A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Primitive Pleasures

What's the point of clearing a wider path to poetry? For me, the answer is essentially to do with poetry being primitive - a fundamental requirement of the human spirit. Think about how we first encounter it, in the corner of the playground, chanting. Taking a basic pleasure in like sounds. Relishing rhythm and rhyme. Enjoying the mystery and nonsense of words as well as their fixity and sense. We might grow up to learn sophisticated ways of elaborating those sounds, and a differently complicated language in which to appreciate and criticize. But if we do so in ways that ignore or suppress our primitive pleasures, we're denying something essential to poetry and essential to ourselves. In this respect, and remembering Keats's great remark that poetry had 'better not come at all' if it 'comes not as easily as leaves to a tree', I would say that poetry is as natural and necessary as breathing.
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, writing in today's Guardian Review. (His tenure of the post comes to an end on 30 April this year.)
There's an excellent new poem by Andrew Motion also in today's Guardian - you can find it here.


The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree with that completely Robert - but how does one begin to get this feel of rhythm - the feel that poetry is a natural thing to do with the English language - how does one get it over to people, most of whom still regard poetry as either elitist, or highbrow - or certainly not for them

Bella said...

He said it all! so very true.

In regards to weavers comments, I have experienced alot of cross-cultural experiences, and this is where the primitive love of rhythm and words is clearly seen - it transcends the narrow view of poetry and the English language and any elitism. Certainly some of these peoples from traditional societies have a far greater talent for the essence of poetry. I have delighted many times listening to the play of English words and recitals of arabic poetry from some Somalian refugees. (Of course, Jung and the linguist and explorer, Sir Richard Burton, discovered these things many years ago in their travels to east Africa.) And many can grasp linguistic nuances much quicker than native speakers...

Bella said...

I think I rambled at bit there - I suppose what I was trying to say was poetry like music transcends any human boundaries.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Reading this is liberating; for some reason I've always felt a little daunted by poetry as if it was kind of 'up there' above me.

I like 'enjoying the mystery and nonsense of words'.

Jay said...

I always feel that I'm a bit of a peasant when it comes to poetry. I like it to have recognisable metre and rhyme, and a regular form. I like old fashioned poetry. I like doggerel!

I like John Betjeman, and T S Eliot's Macavity the Mystery Cat!

I am a Philistine, I guess. But it's the only poetry that gives me pleasure.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the quote (the Keats bit especially) but not the Motion poem. His poetry never sounds like it comes 'as easily as leaves to a tree' to me. I like his writing (the Larkin biog) but not his poems, it seems.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks everyone for these comments...

Weaver - the problem of poetry (or opera or ballet or whatever) being seen as 'élitist' is a perennial one. But to some extent I think it's a non-problem. All of us, from an early age, have an instinctive feel for rhyme and rhythm, for shape and pattern, for sound and structure - whether we like rap or Rachmaninov (or both). Poetry became quite democratic in the 60s with the Liverpool poets, and poems being read in jazz clubs and cafés (and today being read in folk clubs - eg by Rachel Fox in Montrose). The Everyman in Liverpool and Stratford East's Theatre Royal in London are good examples of community theatres attracting a varied audience mix. And as for more 'highbrow', complex and sophisticated art - you're never going to get big audiences and readerships, even from the so-called cultured 'middle-classes'.

Bella - I think 'art' does transcend boundaries of class, age, sex, culture, language etc. Because of its immediacy, its visceral quality, its potential for shock, its universality, its common currency as well as its uniqueness, its joy, its ability to make us think, its ability to make us amazed, and countless other qualities.

Raph - poetry is everywhere and for everyone. Nursery rhymes, playground chants, hymns, prayers, limericks, folk songs, rap songs, the common speech of ordinary people like you or I, the owl's call and the fox's bark, the voice of grasshopper and cricket. There's poetry in all of these just as much as in Walter Scott, William Blake or T.S.Eliot.

Jay - there's nothing right or wrong about liking or not liking Betjeman or Eliot, doggerel or so-called 'deep' poetry. We all like what we like. Most good poetry is 'old-fashioned' in the sense that it builds on the writers of the past in some way. Likewise form and rhythm is present in most good poems - take Philip Larkin, for instance, his best known poems are universally 'popular'. I love 'peasant' poetry myself (check out John Clare, William Barnes, Charles Causley).

Rachel - I'm not a big fan of Motion's poetry either, but this particular poem of his touched a nerve because of its accurate and truthful account of the death in hospital of his father. It rang uncannily true to me after experiencing similar things recently.

Omigod, sorry about all that, it sounds like a lecture!