Do you have a pet hate, a word that has you reaching for the red pen, a word that you think should be placed under a five year moratorium and barred from all use in poems for that period? Send us your 500 words denunciation and if you make us smile and nod with wry recognition we will publish it. First off, Steven Lovatt eviscerates ‘heft’
As a verb meaning to move something, ‘heft’ is colloquial, fresh and unobjectionable, but as a noun, used as a synonym for ‘weight’, it’s indulgent, even pervy. If something in a poem has heft, as opposed to weight or mass, then you’re supposed to indulge the hefter in his or her pious treatment of a special object, like your Old Dad’s spade angled out of the rich, gently steaming loam etc., with the poem zoomed in on his careworn hands warming the grain of the wooden handle. Sickening.
Objects are difficult to write poems about – much more difficult than experiences, ideas and states – and until a few decades ago anglophone poetry tended to avoid direct confrontation with them. Now you can scarcely read a poem that doesn’t strain for evocative juxtapositions of objects. There’s the safely unpolitical orientalism-by proxy type (saffron, cowries, alabaster), the industrial-heritage type (tinplate, bitumen, Betjeman) and the ‘edgy’ type (spandex, nettles & piss). I know that much of this is fed by pathos, and that the liquefactions of value required by consumer capitalism produce a genuine homesickness for objects. But caressing your pre-digital detritus in tender wonderment is not the answer, unless the question is ‘how can I ruin the experience of reading my poem by reverently signposting the affective bit?’
‘Heft’ isn’t solely responsible for this, sure, but it’s very often present at the scene of the crime. The heft of the ivory cigar box, grandma’s paperweights and great-uncle’s crown green bowls; the heft of anything from fifty to one hundred years old that you want to upgrade to timeless, like a saint’s shinbone; anything aureoled, sunwarmed and motey. And if you really want to peddle this meaningful object like a pro, if you want the best-situated stall just next to the shrine restrooms at Lourdes and Knock, with a shaft of light anglepoised at all times onto the expectant brocade, then you’ll not even dare breathe the name of the sacred thing. You’ll just extoll its smell, its texture, then you’ll lift it gently and whisper ‘The heft of it!’
Poets, stop! Stop fondling stuff. It makes your poem look mawkish and me feel less like a reader than a voyeur. Honestly, just pack it in.
Steven Lovatt is a writer based in Swansea. He is a member of the International Literature Showcase, run by the British Council and the UK National Writing Centre, and his book Birdsong in a Time of Silence has been longlisted for the Wainwright Prize.