As National Poetry Day is met with scepticism, Dan McLaughlin examines why the art form is under appreciated.
When the average person thinks of poetry, they are transported back to the socially awkward situation of being a 14-year-old in a classroom being told to recite Shakespearean sonnet. This uncomfortable scenario brings back red-faced memories of stuttering through ‘Tyger, tyger burning bright’ whilst your teacher orders you to appreciate the poem. How does one appreciate a poem, when forced? It conjures up images of the bad cop/good cop routine, in iambic pentameter.
National Poetry Day may very well bring scepticism from those tortured with Keats and DH Lawrence during their schooldays. However, poetry is not evil. It can be a rather pleasant thing when one begins to understand and enjoy it. Stephen Fry wrote in his wonderful guide to poetry, An Ode Less Travelled:
“Among the pleasures of poetry is the sheer physical, sensual, textural, tactile pleasure of feeling the words on your lips, tongue, teeth and vocal chords.”
(‘Stephen Fry’ courtesy of GNU via WikimediaCommons)
How come they don’t teach you this in school? Mainly, because education is a sausage machine where the students are processed to get grades, not appreciation. You are never taught of the silly joy of reading Tennyson’s Kraken in a Glaswegian accent (Below the thunders of the upper deep/Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea/ His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep/ The Kraken sleepeth) or attempting to read the first line of Simon Armitage’s The Christening aloud with a straight face (I am a sperm whale).
Poetry comes across as a bit archaic. Soon its windows will fail, and it will not be able to see to see. Our etymology is evolving, and once romantic language, which stemmed from our stanzas will be replaced with acronyms and LOL. This is evident via Twitter, where @Lawrah86 attempted poetry in 140 characters with:
Ohhhhh Charlie, I can’t wait to be yer second wife, we could have a pure dead brilliant life. #nationalpoetryday
— Laura (@Lawrah86) October 3, 2013
When poetry tries to be at its most cool, it still looks pretentious with its tweed jacket and leather elbow pads. Beat poetry is a popular form of verse, but it so easily ridiculed. In the Mike Myers’ film So I Married An Axe Murderer the protagonist attempts beat poetry (or slam poetry, in the US) with these killer lines:
She was a thief.
You got to belief.
She stole my heart, and my cat.”
Although Tim Minchin’s 9 ½ minutes beat poem, called Storm, is well worth a read and a watch.
(‘Iambic Pentameter’ courtesy of Remy van Elst via Picasa)
Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”. Poetry is an uncensored form of communication flowing directly from the poet’s mind; almost like a diary that happens to rhyme. It is a personal and visceral thing, so when our teachers forced upon us ‘appreciation’, this was completely the wrong approach. I have remained unmoved by some poetry, such as Lawrence and Keats because I am hardly lovey-dovey; but I find Edgar Allan Poe enthralling, because I have been terrified of his poem Raven since my Nan bought me his anthology from a charity shop as a child.
Some of you may have attempted to write poetry, for which I congratulate you. It is a hugely daunting task, and there are only a select few who can achieve it. Primary school teachers up and down the country seek solitude in whiskey after hearing “the cat in the hat sat on the mat” fifty times over. I once tried to write some form of comprehensible poetry, when my best friend became a father for the first time. Here is my feeble attempt:
“I have no wise words for you today, my friend: This is where the jurisdiction of my wit ends. I’m afraid I don’t have any philosophy to cite, No great thinkers to quote, try as I might.
So this is it! When art starts to make sense! No more jokes at the poet’s expense. Suddenly you start to listen to Keats and Tennyson: All because of the birth of wee Lennon.”
Poetry is archaic, uncool and perhaps on life support machine awaiting a power failure, but it is also brutally honest. Do not quiver in fear of National Poetry Day, but celebrate the institution of true emotions.