Friday, 22 May 2009

Poetry Really Does Matter

When was the last time you read a poem? When did you last write a poem? When did you last buy a book of poetry? If you are Mr, Mrs or even Ms Average you probably can’t remember, and yet most of us at some point in our lives are driven to read or write a poem. Many of us reach a point where we need to make some sense of an event, whether that be on the world stage, or our own stage, and we turn to verse or song to find someone or something that helps give us insight or understanding.

And yet most of us have a very narrow view of what constitutes poetry – and I include the so-called experts in that. Someone much wiser than me once said that poetry has such a wide set of guidelines that if I chose to call something a poem, then it’s a poem!

For most of us our first and last meeting with poetry was at school where some poor English teacher had to go through a poem because it was in the curriculum. So there we all sat, kicking the floor under our desks, bored out of our tinies while said teacher who couldn’t tell the difference between a half rhyme and an iamb, tried to gain our interest and ended up turning us off poetry for life.

People’s reactions always amaze me when it comes to poetry. There’s the “But it Doesn’t Rhyme” Brigade - I wish I had a bottle of whisky for every time I heard that Here’s what I say when I’m running a writing class... If you make a list of all of the elements that may go into a poem you will come up with things like, rhythm, arresting use of language, simile/ metaphor, insight, humour etc etc etc,( oh and lest we forget), rhyme. The issue is that many, many poems that use rhyme are so caught up in meeting the rhyme pattern that all they use is rhyme. Everything not rhyme, listed earlier is abandoned in the search for that matching end note. And often with this kind of poem we also get a big message that YOU WILL ACCEPT AND UNDERSTAND BY THE TIME YOU ARE FINISHED READING THIS BLOODY POEM. My response to this is if I want some messages I’ll pick up my re-cycled poly bags and head up to bloody Tesco.

Then there’s the sub-section who thinks that any male who reads/ writes poetry must be of a sexually questionable nature. I almost can’t be arsed contending with this one (see what I did there?) ‘cos I really couldn’t give a flying fuck about this kind of reaction. I’m like, away and grow a brain cell, ya dobber. The hairy root of this idea totally passes me by. If you think of the male poets through the years - Shakespeare, Burns, Wordsworth, Yeats, Hughes, Heaney, Thomas etc etc etc...were ANY of them homosexual. So what, if they were, but I can’t think of a single one. In fact, quite the opposite, many of them were infamous for their womanising, hard-drinking ways. So where does this notion come from? Do “they” think that real men are too busy scratching their balls and drinking lager by the gallon to be bothered with expressing themselves? And yet these same Neanderthals will get soppy over a favourite song. Confused much?

One of the great pleasures I’ve had over the years when we Makar Press Poets are out and about doing our gigs is when we confound people’s expectations. Now the occasion I’m about to recall is not being used so I can brag, just to give you an example. Honest. Really. For real. This particular events was in Kilmaurs. The room was full – we had an audience of around thirty people. Scanning the room we could see who really wanted to be there, who was mildly interested and who would have preferred to be in the bar next door, bent over the Sun.
Fast forward to the end of the reading and people were queuing up to tell us how much they enjoyed our poems. How surprised they were that they did enjoy them... how they found them to be immediate, fun, humourous, touching and how they made them think. Now I’m not saying we’re in the same league as the poets I mentioned earlier (although we are gooooood) I think it was more that everyone in the room was surprised by their own capacity to enjoy what we were reading to them. They were surprised and obviously delighted by their ability to run alongside our words and understand exactly what we were saying. It also helped that they were expecting lonely clouds and hosts of daffodils and what they got was cancer, sleeveless dresses and willies. Sheila, Rowena and myself went home on a high and wondering why we weren’t famous.
Ever since we humans first gathered round a pile of burning logs we have felt the need to connect with each other and the world around us. We did this and continue to do this through storytelling and song. And guess what, poetry can combine both of these elements in ways that are powerful enough to tug at our emotions and effect change. That change can be on the world stage, or it can be where we are centre stage with our loved ones.

So, if your answer to my early question was, not for ages – here’s a challenge. Go find a book of poetry. Now. Today. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or modern, rhyming or not, if it gives itself the badge of poetry that’s good enough. Then pour yourself a cup of tea/ coffee/ wine ...curl up in a chair/ sofa/ bed and slowly rub your thoughts across a poem. Who knows you might even like it.


  1. yip, my last experience of poetry was indeed at school, bored out my face! Glad there are some like you out there keeping poetry alive. Not sure if I'll seek any out so you'll have to get some of it on the blog M ! Good luck with your thing at the weekend.


  2. Shakespeare was bisexual. It says so in Doctor Who Series Three Episode Two.

  3. Hahahaha. Sadness, thy name is Gillian Philip

  4. Well said that man! My favourite quote from the poetry reading you singled out was the one that said it was the most fun they had had on a Friday evening that didn't involve sex!