Creative process in poetry: Story-telling and imagery

In any creative communicative effort, but particularly in the writing of poetry, the best writing tells a story in a non-obscure way with images we can readily understand and picture in our mind; such poetry can resonate powerfully with the reader.

In the poem The Collier (coal mine worker) Vernon Watkins tells the story of a miner from his birth to his eventual death in a mine collapse. The poem has 11 stanzas of which we will examine a few.

The language of the poem is simple and direct, concrete and factual rather than emotive; the cadence of the lines is uncomplicated and the stanzas have an unobtrusive rhyme scheme, both combining to give a strong forward rhythm to the poem.

The first stanza describes the miner’s birth:

When I was born on Amman Hill
A dark bird crossed the sun.
Sharp on the floor the shadow fell;
I was the youngest son.

Several stanzas later the miner’s childhood is conveyed:

I learnt the valley flowers’ names
And the rough bark knew my knees.
I brought home trout from the river
And spotted eggs from the trees.

Then later, his describes being in one of the mine shafts:

Soon as I went from the County School
I worked in a shaft. Said Jim,
‘You will get your chain of gold, my lad,
But not for a likely time.’

The next stanzas describe the mine collapse, the darkness, and the realization that rescue will not be possible. Concluding the poem is the following, which hearkens back to the comment of Jim:

They changed words there in the darkness
And still through my head they run,
And white on my limbs is the linen sheet
And gold on my neck the sun.(1)

The power of this poem comes from its economy of words, the clarity and simplicity of its language, and its ability to convey a complex story in a highly compressed format.

(1) Quotations are from Vernon Watkins Selected Poems 1930-1960, published by Faber and Faber Limited, 1967.

Note: There is a nice reading of the entire poem given by the poet Dylan Thomas on YouTube. in the search bar type: Dylan Thomas The Collier Vernon Watkins.

Dennis Mellersh

 

 

 

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