Wednesday, February 20, 2019

#72 Backstory of the Poem "A New Psalm of Montreal" by Sheenagh Pugh

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***This is the seventy-second in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

072 Backstory of the Poem “A New Psalm of Montreal” by Sheenagh Pugh
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?

I don't really recall the writing process in that much detail. It began when the results of the Brexit referendum came out. I was on holiday in Montreal at the time (I voted remain by post).  The "Montreal" refrain was imposed by the fact that the poem was an echo of Samuel Butler's 19th-century comic poem "A Psalm of Montreal" (  although my poem is neither comic nor anything like the original in theme. I just wanted to echo it because it was the only poem I knew about Montreal. I would have begun it in a notebook but moved on to the computer very quickly, because I revise so much that I soon can't read my own writing. 

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. I was with my husband and daughter in a holiday flat just off Rue St-Paul in the Vieux Port, Montreal. It's a very French-influenced place; it did feel almost like being in Paris except that the citizens, being Canadian, were a lot more polite and less frenetic. Rue St-Paul is also a lot like Rose Street in Edinburgh, we used to joke that the two should be twinned. 
What month and year did you start writing this poem? June 2016. I wouldn't normally recall so exactly, but of course there was the damn referendum... (Right:  Sheenagh Pugh in 2016.  Copyright permission granted by Sheenagh Pugh for this CRC Blog Post only) 

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) I don't keep drafts. I work on the computer and just over-write whatever's there. I do tend to start poems in a notebook but I don't keep those either.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us? No idea, for the reason given above! I expect it changed quite a lot but I don't recall how. For me, the final version is the only one that matters. Though if I subsequently decide I don't like something about that, I'll change it again; 
I don't regard a poem as being immutable just because it's in print. One of the fun things about doing a Selected is going through old poems that have been book-published for years and improving them.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? What they take from the poem is pretty much their affair; 
I have no control over that, once it leaves my hands. For me it was about being in a very laid-back, cosmopolitan, open-minded place and regretting that the place I came from had shown itself so petty and small-minded. But others may see other things in it.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?
I write with my intellect, not my emotions, in fact I try to keep them very much under control while writing. It's the readers who need to do the feeling, and why should they bother if the poet's doing it all for them? 
I don’t mean emotion should be completely
absent from poems but that the poet should always be in control of it and using it, in a quite calculated manner, as they would any other means of communication.  I would say Louise Gluck does that, and Paul Henry, also, most of the time Jack Gilbert – see the-matter-of-fact deadpan tone of “Michiko Dead”.
Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? It was published online in a project called New Boots and Pantisocracies, (Web Logo Left) see  

A New Psalm of Montreal

with apologies to Samuel Butler

Rue St-Paul early, sunlight trickling down
the tall stone buildings to warm cobbles
and flagstones damp from overnight cleaning,
or stabbing with sudden warmth from side-streets:
oh morning, oh Montreal.

Too early for the homeless man and his cat
with its diamante collar and sleek black fur,
too early for the pubs, the pavement cafés,
the street stalls, the girl with the violin
who plays to Montreal.

When we cleared customs, the nice man checked
our return tickets, I suppose in case
we planned to stay, drop off the radar
in some laid-back, sunny, bilingual spot
like St-Paul, Montreal.

And it is sounding like a fine notion,
now that the snivelling wet little island
whence we came has stumped off, doolally, muttering
to itself "You'll all be sorry when I'm gone".
Oh dear: oh Montreal.

And St-Paul is waking, drinking its coffee,
watering its hanging baskets, setting out
its goods: sun is drenching the walls now
and a terrible guitarist is tuning up:
oh summer, oh Montreal.

A slim girl with the very slight swell
of early pregnancy swings smiling by,
dropping coins in every cap on the pavement,
and I would quite like to apply for asylum,
oh please, oh Montreal.

I was born in 1950, worked in the civil service and as a reader in creative Writing at a university, but am now retired. I am part Welsh, part Irish, lived most of my life in Wales but now live in Shetland with my husband and one of our daughters. I have published a dozen or so poetry collections, all with Seren, plus a couple of novels and a book on fan fiction. My next collection comes out from Seren in May 2019; it's called "Afternoons Go Nowhere" and this poem will be in it. 


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

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