Text of book
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16 in the book
So This Is Poetry
The Poetry Mafia 19
Poetic Companion 20
Rock of Ages 21
Not Caring About Poems 22
Advice to a Nature Poet 23
Ballade of a Hungry Poet 24
Guidance from an Established Poet 25
Parkin' Larkin 26
Feather-headed Verse 28
Start of page 17 in the book
It would seem sensible, X advised, to start
off this collection of my life poems with the few disconnected
items which, over the years, I have written about poetry itself.
I admit they don't fit together. You will forgive that - knowing
they were written separately, years apart, as the messages arrived.
The anonymous editor of The Works of A.
E. Housman (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994) said poetry should
bypass thought, and plunge to the very pit of emotion. While enthusiastically
agreeing with that, I also think poetry is about sharing. When
I am impelled to write a poem, rather than expressing the thought
in prose, it is because I wish to share the sentiments I have
received with every person whom, usually not by name or identity,
I feel moved to address. As a poet, I'm not keen on talking to
That however is not the only reason why
one might resort to verse as a means of expression. It is not
even the most important reason. Verse is used where prose will
not suffice. It is the glory of poetry to transcend prose. Poetry
takes us, if we will let it, a stage further than prose ever can
- into the beyond (what's that?). It communicates what otherwise
might be lost as incommunicable between we dumbstruck humans.
But the recipient does need to use some effort.
How then should the recipient perceive the
poem possibly intended as a direct arrow addressed to him or her
in person? It is too easy to see the inwinging poem merely as
a frivolous literary effusion, shut one's mind, and pass over
the content with a blind gesture. That is often done, but it is
not the right way. It defeats the purpose of poetry, which is
to communicate vital ideas in a manner not otherwise available.
If we dismiss the poem we lose the idea.
So a poem is an idea. The way to perceive
it, I suggest, is first to ask why the particular idea was expressed
in that particular way, known as a poem. Why cannot prose be used
to transmit every idea we humans might have? The question is unanswerable,
but I will proffer some hints.
Poetry is suggestive, where prose is direct.
Poetry is allusive, where prose is down to earth. Above all, poetry
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18 in the book
effort of the reader. You cannot read poetry
if your brain is not prepared to do some work of a perceptive
kind (the brain is all we have). Essentially, this requires recognition
of the presence in the poem of implications, hints, oblique suggestions,
and other forms of indirect communication. The glory of poetry
is that it rewards intellectual effort which might otherwise never
be deployed. It demands appreciation of what is not directly expressed.
Often that is not easy, but as we all know little in life worth
having is easy.
In what does this work of understanding
poetry consist? That depends on how perceptive you happen to be.
If from the start you are on the poet's wavelength, the message
will come through direct, without effort. If you cannot at once
catch the nuances, implications and hints then the process may
be more difficult, and you must work at it. This effort will always
be worth while.
Poetry exists to fill gaps in prose. It
is there to do what prose cannot do because it is too rooted in
literal meaning and unable to take flight in oblique suggestion.
Both forms of communication are very much needed. But in all our
concentration on prose the important role of poetry must never
be overlooked. Or we shall lose much, and possibly lose touch.
The poet also needs to know how to handle
words. The wonderful English language, which is the only one I
use, carries the impress of a long history. This means that English
words hold within themselves the fraught lives of dozens of generations.
The English words are imbued with that long history. When we use
those words we can, if we are able, extract the history - and
that applies to our readers also. It is a privilege to be allowed
to use the English language.
Finally it needs to be stressed that the
person who is the poet may not quite know what he or she is communicating.
Sometimes the poet merely relays a truth without understanding
it. Truth bounces off the sounding board a poet is privileged
to be. Often, the messages come from elsewhere. Where that may
be one can only guess.
There are nine poems in this first group.
They will speak for themselves, like all the poems in this collection.
It would be an impertinence for me to attempt to describe what
they have to say. It would defeat the object. So I will not do
Start of page 19 in the book
For you to be a poet
we've all got to know it.
To be recognised as a bard
you've got to be known down town.
We judges need to know what you've been
and what you've done on our scene:
where you've been, and with whom
since that painful ejection from the womb.
Suddenly emerging, blinking,
for us isn't good enough.
Round here we're pretty tough
about poets who skulk behind screens
scribbling away for a lifetime (ho! ho!)
in their dim candle-lit garret
and now suddenly bursting out
brandishing their pathetic sheaf
expecting us to kow-tow to them -
it simply won't do you know.
So get back below.
Start of page 20 in the book
Every poet ever born has thought
he speaks whole truths, old truths,
into deaf ears.
