I don’t tend to consider tense much in my poetry, perhaps under the misconception that it’s something more prominent in short fiction or prose. Maybe I just haven’t considered tense to be a priority when plotting the development of the voice of the poem, in comparison to character traits, tension between voices or image puns etc.

When reading James Brown, especially Favourite Monsters, I became aware that tense shifted quite fast, and tense didn’t just shift in the predictable modes of past, present and future but also seemed to encompass social scenes and historical contexts. These tense-scenes are not restricted to a linguistic frame i.e. was, is, will, but extend to such modes as quotation of other authors work, genres that bracket different historical moments, and the more general scene of ideals that the voice might be tied up in.

This suggests that tenses and shifts in tenses, with social-scene components also at work, can highlight key contradictions inherent in the thoughts and behavior of the voice of the poem as it develops for the reader. In this way tense expands to play a key part in realising the voice of the poem. Tenses establish the pace particular to the point of view of the voice and how they express this view.

Time through tense is in this way embedded in the formation of the voice at the instant it’s uttered.

So I looked up what tense means to clarify it for myself:

— a set of forms taken by a verb to indicate the time (and sometimes also the continuance or completeness) of the action in relation to the time of the utterance: the past tense.

ORIGIN Middle English (in the general sense [time]): from Old French tens, from Latin tempus ‘time.’

It will be interesting to explore the time of the action in relation to the time of the utterance when building up a voice in upcoming poems, and how the voice might be revealed as much through shifts in tense as details or images.

Damien Wilkins in our first writer’s discussion today said he was drawn to writing that teaches you how to read it as you go and how to behave in relation to the process of reading. This was tied to a sense of elasticity or pace of the writing, the author’s breathing rhythm and how this informed both the structure of the work and the reader’s sense of companionship with the text. If the reader is being shown the skills needed to be a companion to the text, to be there till the end because of this respect that’s instituted, then the author’s tone or voice is most compelling, and their triumph more credible and deserving from the reader’s perspective.

James Brown said that dialogue of voices is not restricted to a shared sense of meaning (between two characters for example) or values, rather it also happens in the crossfire and the misfires or thwarted communication. Richard Prince mistakes the meaning of the Author, though the incongruity of shared meaning and intention leads to another kind of dialogue, one in which new priorities or agendas are revealed.

This ties in to what I was thinking last time I wrote about companion memory that runs parallel to a new interpretation and that has its say on its present institution in modes beyond mere sentimental reflection. These other modes could include the ability to empathise, to realise a dialogue that might fail due to a lack of common ground, which in itself might be revealing beyond the desire to re-institute what is now past.

In this instance we could see opposites in a more flexible way – a pair of opposites could simply show that a thing has at some point or another made an appeal to another thing. Independence appeals to dependence, habits appeal to erratic temptations and in this sense something makes a case (or simply puts up an argument) that’s as significant as any relation that’s formed.

This is especially true when considering the Richard Prince poem in which the fight and its ‘pick up line’ allow for an obscure bond to form between the voices in the poem at that moment of misunderstanding – as if they understood all along that the confrontation would lead to nothing more than picking each other up off their prejudices even if just for a moment and hooking up, if strangely, because they have somehow appealed to each other as well as generated a commotion.

Brown also spoke a lot about using cheap tricks, such as starting with an image, making you forget about it then reminding you of it again, like in his poem about the balloon in the subject’s stomach. Also shifts in tenses, or jokes that let the reader feel ‘in on it’ even as we realise it’s not designed primarily to lead us to our senses. I think considering jokes and puns more in my poetry will be important over the next few months as it will be a way for me to identify where the diologue is really happening and what it is appealing to.

Later on Damien talked about the tendency not to encourage character development through big action sequences. James talked about the limitations of stream of consciousness in voice development in the poem. James’ use of impersonal or spare language while maintaining and instituting a deferred dramatic monologue provoke the stream of consciousness mode.

I find this interesting in the sense that it could be one way of more clearly playing with prejudices of communication in the development of the voice of the poem.

And Damien’s comments could also be a way of emphasising the significance of non-linearities which mere adhesion to action sequences can undermine, and further weaken the elasticity and necessary tension of prejudices, forming and unwinding, that establish the tone of the prose and the readers ability to invest companionship in the work.


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