and explores ambition, motivation, "Marilyn does not Travel in the Back Seat of a Car" investigates imagined futures. Some of the Marilyn poems tackle unusual topics. "The digital enhancement of photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio" explores a mathmatical concept - binary arithmetic - in the unusual context of a partnership and "Marilyn and the Physics of David Deutsch" examines multiple possibilities in time, or multiple universes.

The Marilyn poems have been written over a long period - the first were written in 2004 and there was a long break when no Marilyn poem was written, lasting from 2007 to 2009. Because the poems are not primarily about Marilyn Monroe, the poems are not written at any particular time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reading at the Thirsty Dog, Auckland

Poetry Live has regular performances and open mike at theThirsty Dog on the K. Road in Auckland.
I read three poems, "My Lover is a Rainstorm", "Amelia" and "Manhattan Repentance".

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Marilyn does not Travel in the Back Seat of a Car

Marilyn does not Travel in the Back Seat of a Car
Dallas, Nov 22nd, 1963.

What fun it was,
what heart wrenching fun.

To be in the car
with all that excited noise,

cheering, the crowd straining
for a glimpse,

she loved the adulation,
even second hand.

Then all of a sudden, high drama.
How she loved those situations,
the melodrama, the ambition,

it was never real,
it was all acting,
wasn’t it?

She would never cradle his head
in her lap, as the car sped away.

She would have her place,
usurped by the other woman,
she would have her vengeance.

Of course she never fired a shot
(then again, nor did he)

but she was there, she was there
and, as sure as hell, you could feel her

straining to reach out to him,
to pluck him from her arms,

knowing that she had won.
knowing that they were in the same place.

© Martin Porter 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

In the Beginning

A common workshop exercise is to offer a painting, photograph or sculpture and invite the participant to create a piece of writing around the image portrayed. This poem is based on a painting in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Occasionally a poem cannot exist in its own right. The last line of this poem seems obscure when the poem is read alone, but, as part of a sequence on the colonisation of Australia, the line begins to make sense. There is an element of ambiguity about the line and that is not unintentional. But, then again, the painting has a certain ambiguity about it as well, and also reflects just part of the sequential history of Australia.

 In the Beginning

From the painting “Family Group with Cottage and Horse Drawn Carriage” – T. W. McAlpine

In this Arcadia
We swim in the clear stream waters
As the soil bears fruit
And the sun, dappled, flows into the clearings.

As the axe falls
The silence is lofty, vaulted by branches.
The first echoes ever heard

This is the first fire,
The first warmth of the living being.
A light wind fans the grasping

© Martin Porter 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pigeon Fanciers - some general notes

In many ways this poem is a nostalgic investigation of a culture that has been largely lost. The difficulty with pigeon fanciers was the avoidance of cliche and sentimentality.

Pigeon Fanciers is a piece of creative writing. I know no pigeon fanciers and have only cursory interest in the sport. The interest for me in the poem is the culture of a type of man I either imaging or remember from childhood and my time in the north of England, hard working, frequently tired, often highly skilled and frequently desperate for a rest on a Sunday afternoon with the newspaper and with a sporting culture often extending towards fanaticism. It has its origins in a mind map prepared for a different poem based on a study of garage mechanics, still not written but past the conception stage. As a result, this poem is not an end to itself, and in some ways is a first draft of a different poem.
Although this is not a frequent occurrence, poems are sometimes spawned as a result of planning or writing a different poem. Sometimes a poem becomes too cumbersome or internally inconsistent and needs to be split, but that is not the case here. This is not a fragment from a longer work or a poem developed from another either as an edited, expanded or polished version. It is a totally different poem written from the same material, in this case a mind map. One of the benefits of keeping hold of initial, old or redundant material, which I keep in a file known as the "asylum", is that it is available for reflection and a resource for mining at a later date.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pigeon Fanciers

Pigeon Fanciers

They call them pigeon

Which is worrying,

Not pigeon breeders,
Or pigeon racers,
Or tired old men
In flat caps,
Exhausted as a wrung-out

Rainy weekend,

And these same tired men
Read the back pages

Of the News of the World
For the sport
And flick through the rest,

For the bottom of the loft.

