Poet Rhian Edwards discusses using the seemingly mundane ‘everyday’ aspects of life and relationships to create poems that resonate on a deeper level.
It was never my intention to write about the ‘everyday’, but I’ve always tried to write ‘what I know’. And sadly I’m the only subject where I wield any authority. I think this may be symptomatic of imposter syndrome. That way I can’t be accused of being disingenuous or inauthentic. That’s the criticism I’m most fearful of. It also means I have more chance of instilling genuine feeling into my poems if I’m writing about the people, places and objects I honestly care about, rather than trying to be clever and trying to write outside my comfort zone.
I don’t have a wild abstract imagination that can splatter jazz on the page. I don’t have a grasp of academic esoterica. I’m not an adventurous, intrepid traveller and I don’t have political commentary coursing through my veins. But I am a keen observer of what makes people tick, their foibles, their idiosyncrasies, their filthy habits, the way they laugh or smile, what they do with their hands, how they choose to wear their hair, their idiolect.
Character portraits are the easiest for me because they’re just glorified gossip. You automatically edit out the mundane information and hone in on the quirks of the person or situation. Memorable details stick and they stick for a reason, even if it’s just the way someone turns the pages of a magazine or wags their foot when dozing. There’s gravitas in the nuance.
It’s the imagery of the minutiae of everyday life that makes poetry come alive for me. All I have to do is imagine the beaded curtain in my grandparents’ kitchen doorway, and the squeaking of leather as my grandfather rubbed his shoes together; I’m immediately transported to their house in Princes Avenue in Caerphilly. Poetic imagery can be time travel for me, better than a crappy VHS home video. The more concrete and visceral the image, the more evocative it is.
Think of the simple things that can cause a hairline crack in your emotional armour: a toy from your childhood, the smell of your mother’s perfume as you step into a room, stumbling over your daughter’s medical bracelet, the necklace you wore to your dead friend’s wedding, the swimming badges that were never sewn to my costume. I even wrote a list poem that itemises it all in This is the drawer:
“…where orphan buttons are born.// Where the relics // of our cotton marriage are interred.”
It’s always the most trivial of trinkets that can conjure the greatest sentiment.
The truth of the matter is I’m a single working mother who lives in a small market town in South Wales. My life is confined to a square mile of Bridgend Town. Even before lockdown, I rarely ventured more than a mile from my house, as my daughter’s school, my office job, the fields, the play area and even the shops are all within a 10-minute walk of my home.
Also, by virtue of growing up and working in an estate agency, I’ve always had this invaluable insight into how people live, the privilege of being a spy in the private world of other people’s homes. After all, our homes are the most personal museum we ever get to curate. Even as a teenager, my father would take me on repossessions. The bailiff would knock on the door, the locksmith would immediately change the locks and we would do an inventory of everything left behind. Some would butcher the house, take the light fittings, even gouge out the kitchen. In other cases, families would do a moonlight flit, leaving clothes, toys, music, food, cramming only the essentials into the car. That was always heart-breaking.
Due to the commitments that anchor me to this town, I’ve fledged more and more into a kitchen sink poet. It’s bread and butter soap opera stuff, the colourful vernacular I overhear – fake nails, microbladed eyebrows, torn banjo strings, court hearings with ex-husbands, domestic violence, the bad habits of lovers you simply can’t live with.
But even my modest life can be an exemplar, a diorama of the grander-scale issues. Where there are relationships, there is conflict. And where there is conflict, there is always politics. We are constantly negotiating the shifting sands of our family, friends, partners and work colleagues. Relationships are always relevant, resonant and timeless.
Rhian Edwards is a multi-award winning poet. Her debut Clueless Dogs (Seren Books, 2012) won Wales Book of the Year 2013 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012. She has won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, and has delivered over 400 stage, radio and festival performances worldwide. She lives in Bridgend with her daughter Megan.