I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets. Imagine me writing a poem. As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day. I am however, still thinking about poetry. I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.
My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets. One of the three is Charles Bukowski. I like some of his poems.
Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher, is titled Poetry In Action. It begins with reference to a poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s. This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.
It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine]. Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.
. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive: a poet with power.
Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:
Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]
The post say this:
But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”
I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will. In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments. Again, I doubt that I ever will. Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do. On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one. I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer). Being able to write this entry. Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.) Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month. (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s) This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.
So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing. Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day. Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game. (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals. I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”. I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)
I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958. There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website. I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside. The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul. It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.