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May 7th, 2009


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11:23 pm - Poetry
"Coo er gosh, look at him posting about poetry."
"Ever since he got his fancy new Dreamwidth, he's changed, you know."
"Yeah. He wouldn't have posted about poetry on his old LiveJournal."

Crikey. You tell me if I'm being pretentious, and I'll summarise a discussion we had on the last night shift about farting, or something.

So last week a new Poet Laureate was, I suppose, laurelled. The incumbent, Carol Ann Duffy, is (according to the BBC) the first Scot and the first woman to hold the position in its 341-year history. It is unclear to what extent there has been prejudice in the past regarding selection. The BBC suggest that she was considered and rejected the last time the position was available in 1999 not due to her nationality or her gender but due to her previous partner. I haven't seen any suggestions that the selection this time was anything other than meritocratic, which is long overdue as well as the way it should be. Good luck to her; while writing royal poetry is a tradition rather than a requirement of the Poet Laureate position, I think I'd rather have had the events in the lives of the Windsor family of 1999-2009 to write about than the events of 2009-2019.

She is not the poet about whom I write today, though. The BBC also responded to the announcement by getting seven other poets to commit a little poetry upon the occasion; sometimes a very little. Now I have to admit, probably with less guilt than I should, that my taste in poetry - such as it is - is rudimentary at best, the like of Edmund Lear's nonsense poetry and such. I can't say that I had encountered the work of Carol Ann Duffy (and I wonder whether the middle name is a given name like that of Jamie Lee Curtis or a surname like that of Ian Duncan Smith?) beforehand, to my knowledge; I only recognised one of the seven other poets, Lemn Sissay, and that was from seeing the side of the Hardy's Well pub on the Curry Mile in Manchester.

However, out of the seven poets' work on the page, the two poems that spoke to me most were the two from Anneliese Emmans Dean, who is a poet, composer, wildlife photographer and performer from York. Now two poems do not a "favourite poet" make, but they're a fine start. The standard philistine line at this point would be to disclaim my knowledge of art followed by "but I know what I like", but that's being lazy at best. I don't claim that this will be any more than the most superficial or rudimentary sort of analysis, but writing about things I like is fun, and writing about things I like outside my usual genres... makes a change.

The short piece is a goof on one of the translations of the Prayer of St. Francis, which will resonate with many of my generation not only as a famous prayer but also as a hymn from school. The notion that a Poet Laureate might celebrate a royal wedding with a limerick is delightfully silly, and concluding a relatively reverent tribute with a throw-away killer line as a parenthetical remark tickles my funny bone.

It's the longer piece, On The Role Of The Next Century's Poet Laureate, that really did it for me. I'm not sure if there are reproduction restrictions that I'm breaching here, but (just for the purposes of quoting the BBC web site) I think this can be considered personal, non-commercial use.
On The Role Of The Next Century's Poet Laureate

Poetry!
Opium of the masses
Feed their habit
Feed their habit
Poetry
For the working classes
Let 'em have it
Let 'em have it
Poetry
Raise your champagne glasses
Chitter chat it
Chitter chat it
Poetry
For the lads and lasses
Twitter chav it
Twitter chav it
Poetry
With OAP bus passes
Zimmer jab it
Zimmer jab it
Poetry!
Opium of the masses
Live it, gab it
Give it, fab it
Pitter-pat it
Tit-for-tat it
Skit it, scat it
Brit it, bat it!
There's much to admire and enjoy about this, in a way that I can't remember enjoying a poem for years, if ever. Probably the most immediately grabbing feature is the wonderfully strong sense of rhythm. It drives me back to trying to remember which way round dactyls, spondees and trochees were when we learnt about different forms of classical meter at school years ago, but it's a poem that deserves to be annotated with crochets, quavers and the occasional dotted note. It would be hard to read this poem out stridently without it turning into at least a chant, if not quite a song. It's the most spondeetious development since Lenny Henry played Othello.

Visually, rather than reading it in your head, the economy of the poem is extremely striking. I would say "each line has only four syllables" but it's probably more accurate to say "each line has only two feet"... and that, in turn, is only true if you syncopate each Poetry line with the first foot of the next line, to regularise the meter further. The economy of punctuation is also striking with a minimum of commas and exclamation marks used sparingly enough to give them the emphasis they deserve.

These combine to contribute towards a tremendous sense of modernity, as befits a forward-looking poem anticipating the future. The selection of verbs is far more cutting-edge than I (from a position of ignorance) associate with poetry; I associate the "fab it" reference with digital fabricators, I'd never yet seen a reference to Twitter in a poem and the whole piece - though, happily, it doesn't attempt to cram itself into 140 characters - would probably work sent as a series of SMS texts. It's quick enough that you could happily read it in a tube train and get a smile on your face.

Lastly, there's a gorgeous selection of images hinted at by the verbs. While the poem presupposes a society in which poetry is perhaps more widely accepted and adored than might be the case, it clearly evokes a wide range of people who enjoy the para-religion of poetry in its various guises. The line "Twitter chav it" is particularly intriguing; while I don't think it's intended to imply that people who use Twitter are, in the modern British argot, chavs, it conveys a sense of people deliberately condensing their communication into passionate and not necessarily grammatical chunks. For what it's worth, the Tweets I follow are invariably thoughtful; returning to the poem, "Myspace chav it" or "Facebook chav it" don't nearly as precisely convey a sense of rapid-fire communication in a line of poetry, even though it may more precisely convey rapid-fire communication in the way I perceive they are used in practice.

It's a fast poem. It's a fun poem. I love it, and I don't generally sit down to take the time to react to poetry, but it's hard not to be grabbed by this. While I wish Carol Ann Duffy a prosperous reign as Poet Laureate - and has anyone said whether or not this will be a finite ten-year appointment like Andrew Motion's? - I'll be keeping my eyes open for more here. If I can't have someone on my Friends list become the next Poet Laureate (and, for instance, myfirstkitchen - in another ten years, why not?) then Anneliese Emmans Dean is, at this early stage, first choice in my putative Fantasy Poets League team.

Unrelatedly, Meg's sister latemodelchild has come to visit for a couple of weeks! I'm really glad she could make it here, we're all having lots of fun - including our lovely, silly cats! - and I think my sister-in-law is really enjoying the trip too, but a knock-on effect of space concerns is that I regard myself as "not online much" for at least the next week and a half.

Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID and/or (hopefully identified!) anonymous posting as necessary. Thank you!
Current Mood: impressedimpressed

 


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