As if speaking to himself
were not enough,
the ear of those others
and, heart falling,
found it closed.
Yet, still calling,
scarcely raising his tone,
has warbled on
along with some confident singing bird.
Start of page 21 in the book
Rock of Ages
I steal their music
it plays for them, the young ones
but I roll it away
on a stealer's wheel
to steal the scene
of Judy Teen
I've got a mean streak, man
I'm full of kinks
dinked in by the heavy
who wants a family anyway?
Up in the sky
there's American pie
but my wings aren't enough
held on by a plastic ono free electric band
I see a star but
feel like a prehistoric monster
much older than sex
and tyrannosaurus rex
I dress in pink floyd, deep purple
it looks ridiculous on me
I haven't their slender-slim bodies
when I was nineteen I was skinny
They ask for bread
but I give them a rolling stone
they look at me curiously
it's not what they want
Start of page 22 in the book
People with busy lives
don't listen, don't really care,
about poems, hidden language, truth.
They dismiss all that as tomfoolery -
and boring to boot.
Those busy folk don't know what they're missing.
It's useless telling them:
they will not be told.
Nowadays advanced humans will not be told anything;
believing they know it all already.
However there are poetical things these victims
and are weakened by missing.
They will lose out, and none of us can afford to do that.
We all need to be aware that poets, or some of them,
have the ear of God or the Universe.
Poets use few words, relying on implication,
or imagination in the reader -
they necessarily latch on brains and imagination.
Lost otherwise, they make the reader think - and work;
working it all out, if you think of it that way.
Working out their own salvation - that's poetry's
Some things can be said in no other way.
Some truths will remain hidden, if poets are lax
or readers do not pay attention.
So don't turn a deaf ear to the poets.
Start of page 23 in the book
Advice to a Nature
are on the wrong theme.
The stuff about Nature
is all very well - but your reader,
while polite about birds, responsive
on the subject of hills or Spring,
has a thing
about the human race:
has more than a trace of obsession about one
of that race.
Start of page 24 in the book
Ballade of a Hungry
'A poet could not but be
cried Willie Wordsworth, all aflame
Shelley replied, then stalked away
'A poet's food is love and fame'
through all the world our fate's the same
we bend the language to our will
but editors we cannot tame
The rate for poetry is nil
A skeleton I saw today
with shreds of flesh still on his frame
his silenced voice asked me to say
that in his heart there is no blame
for waste of his poetic skill
your editors he could not tame
The rate for poetry is nil
The unpremeditated lay
you feel inclined to treat the same
as verses nursed for many a day
our muse for you is crippled, lame
Childe Roland to the dark tower came
and even your dull senses thrill
but editors we'll never tame
The rate for poetry is nil
Prince-transvestite, while you declaim
against the factions of illwill
condemn vile courtiers who proclaim
The rate for poetry is nil
Start of page 25 in the book
an Established Poet
You inform me that you are a poet too;
that you have somewhere at hand
your box of verses, chapbook of all your mind.
But you are not known, whilst I
am a Poet who is known, and might well
be bored through and through by your chapbook.
Almost certainly would be; it's a risk
I do not choose to run. Do not presume to put me
in mind of my similar past: one advances.
Start of page 26 in the book
For the forty-third time I had a good go
at Larkin's Collected Verse.
For the forty-third time I asked myself
could there be anything worse?
Our best-loved poet is what he was
shrilled the blurb in this book.
I've tried but I can't raise a liking
for one thing he undertook.
This man is undoubtedly famous -
but what is he famous for?
For the forty-fourth time I picked up the book
and grappled with him some more.
John Carey's "Book of the Century"
was Larkin's Collected Verse.
Readers, said Carey, tend to feel
a relationship with this curse.
So I tried yet again, with "Toads"
which Carey considers sublime,
with a goal as old as Socrates,
which Larkin "rewrites for our time" (oh yes?).
Why should I let the toad work,
squeals Larkin, squat on my life?
I ask you! Call that poetry
when work's the whole point of our strife?
Start of page
27 in the book
Philip Larkin's best known bit
can't be printed, even in the gutter press.
" They f*** you up, your mum and dad"
how can asterisks be a success?
Wordsworth said poems must inspire
not fill a reader with rage.
This grubby librarian doesn't suit me:
his is verse for a beaten age.
Start of page 28 in the book
The weight and consequence of a poem
on the weight and consequence of the poet
A feather-headed versifier
can produce only
Sadly it's the feather-headed
who are mostly possessed
by the urge to versify
Whereby the repute (never widely high)
of the poetic muse Polyhymnia
is still further diminished
Wrongly because true poetry
being a necessary form of expression
does continue to be written by people with brains
You just have to find them