I’ll give you a minute to fall off your chair in an astonished fainting fit after I tell you that despite having published an anthology online, (mind that plug you might trip over it), I am only just coming around to liking poetry.
I am almost tempted to call it a ‘journey’ but I worry it might sicken you, so I wont. But the fact is that I would vehemently describe myself as someone who hated poetry, strangely even after I began writing it myself, and now, should you ask me I would say yes, I like poetry. I like it. Ha.
So how did this, not journey, but starting at one point and ending at another happen? It came in stages.
Stage one: Development of Dislike
My primary school poetry lessons taught me three important rules, as long as the punctuation was right, a metaphor chucked in and I remembered that it didn’t have to rhyme, I could write a good poem. The not rhyming bit really got to me. As a child I was crap at English, I couldn’t spell, couldn’t punctuate and couldn’t read well, but when it came to sitting down and pencilling a poem for the teacher to Pritsitck to the literature wall, I was pretty good at making things rhyme. In fact, it was the only bit I enjoyed about the poems the class read. And yet I still vividly remember the teacher, circling the class, glancing down at students work and insisting loudly; “remember it doesn’t HAVE TO rhyme. It really doesn’t have to”. Perhaps it was an attempt at allowing us plenty of creative freedom, but at the time it just felt like she was chivvying us so that the lesson was wrapped up before the lunchtime bell.
As I got older I became convinced that poems also followed certain patterns, they must mention the moon, a heartbeat or a body of water. They must be either hollow sweeping epics, or love sick valentines chucking themselves into canals. They never drew me in, not even the verse of Oscar Wilde, who by the age of twelve was something of an idol. I found them to deliberately constructed to the point of being artless, written with my softer emotions in their cross-hairs, and this only put my back up. Not my bag at all.
Stage Two- poetical but not a poet
Now at cubs, me chum and co-writer of this blog Elinor and I, landed roles as ‘the sisters Grim’, together narrating a pantomime called ‘Snow White and the Seven Jockeys’, written by none other than Roald Dahl. I absolutely revelled in the witty rhyming verse, but didn’t see him as a poet; he was a storyteller, a funny bloke, but a poet? Give it a rest. It was the humour I latched onto, the unexpected twist, the everything that was opposite to the poems I’d been fed.
Later, having left school and become happily distant from any iota of what I saw to be poetical verse, I gained the power of the internet, and started watching Jools Holland. My musical horizons broadened, and I was attracted to every and anyone with interesting, word winding lyrics. Regina Spektor became my staple sound track. With words like;
“We keep on burying our dead
We keep on planting their bones in the ground
But they won’t grow, the sun doesn’t help
The rain doesn’t help”
Or the old classic;
“Oh, it ain’t gonna rain no more,
It ain’t gonna rain no more
Oh, how the heck can I wash my neck
if it ain’t gonna rain no more?”
Then the big one who is constantly described as a poet; Tom Waits.
“Well he came home from the war
with a party in his head
and an idea for a fireworks display,
and he knew that he’d be ready with
a stainless steel machete
and a half a pint of Ballentine’s
In loving Waits I got poetry shoved at me in a way I didn’t expect, he was influenced by poets, people I hadn’t heard off until now, and yes I had to admit I quite liked some of their stuff.
In case you’re wondering about this, I have heard the argument that we can’t describe musicians as poets, because often when we read lyrics of a page they can’t stand on their own two feet, they are only half what they are without the song. A strait up poem on the other hand has beat and music from within, the reader grasps for it in the first verse, then finds it and runs with it. This may well be true, sure in fact I can agree, but can’t the forms also cross over on occasion too. And since when where the boundaries of art so clearly defined? To me these people are poets, and I do away with any other suggestion in an offhand manner, Tom Waits even performed beat poems in his time just to mix things up further.
Not that I had admitted this to myself just yet though, I still had to go through the third stage.
Now basically in love with poetry, writing as prolifically as my super slow writing style would allow, reading every Roald Dahl poem I could get my hands on, listening for it in music, and dipping my toe in the works of people like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski with varying success. Yet, if you looked me in the eye and said ‘Gwen, do you like poetry?” I would have squirmed.
Stage four- Who am I kidding? I Love Poetry.
This is incredibly recent. It might have even taken full effect about, I don’t know, yesterday? So lets see, yep, that’s defiantly after I released my little anthology Beady Cloud. I’ve read a lot of poems online, hated many of them, but accepted this as a matter of us all having our own tastes, and not because rhyming verse is a defective style.
The final nail in the coffin has been John Cooper Clark:
“Outside the take-away, Saturday night
a bald adolescent, asks me out for a fight
He was no bigger than a two-penny fart
he was a deft exponent of the martial art
He gave me three warnings:
Trod on me toes, stuck his fingers in my eyes
and kicked me in the nose
A rabbit punch made me eyes explode
My head went dead, I fell in the road”
-Kung Fu International
Teased Barnet, shades and pipe cleaner legs, if you can watch this guy and say poetry isn’t cool then you’re entitled to bludgeon me with a moist Battenberg. (Don’t try to get into him if you don’t care for bad language mind, because he’s a northern punk and there’s no getting around it)
The most profound amazement really comes in when I can say that I now love some poems that aren’t all about humour and silliness. That I can take part in an art form that is more varied and witty then back then I, and many people now realise, without preconceptions. That I can just listen, and just read and just enjoy.