(With thanks to my esteemed colleague for reciprocal incitement :)
There seems to be a running debate these days about the nature of poetry, what it actually is, which leaves aspiring poets in a state of confusion.
Our ancestors, right up to the 1950s, seemed to know what it was by instinct. Sound poetry always had, and always will have, a universal resonance. Verse, doggerel, limerick all had a place, usually humorous, that was lauded for its outlandish nonsense and astute comment. The chronicles of history sparkle with the light-hearted asides of versifiers. (Imagine that now! Maybe we are better bred, or, more likely, it's just that we have lost a true sense of sportmanship.) They were in rhyme because that made them memorable and somehow funnier and more piquant.
Rhyme has long gone out of fashion and is much maligned. This seems to coincide with the 'freedom' our Western civilisation thinks it has gained after doing battle with tyranny in two World Wars. Added to that, the splitting of the atom, with its proliferation of consequences, has undermined integrity . These milestones in cosmological history have challenged scientific and moral will. The old framework is demolished. Some maintain that God is dead. Others claim to have established it. This leaves no reference point, no order, no context in which we belong, and much less, thrive. It actually leaves nothing to rebel against except the supposed causes of our amorphous pain and offers no hope beyond a fateful and arbitrary redistribution of suffering.
In the wake of all this, our artforms have become fragmented, our vision solipsist. It's harder to communicate. The right we assert to limitless choice is an illusion which has made us lazy about tuning into a common theme: the predicament of our shared existence on this planet.
But art, like life, needs a vehicle. Perhaps 'vessel' is more apt. It thrives upon a paring down of options. Ultimately, economic recession can only be good for it. We are made in the Creator's image. We are compelled to create. There is nothing like repression for producing work that excels us.
This principle was memorably illustrated by Brian Keenan in An Evil Cradling.
"Captivity had recreated freedom for us. Not a freedom outside us to be hungered after, but another kind of freedom which we found to our surprise and relish within ourselves."
Art, in order to prove its value, has always needed the needle's eye.
All this has a bearing on our view of poetry. The call to rhyme and rhythm tends to flag up bad poetry, not only because of the sophistication, or otherwise, of the rhyme scheme, but because of the discipline it demands in the use of crisp, telling, multi-layered imagery within a prescribed number of balanced syllables.
But this is by no means a plea to abandon free verse, nor is there any intention of discrediting such. We are of our times and must ply with the momentum. It is a plea on behalf of those, like me, who are finding their way through thickets of the empirical, self-conscious, imitative and idiosyncratic. Good communication is good manners. Think of the reader. Harken to the wisdom of academe, be dazzled by it, then forget it. Forget the vogue. Be still and hold counsel with yourself, listen to the rhythms of your soul, tap into the deep well of emotion and experience that is the unique You, be driven by the language, shuffle the images so that they fall into a new pattern in the mind's kaleidoscope. Latch on to a metre that matches your subject, as Robert Browning did, for one, in How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.
Red Room is richly blessed by its poets and I've been inspired by them and learned a lot. But the best thing I've gleaned is this: in the general haystack of opinion about what constitutes real poetry, first find your needle!
Jericho Rose, Songs from the Wilderness coming 2013
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