Of course,
The birds do the work,
Carry the skill.
The yellow, nicotined
Hands, pock-marked by
Steel splinters,

Oiled into the whorls
Of the fingerprint,
Are too arthritic
Or just too
Work worn
To be energetic,

But pass love
Into the breast of a precious racer.

© Martin Porter 2008

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pasifika Queen Mab and symmetry

The first stanza of Pasifika Queen Mab is phrased to reflect the last stanza, or perhaps the other way round, as does the "densely sweetened perfume" and "heavy musk". The symmetry this imposes on the poem is an important concept in many of my poems. In Pasifika Queen Mab there are also internal symmetries, such as "her irksome work" in the second stanza and the "rest" in the penultimate stanza or the traveller and the wanderer in the 5th and 7th stanza, which top and tail the incantation section of the poem. Because of the 4 stanza, 3 stanza, 2 stanza structure of the poem, maintaining these internal symmetries proved to be difficult, and led to displacements in the symmetry.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pasifika Queen Mab

Pasifika Queen Mab is a dichotomy poem. It deals with two different worlds, the world of the quintessential English transposed into the world of the New Zealand bush. In some ways it is a poem about immigration, but not intentionally. It is more about abandonment and loneliness. Although not written as an exercise, such dichotomy poems where two different, perhaps conflicting, ideas are brought together make good workshop practice and stretch the imagination.

The central character, Queen Mab, is a mythical figure. The epigraph is from Mercutio's speech in Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 4, and is sometimes curtailed from some transcripts. The postscript is from Percy Bysse Shelley's "Queen Mab" which can be found at A further reference is Richard Dadd's great painting "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke", held in the Tate Gallery, London and imaged at Mab can be seen as an English fairy, but this does not quite mean a cute flying girl in a fluffy white dress, but more along the rather wild and ambivalent figures often portrayed in European stories such as those told by the Grimm brothers. There are often elements of madness associated with faery, and it is noteworthy that the patricide Dadd painted "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke" while incarcerated in Bedlam. Mercutio's state of mind was not at its clearest in his "Queen Mab" speech. Elements of chaos are also present in Dunsany's "The King of Elfland's Daughter"

There are references to other works made in the poem. "Attercop" is a dialect word from Yorkshire, but was used by Bilbo Baggins to insult the spiders of Mirkwood in Tolkien's "The Hobbit". References to the phosphorescent sea could come from anyone with an experience of planktonic phosphorescence, but is, in fact, based on a passage from Sheldon Vanauken's "A Severe Mercy". The moths' drift to immolation is a lingering memory from Robert Way's "The Garden of the Beloved". There are also major elements of the unhappy tension between Lirazal and her love for her homeland, Alveric and her son Orion and the resulting disorder in Lord Dunsany's " The King of Elfland's Daughter" included in the poem. Tennyson's Lady of Shalott is present in her skiff. The mystical Sybil of Cumae is also added to the mix, who, according to legend, made an unfortunately thoughtless wish for longevity and lived to wither away, until only her voice was left.

These varied references make Pasifika Queen Mab a difficult poem, which often seems to cause confusion. The epigraph and postscript offer clues, but the allusions to niche works require particular knowledge. There are issues in how much this should intrude into understanding the poem, and how much the poem should be able to be a self-contained whole. Hopefully the background knowledge enhances the poem and is not an essential to the narrative. Perhaps because of its central character, Pasifika Queen Mab may be seen as a "childrens' poem". It is not intended as such, nor is it suitable as such. Our concept of "fairy" has changed substantially from the more indimidating concept of the supernatural and unseen world of the past.

The structure of Pasifika Queen Mab is designed to enhance the "magic" element of the poem. The verse structure is based around the "lucky number", 3. It consists of three lines in each stanza, with nine ie: 3x3 stanzas. There is an element of the inverted pyramid, with the nine stanzas being split into a four stanza scene-setting, a three stanza "incantation" and a two stanza conclusion. The stanzas of the introduction scene and conclusion have an aba rhyming structure, but the incantation has an aaa rhyming structure, to emphasise the magical concept of an incantation, as if some charm was being recited to bring Queen Mab into the conscious world. The incantation is distinguished by each line starting with Queen Mab herself, in the word "She".

