TiaTalk











{Fri 16 February 2007}   Poetry’s Potential
I am so excited to have found, via Very Like a Whale, this exquisitely expressed post called “Defining Difficulty in Poetry” by Reginald Shepherd.

I highly recommend this post, but I do wonder about the impact of declaring that “poetry is difficult”! That is what so many of its potential readers fear. Of course, this is due to a basic assumption that it ought not to be; that somehow poetry, uniquely among the art forms, should not use techniques, devices, materials and skills that require knowledge and mastery to achieve or comprehend its effects. Stephen Fry suggests in The Ode Less Travelled that most people believe that because words are a universal currency, art made from them should be instantly, universally accessible:

“Unlike musical notation, paint or clay, language is inside every one of us. For free. We are all proficient at it. We already have the palette, the paints and the instruments. We don’t have to go and buy any reserved materials. Poetry is made of the same stuff you are reading now, the same stuff you use to order pizza over the phone, the same stuff you yell at your parents and children, whisper in your lover’s ear and shove into an e-mail, text or birthday card. It is common to us all. Is that why we resent being told that there is a technique to its highest expression, poetry? I cannot ski, so I would like to be shown how to. I cannot paint, so I would value some lessons. But I can speak and write, so do not waste my time telling me that I need lessons in poetry, which is, after all, no more than emotional writing, with or without the odd rhyme. Isn’t it?”

Like Mr Fry, I say No! Poetry is so much more than that. Poetry can be narrative and is usually (but not exclusively) emotional, yes, but it also uses visual and musical forms, as well as semantic suggestions which, in the best poems, enhance their meaning. It paints pictures and caresses or startles the ear. It engages the intellect and the imagination as well as the emotions.

Besides language, the poet must have something of the visual artist, the musician and the philosopher in her. The poet-artist appreciates the form of words, sentences and lines, and the value of negative space, for shaping a thought. The poet-musician revels in the sounds of words and letters, composing melodies from them, and feels the pulse of speech, drawing it out to make its many possible rhythms audible and compelling. The poet-philosopher understands the force of rational argument and the epistemological limbo in which truth eternally seeks a home, the subjective impulse toward individuation and the objective need for civil cooperation, the power of verbal accuracy and the pleasurable mysteries of contextual ambiguity—the thought-tangents that may open whole new worlds or parallel universes.

Poems written by such poets are worthy of “payment” for one’s enjoyment of them. People quite readily pay hard-earned cash for art gallery entrance fees or concert tickets when artists they value are showing their work. Could they not be encouraged to spend a little time learning the tools of poetry appreciation, which costs very little financially for something very rewarding?

Perhaps, to invite such readers to engage with all of poetry’s potential, rather than fearing it, some alternative semantics might be in order. Rather than referring to it as “difficult”, could we choose words like “challenging, intricate, profound, complex, sophisticated, rich, essential (of or relating to essence), multi-layered, nourishing, fertile, verdant, intriguing, fascinating, mysterious, stimulating…”?



{Sat 27 January 2007}   Primeval Watercolour
Primeval Watercolour

Primaries pounce on the primitive page,
usurping space with bizarre pizzazz:
Opposing waves squall and break,
brim-brilliant crests crash, create a jazz
of chaos!
Interference drags a screaming thread of blue
across the careful splotches;
panicking through cooling pools of sulphur,
a purple pulse breathes whirls of fire,
willing them to swirl against the caking air,
to savage expectations, flay the fair
and even strokes of intent
with edges of the depths,
fan water into flame
with split-atomic spatterings
of aquamarine and shame
and shatterings
of line, design and reason—
Oh, Image, imagine
Imagination’s breathing:
Ruwach!

See a subsequent digital version of this poem here.

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et cetera