Two days ago, I wrote that I was developing all promising “A Rhebok!” verse variations in spite of having selected (albeit unofficially) the set I wish to refine for the final draft. Now, in the midst of that process, I reap its benefits as I stumble upon ideas I might otherwise not have encountered. Something as simple as finding a new word with which to describe the flight of the animal has had a rippling effect, significantly improving the quality of my preferred variations. This is what I mean by “time well wasted” in art.
The South African spring is all but here and has announced its arrival with swathes of yellow in the fields and sapphire flashes in the garden.
I am almost wholly certain of the verse variations I shall choose for the final “A Rhebok!” draft, yet I am compelled by curiosity—and the sheer pleasure and satisfaction of the occupation—to consider (by way of developing into complete stanzas) all other variations with potential.
I am now in that phase of composition where I have developed many variations of the two “A Rhebok!” verses, and have started weeding out the least compelling versions of the lines. It is a task requiring patience (as one carefully picks through what one has written), courage (as one identifies what is inferior) and discernment (as one selects what is promising). It can also be daunting—what if, for example, one rejects a variation one later discovers was good? This is all part of the beautiful uncertainty that is the artistic process and the painful joy of time well wasted.
If ever a poem was inevitable, it is this one; I just composed “A Clapper Lark”, inspired by the bird.
In the morning, as one walks along the country lanes, now and then on the fences, Cape Clapper Lark males (Mirafra apiata apiata) make an entertaining display. Flapping their wings, they fly straight up into the air from the posts—which produces a fast “pup-pup-pup-pup” clapping sound (about 25 to 28 claps per second) that increases in speed—uttering a mid-air “Phwoooeeeeeet!” before descending. This is done to attract a mate, and one cannot help but stop and take pleasure in it; indeed, one is oneself tempted to clap for sheer enjoyment!
I just saw the first swallow of spring! A little later than last year, but I am overjoyed!
Once I have written an initial poetic sketch, I find it useful to reduce each stanza to a straightforward line. This provides a concrete reference point for the content of the verses and keeps the theme of the poem in focus. When “A Rhebok!” is considered in this way, the two stanzas bluntly abstract to: I saw an antelope—and it ran away!
The essence of a poem is its theme (what it is expressing) and style (how it is expressed). In a successful work, these are integrated to form a coherent whole (in a masterpiece, they are transcendent). Usually, I find the theme determines the style.
In the “A Rhebok!” sketch, for example, the theme—wonder (mine at the sight of a wild animal) and panic (the creature’s at the sight of a person)—necessitates an animated style: simple words and short lines that evoke (its) alarm and (my) delight.