Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Medb Charleton on The Element of Surprise

The Element of Surprise


I have a weakness for abstract metaphor and modernist imagery that probably dates back to my youthful reading where I saw the transformative power of language and was captivated by its beauty. The mysterious relationships between words and their infinite meanings and pairings seemed to me then, and still now, the most amazing thing. It taught me that all things contain shared elements in different combinations. I do try now, when I find myself working on a poem in blindfolded trepidation, to add the lightness of my own speech and thought processes, voice, to the lines and keep grand sweeping metaphors like ‘the eternal snow of stars’ (Stéphane Mallarmé) somewhat at bay.  I’m interested in ideas in poems, in poems as transportation for philosophical inquiry but also as meditation on life’s experience. It’s difficult to say what makes a poem triumph for me, but I do return (like Robert Duncan in ‘Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’) to the element of surprise.  Whether it’s an unworldly tone or a perfect, new comparison or the use of unusual diction, the more outlandish, the farther out the poet has been on their journey creating. But there is also, of course, surprise in simplicity. The delivery of emotion in a weightless world. Just as in space where a feather and a hammer fall at the same pace. Perhaps poetry is the search for sacredness in places, or a pursuit of meaning, but it’s the element of surprise that catches off-guard and accesses immediately the reader’s dream.


Medb Charleton


Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.



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