Conceived during my studies, My Waste Land is a creative response to T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland—A poem that I discovered at the same time. My Waste Land was mothballed at this time, but despite its underdeveloped nature, I felt attached to the poem. There was a latent power within the poem that magnetised me to it, an experience that can be likened to how some readers become attached to the abstractness of Eliot’s poetry. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of The Wasteland—finding it’s polyvocality difficult to understand—but I’ve had a few emotional reactions to some of the abstract imagery at play, particularly this section:
“…I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.”
Eliot evokes the sense of being trapped in a timeless state that offers neither comfort nor a conclusion. I feel that this strongly resonates with the focus of My Waste Land, where the ambiguous narrator discusses the ruins of an ancient empire preserved by the desert, unable to die or return to its former power—as per nature’s abilities. As a result, I used this quote as an epigraph for the poem—a decision partly motivated from the suggestions made during the unit’s workshop.
I wanted My Waste Land to be read in two ways: vertical and horizontal. As far as I can remember, the desire to structure My Waste Land as such came from my interest in Anglo-Saxon mythology, particularly the Epic Poem Beowulf. As shown below, Saxon Verse tends to half each line with “white space”.
Beowulf (Heaney, 2009:710–714):
Old English verse: Seamus Heaney’s verse:
“Ðá cóm of móre under misthleoþum In off the moors, down through the mist bands
Grendel gongan· godes yrre bær… God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping…”
Admittedly ambitious, and highly experimental, it was a writing style that I was unfamiliar with. The mid-line divides make the intentional option to ‘dual read’ the poem clear, it compounded the need for clarity. If the poem was unintelligible when read either left-to-right or one column at a time, then I felt like this would mark it for failure as a poem. In my opinion, if a poem is unreadable then it cannot articulate its beauty to the readers, thereby contradicting its purpose. Obviously, this was a great challenge for my abilities.
Despite the limitations posed by the two-column structure, I overcame this challenge by maintaining a strict length of syllable and meter count per line—almost haiku length in some regards. This decision created a succinct quality to My Waste Land, while ensuring a balance between abstract and concrete imagery (after all, the lack of space does not facilitate wasted words). As I know more about the effective ways to write two-column poetry, I feel more confident to the idea of writing more poems in this style—perhaps experimenting with three-columns.
My Waste Land was part of my Alpine Fellowship poetry submission in 2021, and unfortunately the submission as a whole did not make the cut. Instead of letting it languish with disuse, I’ve chosen to publish it here. However, it might be taken down in the future if it gets published, so read it NOW before it’s too late!
What do you think of this poem? Let me know in the comments below, or by liking this poem. Don’t be afraid of sharing your opinions!
© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021