Mark Fraser: Day Two Hundred and Twenty Eight – “Nothing Is Not Giving Messages”

Posted on August 16, 2011 by

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Today’s post is about two things.

Firstly, Philip Levine has been named the new American Poet Laureate. I am unfamiliar with his work, however this interview with NPR has gotten me really interested. He talks a bit about his work, his inspiration and what poetry means to him. Worth checking out and it’s especially worth listening to in order to hear him reading one of his poems.

Which brings me onto the other thing this blog is about: poetry, what it means to me and, perhaps most importantly, how people react to poetry.

It irks me that people don’t enjoy and/or read poetry more. Most are happy to pick up a book, even a classic, and read and enjoy it. Why not with poetry?

I can’t remember who said it, but poetry is language distilled. Every word in its place. Nothing by chance. Nothing by committee. No rash decisions. No usage of words or phrases just because “they’ll do”. Poetry is the pinnacle of language. Indeed, it is words refined.

We’re exposed to poetry in school and, like all literature one studies in school, we’re made to analyse it. I can’t read Of Mice and Men because of how it was torn apart in school. There’s nothing like being forced to dissect something against your will to put you off it for the rest of your life.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why many people find it hard enjoy Shakespeare, or so I hear.

I came to poetry through music. In my youth many lyricists were, in my angst ridden eyes, as good as some poets, and it was around the time I was really getting into music that we started to look at Wilfred Owen in school. I’ve yet to revisit him since, right enough, but that was my first exposure to poetry. It still confuses me that people enjoy the lyrics of people like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison or Morrissey yet do not enjoy poetry.

I have never read Shakespeare.

People automatically equate poetry with complex works such as Owen and Shakespeare; the kind of writing that many think requires analysis for enjoyment. When I first started this blog, many of my friends took one look at it, read the poetry on it, said to me “That’s nice but it does nothing for me.” and now no longer read it.

Sad, really.

Perhaps some people think that if you to be a certain “type” of person to “get” poetry.

Not so.

Poetry is of course laden with imagery, subtext, forms, tones, ideas, voices and concepts. However some of the best poets, to my mind at least, trancend all of that. Sure, they’re capable of writing works of staggering complexity, but beyond that they have crafted works which can be read by everyone, not just those who have a degree in literature.

Something like Morgan’s The Apple’s Song is fabulously rich in imagery and meaning but also accessible and easy to read to any one.

I owe everything to Morgan. Without him, I wouldn’t be writing poetry.

That is my modus operandi – to create poetry that people who “don’t get” poetry can relate to and to (eventually) bring poetry to people in new ways.

Admittedly the latter is a work in progress, and I hope some of my ideas about that can come to fruition by the end of the year.

Which leads me to the reason behind this post, what does poetry mean to me? It is about an emotional connection to the world at large, looking at familiar things in new ways and giving voices and personalities to things that do not have them.

Edwin Morgan said “nothing is not giving messages”. There is inspiration in everything – there is never nothing.

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Posted in: Mark Fraser