I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with poetry: I love mine but hate everybody else’s.
In the part of my brain where poetry lies there are only four (see below) rattling around like lost beach-balls, Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover, Robert Frost’s Out Out …, William Carlos Willimas’ To a poor old woman, and Les Murray’s An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow: the first because of the lines “ … and all her hair / In one long yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around,/And strangled her, …”; the second because it’s about the poetics of a fatally amputated limb in a milling accident; the third because of the line “a solace of plums” and its punctuation: there is only one punctuation mark, a full stop, that happens to be in the middle of a line; and the last because of the image, “There’s a fellow crying in Martin Place.” I swore once never to read any Les Murray because he described prose as poetry to the edge of the page. I thought it trite, a lazy thing to say, absolutely untrue, and completely missing the point of the question, but then maybe even he resorts to triteness when he doesn’t know the answer. Anyway, a fellow writer, Katherine Thomson, told me I should read it; I did and it stayed.
What these four poems have in common is that they are all narrative poems. They are all remnants of a poetic tradition that was once lauded and common place but we don’t value narrative poems any more. Today poetry is praised for imagery, and the more personal the better. Spring seems still to be a popular subject.
I would never write a poem about spring. I might write a poem about a murder in spring. I could very well write a poem about amputations in autumn (“limbs falling like leaves” Ha!).
I took heart when I discovered Howard Stewart’s and James McAuley’s attempt, in 1943, to debunk ‘the modern’ with the invention of Ern Malley. They won the battle but lost the war. Even George Bernard Shaw got into the act and put an end to the jape by declaring that Stewart and McAuley, by abandoning their rigid poetic rules had ‘accidently’ written good poetry. Ern Malley was taught, up until the 1970’s in American colleges and universities and in the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1991 ed. John Tranter and Philip Mead) Malley’s entire oeuvre is included. I would like to see the Malley poems attributed to Stewart and McAuley; they were, after all, their creators.
The lesson from The Ern Malley Affair is that everybody can write poetry; everybody should and everybody does. The four poems mentioned above were written with an audience in mind: that’s probably why they have stuck with me. Modern poetry is, generally, not. Modern poetry is written with only the poet in mind: it’s poetry as therapy, which is as good a reason as any.
So, here’s a therapeutic poem with an audience in mind; it’s called, funnily enough, Poetry.
What is it you are
A house made of cards
A heart in a jar
Get out of my hair
I’d rather play golf
Give birth to a chair
Leave me alone
There’s dishes to do
And people to phone
Get out of my sight
It’s not about you
I’ve novels to write
You’re a pain in the neck
A stacked deck of hopes
But wait just a sec
You’re dead as din Laden
Dead as a coffin
Dead as a rhyme
Porphyria’s Lover: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175584
To a poor old woman: http://www.poemhunter.com/i/ebooks/pdf/william_carlos_williams_2004_9.pdf
Out Out …: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238122
An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow: http://www.lesmurray.org/pm_aor.htm