I was but recently in Alicante, scrambling up an unfeasibly dusty, thorny, stony hot hill to the foot of a cliff where, we were assured, we would find fragments of pottery, the 2000 year old detritus of an original Iberian settlement. And so we did. Lots and lots of broken pots. The view was amazing, too…….hundreds of miles of Roman and Moorish terracing contouring each and every hill, off into the distance.
Imagery, history, narrative, sculpture….and poetry. Ah….poetry and broken pots. That brings us to the troubled world of apochryphal quotations. No one actually said ‘Come up and see me some time’. No one ever said, in a film, ‘Play it again, Sam’. But because everyone thinks that someone said it, then it’s as though someone actually did. History is what people believe…nothing to be done about it, any more than you could eliminate the belief, in parts of Wales, that Churchill ordered English troops to open fire on the striking miners of Tonypandy.
And so, it will always be true (though factually incorrect) that Peter Sansom, one half of the beating heart of the wonder that is The Poetry Business, categorically states (in a book that most people who ‘quote’ from it have never read), that no self-respecting poet should ever, ever, ever use the word ‘shard’ in any kind of poem ever. I suspect that he is occasionally embarassed, if not actually irked, by this. Anyway, standing, hot, awkward, sweating and bleeding, on a pile of broken Iberian earthenware it struck me that this should be confronted. How, I wondered, might it have appeared in a florid piece of Romantic rhetoric. As it turns out, such a thing actually exists. The original is difficult to read from a photograph. This is a transcript.
From Mare Nostrum’s Anatolian shore,
Ten leagues distant, ‘midst arid, jagged
Mountains, eagle-haunted airie heights,
There stands a tow’ring cliffof golden stone.
If to its rocky foot, with faltering steps,
The dauntless traveller would ascend
By goat path tortuous, through brittle Thorn,
And bitter Dust, as ’twere of Dead Sea Fruit,
Then bloodied, dwarfed beneathe that Precipice dire,
Under his feet appear, among the Root
Of Juniper and Ericacae dessicate,
Fragments of the ancient Potter’s art….
Broken amphorae, rough bowls and goblets
That, for two Millenia, lay spurned
By hoof of goat, scorched by Tropic suns,
Blown at every Winde’s caprice, unheeded
Even as great Empires rose in Pride, then fell.
O! Shattered Reliques of an ancient Race!
And say, how should the Traveller, besmeared
With toil, and foul with cloying dust and blood,
Apostrophize a single piece of all this multitude?
Two thousand years it’s lain in dust
on a thorny hill, this broken pot,
waiting patiently for the mot juste
from all the lexicon of crock that poets have got…………………
not fragment, splinter, scrap or shiver,
remnant or chunk or flake or sliver.
Dismiss false prohibitions laid upon the bard.
Some times only one word will do the trick
So, take up your pen, and write it: SHARD
So there you are. No such thing as never in poetry. Thank you for everything you taught us all, Peter Sansom, recognising false nostrums being among the foremost.
Next week will be about the horrors of the empty page. Make sure you sharpen your pencils. Oh, and go out now to buy Peter Sansom: Selected Poems [Carcanet]…..available in kindle and paperback. Buy both.