Likewise, the language is chosen to reflect a world of half-light, dankness, decay, heavy scents and inhuman life forms. A sense of weariness, loss, loneliness, mistrust, regret and detachment from ancestry is injected into the poem, sometimes directly, sometimes by implication due to the choice of words. A sense of anger or fear is avoided by careful use of language to emphasise the sense of resignation, perhaps depression

Pasifika Queen Mab

“This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:”
Romeo and Juliet

Doping nocturnal moths, dry and empty in their brown winged shells,
The densely sweetened perfume of manuka hugs the ground
Insinuating through the dreams of wood-wasp in their paper cells.

As day gives up her irksome work the dark womb meets her need
And sultry through the musky heat the moon rests in her cup
And counts each starry glimmer as her seed.

Phosphorescent seas collapse on broken shingle spits to sing
Of lost atolls, of mattocked rings of brittle rock
And henges built of mushrooms in the close-grazed faery ring.

The husks lie shattered on the moss, the gnats have long since flown,
Attercop spins deadly wheels, there is no cricket wing,
The open rides of lovers’ hopes are long since overgrown.

She does not trust the traveller, the rider on the ridge,
She has no faith in whispered words, the secret tryst or pledge,
She will not stride the open plains or creep along the ledge.

She does not trust the stay-at-home, nor the fly-by-night,
She has no faith in song and dance, the contract or the fight,
She takes no comfort from the wren nor fears the eagle in full flight.

She is the witch of borderland, she is the sage of time,
She is the aged Sybil, midwife of the troubled mind,
She is the orphaned wanderer with no family, hound nor kine.

On a skiff of gilded darkness crafted from a lizards skin
She searches for companionship in dank ditches, rilles and brook ,
She rests, bewildered, longing for her now ancestral kin.

The heavy musk of twilight revisits her again.
In loss she finds acquaintance with the peace she craves
To drift to immolation like moths to candle flame.

“And it is yet permitted me to rend
The veil of mortal frailty, that the spirit,
Clothed in its changeless purity, may know
How soonest to accomplish the great end
For which it hath its being, and may taste
That peace which in the end all life will share.”
Queen Mab – Percy Bysshe Shelley

© Martin Porter 2008

This poem is unpublished, but has been submitted for publication in a proposed collection. Written in 2008, it has been read to the innominate writing group based in Jersey, C.I., and also to an informal group of writers in Whangarei, N.Z.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On seeing a newspaper picture of Sir Thomas Bouch - language and themes

There is a progression from the actual newspaper picture to the Great Tay Bridge disaster and finally the consequences. To maintain this narrative, the language has to work hard, defining themes and flow.

The repetition of "one black spot" defines two of the main themes - spots and blackness. The choice of these two themes evolves naturally from the double meaning of the phrase - the black mark on a supposedly spotless career , and the spots that make up a newspaper picture. There are other meanings as well - the black gap in the collapsed bridge, and the specks of soot and printers ink make a pivotal point in the poem.

Other themes are present in the poem. The "ordained plan" casts a shadow over the events, and the Tay Bridge disaster could be seen as preordained because of the poor construction techniques used in building the bridge. The epigraph is not just ornamental, but fits into the theme of pre-ordination, with McGonnagal's moralising echoing the Victorian religious ethos of "pride comes before a fall".

The transitory nature of human achievement is another theme - "like his famous bridge, the glorious knight falls quickly" and "constructed glory smudges away" like newspaper ink on the fingers of the readers. The final note of explanation also concentrates on Bouch's success bringing a note of irony and perhaps a more sympathetic look at his career. The reader has to research to link the poem to the historical event which is not mentioned at all by name in the poem. Well, not everything can be made easy!

