rain on window sills
plates engraved red hearts
TV in the bedroom
cuneiform spirals on post-it notes
ex-lovers no longer missed
soaked shoes & broken footpaths
cars accompany my strides
threats of further squalls
neighbourhoods with endless balconies
days that recur
notes on refrigerator doors
church bells & thunder
Form and content came together as this piece was taking shape prior to its being written. ‘advent’ started out in a friend’s kitchen in Bologna as I was listening to sounds coming from other apartment kitchens, mid-morning, plates with red hearts evoked from the kitchens of earlier trips. I would soon be walking through rain, cars driving past as I tried to keep my shoes as dry as possible by avoiding puddles. In these moments of heightened awareness of ‘self’ and familiar settings, new images were conjured that filled the second stanza: hints of once-shared intimacy and objects that could accompany such encounters juxtaposed to the setting where I’d just been; the creativity of doodles on yellow slips of paper and presence of an inanimate TV set that became a part of my solitude, which connects with the title of the poem in what saw the bringing together of imagined and real events.
The search for a title took longer than it took to write the poem because ultimately I had to become more aware of what I was saying, between the lines, in the piece. Initially, the time of day was considered, because this felt like an early morning poem, but in my striving for another level of meaning the title eventually came to me.
Dictionary definitions for ‘advent’ proved valuable:
The fact of an event happening … or a person arriving
A coming into place, view or being; arrival
At first, the title was ‘Advent’ (upper case ‘A’), but the Christian significance would push the meaning of the work in a direction beyond where I was trying to go, even though ‘Advent’ indicates ‘preparation’ and ‘expectant waiting’ – for the Nativity or Second Coming. The images in the final line of ‘advent’ have their own apocalyptical connotations, though the poem’s intention is to end positively (that of moving beyond past relationships, with a dramatic depiction of the elements in the background) through the lower casing of the initial letter of the title, which brings the dictionary definitions into sharper focus: ‘coming into place’; ‘arrival’. Both lay and religious definitions of ‘advent’ connote transformation.
‘advent’ is written in free verse, comprising five three-lined stanzas with gaps between words that act as pauses and help with the rhythm. The poem contains only 56 words, each image attempting to portray states of mind and the physical environment, creating an inverse relationship between the number of words and hoped-for layers of meaning and atmosphere. I often write with a camera by my side. However, this time the view finder and camera lens had been put away, so that I could focus on the whiteness of the page, even though I write on grid paper, the standard Italian exercise book format. This writing by hand, with pencil, accompanies the translation of thought into handwritten images (in particular, a feeling of kinship with the second line of the second stanza and penultimate line of the final stanza, which relate to writing).
The first line begins with rain and its physical presence, and the poem ends with thunder. Should the order of images in the last line be flipped, then the order of impressions at the end would better correspond with the poem’s opening images: first and last images, ‘advent’ and ‘church bells’; second and penultimate images, ‘rain’ and ‘thunder’. Instead, I’ve gone for sound and rhythm.
So much poetry is written to recapture a sudden flash (or flashes) from the past that resonates with a lightbulb moment in the present. I’m happy to be moved this way, and I am awed by the way other poets can do this with few words: Li-Young Lee in ‘One Heart’ – ‘Look at the birds. Even flying/is born/out of nothing …’; Emily Dickinson in ‘1700’ – ‘… My will endeavours for its word/and fails, but entertains …’
Should ‘advent’ entertain, and readers complete the circuit, then those first intimations of a poem I’d had from a few sounds coming from other apartments while in Italy will live on.