Do you like to read a poem for yourself ? Or do you prefer to hear it spoken ? I ask that because there has been a recent revival in spoken word poetry. Maybe it stems from rap music. I must admit that I have a problem with rap – maybe I’m too old to appreciate it, but I do think that sometimes it glorifies rhyme and rhythm at the expense of meaning. But at least it’s there.
When I was growing up spoken poetry was dull, prim and exclusive. I remember being made to listen to TS Eliot reading “ The Wasteland “ – he read it in the portentous, droning way which was the fashion in those days. Most poets are bad readers- they need helping out. And yet I can remember listening to Ted Hughes read “ Crow”. It was late at night, with the wind howling and the rain lashing at the windows- and he scared the living daylights out of me. And no-one can beat Richard Burton in that wonderful opening speech of “ Under Milk Wood.”
All poetry was originally spoken word.. It was a way of embodying experience, of shaping the past. Before a battle, the bards of each party would meet and agree a place where they could watch the fight- they would note who showed the most courage, who fight with the greatest vigour- and at the end – they would work it all up into an agreed version, to be spoken in the mead hall or before the next battle. It wasn’t a good idea to upset the bards- they held your reputation in their hearts
Printing changed everything. It altered the very nature of poetry. What was a flourishing, social art became personal. You could read a poem for yourself and by yourself. Rather than being simply an audience, the reader became a partner in the creation of a poem. You could work it out for yourself. You could relate it to your own experience. Thomas Wyatt was the first Elizabethan poet to make poetry directly personal- his work is taut, allusive- meant at the most for a very small audience. The same can be said of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Donne’s love poetry, George Herbert’s quiet dissection of his own soul.
And poetry as good as this is being written now, you’ll be glad to hear. If you haven’t read Clive James poetry- then that’s a gap you’ve just got to fill. And James Nash’s “ Some Things Matter” – a wonderful sequence of sonnets- is simply a masterpiece. It’s moving and human and it really does go straight to the heart.
It’s horses for courses, isn’t it. The main thing is that poetry is alive and well and getting stronger by the day.
Ah…the dog… here he is…you ndon’t believe there is a dog, do you ? You think it’s a cheap way of bringing this to an end… wait till next time… and he will make an appearance.