Adrian Slatcher writes poetry, fiction and criticism, and lives in Manchester.
One of the most recent poems in my collection “Playing Solitaire for Money” is called “Late Love.” It’s the poem that you see if you check my profile on Salt’s website, or here on my own website. I can’t remember if that was my suggestion or theirs, but it’s also the poem that readers have most responded to, particularly when I read it live.
How do you promote a book of poetry? For it’s not about the writer, or about some subtext, political or emotional, rather it’s about the poems. When I wrote “Late love” in January 2010, I had no idea that it would be the poem I was talking about a few months later, but I thought it might be interesting to look at it a bit closer.
I seem to remember I wrote it on a bus journey into work, the handwriting would certainly hint at this, though it could as easily been at home on the sofa or in a coffee bar. The blue pen I started the poem with runs out half way through, and I change to black. Although there have been times when I’ve written poems directly to the computer, over the last couple of years I’ve deliberately tried to carry a notebook and pen with me at all times. It’s certainly helped my productivity.
I use black notebooks from Muji. They only cost a couple of pounds, the size is bigger than A5, which helps when you’re writing poetry, but have a soft cover so can be easily carried anywhere. For every poem like “Late Love”, there are pages of inconsequence. I’m glad I’ve started using a notebook, but also glad that I’ve not been seduced by the seriousness of, say, a Moleskine.
The poem itself was written quickly, and in a single go. The structure, and the argument were there immediately, and there’s only a couple of changes I made on the page itself, at the end of the second and third stanzas. The “post-production” was mostly just minor tweaks. The poem was called “Late Love I”, so I clearly was thinking it might be the first of a sequence. I’ve not yet written “Late Love II” though. There’s no date on the poem, which implies I wrote it quickly (the bus journey again), possibly after the poem on the opposite page, which wasn’t anywhere near as good.
For comparison, the published poem is here. The changes are minor, the punctuation is sorted (I’m not sure one ever punctuates properly in a first draft?), and the poem clearly came into life almost fully formed. The last lines of the 2nd and 3rd stanza were the main changes. The word “resurrection” on the manuscript appears to be more a reminder of what the line needs to say, rather than a possible word choice – but its an undoubted religious reference. The word “d’artagnan” appears at the top of the page (not in this scan) which may give some hint as to how I was wanting to frame this poem, within a certain tradition of historical chivalry. One of my favourite poems is Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and there’s something of the same feel about it.
Have I ever wandered in the flower garden,
Absent from self-obsession,
Or, when drawn to a particular bud
Smelt its brief fragrance and lost myself?
And why, when transient beauty
Fades at speed, do I still glow
With the warm lie of that time?
Is it because I am a special case
Hotbed raised and partial to the sun?
Or would it be truer if I said:
We are all blessed with these hopes
And only weep when the memories turn
Into emblems of our casual regret.
On standing before the wind, a stem will break.
And when the past days merge into future nights
And chance uploads its lucky card—
When driven snow piles up against the solid door
And a pale flame marks our sorrow …
The long tracks in the snow we left behind
Are traceable beyond the edge of the wood.
A kiss, on lips still warm, redeems us still.