Yes, I know, that title is too alliterative by half, but then I’m a simple-hearted soul. I came relatively late to driving, passing my test in my late twenties and I’ve been playing catch up ever since. Something that makes my driving liver quiver is parking and, in particular, parking in tight places or even worse, parking in tight places with people watching. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that heady mix of excitement and disappointment at finding a free parking space and then realising it’s only half the width of your car because the rest of the space is taken up with a wheelie bin.
Parking, the very mention of the word makes me feel slightly nauseous. When faced with momentary anxiety, however, I have a simple solution: I relate it to poetry and then the mist miraculously begins to clear. Bear with me and I hope you’ll see what I mean.
When invited anywhere new, my immediate worry is “Will there be anywhere to park?” (as in the middle of a field, on my own, for example) or will I be able to get there using public transport? I have been known sometimes just to drive over to have a look at the parking scenario before I set off for The Big Adventure. It’s the same with poetry. It’s called planning. Some of us might read poems in the same form or on a related subject just to frame our thinking a little, so that we can park our poetry in the same area. Some would rather see where the journey takes them. Public transport is always a grand way to see the countryside and, where I live anyway, there’s always the distinct possibility that the bus will break down which heralds another adventure all of its own. In the same way, letting our words weave their unfettered way can have its advantages in our pursuit of poetry.
Parking as Performance
There are those among us who are adept at the “one-handed, heel of the palm, turning of the steering wheel” technique. I, as you will have gathered, could never dream to aspire to such dizzy heights but I am more than happy to bask in the reflected glory of those who can, as they park in a nanospace with ease, shrug off the seat belt and leap from the car, locking it in a single, fluid movement, calling over their shoulder “Coffee anyone?” while I scurry behind, scrabbling for loose change for the parking meter. Having said that, there is hope for us lesser mortals. Have you ever tried talking to yourself as you park, “One, two, three, turn the wheel, check the mirror, reverse, turn again, OK, sorted”, that kind of idea? It’s the same with poetry. You may not wish to perform your poetry to a room full of people but why not to yourself? Just read out the words and see how they sound. Feel those syllables sashay across your tongue – good, isn’t it?
Sometimes, I must admit, my car hasn’t been so much parked as abandoned. I’ve seen others who, as an extension of “Parking as Performance”, have questioned the validity of the kerb and hoiked two wheels onto the pavement, leaving the other two pertly placed on the road. I tried this once, not realising that it would be too much for my low-slung Mini which screeched in complaint as its undercarriage scraped along the pavement. The noise still haunts my nightmares. That experience notwithstanding, interstitial parking and the defining of fresh areas are delicious in the same way that prose poetry is an intriguing art form. What pavement? I see only a parking playground. Let’s play on the slide.
Of course, in order to redefine space and form, an understanding of existing patterns is useful. So, if we know the distinction between a double yellow line, a white P on blue background, Permit Holders Only and a “I’ll be two ticks, I promise” loading bay, we might then escape the dreaded parking ticket or even worse the sight of the traffic warden putting said parking ticket underneath the windscreen wiper while you’re on the other side of the road with two bags of shopping and the heel of your left shoe stuck in a drain cover.
Unless of course we want to embrace that feeling of wretchedness for whatever reason.
It’s the same with poetry: if we understand rules and patterns, we then know how and when to break them and why.
Why we park – well, how long have we got? Sometimes it’s just to get things done – an essential part of the school dash, supermarket dash, hospital dash, everywhere dash – or maybe it’s the slow pulse of contentment as you park to take in the view. If you’re looking to experience the latter, my advice would be to head for Labrador Bay Car Park , near Shaldon, Devon, just in front of the RSPB Nature Reserve – go and find yourself a peregrine. The ice cream van parked there also sells ice cream for dogs – ah, such stuff as dreams are made of.
And yes, it’s the same with poetry. There’s the last minute scribble and dash just before you head off for your writing group , the head in a spin outpouring of inspiration (oh I wish) or the gentle, slow meanderings amongst words and phrases that take you nowhere and everywhere – each has their place because, through each, we develop our voice within our poetry.
Or should that be voices? My parking voice is usually a few notes higher than normal and involves a fair smattering on nonverbal communication. Unless of course I have company and then the voice becomes deeper, more resonant, conversational and, if I’m honest, totally fake. We all have our array of poetry voices: some searingly honest, some light and playful, some angry, others mournful; all like parts of a poetry patchwork quilt. A little too much alliteration there? Yes, I thought so too but I couldn’t quite stop myself.
Parking can be a lonely experience at times, particularly when you feel the need for someone to reassure you that you’ve got “loads of space at the back there, keep going, keep going and stop: perfect!” or who has enough small change to buy a ticket. With poetry too, we have our pals to share our ideas with, to guide sometimes and to give us confidence – and then of course, we have our published pals, the ones we read so regularly they become old friends.
As I park the car at the quayside, I see Simon Armitage, dapper in his corduroy, striding along the foreshore. He’s looking determined, clearly a little critical of my means of transport. He’s just told me to leave the car and is walking away along the South West Coastal Path. “I’m on the Laureate’s Library Tour, lass”, because he’s never averse to some light alliteration, himself. “And I’m off to set up a Poetry HQ,” he says, leading the way.
“Where’s that?” I ask, although I know already; I just want to hear him say it.
“Leeds, lass. It’s in Leeds.”
And then I hear Alice Oswald, inviting me to join her on a boat trip down the Dart. Luckily, I have a flask and sandwiches prepared, should we be in need of refreshments. In fact, I always have flasks and sandwiches prepared just in case a poet should be passing. But then she is called away. She moors the boat with effortless ease and calls it river parking; but she cannot stay. She is heading for the “flooded fields by the Severn” because “the river’s coming down rushed and troubled as if it’s hiding something” and we both pause for a moment to think what those words really mean for the local inhabitants.
I wave her on her way and as I turn, who should be there but Dominic Fisher who invites me to watch for foxes who “with their kits play on and on” and “know all the languages of dead and living.” Sitting at the entrance of the cemetery, we eat our sandwiches which somehow now taste of salt water although Dominic is too much of a gentleman to mention this.
As the silhouette of the Traffic Warden looms large and the Parking Meter says it’s time to go, I think of another link in the way poetic metre measures out our time and our language. But no, that’s not quite right because whereas the parking meter informs us when our time is up and both signs and wardens tell us that we can’t park there, poetry takes us anywhere and everywhere. We may decide to measure out our rhymes in perfect iambic pentameters but, in the end, that’s our choice among the legion of other choices we make as poets and writers. Parking is expensive and finite; poetry is free and of infinite possibilities.
Thank you for reading.
For the eagle-eyed among you, yes, I did allude to the following:
Simon Armitage: Walking Away
Simon Armitage: Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid
The proposed National Poetry Centre in Leeds:
Alice Oswald: Dart
Alice Oswald: A Sleepwalk on the Severn
Dominic Fisher: The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead
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