Tag Archives: poetry

If verse comes to worst.

I’m the opposite of a poetry snob. I’m a poetry slob. Like many people, overexposure to gradiose verbiage from TS Eliot and Thomas Hardy during my later school years led me to distrust poetry.

It’s not straightforward, not clear in its intent, and some of it is more than obscure, it’s maliciously unintelligible.

I know a couple of poets, and one (The amazing Mark Niel) is a poet for the people. He often writes “stuff what rhymes”. He writes about events, and if he uses metaphor, you can spot it for what it is and understand WHY he’s used it. His poems make you smile, more often than not, and the conclusion will have you nudging a friend or neighbour as you grin and say “Look at this!”

To me, it comes back to the old argument about art and intent. When ordinary folks look at modern art pieces, they often say ‘What’s it meant to be?” and get told “That’s not the right question! Don’t be silly, it’s not supposed to ‘be’ anything” etc etc. Worst of all, some artists deny ever having any intent beyond “Provoking a reaction” in their audience. To me, this is a failure. Art should always have intent, an aim, a message. Poetry, I think, has a harder job than prose, because you are deliberately choosing to frame that message in a set format, either the rhyme scheme, or the number of syllables per line, or the more complicated rules of the many, many other poetry forms. If you don’t know what I mean, pick up one of Neil Gaiman’s collections of short stories – he always includes some poetry, and usually explains the rules of the form he has chosen.

So while I love prose, and the freedom of banging out a play or short story, using the odd trick or effort to create a better image or atmosphere in what I write, poetry makes you, the writer, work harder for your piece. In the last week I was tagged in the five days of gratitude challenge on Facebook, and for a giggle decided to do the whole five days in rhyme. Even though for most of the challenge I was only using doggerel (rhyming couplets, if you prefer), there was a huge strain in trying to fit the things I wanted to say into the confines of those rhythms and rhymes.

Adrian Plass once gave a talk about poetry that I attended, and he said “Let the content dictate the rhyme”. It’s simple advice, but harder than you think. It often involves throwing away a perfectly decent opening line because it won’t allow the right content for the following line.

I think my message here is not to be afraid of poetry – don’t mistake it for some ethereal creature, tied to Byron and th’moon and the vagaries of the Muse. Poetry can be fun, it can be tough, it can break your heart in four lines, and it’s always a damn good workout for your brain.

 

What is a poem?

(From the forthcoming “The Poems of Edwin Plant”)

What is a poem?

He said “What, then? Should I write you a poem?”

And she said “What is a poem?”

And though it was not his nature or his practice, he wrote.

He chased words through his mind

And pinned them to paper with the nib of his pen.

He spoke the words to her in nervous apprehension.

And she laughed.

“Moon, spoon, june!” she laughed.

“Is this love? Is this a poem?”

And he went away and chewed his pen.

He wrote in a fury, in a blaze, in desperation.

He wrote without thought, without pause, without punctuation.

He brought before her his soul laid out in ink.

His love for her as it flowed from his heart through his pen to the page.

And she laughed.

“Language evolved for apes to tell each other where the best fruit grows.

Is this love? Is this a poem?”

He went away again and looked.

He watched the sun rise and set.

He watched butterflies amongst the flowers.

He looked at rare orchids and traced their gentle colours and curves in paint.

He rode ships across the oceans and climbed mountains.

He returned to her and laid at her feet:

Paintings, flowers, photographs and deeds of ownership.

She sniffed.

“Is this love? Is this a poem?”

Ashamed and downcast,

He walked away.

Down the street where she lived.

Through crowds that melted before him.

Shadows in the misery.

Until light sparkled from a shop window.

He returned to her.

“I have brought you a poem.”

He said.

He went down on one knee and brought out a ring.

The diamond flared in the light.

It glowed, it gleamed, it glimmered.

It snared her heart and told her stories she could not hear.

“Is this” he asked “a poem?”

 

 

Two years later.

She left him for a singer.

Of Cats

(From the forthcoming “The Poems of Edwin Plant”)

Image

Of Cats

When life’s harsh, gruelling, grinding pace

Wears away my personal space.

And strain shows clear upon my face.

I crave a little feline grace.

A cat’s demands are simple, few.

He lets you know what you must do.

“Let me in/out” and “Feed me!” too.

And in return he’ll offer you…

Well, nothing, if the truth is told.

Your payment, neither love nor gold.

A cat may warm as he grows old,

But in youth’s bloom, his heart is cold.

So, what appeal, this silent sage?

How does cold heart soothe injured rage

From battling this baffling age?

Why care, without receipt of wage?

(Now I pause, regard my pen.

I think I’ve found the words, and then…

They’re gone. I falter, once again.

I take a breath, and count to ten…)

Is love the word I’m looking for?

This creature curled upon the floor

Commands obedience with a wavḗd paw.

No Caesar reigned half as secure.

He deigns to live at home with me.

His presence more than company.

His cutting sneer a balm to see

Whatever that day’s misery.

I’d make this daily toil my lot.

Serve Cat and leave the world to rot.

If this could be, yet it cannot.

I’ll serve the cat I haven’t got.

Don’t give up the day job!

Mark Niel - Poet, Writer....Wordslinger!

That’s the advice you’ll hear most often when you tell people you’re a writer, and to be fair, it’s good advice. Writing is, as my friend Lucy V Hay pointed out today, a gamble – there’s no pension attached.

But giving up the day job is just what Mark Niel has done. You can find his blog – Pawhouse Boy – in the blogroll at the side of the page, and that’ll describe him and his endeavours better than I could. Mark is a poet, and a very successful one. He’s won awards, seen off other dedicated wordsmiths at slam poetry events up and down the UK. There’s very little I can say that will convey my utter respect for that ability, let alone the faith that allows him to make the jump from mainstream employment to freelance writer.

As a playwright, I like to think I choose my words, but in reality, they rush out. I think in paragraphs, hear waterfalls of dialogue. To put it another way, when I turn out my script, I’m not facing my audience, I’m hunkered in my bunker behind a .50Cal manuscript, battering the audience with a stream of words, hoping one or two will penetrate and be enough to knock ‘em dead.

The poet, particularly the Slam Poet, picks their words with care. They are the gunslingers of the writing world. The wordslingers. They use their ammo sparingly, making each word count, finding the target again and again with a scary precision.

If you don’t believe me, see Mark in action here. Try not to be deceived by the apparent simplicity of the words – think about the time and effort it took to assemble each line, to make it fit the meter and subject and the signature refrain. Poetry is hardcore. Respect!