The title of the poem indicates its primary subject is Bouch and the picture, not the Tay Bridge disaster. The poem concentrates on the picture, its construction and printing. It also concentrates on the effects of the disaster on Bouch - the "bloodshot eye", the grey face, the grief and shame, which eventually leads to his death. The pivotal point in the poem that links these two topics is the phrase "the locomotive sound of printing press". Here the language is working hard, and again in the "ink black gap", a hard sounding little phrase bringing the disaster back to the photograph, and the wihrlpools which immediately follow, moving on to Bouch.

More details and the photograph that inspired the poem can be found at .

Friday, August 13, 2010

On seeing a newspaper picture of Sir Thomas Bouch - some technical notes

This poem has a more rigid structure than many I write, but has many of the same constructs.

The poem has symmetry - the number of lines in each stanza are 1,1,4,4,4,4,4,1,1. This is important not just for the form it gives the poem, but also it reflects the construction of a bridge, often symmetrical with small spacing between the supports at the ends and larger spans "across the gulf".

Each stanza exists to move the story on one step at a time. The first invotes the reader in, the second introduces the construction of a newspaper image, made of dots. The third stanza has the space to develop the narrative of poem, instead of just introducing ideas, and begins to link the dots into shapes which make up the face in the fourth stanza. The fifth stanza moves from the process of building up the picture to printing it, mixing the printing presses and the inks with the locomotive and the smoke. The sixth does not describe the actual event itself, but the reporting of the event and the seventh introduces the transitory nature of all things, events, media reports, reputation. The seventh describes the effect on Bouch and the eighth the ultimate conclusion.

Some might believe the poem was constructed like this and then the words fitted to the construction. That is not the case. The idea behind the poem was the driving force, not the shape, although the basic four line stanza was chosen to give the poem some form that would serve as a skeleton for polishing against. A poem is not like concrete poured into a mould, but more like clay which can be moulded into a basic shape and then modified to create a final form. Perhaps the poem never reaches a final form, but eventually gets displayed as a finished but perhaps not complete object. This poem needed the short lines to give more structure. This was not difficult for the first two lines and for a long time the poem only had two short lines at the start, but in the final polish the ast two lines were split from a rather overladen last stanza and given significance of their own. The adornments are partially ornamental, to add a weight of knowledge to the poem, but also add extra important information in a cryptic form. Why cryptic? Perhaps the media is never straight forward, and although the story might seem to be told, sometimes it requires more research before the full story, if there is such a thing, comes out.

It did not take long to shape this poem. I had known about the Tay Bridge collapse for thirty years or more, was familiar with McGonagall's poem for as long and so had probably thought about the poem for some time before writing it, but not consciously. But the poem, once written on paper took surprisingly little extra work as it tended to demand this structure. And when demands are made, the only difficulty is meeting them, rather than having to design them first.

To summarise, the poem has a defined structure in the number of lines in each stanza to create a symmerty that reflects the objects and events being described, it has a narrative that is progressed one stanza at a time and it has details given in a form that reflects the implicit subject matter to enhance the narrative and educate the reader.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On seeing a newspaper picture of Sir Thomas Bouch

On seeing a newspaper picture of Sir Thomas Bouch
Edinburgh, 30 December 1879

“For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed”

Look closely.

One single black spot.

Two single black spots smudged into one spot.
One black ellipse, a dumbbell, one long black gap,
And then, from a little further
A spotted disc, the grubby oval of the bloodshot eye.

A different perspective, and a face appears
From the mess of swirling spots, scattered
Not at random after all, but in some ordained plan
To form an image of a grey face

In time and space, carefully listening to the
Sounds of rumbling rhythm, deep, eddying and dark,
The locomotive sound of printing press, filthy pistons
Pumping, black as soot, dark as the night,

Imagining the rushing train, lost in the gale
Dashing to the ink black gap. Whirlpools
Etch the wrinkles under the fatigued
Eyes of grief, black as newspaper print

Rubbing on the readers’ fingers as they browse.
So constructed glory smudges away
Into the dark night, an unforeseen disaster,
And shame comes, quick as one black spot.

