Week 6 Poem of the Week: ‘Five Minutes’ by Sasha Brealey

Sasha talks to us about the concept of time in her poem and describes how university has helped her explore writing further

Five Minutes

The five minute leeway
Between clocks south and north striking ‘twelve’,
A disagreement of cosmic measurement –
A dance of time
Linearity cannot step with.

An hourly infinity
Where all stands undefined,
eternal, ephemeral –
When reality fails to enforce,
And clocks cannot endorse,
And indefinity preoccupies the minds
Of the inattentive –

We wonder when we stand –

And as the north clock strikes,
We listen to its final chime,
Awaiting our next five minute eternity.

Image credit: Keira Quirk

Once we had read Sasha’s poem, we gave her the chance to talk further about her poem and the themes that run through it.

First off, I wanted to ask Sasha for a deeper insight into the background of her poem and its inspiration. She tells me that it came after a period of writer’s block, during which she felt she ought to have been writing about “really great themes that poetry has often written about, like love, loss, immortality and family” but found these themes “impenetrable and difficult to access.

“I found it really disheartening and I stopped writing poetry for a while; and then I went to a Poetry Society and I had the privilege of hearing the incredible Isobel Maxwell’s poem called ‘My Mother Makes Marmalade’, and I found it so inspiring.

“It accessed all these themes through this very domestic image and beautiful motif of an orange that had been woven throughout the poem really elegantly; and it made me realise that poetry didn’t have to be so overt in its exploration of bigger experiences, but that it can access things through everyday life. And so it made me look at the beauty in everyday objects and the poetry of small things, and that’s when I noticed there was this five minute difference between when the bells chime on King’s Parade: that’s where the idea for the poem came from.”

Sasha goes on to explain that time is a concept of particular interest to her and thus runs as a motif throughout her poetry. In ‘Five Minutes’ particularly, the sense of time’s eternality is designed to be “ironic in a way”, since it is at the point of twelve that “you notice more immediately this eternity of time”, although at the same time it is “subjective” and “something we’ve dictated on our own but we also clearly aren’t set on measuring.”

Image credit: Ruth Pavey

Moreover, each technique employed is designed to “fragment” the poem and convey a “sense of irregularity”. Rhyme is used only in the middle to “create a sudden sense of pace”, and enjambment helps “mimic the flow of time”. But above all – as Sasha is keen to emphasise – there is deliberately “no consolidation to the methods”, and the stanzas are broken up unequally to “show this fragmentation of time that I was trying to echo through the metaphor of the clocks.”

Home is further theme woven through the poem, which Sasha says comes from the difficulty upon coming to university of pinpointing exactly where home is.

“I feel like uni is a time when it’s often really difficult to locate where home is, so I thought I’d locate it in a “when” rather than a “where” and see how that settled. I feel like every time I hear that chime now, I do feel a sense of relief having noticed and explored this beauty in it, and it’s similar to the relief that people often associate with home. So I thought it was interesting to explore that home can be in a different realm to the physical.”

Image credit: Keira Quirk

Sasha finds that poetry-writing, aside from being an outlet, is “also just a really fruitful way of exploring an idea”, seeing as it “can be so specific, and yet you have the liberty to be abstract with it at the same time.

“I also like how it has no bounds, and you don’t have to follow it necessarily in a straight order: you can dissect it throughout and incapsulate it in this fragmentation. But I find it a really cathartic way to organise my thoughts and almost realise what I’m feeling as I’m writing it.”

However, beyond this more individualistic side to writing, Sasha has also found enjoyment in the communal experience of poetry societies, wherein students have the chance to share their work with others.

“I’ve always tried to write poetry, though I’ve done it more since coming to uni because I attend a few poetry societies, and that really inspired me to get going again. A lot of students read and write their poetry there, so this literary community really spurred me to write more; and I just found it a really inspiring environment because I often considered writing to be solitary, and so this more communal aspect of it was really fun.”

Image credit: Keira Quirk

As for her influences, Sasha cites Emily Dickinson, a 19th century American poet who only began to rise to prominence after her death, as well as Sufjan Stevens, a current American singer-songwriter.

“[Dickinson’s poems] almost feel like a series of comments that work not only as individual lines, but also as part of a greater whole. I like that you can read them singularly but also within the greater aspect of both all her poetry and the poem itself. I think her writing is so incredible and so beautiful.

“I know he’s not a poet but I’ve also been really into Sufjan Stevens recently and I’ve been treating his music as poetry. It’s interesting to look at different expression of poetry, and how sound and the way that we would take it in is a different experience of poetry to just reading it.”

That’s all for Week 6’s poetry feature, but there are still a few weeks left to submit your poems! Just email The Tab’s Poetry Editor ([email protected]) with your submission. It would be great to hear from you!

Feature image credits: Keira Quirk

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