Young Bean Farmer
Young Bean Farmer by Peter Doig, 1991


Lately I have enjoyed writing about uncared-for, neglected spaces. Before beginning to write ‘Farm Boy, I was struck by a line from one of Pablo Neruda’s poems, ‘Sonnet XCIV’: ‘Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air’.

I find Neruda’s quote about absence melancholic but also quite beautiful and dreamlike; for me it evokes images of ghosts drifting through the absent space. The house Neruda describes is bereft of human life and structure.

I often use artwork as a stimulus to help me think of new ideas for poems. My favourite Peter Doig painting is Young Bean Farmer, a piece which motivated the composition of ‘Farm Boy’. In Young Bean Farmer, a sinister solitary blurred figure is shown running from a farmhouse across vast farm fields painted in wild yellows and reds.

Inspired by Peter Doig’s artwork, I began to research abandoned farmhouses in more detail and accumulated artwork, written notes, books and assorted research materials to inspire me to write. I found that abandoned houses are very common everywhere, particularly in the American landscape. One infamous occurrence of significant abandonment of houses in rural areas, mainly due to the growth of corporate agriculture, occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

My research led to a series of new drafts of poems like ‘Farm Boy’ about ‘place’. I found that my new poems inhabited dry, desolate farmland and deserted farm buildings to compliment gloomy and often unsettling themes and a sad, slow overall tone. To slow down the pace in ‘Farm Boy’ I wrote short, repetitively blunt lines (their houses / and their fields, / their children / all burnt’, which I hope has created a sense of entrapment and horror.

Often in my poetry, objects take on human features to replace the voices of people who are absent. Ironically, the more such bodiless voices are heard, the more their absences are acknowledged. In ‘Farm Boy’ my ‘young moon’ grows a mouth; my moon is subsequently described to be ‘eating my throat’.


You can read my poem, ‘Farm Boy’, in Issue 3 of Marble Poetry.


This essay was previously published at Marble Poetry’s website


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