Like his famous bridge, the glorious knight falls quickly,

Just ten months later and he will join the dead.

Sir Thomas Bouch, Victorian railway engineer, built the St Andrew’s railway, the pleasure pier at Portobello and a floating bridge across the Forth. He was knighted after Queen Victoria journeyed over his great Scottish bridge across the estuary of the Tay.

© Martin Porter 2005

This poem is based on a newspaper picture of Sir Thomas Bouch. Bouch is not a name that is well recognised, so the origin of the poem needs some explanation.

The background of this poem is hinted at in the poem itself, but the supporting text also offer hints. The date is significant. The epigraph is written by Scotland's second greatest poet, William McGonagall. They are, in fact, the last two lines of his best known poem, "the Tay Bridge Disaster". If you don't know this poem you are probably a lucky person, but its worth reading. The postscript also alludes to the Tay Bridge. Thomas Bouch was the designer of the first Tay Bridge. He died on 30th October 1880, as mentioned in the last line.

The Tay Bridge was a spectacular lattice grid iron bridge spanning the Firth of Tay at Dundee. Thomas Bouch designed the bridge and the foundation stone was laid in July 1871. There were some unexpected problems with the construction, including the difficulty in finding sound bedrock for the foundations, so Bouch modified the design to take this into account. The first trains crossed the bridge in September 1877 and Thomas Bouch was knighted when Queen Victoria crossed the bridge shortly after.

On the evening of 28th December 1879 during a violent storm, a train carrying 75 passengers was travelling across the bridge when the central span collapsed, taking the train with it into the Tay, There were no survivors. The disaster shook Victorian engineering to the core and is still one of Britain's worst railway disasters.

The blame will probably never be completely ascertained, but Sir Thomas Bouch was implicated by the enquiry which followed.

This poem was one of those commended by the judges of the Jersey Arts Trust Channel Island Writers' Competition 2005 and is published in the Channel Island Writers' Anthology 2005.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My lover is a rainstorm

My lover is a rainstorm

My lover is a thunderstorm
Grey ripples flickering
Tiny landscapes of stone
Upright, steadfast

And as I watch
My lover paints calligraphy
An illuminated landscape shrunken
waves of jointed, colourless bamboo
watery characters in
upright folds
with all the meaning of

The vacuum
Of the landscape words.

And I say Help me
I am outside, cold and wet

Drenched in chill fascination,
Rattling hollow spaces between drops
Distilling the dews of bronchial chambers.

Like the pine
I grasp the cliff

The morning sun
Drives my lover spectral
from my bed
fleeing colour
rising in

Waves breaking over the hills
Silver sky, silver water
Silver blues and greys
Silver greys, off-whites and almost black

as firm as the landscape it holds

And I say Help me, I am
bewildered, chilled
to the heart.

I know my lover from
Snatched glimpses through the grasses,

Snatched glimpses through the mist.

© Martin Porter 2008

My lover is a rainstorm is an exercise piece written on a wet Sunday afternoon. The poem is an extended metaphor and is based on a "picture" exercise.

The poem started by listing words describing a picture of a chinese landscape in rain. The colours are the most obvious remnants of this exercise, but the bamboo and the pine clinging to the cliff are also clearly a result of the exercise. The movement of the rain is based more on the weather at the time, which rolls down from the hills behind my home in waves. The extension of the poem to the morning is based on the mists that rise in the valley below our house in the morning. These are not uncommon in winter and spring mornings and have a wonderful atmosphere.

It would be an easy but unexciting exercise to continue to write a descriptive poem based on these observations. To spice things up, I decided to add the metaphor. The result was to produce a rather more interesting poem, that allowed the same observations to be put into a more creative context. It also makes the descriptions of being in a rainstorm a little more interesting - lets face it, "I got wet" is not the substance of gripping poetry as a rule.

This poem won second place in the "old hat" section of the recent competition for Northland writers for National Poetry Day and the Whangarei Winter Arts Festival.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Arthur driving his wife home from a shopping trip - contempory notes

The following notes were written as commentary for the Jersey Arts Trust.

