Sometimes poetry mutters, sometimes it sings, oftentimes it catches our eye and looks. There’s a line from a poem of Ruth Padel’s collection, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth (Chatto, 2014), which manages all three. It runs: ‘I am looking too hard, or this scene is looking too hard/ at me.’ You need only read the commentary below to realise that here we overhear the poet muttering to herself, pen and notebook in hand. Yet we also hear a clue to the song that Padel plays on the oud. The oud is both the instrument, and perhaps a Middle Eastern homonym of the ode (from the Greek αοίδη [aoide], ‘a song’). The oud is a solemn song, sung by a chorus of CNN, Youtube and eBay, refugee camps and tanks. Last week, Jo McDonagh and Rowan Boyson asked ‘How might the humanities contribute to an understanding of the current refugee ‘crisis’?’ Padel’s poetry is alive to this question. The poems of this collection catch our eye with it, and let it look at us hard.

Below, the illuminating drafts of ‘Capoeira Boy’ show us the process that a poet goes through to allow poems such powers. At times, this is a nerve-wracking read.  Words and phrases that you cherish (‘thistle-light acrobalance’) surface, and teeter on non-existence. Other times, this process is utterly relieving. You breathe with Padel when the poem breaks out of its 10-line stanzas. Throughout, this is a process that shows a poet finding a balance of sight and insight. Or a poise of question and statement, through which the poem sings....

Continue reading Ruth Padel 'On Writing and Revising a Poem' here. 


Originally published on the King's English Blog.