Thursday 7 July 2011

I'm Sorry But...

I have a terrible confession.
I’m telling you this now because I’ve just read an article on 'poetry phobia' in a writers’ magazine.
It’s a relief to know there are other writers out there who have the same ‘problem’.
I’m not frightened.
I know the words aren’t going to jump off the page and push my head in an oven. That only happens to the people who write them.
To me, poetry is like one of those math’s problems.
If George left his house at four o’clock walking five miles an hour....
It’s giving me a headache already. For god’s sake just tell me when George will get there!
Should I blame it on English A level?
The emphasis was always on wrenching five different possible meanings from each verse.
It was even worse if the poem didn’t have any verses.
Sometimes it looks like the poet has just thrown a bunch of magnetic letters at the fridge.
‘Work that one out,’ he smirks at me, like an evil magician.
Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about his Dad doing some digging.
I argued with my teacher because I didn’t see why there had to be so many levels of meaning in it.
Why did the mud have to symbolise the turmoil of his inner life?
Why couldn’t the mud just mean mud?
There's no need to ruin it with analysis.
Now I really didn’t intend to quote poetry in my blog. But what a bunch of satisfying sounds from Heaney.
Perhaps if we hadn’t had to look so hard for the hidden meanings I might have enjoyed poetry at school.
There's a section in the article on possible treatments for poetry phobia.
I start to read it but I'm instantly agitated.
No, I don’t want to be flooded with poetry! That's a curse not a cure!
And, anyway, I’m not scared.
There is a difference, isn't there?


Kat M said...

I absolutely detest poetry, and I definitely pin some of the blame on A Level English too!

I used to always love the idea that some of the greatest poets out there (Carol Ann Duffy, William Blake etc) are probably sitting at home (or where ever they may be in life and/or death) laughing at pathetic students trying to analyse the hidden and "deep" meaning of an onion/mud/some other random object, when secretly the only reason that they chose that object was because it rhymed!!

Shop Girl said...

Thanks for reading Kat. It feels good to get it off my chest! I think a lot of us imagined them laughing at us digging for meanings.

I'm sure some poetry is truly inspirational...but my mind just blocks when I see it!

Lindsay said...

I think the main problem with poetry is that such a lot of it is appalling rubbish. Some is delightful, but the standard between the best and worst is way bigger than the gap between best and worst prose. So much modern poetry is pretentious nonsense.

Felicity said...

When I was just out of college I taught English to a class of kids which included the twelve year-old daughter of a poet whose work was on the syllabus. Hadn't a clue what the poem's inner meaning was so I worked from the notes at the back of the book. Ten minutes into the class the kid stuck her hand up and said 'my dad says he wrote that to get back in mum's good books when he didn't take the bins out.'

Shop Girl said...

@Lindsay - yes the problem is when they publish the terrible stuff. It leads me to the conclusion that I haven't got a clue what's supposed to be good or bad, as if it's a fashion. Writing that makes you feel something or conjures up a vivid image, I get that, when it's all cerebral I lose interest.

@Felicity. HAHA - what did you say to that? Did she get top marks for research?

felicity hayes-mccoy said...

I think I just made a mental note that poetry breeds trouble.

Robin Houghton said...

I also read that same article, and I must admit I'm baffled at the idea of people being 'phobic' about poetry! But it's funny how it's not considered odd... if you said "I hate novels!" that would be more contentious.

Perhaps the problem is that people often judge poetry without having actually read any since their school days, if then. But ask any magazine editor and they'll tell you how many thousands of submissions they get a month, so there's no shortage of people writing poetry (they must be keeping very quiet about it!) But sadly, not enough people reading it.

So to the poetry phobics/haters: maybe if you tried reading some good stuff, without thinking you have to analyse it like it's some sort of GCSE exercise, relax and let your right brain take over, stop worrying about 'what it's about'- you might find something you enjoy!

For anyone interested in actually finding out more about contemporary poetry, there are some excellent magazines such The Rialto and The North, as well as plenty of funky, accessible online mags featuring awesome stuff.

FWIW, I was browsing that same magazine with the poetry article and came across one of those 'writers' workshop' exercises: imagine two characters, now create some conflict between them, blah blah.. now that's the stuff that has me reaching for the sick bag! I can't imagine ever writing a novel, and all that character and situation creation leaves me cold. It's what puts me off the idea of 'creative writing' - too much bad, formulaic fiction. So that's my little confession!

Shop Girl said...

Thanks for your confession Robin! :) Funny because I'm a bit of a sucker for those little suggestions on how to work scenes out! 'A walks into a room then B happens' - it's positively enlightening.

I've heard of people hating novels - hating stuff just being 'made up'- although I think everything I write about is based on something I've heard about or experienced...Perhaps I need more imagination!

The Rialto - I've heard of it. The poems in Mslexia are often good too...from now on, I'll stop trying to work them out.

Thanks for the comment!

Oli Benet said...

I'm right there with you Em, I've always considered myself a hater of poetry, usually just reads like pretentious drivel to me....

Katie said...

Just read your book and found my way to your blog - this post caught me eye - your publishers, as particularly fantastic publishers of contemporary poetry, might have something to say about this...and maybe even some books to change your mind.

Shop Girl said...

Thanks so much for reading my book! I hope you enjoyed it.

I'm sure you're right Katie - and I do sometimes read poetry in Mslexia and like it, but usually its the poetry that reads more like prose and then I find myelf why didn't they just write it as flash fiction...

I was half expecting to get told off by Salt publishing for this post!

Katie said...

Oo I think where the lines blur is the most exciting part. The question is right - why isn't it fiction? But for me, that's the point; in poetry form and content are so intrinsically linked they cannot be considered separately at all. The writer chose to make a poem because those words can't exist as anything else.

I did enjoy your book! As a fellow shop-girl and (un-fellow unpublished) writer I can identify (and commiserate) with many of the things you talk about and it was so exciting to see there are new ways to get noticed by publishers in these times...but, Salt are rather special.