"This poem is based on a photograph of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller driving home in Arthur’s convertible showing Marilyn looking back at the camera while Miller is driving away from the photographer. What particularly caught my eye was the contrast between Marilyn’s smiling face next to the back of Millers head. Coupling this with our knowledge of Marilyn’s future life produced this poem.

I wrote this poem after a long spell of writers block, during which I produced little work of reasonable quality. It has turned into the first of a sequence of poems, mostly inspired by other photographs, but also contemporary writing, of Marilyn."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Arthur driving his wife home from a shopping trip

Arthur driving his wife home from a shopping trip

The face is unmistakable. Headscarf,
lacy trimmings on the shoulder strap
may give away the era, but lets be clear

it is the cupids bow, the cheekbones,
spreading into a Y,
the straight ridge of the nose
arched darkly pencilled eyebrows,
spreading into a Y,
mascara’ed eyes balancing the open mouth
caught as if in osculation
and the only-slightly-visible
creases across the brow
that makes her unmistakable,

a lady, still young, yet not so young
enjoying a time of happiness in her life of strain
her blond hair held in place by that scarf
but with one lock neatly whipping out of place
as the windscreen rips the air to shreds
past sunshades on the sporty car
driven by her husband,

Bespectacled and tousle-haired
Fag in his mouth in a so-cool style,
Obviously the modern intellectual,
Driving his trophy car
Ten years too young for him,
Driving his trophy wife…

No that is too cruel.
They are happily in love. Roslyn
lies in the future,
with the arguments on set,
the make-believe
the fall-apart
the birthday songs
the dying…

© Martin Porter 2004

This is the earliest of a sequence of poems based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. "Arthur drives his wife home after a shopping trip" won the second prize in the Jersey Evening Post writers' competition in 2004, and has had public readings at the awards ceremony at St James Centre, Jersey and for National Poetry Day the Bach in Whangarei, New Zealand.

The poem is based on a photograph I saw on the cover of the Sunday Times colour supplement. I had suffered a period of writers block and I used the monochrome image of Arthur Miller driving Marilyn Monroe in New York as a tool for creating a poem.

The poem initially appears to be a straight-forward description of Marilyn Monroe as a passenger in the car, but by the third stanza it is becoming increasingly value-laden, with the fourth stanza taking an even more cynical look at Arthur. The fifth stanza pulls the two together again, and pulls back from the brink of open criticism or pity, with its suggestion that happiness may be due to ignorance of future events.

The first four stanzas of this poem had a short gestation period and developed more or less as they were written. The fifth stanza was written at the same time but was subjectes to considerably more polishing, with research revealing that all was not well on the set of "the Misfits". (Although written as a vehicle for Marilyn by Arthur, their divorce occured less than a year after the film was made.) Perhaps the implication that this was a step on the ultimate path to disaster is unjustified, but this is a piece of creative writing based on history, not a catalogue of historical events.

For me, the poem brings up several issues that were not always intended, but which I developed as they became clearer as the ideas were written down. The tensions between age, sex, types of fame, beauty and brain give the work an uneasy feel and an implicit violence, as does the deliberate choice of verbs in the third stanza. I have tried to give the poem an ominous atmosphere of happiness before a time of disintegration and seperation - the halcyon day before the storm at night.

Remember the poem was written almost as an exercise to tackle writers block. Photographs and other images offer useful reference points, but I find they need to engage with my imagination to create real inspiration. Here, two major characters linked and yet very different have given me the impetus I needed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

a dripping tap - photograph reference

"a dripping tap" refers to Marilyn in New York. This is, in part, a reference to a photograph that can be found here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

a dripping tap

a dripping tap

Marilyn in New York

necking to almost wasp waisted thinness,
‘till it releases the elegant gem, splitting sunlight
into a blaze of red green blue gone
and impacts with ear jarring sound, leaps up again,
beautiful, as a spreading crown and
ebbs away.

The continual noise has awoken her, so
Marilyn moves to the faucet where
another drop has begun to swell. She watches
as it slowly builds from tiny pimple to
full grown boil, sees her own reflection in
its full grown curvature, looks
as the imaged phantom tumbles
into the sink.

