Tony Mitchell completed his Teaching Certificate at Goldsmiths in 1957 and went on to teach in secondary schools and become a Senior Lecturer training teachers until 1987. He is now retired and lives between Bath and Bristol. Tony has recently self-published ‘Life’s Lines’ a poetry anthology of over 100 poems reflecting on his life in a wide variety of poetic forms. His guest post is a reflection of his writing journey.
My journey writing poetry: how ‘Life’s Lines’ came to be
Having just left school, I wrote my first poem in 1953, the consequence of a broken heart. I then composed a long poem about Night, which was largely preposterous nonsense. Off to Egypt in the army, a long poem inspired by the experience of sitting out a desert storm called Khamseen is crude but has a kind of wild energy, beginning to look something like a poem. Two years training as a teacher and the first 6 years of my teaching career produced nothing apart from a facile Shakespeare parody.
Then the poems began to emerge instinctively and intermittently, around the time my son was born in 1965 and, at last, they seemed real poems and began to give me a sense of achievement, a conviction that I could really write poetry. Ideas, word patterns and rhythms began to come to me, asking to be developed, though only for personal pleasure.
The seventies were relatively prolific; the eighties produced only one poem. A few good poems in the nineties kept my hand in but since the turn of the century I have written 79 of my 118 poems. Poetry writing had become an integral and important part of my life.
The number of poems I had written and my belief that a fair number of them are really good enough to merit it gave me the confidence to go for self-publication. I wanted to try to ensure that what I had written would not just be lost in a dusty attic, of interest only to my great grandchildren – and that not certain.
With my academic background I was well in touch with the literary heritage of poetry and its techniques, though the studies I had undertaken over the years did little obviously to inspire me to write.
Their influence is to be seen in some of my poems, such as Mid Morning Break and Dreams (Shakespeare), Eheu Fugaces (GM Hopkins), Times Winged Chariot (Eliot), On Visiting Milton’s Cottage (Milton), Ode to Autumn (Keats), Strange Season, Toys (Old English poetry), and the Liverpool poets (The Old Queen).
Unlike these almost subliminal influences, most of the notes attached to some poems were added later, as I discovered links and cross-references (e.g. Toys) from my wider reading and study.
I have always had a facility with words and get huge satisfaction from creating word structures which reflect my thoughts, moods and feelings. I derive a real sense of having built and shaped an artefact, when I feel a poem has successfully achieved what I want it to. I also hope that it will give pleasure and/or engage the intellect and imagination of a reader, challenging in an attractive garb of language.
I do not enjoy writing poems to order, as many poetry groups demand, though must admit that one or two of my better poems have come from such a situation (Borges). I much prefer to wait on inspiration, in the form of an idea, something that moved me, or even a line or two.
Isandhwlana started from ‘Across the sunburned uplands the Zulu impis came’. I never cease to be amazed at how lines, words, rhymes and rhythms just seem to emerge, so often, out of nowhere. Whether this works for everybody I do not know; just keep trying to see if anything works for you.
I have tried to express myself in a variety of poetic ways, from rigid fixed forms, modes and rhythm to the most informal modern styles and subjects (though no hip-hop yet!). I have always aspired towards a version of Wordsworth’s ‘real language of men’, sharing experiences, not creating puzzles. Above all, I recognise the central role of comparison and correspondence in poetry. Indeed, did someone not say that all language is metaphor? Perhaps perversely, that’s why I wrote my Stone’ poem.
Above all, I believe poetry works best when spoken or read aloud, highlighting the music of rhythms, words and letters, intended (and sometimes unintended) interpretations of the imagery, allusions and ambiguities, as part of a creation of sound and meaning to stir the mind and emotions.
A poem from Tony Mitchell’s anthology ‘Life’s Lines’:
Ode to Autumn
Season of mists and hollow promises
As politicians meet in managed conferences
Hoping to persuade us they’re the ones
While football starts again
Before the cricket season ends.
Season of dying, clocks turned back,
Summer’s softness turning brittle,
As ancient worries cloud our dreams
For lack of food or fuel for fires,
A loss of light as darkness grows.
The leaves have lost their freshness, tired;
A chill wind blows and strips the trees,
Dancing eddies of dead leaves
Decked in funereal colours.
The air is drained of warmth and winter’s breath
Foretells of cold to come.
Fruit rots on trees, unpicked,
Or squashes under careless feet;
When roaring combines attack the fields,
Fertilised for pesticidal plenty.
Exhaust fumes dim the fading sun,
Exhausted workers factory farm
To get the harvest in
And summer’s clothes are packed away.
Scorched grass thirsts for winter’s rain;
The lowering sun’s light fades
Though not yet drained of summer’s colour
Like Caligari’s Cabinet.,
And sad-faced students saunter back to school
Bereft at summer’s end, aware that warm days cool.
You can order Tony Mitchell’s poetry anthology ‘Life’s Lines’ on Amazon