What is the language Using Us For? #6

When I started learning my ‘abridged’ version of WITLUUF, one of Mr Porter‘s comments stuck with me through all of last week:

I’d be really interested to hear about the parts of the poem that you are not sold on, too.

I read here a very useful query. If you’re decimating a poem, like a chicken, into parts you “favour” (a drumstick) and those you don’t (wings), shouldn’t you think as much about why not wings, as much as why drumsticks? Perhaps more so.

Dwelling, if you’re honest with yourself, your prejudices get revealed. In the case of WITLUUF, I think I wanted to stay away from all the Malcolm Mooney-isming (even the name slightly annoys me: a character in a children’s book). Similarly, all the sailing and walking about in the poem and ambling around Greenock like a Scottish Leopold Bloom, engaging in scraps of craic with all and sundry.

I met a man in Cartsburn Street
Thrown out of The Cartsburn Vaults.
He shouted Willie and I crossed the street

And met him at the mouth of the close.
And this was double-breasted Sam,
A far relation on my mother’s

West-Irish side. Hello Sam how
Was it you knew me and says he
I heard your voice on The Sweet Brown Knowe.

O was I now I said and Sam said
Maggie would have liked to see you.
I’ll see you again I said and said

Sam I’ll not keep you and turned
Away over the short cut across
The midnight railway sidings.

I didn’t want to spend days learning this flotsam and jetsam by heart so that it might swill around in my head until death or dementia do us part.

I just wanted the philosophical-emotional backbone of the poem, its language-ruffled quintessence, and none of its peopled debris.

It took me a week to realise that the language-ruffled quintessence cannot, should not be separated from all the domestic detritus Graham scrapes it away from.

Without all the “hello Sams” and “Sam, I’ll not keep you” and “O was I now”, the poem and possibly my learning of it, is just a piece of dismembered fowl, not really a live, squawking chicken.

Thank you Mr Porter for leading me to this realisation.

So I think I’m going to spend another week with this poem, the whole poem. Which means I’m already ‘behind’ on my poem-a-week goal (you see how pressure mounts{{1}}, even self-imposed pressure?).

[[1]]Or rather: you see how we mount the pressure on ourselves?[[1]]

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