“Beginners at poetry.... must choose rhyme or reason: they can’t have both.”
Thus saith the character Aristophontes, in a Robertson Davies 1-Act Comedy play entitled Eros At Breakfast.
What does it mean?
I don’t know.
All I know is that I have heard some really horrid poetry today, wherein the poets seemed to lack either of the above options, never mind BOTH.
Now, I do not want to be harsh, really.
It’s just that I was at a certain place today [no place names given so as to protect the innocence of anyone who could even possibly be reading this and who earlier read poetry at this very place], and I am in fact, still at this certain place, writing this blog about what took place at this place... let me start over.
I was just happily sitting here, minding my own swarm of bees, reading Nabokov, when chairs began to be set up in my very peaceful environs, and an eclectic assortment of people began to assemble and seat themselves.
Soon, I realized that one of the regular monthly community poetry-reading events was about to take place.
I reached into my backpack where I always keep a fresh supply of Frankenstein Bolts.
[These are those squishy things that you stick in your ears so that they can then expand and drown out the sounds of people reading their poetry.]
It began. The readings, I mean. As the bolts wonderfully thickened in my ears.
But soon I realized, the bolts were failing me.
My cochlean drumstick shook. Hammer and anvil all aquiver, my overly developed inner ear was picking up the peripheral stanzas.
I should mention that I suffer from a rather severe case of ADS. [Aural Distraction Syndrome].
In other words, I like silence. Especially when reading. Wilfully choosing to live half my life in a public place though, I must endure the odd disruption to my routine of silence. [See my blog entitled Ambient Music, June 13th, 2005].
I was being distracted.
So I pulled the plug. Left ear, to be exact.
When what was to assail my inner thought life but some of the most abstractified poetry I have ever witnessed in my half a lifetime.
"Beginners at poetry" got up, one after the other, and read their stuff. And I sat in horrified stunnation.
It was none of it, good.
I re-installed the left Bolt, and then sank into that mumbled state of distraction and stared at my book again.
And I thought about the few scattered bits I had heard, and how bad it all was.
I have always been an advocate and defender of poetic license. Really I have.
I myself write poetry.
And I am definitely a “beginner at poetry”! [The truth is, I have no clue what I am even doing with the genre].
But I do what I do. I write stuff. And I have an abhorrence of hearing my poetry be read aloud, either in my own voice or anyone else’s. So I shun participating in, or or even attending any such events as the one I witnessed today.
But, as the poets droned on.... I thought.
How brave they are, to get up there and read like that!
[I looked over, and sure enough, there was this guy at the microphone... the paper he was holding was all a’jitter from the muscle spasms its holder was experiencing, from toe to elbow.]
Great courage. Or confidence. Or something.
Whatever it is he has, I don’t have it.
Anyway, so I began to think..... what is poetry?
[The guy is finished now and he sits down to applause from those assembled, and a young girl gets to the microphone.... same shaky paper-jitterdance going on.....]
I began to think.
Didn’t I once say that Everything Is Poetry? [see my blog of June 24th, 2005].
I took the earplug out just as the girl read a line describing her feelings of being run over by the wheels of a big truck, and then after that, a garbage truck. Run over twice, like. By trucks, yet.
In the dictionary, to get to the meaning of the word “poetry” you cannot find it by looking at the word itself. You will be directed back to the word “poem” and there it will tell you something like (as does the Oxford Concise) “a piece of imaginative writing in verse, expressing the writer’s feelings or describing a place or event.”
And “poetry” is simply..... a collection of these individual things... these poems.
Poems “as a whole, or as a form of literature.”
So I began to realize..... these people here assembled.... are doing exactly what poetry is.
They are not even breaking any of the rules.
Who am I, therefore, to say that any of it is so horrid, that it is not worthy of my ears?
Why is my “poetry” any better?
So I listened for a bit, and even clapped now and then.
There are people (I would assume) who would moreso appreciate that nameless girl’s poem about being (figuratively, I would hope) run over by a garbage truck, than they would appreciate some of my most erudite and painstakingly painfully calculated... work.
Is there anything more purely opinion-based, in its appreciation (or lack of appreciation), than poetry?
Granted, in my persoanl opinion, her stuff was badly constructed..... [at one point she plainly said “pronunciated” when she clearly meant “pronounced”]..... but again.... who died and made ME the King of Poetry?
One thing I do know, is this. People today applauded her poetry.
No roomful of people has ever applauded any of mine! I’ve never even given anyone the option of doing so.
Who is the real or better poet, given both scenarios?
In closing, as in opening, I think of Robertson Davies yet again, who has the character of Simon Darcourt say in the novel The Lyre of Orpheus, “Even a terrible poet may hit on a truth. Even the blind pig sometimes finds the acorn.”