Poetry is one of the most loved and most hated art forms on this earth. Even myself, a student of English Literature hoping to one day base a career around the industry, has found many things after multiple readings of Sonnet 18, (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’). Coupled with the extensive dissection of each and every lexical and syntactical choice made by the poet in question, the meaning and the impact of the poem somewhat loses its punch, and then comes the inevitable comment or fleeting thought: even I could do better than this.
The reality is, though our past selves at school would hate to realize it, poets are most commonly quite good at what they do. And what they do is complicated. The job of a poet is to provide an ephemeral glance into a situation, a mood, a feeling or character that will, in its short time, have a profound impact on the reader. Poetry is, to quote Coleridge ‘the best words in the best order’, so if you’re a bit of a literature nerd like myself, you’ll have no trouble finding yourself enthralled in how fascinating the word choice or rhythm in a particular poem is. For some however, I understand that poetry is considered to be old fashioned and pretentious, and I don’t disagree. On some counts I hold the view that some classical pieces of poetry and verse remain to be only historically important and should, most probably, only be studied by those who have perhaps an unhealthy interest in language and the evolution of poetry (i.e. myself).
However, I would like to introduce to you the concept of ‘Pop-Poetry’. Popular verse. Poetry that is accessible, relate-able, current and modern. And yes, it does exist.
The first poetry book that I purchased outside of a school obligation was John Agard’s, Clever Backbone. I am not ashamed to admit that I only did so because I felt that if I was serious about studying literature I should probably start to develop an interest in poetry that I did not currently hold. Plus the cover was pretty cool. What I found between those images that had so enticed to me to the collection in the first place however, completely blew my mind. It was funny; it was clever; it was accessible and, most importantly, it was a contemporary and fresh observation of the human world. Agard had taken biology, the subject I had hated most at school (after math), and given it a fresh perspective. He had taken the exhausted subject of human evolution and had used it as a device through which he laid bare all of man’s faults and misgivings, one poem per page.
It occurred to me afterwards how easily I had read my way through his work. I had picked up and put the book back down several times throughout each day, each time reading little snippets, small and short lived windows into Agard’s arguments and points of view, all the time being amused by the satire whilst my subconscious realized the depth and importance of the messages buried, to use a cliché, ‘between the lines’. I read six pages at the hairdressers that week, two on the bus, one before class and more than twenty sat in bed while texting my friend. I had begun and finished the collection in three days.
Now I’m not suggesting that ‘Pop-Poetry’ is the kind of writing that you can read and not really pay attention to. My argument is merely that there are poems out there that speak to modern day society on a level not really expected by some. Indeed, I realize that the label ‘Pop-Poetry’ doesn’t fully explain my point here, the same way that suggesting more people should listen to Beethoven ‘for fun because it’s good’ wouldn’t bring his historic works under the label of ‘Pop-Music’.
Most importantly, reading the collection seemed to have little interference in my life. It was enlightening of course, and spawned my interest in poetry (just as I had hoped it would) but I was able to, as I have already stated, dip in and out of the book as I pleased. I never became confused or lost, as each page held a different story (albeit one which, when read together, formed an interesting narrative perspective).
How many of you have bought a book and then forgotten or neglected to read it because you ‘haven’t had the time?’ I know I have. Poetry, in this respect, provides a get-out, an answer to this problem. The average person spends around five hours queuing every month. Instead of wasting this time, I feel that it is perfectly acceptable to suggest that one simply opens a collection of poetry and reads a couple of poems whilst waiting for the bus. It sure beats watching and anticipating its appearance from around the corner: I can tell you that from personal experience.
Furthermore in the quickly evolving, fast paced world of today, where ‘staying connected’ means reading or writing 140 characters a day, why not use the time to read a short poem instead? The art form, I believe, is now more important than ever, as the days seem shorter and shorter with each new technological innovation. The beauty of poetry is that it’s fast. It’s compact. The reading of a poem can shorten to provide quick and economical cultural inspiration, or, if we really want to get technical here, lengthen to provide the reader with a puzzle or grand revelation.
It is also controversial. Poets can get away with conveying the most complicated of emotions and beliefs in an underhand and quiet manner the way that the authors of prose sometimes cannot. Sylvia Plath wrote poetry about self-mutilation and suicide in the most brash and disturbing of ways. Carol Ann Duffy, the current poet laureate, writes frequently explicit poetry about lesbianism and feminism. E.E. Cummings wrote an entire provocative collection of erotic poetry. If that doesn’t speak to the sexualized modern day society, I don’t know what will.
And if I haven’t managed to convince you? One option remains.
Pick up a pen.