I don’t like poetry. There. I’ve said it. Go ahead and tell me that’s as bad as not liking children or animals – or art. Well, I like most children. I love animals. As for art, I like it – as long as it’s Art – and not an attempt to make lots of money by the deliberate act of shocking.
Perhaps I started with too sweeping a statement. I do like some poetry. My idol of the genre is Alexander Pushkin. His poetry is akin to music. It skips, tumbles and glistens like a brook in the sunlight. It is positively effervescent. I love the mathematical verses of Ronsard, Racine and, especially, Corneille. I enjoy the sensuality of Petrarca and Veronica Franco, and the wit of Trilussa. I have a soft spot for Rupert Brooke, though I get the impression that admitting to this is unfashionable as confessing to liking the music of Frederick Delius and the rest of the cow pat school of English composers. So sue me. Of course, I much admire Seamus Heaney and adore Dorothy Parker. These are only a few of the poets whose work I enjoy. There are others, but these are the ones who spring to mind on a Sunday afternoon as I am trying to finish this blog post before it gets dark, and the heating comes on in the house.
My chief objection to poetry, as a genre, is that – too often – it is used as an excuse for bad writing. Words are mis-spelt or mis-used, splodged on the page in apparently random order – presumably to give an impression of originality. Punctuation is left out – apparently to break free of constrictions. Grammar is ignored – perhaps in sign of artistic freedom. If you applaud, transfixed by the result, you are welcomed into the inner sanctum of those who understand. If, like me, you have the misfortune “not to get it” and – worse – actually say you don’t like it, then you are dismissed as an insensitive, narrow-minded ignoramus. “Poetry” becomes a shield against criticism. No prose writer can hide behind such a label. We have to sit there and take it, and accept the brutal fact that if the reader doesn’t “get it”, then it’s because it’s just written badly. No. No excuses.
At the wonderful writers’ group I sometimes attend, when members read out their prose, everyone feels free to comment – no matter how qualified or unqualified they may be to do so. And that’s fair. However, if a poem gets read out then, after an awkward silence, most listeners will preamble (yes, I know it’s a noun, but I am exercising the prose writer’s freedom to turn it into a verb) their comments with pussyfooting such as, “I’m sorry, I don’t know enough about poetry”, or “I don’t think I’m qualified to comment”.
Just what gives poetry diplomatic immunity? Let it be stopped and scanned at customs like everyone else.
A couple of my friends are poets. Live and let live. Until they said they were performing at a South London pub, on Guy Fawkes’ Night. There comes a time in every friendship, when you feel that your it’s-the-intention-that-counts credit runs out, and you have to put a drop of actual physical oil on the inner mechanism of your friendship. In other words, you can no longer get away with “Good luck – let me know how it goes”. You have to take your posterior over to where they are performing and support them for real.
And so off I trekked to the pub in South London, to the thunder of fireworks. Fountains of colour exploding against the black sky, then trickling down to the horizon.
I took a front seat – my loyalty might as well be in full view – did my best to plaster a smile over the grumpy owl expression on my face, and prepared to clap. My friends were announced from the stage.
A. should have been an actor. Tall and silver-haired, he spread his arms wide, and the entire pub audience fell into them. He turned up his palms, and inspiration seemed to rain into them. He recited his poems. Clever, quirky, subversive, sad, teasing. A jester unafraid to speak out because he knows who he is. From life’s injuries and lessons, he has sewn a cloak embroidered with stars. He admires them and does not attempt to pull them down from the sky.
C. frowns. Ash blonde hair against a pale and weary face. Too young to be weary but then his fair head is much, much older than the shoulders it rests upon. He is Mercury, skipping at full speed. His words are full of passion, anger, longing. Hard words, like a stone circle. Yet there is a laughing sprite dancing in the middle, leaping over a bonfire. A grinning imp.
N. stands up. Her heart-shaped face is framed by a greying blonde mane. Her voice is lithe, like a girl’s. From her lips cascade diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. Her words are like gemstones that glisten in the sunlight and the moonlight. Like a waterfall tapping a tune on the smooth rocks below. Like fairies flying over flowers.
I clap. Wholeheartedly. I smile. Wholeheartedly. Afterwards, I praise them. With all my heart.
I am proud to know them. There is magic in their poetry and I have fallen under its spell… at least for one night.
Hi Katia, I really liked this piece. The content was excellent, the structure fantastic but I loved the flow of the voice. Brad
Thank you for your kind comments, Brad.
My dear friend, when it is about poetry i have similar feelings.
Only “some” poems of “some” poets I can get, understand and feel touched. Only a few let’s say.
Would you let me translate this beautiful post to Turkish and display on my blog together with its original?
With the greatest of pleasures! Thank you!
I fully agree with you in that not all that is called poetry is such. I like poetry, I have a lot of books of poetry of my favourite authors and even a file on my desktop entitled “Poems I like”. I wrote poetry myself. So did my daughter (she even publications in local newspapers and literary journals). But. I try to be critical and self-critical and never say, “Oh this is amazing!” to a person (be it my daughter or any other person who presents his poems) if I do not feel it’s really worth it. I always have my say. And they do not feel hurt. Incidentally, Katia, once we are up to it, I must confess I even wrote limerics in English many years ago. I had an English boyfriend (actually,a man, not a boy))), those were long-term and complicated relations…. We wrote letters to each other (no computers at that time, mind you) and used to make up funny rhymes and limerics about him, me and us together. He “got infected” and started writing himself. For the first time in his life. Those bygone days…. It was a real drama, our relationship…. I could tell you much about it. But everything goes by. Michael died three years ago. His lovely short poems and his unfinished novel “Love story” (he used to send me one chapter in a letter describing the story of our relationship) still remind me of those far-away days…..
Oh, my goodness, what an amazing experience – and heartbreaking, too. Thank you for sharing it.
It’s an Irish habit I can’t quite shake off:-)
Clever of yerself to lace some poetry in with yer prose:-) However….as Wu Pen once said: “When you’ve got it, there’s no place for it but a poem…’
It was actually unconsciously done. But thank you.
I’m curious. What’s with the “yer”? :–)
So pleased you found an unexpected enjoyment in your friends’ performances! Isn’t it lovely to find a new pleasure – however fleeting!!
Hear! Hear! Thank you for commenting.
So glad you went. But I do agree with the sentiments in the blog. I like your writing!
Thank you! :–)
Hi, Katia. Please don’t assume you are alone in your quarrel with (some) poetry: I have myself gotten thoroughly sick and tired of reading long monologues which call themselves poetry because the authors thought they had something to say and chose to call it poetry by default. It’s simply true that not every meditation in words, however thought-provoking, is poetry: sometimes, it’s just a few thoughts strung together, and the author takes credit for something he or she has not in fact done, which is write a poem. I know that there is that subjective matter to be considered as in “What’s poetry to me may not be poetry to you,” but I find it irresponsible to lean on this saying all the time. I am glad, though, that there are some poets (including good friends) who please you. I have a few favorites too, and must confess that I prefer conventional poetry of rhymes and meters to the free-for-all that goes on these days. One particular kind of poetry that frustrates me is the poetry published in the “New Yorker,” which I don’t find appealing at all. I know some famous poets have published there, but I don’t believe that they should have lowered themselves to publish in a tony, trendy, mag whose best features are its cartoons, and occasionally a prose fiction bit which is fairly good. The poetry there, however, has little or no emotion in it, and I get quite cross while reading it. So, all this is just to say that I understand your point of view perfectly, and feel you are 100% entitled to it!
Thank you! I love it when people agree with me! :–)