Sunday, 13 October 2013

Then, Now, Forever

So there's that poem in Angel Fever.

(US readers, don't worry - this is only a teeny tiny spoiler!)

If you've read the book, you know the one:

Then, I came to you with the sound of battle ringing in my ears - the screams of men I have known.
Your touch made it fade.
Now, there are dark nights and sometimes darker days.
Yet there are also your eyes. They find who I am; they pierce through me like a lance.
I am pinned forever in your gaze.
And speaking of forever, I do not know what will come. 
But my home is in your touch and in your eyes - and when you laugh, it lifts my soul to the sky and reminds me what could be.
There is no greater universe than holding you.
Then - or now - or forever.

In the story, Alex gives Willow this poem for her 18th birthday, saying it had been written by his grandfather for his grandmother, and now it reminds him of Willow. Well, originally, Alex was instead going to say something like:

"I saw it somewhere, and I don't know - it just always stuck in my mind."

Because even though I was pretty sure that Alex's gift needed to be a poem, I don't really write poetry - and didn't think I could even begin to write something I'd be happy with for such an important moment in the book. Which meant, obviously, that I'd have to use a poem written by someone else, that Alex could have 'seen somewhere'.


So I started reading poetry. Lots of poetry. I wanted something that, even though Alex hadn't written it (because I think we can all agree that Alex wouldn't write a poem), still sounded like him. Tough but tender. Romantic but not sentimental.

Well, I can get kind of obsessed, and dear readers, I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent almost two weeks trawling through poetry books and the internet, looking for the right poem.

AND I FOUND IT! YAY!


It was by a poet named Pablo Neruda...and it was still in copyright.

In point of fact, pretty much all of the poems I liked were still in copyright. Up until about the 1930s, love poetry was a very hearts-and-flowery affair, and none of it sounded like Alex. In the slightest. So I kept coming back to the Neruda poem, and finally thought, OK, how difficult can it possibly be to clear copyright for something like this?

"It is VERY difficult. But we can try," said my agent when I asked her.

Wow, she wasn't kidding.

I've since come to understand that poetry copyrights are the work of the devil and many-headed like the hydra. We'd have to get permission for not only the underlying copyright of the original poem in Spanish, but also for the translator's copyright, both held by different agencies in different countries, and then there's also the fact that the Angel series is published in almost ten different languages and might be a film someday, which made the whole thing far more hydra-headed than anyone sane would want to cope with, and in the end my agent literally begged me to figure something else out.

It's not nice to see a strong woman like my agent crumpled on the floor in tears.

So. Back to the drawing board.

Also: Head, bang, wall.

Finally I realised that there was no way around it: I was going to have to write the poem myself. Terror. I DON'T WRITE POETRY.

I suppose my first attempt wasn't too terrible, in an e.e. cummings kind of way, but it just didn't sound like Alex. It was this:


I like how I love you.
I like how the sound of your voice echoes through me as no other,
And how your hand lies on the cover when you sleep –
Your bones so fine,
So complicated.

I like the warmth of you in the morning,
And how your foot nestles against the curve of mine,
Intimate as a leaf curling to a leaf.

I like taking refuge in watching you do the most ordinary things.
Small pieces of your life that I know like the planes of your face:
A hairbrush, a stocking. Soft private moments
That call to me when I am away.
I could sit and watch for hours.

I like how your laughter enters me,
And how my laughter enters you, too.
I like how I am more with you.
How the two of us together fit so well
That we are a puzzle completed.

I like how I love you.
And how for you, my voice echoes too, as no other.
And how for the two of us, just how much it adds –
To lie together and feel the heat of each other’s skin,

Like small, burning suns giving life.


Hmm, I thought. Maybe if I shorten it? So draft two was:


I like how I love you.
I like how the sound of your voice echoes through me,
And how your hand lies on the cover when you sleep.

I like the warmth of you in the morning,
And how your foot nestles against the curve of mine.
I like watching you do the most ordinary things:
A hairbrush, a stocking.
I could sit and watch for hours.

I like how your laughter enters me,
And how my laughter enters you, too.
I like how I am more with you.
How the two of us together are a puzzle completed.

I like how I love you.
And how for you, my voice echoes too.
And how for the two of us, what it adds –
To lie together and feel the heat of each other’s skin.
Small, burning suns giving life.


I have no idea if that's better or worse - if you've somehow failed to grasp the point by now, I don't really write poetry. But I definitely knew that it still wasn't Alex. 

So I let the whole thing mull for a few weeks. And then out of nowhere I remembered a bracelet that my father gave my mother: a slim gold bangle with the inscription, Then, Now, Forever. Jack. 


I've always thought that was one of the most romantic inscriptions ever. And as the strong, simple words played in my mind, suddenly I had the structure for the poem I wanted to write.

Then. Now. Forever. Something written by a soldier who'd been to war and knew he'd soon have to go again. Something that wasn't written by Alex, but the emotions were the same as if they were.

The poem wrote itself. I mean that. I sat down at my desk, and the words literally flowed out as if they were being dictated. I finished it in under an hour, then read over it in wonder. The writing-gods had stepped in, and....wow. I'd written a poem that I really loved. And which was perfect for Alex's gift to Willow.

Inspiration comes from the most amazing places sometimes. I love it that in this case, my parents' real-life love story has become entwined with Alex and Willow's fictional one.

Thanks, FF.

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