Other school, college and university course experiences with poetry were similar, I would either like the poet or their work straight away (because I got it!), or I would suffer through all the teasing out that lit courses require of you: what is the metre, what is the imagery, what metaphors/similes, if any are there? Is it a trochee? Is there enjambment? My overwhelming thoughts at these worksheet approaches to poetry were: blah blah blah, bloody hell! Why is it deliberately so complicated??!
The thing is: I have always been a reader of stories, of novels, of plays. It’s not that I like things to be clear and linear and go from A to B. I like too much odd writing for that to be the case. I particularly like to be confused by what I’m reading, often. I’m a great fan of unreliable narrators, for example. But I do like to able to have a vague idea what I am reading about, in order for me to care. It’s ok if I don’t if I am carried along by the writing. Then I will be patient and wondering.
Too much of the poetry I have studied for courses, and read by myself has been simply clever. Like that’s the most important requirement. Pretentious, is how I ended up thinking about it. Deliberate cleverness for the sake of it; to stroke one’s own ego.
I married a poet once upon a time, hello Alias Troubadour! I recently discovered you are reading this blog, so welcome back to the poetry rant you will be very familiar with from long years of hearing it!!
I’ve heard poetry described as a form where every single word counts, works, does something…and then compared to prose with a snitchy turned up nose, as if to say: look at all those spare and completely extraneous words! Every writing course I’ve ever read emphasises the importance of making every word count in prose too, and in all my favourite books and authors, I’m not aware of loads of misplaced or vainly present words. (I do like to overload a sentence with words when I’m writing, but that’s just me being greedy!)
Alias Troubadour used to write quite magnificent poetry…to a point, I thought. The point being: when we first met, he wrote loads of the most beautiful love poetry to me that I’ve ever read. And of course, to This Very Day, I would say it was His Very Very Best Work! Tender and full of image, softly spoken emotion. And some of it was clever…but never to the point where I got lost. Which is the point.
The rest of his work – OH! It used to drive me insane! I could see that it was all very…clever, and had bits and pieces explained to me. I used to get roundly fed up with being told that if I couldn’t understand this or that bit, or wasn’t prepared to put the time in to think about it and ponder, then really, it wasn’t for me…That used to very much annoy me. It reminded me of the Bible. If something is so impenetrable that it needs a glossary, many commentaries, historians, and so much context that we could have several other fat books worth next to it simply to interpret it…then what value is the original THING? If something is so hard to understand that it’s almost incomprehensible – then who is it for?
In the case of clever poetry and Alias Troubadour’s in particular, it was for other clever clever people who also liked to play incessantly with words (and also, a lot of them had a deep love of very bad puns indeed – the pun is coming back into fashion, you know, have you noticed??) He used to run an online forum where he and others of this mindset would go and play with words together – writing villanelles together one season, and other forms the next. I would look over his shoulder and understand one poem in ten. Which used to infuriate the hell out of me!
I don’t think I am stupid, generally. And I can’t stand things that make me feel stupid – and that seem to be there for solely that purpose!! Specially when people used to raise an eyebrow at me, blow smoke in my face and say they’d come for a walk with me in a minute, when they had finished their latest part in some sonnet game or other! Argh! I remember once, saying to the dashing and very pleased with life Troubadour that for all the sense his poems made to me, you could stick the word ‘donkey’ in every poem, randomly, in the middle of any line and (a) the loyal (and sycophantic) readers, eager to not appear lost, would agree it was some brilliant device he had invented and then find a meaning for it for themselves, and (b) though it might have improved the sense of any of these poems, (c) I still wouldn’t have understood them at all. It wouldn’t have broken up any meaning that was there, because I couldn’t see any! I totally can’t remember what his reaction was to me getting so flustered and angry and rude about it. I think he was indulgent, perfectly confident in himself of the excellence of the creations (and the happy reaction they would get amongst his following). (We used to have many intense arguments about poetry some of which lasted years, which is a cause for great amusement, I feel: what a civilised thing to have a mini ongoing war about!)
But I still feel most poetry is a donkey, to me. For me. Saying that, I have a list of poets I do like, that has about 20 people on it, but its never a form I pick up for love – as it seems to be trying so hard all the time. I never read it as effortless, or seamless – I am never lost in it. Either I am thrown out by not understanding something, or I am just not feeling the voice I am hearing. The major exception to this in the last couple of years, has been John McCullough’s The Frost Fairs, which I mentioned in an earlier post (Book List of 2011, Part 1). That did read effortlessly, each poem a story, a coherent voice. But I will stick with prose I think. (And those execrable not-poems I produce when feeling surly; which I have the good sense to show no one, except Alias Dreamer occasionally, since he is forgiving of flights of badly written fancy!)
I don’t think the world would be better without poetry or anysuch – I’m not THAT annoyed by it: its just a purely personal gripe, at being made to feel dumb. I like to flow with things I’m reading. I think we need the Poetry Tribe in the world, they think in a sidewayzee manner and more than one type of thought is needed here: tolerance to odd thought patterns! But like a communicable disease, I shall place them far away from me, because on average, they irritate the hell out of me (and a lot of them are subject to Famous Poet Envy, and imagine themselves Sylvia Plath-ish, or Ted Hughes-ish; being either doomy and depressive, or drunk womanising scoundrels).
Good luck all the poetry lovers; and please don’t go on about its brilliance to me, I shall start to doze. All the while wondering why the poet couldn’t have written a good prose story instead…and whether Alias Troubadour sometimes or occasionally still wears a cravat, which is partly how I knew he was a Proper Poet (body of work aside), as it actually suited him very well and looked rather fetching and jaunty.