The Importance of Poetry
August 30th, 2013
At school, one of the texts I had to study was ‘Seven Centuries of Poetry in English’, a thick collection with a reproduction of an engraving as the cover.
I loved delving into all those wonderful poems but, even better, there was a section at the back on ‘Rhythm, Metre and Form’ which told you the mechanics of traditional poetry construction.
So I started writing my own poems in the various long-established forms: popular metre, tetrameter, pentameter, and so on.
Poems with fixed rhythm and metre aren’t in fashion these days. But I have noticed on facebook that quite a few people post these ‘old-fashioned’ type of poems on their pages. Very little free verse. It’s good to see these older forms still having a life, and that they can move, enlighten or amuse people today. (The people I’m friends with on facebook are probably not a representative sample of the population as a whole, but I’m obstinately going to persist in seeing this as a healthy and widespread trend.)
Personally, I think writing a sonnet, say, is very good training for longer-form prose writing. In fact, it’s very good training to become more articulate full-stop. If you’re set a defined number of lines (syllables, even!) to get across your theme, what better way to learn economy of language? What better way to hone your images and metaphors to their precise, imaginative best? In a way, writing poems with form and structure almost becomes a mathematical exercise for the mind, like those puzzles on the back of matchboxes where you have to make five triangular pens out of six matches, say, or something equally vexatious yet enjoyably challenging.
Here’s a rhyming couplet I wrote while still at school that’s filled with existential half-strength despair.
These eyes, unheeded beacons, flash!
The globe is gone, the message trash.
Below is a more recent sonnet where I gave myself the task of bringing a fresh approach to that timeless lament: ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’
What world is this, where honesty competes
With fraudulence, but neither one defeats
The other? Where poor live alongside rich –
Yet rich in scope? Its hard to tell who’s which.
What world that can as easily create
As pull apart, commingling love and hate?
Though doctors tend the wounds, what dearth of skill
To dull the pain, yet fail to cure the ill.
Why is it so? The world has means but aim …?
None! What absence, this, in those who proclaim
To feel? I can’t explain, no, not unless
It’s that their hearts are full of emptiness.
There is no happiness for when it’s true
It’s knowing other folks are happy, too.
Here’s an example of what I hope creates an unusual picture.
Afternoon Of an Ant
Heark, we never know how the world sits.
Come, stare into this sugar bowl,
Watch the cascading sugar dune,
And remark, as it buries ants,
How others traverse its sliding slants.
Can we ever know how the world sits?
But then again, perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree, and the ‘tweet’ and text message are the modern ways for writers to learn clarity and concision?