The Polarising Power of Poetry
The name of this article struck me and forced me to read it: Why Do Some People Hate Poetry?
Why the hatred of poetry? What has it done to you? Ok, maybe it tortured you in your early school years with memorisation and meaningless recitation. In my school days we had to recite the tiresome Shakespearean sonnet 18 of comparing thee to a summer’s day, yawn. Starting with poetry written in an unrecognisable dialect (even if it is your mother tongue) is never a good idea. 20th century poetry written in english is a much better place to start. The first poem that really struck me was The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell. It’s very short but it will punch you in the guts:
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
It’s published in 1969, and I read it in the mid 1980’s, when American’s nostalgia for the 1960s-70s war in Vietnam was at it’s height. Given the political climate in 2017 I doubt I would have been able to read this in a literature class as a teenager, but lucky me no one was paying attention at that time. For me this poem is the horror of war encapsulated in 5 lines. If you read it on the context of Americans fighting in Vietnam, you remember that soldiers at this time were drafted (conscripted sounds more appropriate), and many of them died in heavy fighting over ideology in a country that didn’t want them there in the first place. The speaker is part of a larger machine and he is ultimately expendable. When I read this I hear Pink Floyd’s ‘Welcome to the Machine’ playing in my head (nb – lyrics, lyrical poetry, get it?).
Poetry is art in word form, lyrics ready to be set to music, thoughts and feelings on the page. Instead of a picture expressing something (feelings, emotions), poems are words doing the same thing. A word picture, if you will.
It is my carefully considered opinion that one cannot appreciate poetry if one isn’t in possession of a good imagination and visualisation skills. If you can’t see or feel what the poet is expressing, I get the idea that poems sound like a lot of nonsense words mixed together. Poems don’t tell a story or convey an idea in a step by step manner. They draw a sketch and you fill in the blanks. You can colour a poem any way you want to, or take it as it is. It’s up to you. I think certain personality types are more comfortable having things spelled out for them, and those types will not appreciate having to do some work on their own to get meaning out of a poem. That’s fine – TV will always be there for them.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided that poetry would be a focal point for realigning my thoughts and experiences away from pointless, destructive infotainment. In addition to my favourite book of poetry, I have gathered a few others that I am attempting to read. Some of them are :
- Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda (Spanish & English)
- Bedouin of the London Evening by Rosemary Tonks
- Poetry Anthology Four Seasons by JD McClatchy
- Complete Poems by Dorothy Parker
- Complete Poetical Works by William Wordsworth
- Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Alan Ginsberg
- On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho (translated by L Stryk)
In these poems, I’m looking for something to memorise, something that I can go back to when I need a moment of quiet meditation. I have not found what I’m looking for yet. I have read two of these books in entirety (Tonks, Ginsberg) and have made headway into Parker and Neruda. Basho is hard to get into because they’re all haikus, and Basho is notable for being a famous haiku-ist who doesn’t follow traditional haiku rules (why he’s till considered a haiku poet I don’t know). There is a debate in the poetry community regarding translated poems – are they as good as the original and can we still call them poems by the original poet given that the translator has chose different words? I’ll cover that in a different post.
Lots can be done with these poems – memorisation, illustration, contemplation – and no, I haven’t done any of that yet. I have some other random books of poetry, most strangely the complete poems of George Orwell which I have read and am confused by (nb stick to essays and novels my good man).
Best get started on it. Things can only get better from here.