A good article on The Imaginative Conservative, entitled “Why You Should Read and Write Poetry”, http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2018/01/read-write-poetry-dwight-longenecker.html
A bird sang
In the churchyard as I
A thought unbidden sprang
Into my heart.
For all my art
I know that I shall die.
You stayed for a while
And made me smile.
Then, when you where gone
I thought on
And those who choose
And how verse can not feed
The poet’s every need
I am part of an informal network where people meet over coffee to discuss their jobs. The idea behind the network is to enable individuals from diverse professions/disciplines to learn from one another in an unpressured environment. These informal chats also furnish people with the chance to discuss non work related matters, for example hobbies. During a recent meeting (having exhausted work related issues), the conversation turned to outside interests. I mentioned that I write poetry. At this juncture there emanated from my companion what I can only describe as a distinct titter. “So you don’t like poetry?” I said. “I don’t have much time for reading”, replied my newly made acquaintance.
Shortly after the above exchange, we shook hands and went our separate ways.
Looking back on the incident, I am torn between amusement at the fact that the writing of poetry elicited mirth from a grown person, and sadness at the seeming inability of my acquaintance to engage (or at least attempt to engage) with something other than their own narrow profession (that of finance).
There are, of course things with which I find it difficult to engage. For instance I am not a lover of opera. I would not, however dream of dismissing (or laughing at) this art form as to do so would indicate boorishness on my part. If a friend where to invite me to the opera I would go along as I am open minded and prepared to develop my tastes. Where I to attend an operatic performance and not find it to my liking I certainly would not titter but, as is so often said it takes all sorts to make a world.
My encounter with this individual reignited within me a curiosity regarding why some people dismiss poetry out of hand. One possible reason explaining the disinclination of people to engage with poetry is that the art form is often associated in the public’s mind with complex imagery and metaphor. For instance to fully grasp Eliot’s “The Wasteland” demands copious reading of notes with their references to mythology, history etc. I, personally find the effort entailed in following up on often obscure references enhances my understanding of Eliot’s work. I do, however understand that others feel differently.
While much poetry is complex, a good deal is not. For instance Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” is a wonderful balad describing the doomed love affair between a highwayman and an inkeeper’s daughter. No arcane knowledge is required to enjoy the poem. None the less the idea that poetry “is not for me” persists in the minds of many.
Does the reluctance of some to engage with poetry stem from a fear of deep emotion. The best poetry frequently tackles issues with which many are disinclined to engage. To take a concrete example, in “Aubade” Larkin ponders on death and, in particular our fear of dying. It is often said that in Victorian England sex was the taboo subject. Perhaps in today’s consumerist society the great taboo is death, hence the reluctance of many to engage with poems (and other art forms) which tackle this topic. It is easier to flick between TV soap operas than it is to immerse oneself in the profundities of poetry.
However not all poetry is of a serious nature. “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear and the many limericks, written by countless individuals prove that verse need not be serious.
In conclusion, poetry is for everyone so why are significant numbers of people not attracted to this art form? As stated above, I believe that part of the answer to this question lies in the mistaken belief that poetry is by its nature intrinsically difficult. While some poetry is difficult to interpret, by no means all poetry falls into this category. Consequently any attempt to tackle the misconception that the art form is difficult needs to ensure that young people (and others) are introduced to as broader range of poetry as is possible (both “difficult” and not “difficult”).
As regards the saturated consumerist society in which we live, one in which beautiful women are used to sell all manner of products, this is a more difficult issue. As a liberal (with a small l), I have no desire to tell others how they should spend their leisure time. One man’s meat is another man’s poison and it is not for me to force a dish of my choosing on others. I can only hope that through a rounded education people will come to appreciate poetry at a young age and that this love will remain with them throughout their lives.
There was a young lady of Dutch extraction
To whom I felt an attraction.
She was a lover of art
And lived in my heart,
But to her I was a mere abstraction!
The below poems are reproduced with the kind permission of Alice Guile and are copyright Alice Guile. Alice’s work may not be reproduced or copied in any manner without her express written permission. To find out more about Alice’s work please visit, https://www.facebook.com/houseofmarvelsdesign/.
The Stable Boy’s sister
You swapped the stamping of hooves
For mud thicker than Mother’s passion fruit jam
Sucking at your boots, sucking you in
Until you could hold out no longer.
The starched linen of my nightdress
Wound the world around me
Like a fly wrapped in spider’s silk
I would emerge in a darker land.
I struggled in the web, eyes fluttering,
Alice. My name travelled across the ocean
From parched lips disciplined by the shudder
Of machines. I never thought you would call.
I hauled the whole household back from a place
Where there is no King’s Shilling, no war
To end all wars. Bob is not gone.
Nightmare. Go back to sleep child.
Three days later the telegram comes, delivered
By a granite faced postman, his fourth that day.
I am already wearing black, I knew the hour.
Death cannot make a brother’s love lose its power.
A Kestrel on Christmas Eve
We floundered in a swirling ploughed field
Dragging up sole after tired sole
From the gulping of earth’s whitening jaws.
The sticky Buckinghamshire sod grappled
With our footfalls in the tireless habit
Of a scorned woman. Out to the far right
We saw a Kestrel effortlessly glide among stars
Her little wings held all the world in a weightless silence,
A feathered atlas above the phantom of a wheat field,
Steadfast as a mirage in the white confetti air.
I took the ring from my pocket as a sparkling wind
Bullied and beat those stubborn hedges.
Snow-flakes caressed our suffering fingertips
As the Kestrel hovered eternal like a sapphire
Cloaked in deep indigo twilight, Orion’s consort
Her obsidian eyes watched us drown each other’s lips.
Dazed and angelic, we were swallowed by the moon
As Kestrel hung still, sheltering us from the weather.
That field is gone. Stiff houses in pedantic rows
Clinical tarmac and town planners have now sanitised
That wild magical place where a Kestrel once hunted
Like a fulcrum of violence, a savage priestess of the moor
Just under the North Star. But they can never destroy
The memory of that moment in time, of nature’s blessing
On the Christmas Eve that I made you mine.
The Rose Garden
A bone crunching noise proceeds
The sudden silence, the smell of acrid smoke
Enveloping a blackened child’s car seat,
An abandoned suitcase or a single shoe,
Hot twisted spires of metal seem
Like something from a disaster film
But more solid, pulsating, unfolding in real time
In front of dewy bovine eyes that stare at the shell,
Faces white and hard as bone china, but with a fascination
Like that of hyenas at the sight of a carcass
But somewhere, far away from blood and tears
There is an empty corridor in an old house
Where a clock ticks unfeelingly,
Carefully tidying away the moment like a relic,
A used wedding dress or yellowing lace
Folded back and back into history.
Through the window, there is a quiet rose garden
Where a butterfly perches on an oak twig
And a sundial echoes with the laughter
Of long grown children.
All the pain that has ever been felt
Is sinking to the bottom of a bottomless pool,
Until all that can be seen are ripples
On the surface of a calm pond.
A young woman, on the radio, sings of crushes
And how love comes and goes.
She spares no blushes
Regaling me with her affairs.
A song light as air
That passes over where
The party goers play.
It is the tune of this nubile
To which the dancers twirl.
There may be a denial
That this constitutes art.
I, for my part
Find in her voice, a pleasant enough warble
Over which to dordle
As I bathe and shave