I was just reading through an old notebook-journal type thing and came across the following ramble about poetry. I scribbled it down over ten years ago and promptly forgot about it. I do this all the time and have dozens, if not hundreds, of such books lurking in damp cupboards and up the attic.
It’s a bit of a rant and probably only serves to display my ignorance and may actually get me excommunicated from the edges of the literary establishment where I sometimes lurk in the shadows, but, what the hell – it’s as much a question as an opinion, and I would be ecstatic if someone would enlighten me since I am genuinely puzzled about poetry.
Here’s the original piece, written on March 1st 2005 at 11.30 pm (ish) according to my notebook. Bear in mind that’s it’s a bit roughly written, but I’d like to think, raw and real.
It is titled:
Anyway (from 2005)
“OK. I’ve been here before, but in a different context. What it is , is that I am puzzled by the fuss about poetry – I just don’t get it – even though I’ve just spent an embarrassing amount of money publishing a book of my own poetry* – I still don’t get it.
I’ve been trying to understand what all the fuss is about. I just browsed through a book of Tributes to Gillian Clarke who is a renowned and apparently popular Poet, and I’ve recently read poetry from Nigel Jenkins to William Blake via Menna Elfyn and many others, and of course, Gillian Clarke herself.
Now, I’ve been writing poetry for about 40 years on and off, starting when I was about 12 or 13. Then about 6 years ago I did an MA in Creative Writing and when I did the poetry bit I got excellent comments from the tutor and passed the MA very easily. I’ve been to poetry readings and poetry book launches. I’ve had tuition from Nigel Jenkins, Menna Elfyn, Gillian Clarke herself, Raymond Garlick, Hilary Llewellyn Williams, Robert Minhinnick (Poetry Wales editor), Peter Finch who has a famous poetry website and writes articles for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook on poetry and others. I’ve read and studied R.S. Thomas and Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes, Blake, Shakespeare, Milton, even Spike Milligan etc, but I still don’t get it.
I mean, what is a poem?
Let’s try defining it.
A poem is a collection of words arranged in a way to convey meaning without being too obvious, in other words it’s a coded message. Each poem seems to have its own code and its own structure and patterns, and I suppose there’s some pleasure to be gained from cracking the code and unravelling the meaning.
Then – maybe – the words in a poem should be put together in some kind of rhythmic way and maybe that rhythm and possibly rhyme gives some more pleasure of some sort.
I don’t know.
Going back to the Gillian Clarke tribute, There’s all these poets getting all worked up and heaping praise on the woman – saying how wonderful and brilliant she is and a few mentions of how good she is at tutoring / teaching poetry.
In fact, during the MA I actually read some of my stuff alongside Gillian at an event held after she came to teach us for a session.
Here’s one of the poems I read that night:
you know the score
in a movie
or a tv show
or just one
we’re allowed to be flawed
it’s ok as long as in the end
we’re fucking good at our job
in my real life i’m an artex ceiling of cracks and fissures
with some small redemption
it’s kind of arse-backwards ain’t it?
It went down well for some reason, probably because the title Ninetyfivefive is a reference to some rugby score and it ticked a box in the audience’s bulbous Welsh psyche.
During the session Gillian started by going on about how when you write poetry you always only use the centre of the page – like:
This is a poem
and that is a verse
even if I tried
it couldn’t be worse
Then she gave us an exercise – like – take a place, an object, maybe an emotion (I can’t remember) anyway say –
Anyway – as I said, I’ve been here before – when I worked in Austin-Rover I aspired to management. I envied those highly-paid, powerful, important people – so eventually I became a manager and the bubble of mystique burst – it was all bollocks, spin, hype, smoke and mirrors, no substance, nothing valuable or worthwhile there. These people were just as crap, just as floundering in the dark as the people I’d left behind on the shop floor, they just knew how to kiss the right arses that’s all.
Then before that, in school it was the same, but I won’t go into that here.
Now, it’s poetry. I tried and tried and burst through that plastic ceiling and all I found was a pile of posturing people, half-arsedly babbling on and on about something they didn’t understand, they weren’t even convincing themselves – like Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s a kind of cultural mass-hypnosis.
You know, maybe they’re good at codes and rhythms but so what – so fucking what?
Methinks I expect too much. Methinks I think they are special, I think that successful / talented / whatever people have got that mystical ingredient – but No!
Maybe? I should shut the fuck up.
Art is the same by the way, and music, and drama etc.
Still thinking about good comedy.
Anyway – Fuck it.”
*The Words in Me – Opening Chapter 2005
Serious note and addendum
Since rediscovering the above piece and going through the process of typing it up and posting it here, something has clicked or re-clicked and I have magically rediscovered my mojo for poetry – so I am going to publish a second edition of the Words in Me and then some.
Watch this space.