Writers Making Space

Lawrence Bradby

Have you ever stayed in a house where written instructions are attached to every tap and switch and key and kitchen drawer?


                HOT WATER BOOSTER (turn off after)

                    PLASTIC BAGS ONLY

You’re cat-sitting, or popping in daily to water the plants, or in fact your friend is only out for the evening but they can’t imagine how you, or any other visitor, will cope without advice at every point. 

The lyric poem is a dwelling place. It is made so that the reader’s memories and emotions can enter, move round, settle in. This poem-dwelling is rich with details that are personal and warm, like a chair from which someone has just stood up. The poet placed these details to bear the weight of what the reader brings. The poet does not label every detail or remind the reader what they’re for. The poet has already stepped back, allowing the poem to begin, to come to life. Author Michael Schmidt calls this ‘the withdrawal of the self’, leaving space for the reader to ‘fill out and create’.

Promoting the poet as the definitive reader of their own work can stop the poem from letting in its readers. When The Poetry Archive, for example, offers free access to ‘recordings of significant poets reading their work aloud’ there is a price. The price we pay, as readers, is that the poet doesn’t step away, doesn’t find the line between themselves and their poem, doesn’t run their knife along that line. 

Writing my piece, I thought about how a poem is like a new word: no matter who created it, it belongs more to the field of language than to the particularities of the author’s life

Since October 2020, Lawrence Bradby has lived in Portugal. He writes a blog about the challenges and surprises of finding a way to belong.