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Imposing of a Pattern on Experience / 30 November 2014

Allan's version of Tattoo created in Word

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‘Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.’  Alfred North Whitehead

One of John’s more surprising suggestions was that  ‘Tattoo’, a poem from ‘Paddy: A Life’  could be turned into a pattern poem.

I’ve know George Herbert’s work since I studied the Metaphysical poets for O Level, so I am familiar with pieces such as ‘Easter wings’ and ‘The Altar’.

As a child of the sixties, I was familiar with concrete poetry and the work of such figures as Ian Hamilton Finlay and Dom Sylvester Houedard

 So I knew a bit about this stuff. John’s suggestion didn’t leave me completely baffled as to what he was on about.

John also mentioned Dylan Thomas’s pattern poems, such as  ‘Vision and Prayer’ which I hadn’t come across before.

John’s initial sketch, scrawled on the corner of my manuscript, was an hourglass shape, like some of Dylan Thomas’s poems. In view of the subject matter - a tattoo based on naval signal flags - I felt a diamond would be more appropriate.  With a bit of work, I produced the version included here (please click on the image to view).

When I showed it to Colin Hambrook, I suggested hopefully that its erratic edges looked quite like a flag waving in the wind. He disabused me rapidly, saying that if was going to do this, it needed to be done well and that the pattern must be clearly defined.  

We then looked for help to Trish Wheatley, DAO Director, who used Adobe Indesign to turn it into a sharp diamond shape. It looked great at first sight, but I wasn’t happy with it. It lost too much of the emphasis that comes from well-chosen line breaks and stanzas, particularly as I wasn’t in control of the graphics and so couldn’t make experimental changes.

What is memorable when a writer like Herbert or Thomas tailors their words to create a shape which echoes the meaning becomes less impressive when it’s just a bit of text stuck through a graphics package. One loses too much of what turns the original words into transcription poetry, and gains too little in return.

So, reluctantly, my decision is that pattern poems are unlikely to be a productive direction to take in making transcription poetry. My most recent version of ‘Diagnosis’ follows another suggestion of John’s, that the first sentence (‘By the time I got to 60 I’d also got the terminal cancer news’) should be a single standalone line. (It took almost two in the original, and four in my pattern version.)  The rest is now in quatrains.      

Nevertheless, the journey has been an interesting one, and I’ve added one more element to my poetic toolbox. So I’ll be thinking about ways I could create a pattern poem from scratch.

A poem shaped like a wheelchair perhaps? Or a crutch? A poem where the words flail across the page like one of my epileptic fits?

Watch this space!

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