She knows Arthur will return home soon and
the steady fall will be no longer hers.
In the shining chrome she sees herself reach forward,
her own distorted hand now hides her body,
and she withdraws to stare again, sighs, looks up
to see if she is there, still in control, still in the centre, and
the drop emerges, elongated…

© Martin Porter 2005

"a dripping tap" won the Jersey Arts Trust Channel Island Writers' Competition 2005 and is published in the Channel Island Writers' Anthology 2005.

"a dripping tap" was inspired by my fascination with the marriage of Marilyn Monroe to Arthur Miller. It incorporates elements of an earlier poem based on the observations of raindrops striking the windscreen of a car.

In the Judge's report, Linda Rose Parkes wrote "Ambition doesn't show itself in the choice of the subject; very often it's in the common, the everyday, where an exciting strangeness is lurking when we look more closely. But where the subject is large - say in the evocation of the grand emotions and those contexts - then the voice of the poem is circumspect and careful not to turn the volume up so loud that it's difficult for the reader to find the silence to listen and feel within its framework. Martin Porter chose a pedestrian image, a dripping tap in a well documented life, in order to offer a glimpse of an interior landscape in its loneliness and isolation."

"a dripping tap" is a poem that developed over a long period but took only a short time to sketch out. Polishing to produce the final product took place over a few weeks and was helped by my participation in an innominate group of writers in one of their monthly meetings. The earlier poem "Driving Rain" was written six years before in 1999, and "a dripping tap" is one of a sequence of poems based around the notion of Marilyn Monroe (rather than the reality), that I started writing in 2004. The earliest of that sequence "Arthur drives his wife home after a shopping trip" won the second prize in the Jersey Evening Post writers' competition in 2004.

It has been commented that some of the imagery in the poem is closely observed. The first stanza reflects this close observation, but not as consciously as might be imagined. Much of the imagery here may be unusual to note for many, but coming from a background based in the physical sciences, the formation and necking of a liquid drop, the crown splash caused by a drop of liquid falling into a shallow resevoir and the refraction of light into its component colours by a droplet are all familiar experiences, as are the distorted images in the convex chrome reflector of the taps or faucet.

Other observations that have been made are based around the notions of beauty and sexuality. The growth of the drop from tiny pimple to boil and the distortions of the reflections are deliberately juxtaposed onto this notion of beauty, illustrated by the wasp waisted thinness of the neck of the drop. There are also hints of an artificial, or assumed, beauty in adornment-based phrases including the crown, the jewel-like colours reflected from the drop which I hope would be associated with the expense of diamonds, reinforced by the "elegant gem" and the slightly more extended artificiality of the "shining" surface layer of chrome. There are hints of the fragility, or deception, of this beauty in the way the word "beautiful" is ambiguously linked with the phrase "ebbs away" by the use of punctuation - yes, the comma is deliberate, the phrase "imaged phantom" and the way the image is hidden by a hand.

What of those grand emotions? Perhaps we are all ordinary and all extraordinary in our own way. I have tried to convey a sense of ennui and dissatisfaction with fame and celebrity in this work. A dripping tap seemed to be a perfect illustration of how boredom due to repeated action strikes even the rich and famous.

Interestingly, and unexpectedly, I have found that the poem has created some of its own mystery. Although mentioned only briefly, I failed to realise the significance of the role Arthur Miller would play in the creation of an oppressive atmosphere hinted at in the poem.

In her judges report, Linda spoke of a "fierce respect for language". In this poem, the language has worked hard with single words often performing several tasks, phraseology having to shape an atmosphere and give structure to a piece that seems to have lost its beginning and end in a continuous cycle and the punctuation providing a framework despite having to be deliberately sparse.

This is a poem I return to time and time again. I assume it is one of the better poems I have written, but I cannot know that with any certainty. It isn't deliberately complex, but it ends up exploring some difficult concepts, challenging my notions of satisfaction, happiness, relationship and celebrity.