Monday, December 05, 2005

Pomes and Stuff


Poetry used to have a much higher profile in our society. At one time every literate household in the country would have had the collected works of Byron, Tennyson, and Keats on their bookshelves. Most people would have been able to recite at least one poem by rote, and would have been familiar with the majority of poetic forms.

There is probably more poetry written and published today than at any point in the past. Most of it just doesn’t get read. The only working poet today who is likely to be able to earn a living from their work is (famous) Seamus Heaney.

Poetry is one of the purest art forms. It requires a level of verbal exactitude and technical proficiency that is daunting. Unlike modern art, it does not allow charlatans to masquerade as creative geniuses. Bad poetry is palpably bad; doggerel verse is instantly recognisable and cannot claim any literary merit that it self evidently lacks.

There is a new website called Poetry Archive that has collected recordings of some famous poets reciting their work. I’ve always held the opinion that poetry is best read from the page; I don’t like performance poetry as I think it loses all the subtleties of which the medium is capable.

Listening to W B Yeats reciting ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, one of the most famous poems in the English language, is memorable for all the wrong reasons. I actually burst out laughing when I first heard it. Yeats may have been a poet of genius, but he was also a bit of a berk. Have a listen here; I think you’ll agree that it would be impossible to murder a superb poem as absolutely as Yeats manages.

15 comments:

Wyndham said...

Poetry is a bit of a blind spot to me, I'm afraid. I tend to hang on to prose like a blind man to a stick. Remove the narrative and I'm a bit lost.

garfer said...

What, not even Pam Ayers or Spike Milligan?
Shame on you.

MHN for short said...

What about Shel Silverstien? Or has he expired?

Love Yeats, btw.

Wyndham said...

Dorothy Parker and Wendy Cope. That's two.

Piggy and Tazzy said...

Poetry? Fucking poetry?

You bloody poof.

It'll be opera next.

BigDov said...

While i probably couldn't put it as eloquently as Piggy and Tazzy above, poetry is not something I take a tremendous interest (although whether that's poetry's fault or my fault is up for debate!)

suburban wonder said...

"There was a young man from Nantucket..." What do you mean we can't recite poetry from memory?

I always liked poetry better than prose - especially in French - because the imagery is more vivid and direct, undiluted by rules and punctuation.

My favorite Yeats is When you are Old, and He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

garfer said...

Excellent choice Bronwen. 'When you are Old' is excellent.
I have already devoted a post to my hatred of opera Pigtaz.
I do have some standards you know.

garfer said...

Good choice Bronwen. 'When you are Old' is excellent.
I have already devoted a post to my hatred of opera Pigtaz. I do have some standards you know.

Spinsterella said...

I like poetry, but I've hardly tackled anything new for a couple of years.

Poetry requires time, effort, peace and quiet, and who's got any of that to spare in our frenetic, instant-gratification society?

Since Uni, the only time I've had to spare was when I was travelling. Sitting around in cafes all day reading - highly recommended.

I do always have time for a bit of Larkin though. Very easy and accessible, and always cheers me up.

garfer said...

I like Larkin. He was a bit of a miserable bastard but he did have a mordant wit.

Herge Smith said...

Fucking hell, I'm trying my best to force poetry down the necks of the proles that visit me.

I've always been more of a Tony Harrison man meself, and the man himself Mr D Thomas - poetry with a bt of bite - can't bear poems about flowers or love. Shite.

garfer said...

Dylan was a scrounging piss head. Pretty good poet though.
'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower'.
Sounds a bit rude that.

Herge Smith said...

Tony Harrison is the man though -

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Piggy and Tazzy said...

*dull thud as head hits desk*