There comes a time in ev’ry poet’s jotter-book,
A time when odes and ballads must be set aside,
Where clever wordplay fails to catch the sombre mood,
And pleasing couplets suffer from a glut of rhyme.
And so the chastened poet takes a modern look,
Discarding all the baggage that had been their guide –
All that regularity – predictable and crude –
And even rhythms jangle with their tyranny of time. That stuff works for jokey stuff
For dum-de-dum and call-my-bluff
But how can Terror, how can Truth
Be captured in the games of youth ?
And so there comes a time when ev’ry poet
Makes the same mistake they always make –
They try to turn their free-verse loose, because
They think that’s how such verse must be –
Instead, they force unforcèd-ness, and blow it !
Instead, their archful art is bland and fake.
And finally, they see what skilful rhyming does:
It emphasises by its very unreality.
The Light Brigade, Decorum est, They fuck you up, Before I rest –
A decent couplet tells us what
A thousand noble words cannot.
Verses for the writing-of than reading-out –
Verses, it is often said,
The better to be left unread
Than wallow in the gloomy, doomy Plath-itudes they spout.
Breaking rules because they’re rules,
And rhyming words that barely rhyme:
They have the will, they have the tools,
Yet cannot make their couplets chime.
So unpolished, and yet so smooth of face,
Just wide-eyed cynics unaware of what they can’t achieve –
So desperately earnest and so hopelessly naïve,
(With both the dots obsessively in place.)
Derivative and doctrinaire,
Just swotty, spotty pedants with delusions of a cosmic truth.
But honestly, we’ve all been there –
For ev’ry famous poet was an adolescent in their youth:
Torrid teenage Tennyson,
And Dylan-esque and Lennon-ish,
And shilly-shally Percy Bysshe
And happy Hardy, anyone ?
It’s true – I may not be as great
As any muse you care to rate,
But oh, when I was but a lad
I drivelled ev’ry bit as bad !
So sport your hearts out, mopey mop-heads-
And set our world to right by writing,
Set our toothless prose to biting –
Wither with your punks and drop-deads.
Be yourselves and be your worst,
And wring out ev’ry beat and letter –
Never stop your foolish verse
Until your verse is better.
Haikus – poems of failure –
Bitesize tweets of mental fluff.
Exotic in regalia,
Just self-congratulating puff.
Strangely obsessed with the weather,
And crushingly serene –
Thinking they’re oh-so-clever
For counting to seventeen.
“A poem that never has thoughts within lines, but which carries each phrase and each sentence about between one line and next, as its structure is cut into sliver and strand that looks hard to read out”
No. You’ve done that wrong.
This is a poem – notice the lines.
They’re not just there to say this is a poem,
Or to make for pretty layout designs.
They are there to guide us along;
This is crucial – notice the pause –
The extra beats we don’t say, but we know ’em,
That little silence that underscores.
And the rhymes, the heart of the song,
Don’t bury them all in the throng.
So once again, and let ’em come strong –
“A poem that
never has thoughts within
lines but which carries
each phrase and each
sentence about between one
line and next as its
structure is cut into
strand that looks
hard to read
No, you’re still not that tight how you’re fitting it,
No, it’s still not quite right how you’re hitting it,
You’ve really gotta recite as they’ve written it,
There’s no need to fight it to get it to knit –
The breaks, the breaks,
That break up each sentence
In separate takes
Of its clauses and thoughts.
Look to the breaks as the structure and entrance,
And look to the pauses that each line supports.
Trust in the poet not to blow it, but to know,
How to slow it, how to go it, and to show it all so.
Follow their signs, let their lines set the flow –
“A poem that never has
Lines within lines, but
Which carries each phrase and
Each sentence about
Between one line and next as
Its structure is cut
Into sliver and strand
That looks hard to read out”
Oh, shut up Wendy, carping still,
Like a Guardian trendy, elite and crabby.
I suppose you write your poems with a quill
By candlelight, in a world chock-full of balladeers.
But I warn yer, without the engineers
There wouldn’t be a corner, for there wouldn’t be an abbey.