by Gillian Clarke
Q Why did you write the poem?
A I asked primary school children to write a poem called ‘My Box’. They had to think of a container - the sea, an acorn, anything that contained something - and write 3 verses, the first beginning, ‘My box is made of...’, verse 2 beginning, ‘In my box...’. The final verse must describe what you do with your box. We all wrote together in the classroom.
Q What inspired you?
A An oak box my husband made for my birthday. I keep my journals in it. I’ve kept a diary since I was 14. In the box are my journals. In the journals is my life.
Q Why do you say you found heartsease? Were you thinking of love?
A Because we found that flower, though I’m aware of the resonance in the name.
Q The poem doesn’t rhyme.
A Yes it does! The poem rhymes all the way through. The rhyme was made like music, by listening, not by following rules. The rhyme is clearly heard, less easily seen. It does not always occur at line endings. Sometimes it is half rhyme. Sometimes it is internal rhyme. The snag about conventional rhyme is that it can be predictable, and create a dum-de-dum poetry. I’m trying for something more subtle. I use repetition, chiming, half rhyme, and a few end rhymes.
Verse 1: ‘oak’ half rhymes with ‘lock’, ‘me’ with ‘key’, linking with ‘he’ on the next line. ‘Nights’ chimes with ‘bright’ (line 4), and if you read the last 2 lines without stopping till you get to the comma, you hear ‘brass’ repeated, and pick up the main rhyming ‘e’ sound in the words ‘a golden tree.’ The rhymes slow the poem, the details set the scene.
Verse 2: This verse breaks away from traditional rhyme and it’s all one sentence. But in line 1, ‘box’ rhymes with ‘books’. Lines 2 and 3 are linked by ‘down’ and ‘how’, lines 3 and 4 by ‘planed’ with ‘planted’, and so on to the refrain, ‘and planted a golden tree’.
Verse 3: This verse end-rhymes throughout, using just 3 rhyme sounds: ‘box’, ‘lock’, and ‘box’ again; ‘read’, ‘dead’, and ‘made’; ‘me’ and ‘tree’. The whole poem is held together by the repeating final line.
Q What rhythm did you choose?
A Verse 1 goes 4,3,4,3,4,3,4,3. Verse 2 is again the odd one out, to be read like a headlong list, and it goes 4,3,4,4,4,4,4,3. Verse 3 is back to the pattern of 4,3,4,3,4,3,4,3.
Q Did you use the building of a wall to symbolise building a marriage, and digging a well to symbolise making a relationship deeper?
A No, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. A poet selects details and facts to tell the story. I made it sound like a nursery rhyme with phrases like the golden oak, the bright key, the 12 black books, etc. But these are all real, and the wall and the well are real. We restored a derelict, 200 year old longhouse, made a garden, and drilled a 54 foot deep well, or borehole, to find a water supply. However, there are layers of meaning in language, so the symbolism is for you to find.
The trick is to write about it knowing the fact and symbolism. Accept the facts the poet presents you with - a box, a partner, books, a tree, birds, flowers, walls, a garden, and a well. These things set the scene and tell the story. Then you add your own interpretation, proving your point by quoting from the poem.