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Keel & Drift — Introduction

About the poems

There is a Chilean saying that under every stone there’s a poet. I like this Chilean idea about poets and poetry very much. Perhaps there’s another saying, that under every stone there’s someone who might be persuaded to like a poem or two!

I think about writing poetry this way. It’s about standing still for a moment, paying attention. Then discovering something. It might not be deep and meaningful ­– or it might be ­– or it might just be a different way of looking at the world. It might be surprising. Some poems are like a photograph – they catch a moment or experience – but they’re better than a photograph, because they loiter around its edges and try to figure it out. Sometimes they see something crazy in it. Poetry is about language too, and the love of language, but for me what the poem is saying is as important as the language.

But I’m back to thinking about those stones.

Our four-year-old granddaughter Grace loves language – she loves words, patterns of words, rhymes, and quirky ways of looking at the world. She’s a tiny natural poet. There are lots of four-year-olds like her, and you don’t even need to look under stones to find them.

But where are the adults? Well, there are plenty of adults who love poetry, but plenty who say it’s too difficult. American poet Billy Collins has an interesting way of talking about poetry. He talks about a pack of cards. The poet has all the cards in his hands, and when he writes he chooses how many cards to turn face up (the poem is easier to understand) and how many to leave face down (the poem is more difficult). But as Collins says, “Poems that turn too many cards over don’t respect the mysteriousness of life, and poems that turn over no cards are a game not really worth playing… I feel there’s a time to be clear and a time to be mysterious in a poem.”

In this collection, I’ve tried to steer some middle course. Some mystery, and some cards face up. I’m hoping that I might turn over a stone or two and find someone who might be persuaded. Poetry can be difficult, but sometimes it’s simply about discovering something.

Adrienne Jansen