A Note About Hot Strawberries by Ron Graves
My parents told me that after my first day at infants school I returned home and called them to gather in the front room, where I climbed onto a small, raffia-topped stool, spread my arms in what I probably imagined was the dramatic fashion of an actor, and sang:
‘I saw a bird in the top of a tree,
This is the song he was singing to me,
God loves us all in a wonderful way,
Be happy, be happy today.’
I told them this was poetry I’d learned at school and that I would be presenting them with more of it.
Children are natural artists. Their distracted, creative play reveals an apparently innate need to express themselves and in doing so transform the reality around them. Donald Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst who had a bit to say about cultural experience, wrote that, ‘The child creates the world it finds.’ I think this beautifully eloquent statement reveals that the interplay between material reality and the creative human mind is at the heart of things. We may not exist in order to create, but by being creative we exist.
Every form of art has the capacity to change the consciousness of both the artist and the audience. If you stroll into a pub where a band is playing and you find your foot tapping, a change has begun to take place. Try not tapping that foot. Most people with any rhythm discover that the tapping sneaks back in, quite against their own intention, because something is going on at a neurological and emotional level. In this instance, it probably doesn’t amount to much of a change, but music, poetry, painting and drama have all brought about changes in the consciousness of individuals and even societies.
At the first performance of Stravinski’s The Rights Of Spring, one man was so transported that he beat out the rhythm of the piece on the head off the man sitting in front of him. Other beatings were less benign, when different factions of the audience began fighting even as the performance continued. When Millet’s The Gleaners was exhibited, some ‘art-lovers’ staged protests appalled that he had abandoned classical subjects like nymphs and goddesses in favour of a picture of women engaged in the back-breaking work of stone picking in a field. This was too much, too radical, too dangerous. It’s acknowledgement of the real struggles of real women had revolutionary implications.
Plato was so concerned about the disruptive effects of art – especially poetry – that he proposed all poets should be executed. Amongst their many other crimes, totalitarian dictators always attack and try to control two things: sex and poetry. It seems important, then, that we keep fucking and writing poems.
It is possible to write poetry by sitting down with pen and paper – or at a computer, if you prefer – and working at it. Scour your mind for bits of memory, slivers of information, a curious turn of phrase, or an odd emotional response that you never really understood, and you may weave together poems of grace and beauty that touch the reader and alleviate your own suffering by expelling it into the world of shared experience. Sometimes, though, poetry comes unbidden and you wake up from fitful sleep with irritation that moves around your psyche like an untraceable itch until – at last – it forms into words and you get some relief.
Most of what I offer as poetry falls into the second category.
That isn’t to say I don’t work at it, but most of my conscious work is done in revising the first raw form of a piece. There was a time when, too busy with other distractions, I never did that and the result was almost nothing worth thinking about. Now, I love the process of revision and sometimes – just sometimes – end up with something I tell myself was worth the effort.
This current book of poems, Hot Strawberries, is a fairly eclectic selection and no attempt has been made to fit a theme. On the other hand, the idea that both joy and misery are inevitable in a person’s life permeates things.
The poems come from my reaction to things I’ve experienced, heard about from others, or observed at a distance. They can be either intensely personal or simply an observation, a bit like a snapshot, that I offer for the reader’s response.
I never like to explain poems, because the creative process doesn’t end when I finish a piece. I may be done with the poem – although it may not be done with me – but I’m giving it to the reader or listener and hoping they will continue the creative process. If other minds are willing to engage, it becomes a collective rather than entirely individual effort. And anyway explaining a poem is like explaining a joke: by the time you get it, you’ll have lost it.
The title of the book, Hot Strawberries, comes from the last words of my paternal grandfather and I think the autobiographical poem bearing that title explains itself.