Monday, 5 December 2011

Sounding Off.

When somebody tells me that poetry is boring, I can be a little dismissive.
I can also bite heads off. For me, that is like saying music is dull. All music. Ever. Dull.

Now, there are plenty of older people who can roll off some schoolday Wordsworth. I know a fair few dramatic types that love to do a bit of Shakespeare from time to time. I probably also know a few dozen teenagers that could quote, word for word, the entire album of a rapper.
Do these people get on? Probably not. They probably don't realise just how much they have in common.

Several people have told me lately (after noticing the blog) that they can't be doing with poetry and, in a quest to get to the bottom of this, I have been thinking about the way Sound (this week's theme) makes almost all things poetic more accessible.

As writers we pump poems full of imagery, cram it in, elaborate our points but, if by the end of the poem nobody is actually listening, was there really any point in tying up that metaphor in the final stanza? Trailing off is a nightmare. Standing at a microphone and losing the plot is something of a disaster and so, I like to think that over the past few years I've developed a few techniques in my writing to try and hold the attention.

I've tried writing in beats, using rhetoric, hard and soft endings, rhymes, stressed and unstressed syllables, alliteration, assonance, and even a little sibilance. None of these techniques are nessecarily the answer but, we chuck them in all the same to help move the poem along. We hope that they'll make someone hear.

From the many poetry readings I've found myself attending over the years, I can't say there is an answer. Poets pick and choose. Each individual just has to feel the poem and, with practise, just know almost.

I could go on here to produce a top five, top ten or greatest hits kind of post but we all have our own tastes - you know what sounds work for you. I will instead encourage all of you to attend a poetry reading. I keep coming across the line about the couple who attend events together; the old 'I don't like it, she does' situation. Carol Ann, our poet laureate, reckons there are always surprised faces and comments like 'I didn't think I liked poetry'. So go on, get yourself out there and have a listen. It could be the way someone uses the words, it could be the noises they are making with ideas, it could just be that you liked the concept but if you never look for things you like, you might always be that sad, closed minded fool that bands all poetry in together as boring.

It has been an interesting week. We've had general strikes and ludicrous comments from TV celebrities. I also heard yesterday that Meryl Streep is to play Margaret Thatcher in a film. So, for our cock-sure Prime Minister, for the Iron Whore and for Jeremy Clarkson- I'm dedicating you all this John Cooper Clarke classic.


Thanks for reading, Shaun.



Ste said...

Being in one of those 'marmite' couples (I love, she hates) I think I might have to rise to that there challenge. Sarah's agreed to come to Latitude next year so we'll see if we can get a convert. I think, as with any genre, it's a case of people not liking the old cliches (perceived genre, not actual) the good guys tear the page up and make you see things fresh. And we have a good few of them at the DGPS. Great post, got me thinking (and check me out, up in the morning and logged-in at home so I can post a comment!)

Ashley R Lister said...


I'd echo your call to encourage people to visit a live poetry event.

And, as we're all getting together on December 16th and January 26th, I'd suggest either of those would work for a starter...

PS - great post.

Jim Murdoch said...

I find a lot of poetry boring. I’ve been writing the stuff for forty years but I hate when people say, not that they do very often but if they did, “Hey, you’re a poet so you’ll like this.” It’s like saying, “If you like death metal you’ll like Gregorian chant—it’s all music after all, isn’t it?” Technical ability has nothing to do with it. I was brought up on a steady diet of William Wordsworth, Robert Louis Stevenson, Water de la Mare, John Masefield and the rest and they bored the pants off me. I still struggle to get anything out of nature poet no matter who wrote it.

Love him or loathe him, one thing John Cooper Clarke never was was boring.